Fujifilm calls the HS20 the perfect solution for photographers seeking DSLR-like specifications and image quality without the size, weight or expense of a true DSLR. Expecting DSLR image quality and performance out of a compact digital is asking a lot – let’s see how close the HS20 comes.
Right out-of-the-box the HS20 lets you know that while it may look like a DSLR and feel like a DSLR it doesn’t start like a DSLR, taking about 3 seconds to present a focus icon after powering up – glacially slow compared to a DSLR and slower than many cameras in the class. Single shot to shot times take about 2.5 – 2.75 seconds with a class 10 SDHC (30MB/sec) card.
Fire an 8 shot burst at full resolution and JPEG fine image quality with the camera’s 8 fps continuous high-speed shooting mode and the write time for those shots approaches 19.5 seconds – make that burst a RAW/JPEG combo and you get only six shots as well as a 30 second write time. Switching to a 45 MB/sec card produced 19.25 and 25 second write times for those same bursts, respectively.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Nikon Coolpix P500||0.01|
|Canon PowerShot SX30||0.01|
|Fujifilm FinePix HS20 EXR||0.01|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Nikon Coolpix P500||0.30|
|Fujifilm FinePix HS20 EXR||0.33|
|Canon PowerShot SX30||0.35|
|Nikon Coolpix P500||5||10.0 fps|
|Fujifilm FinePix HS20 EXR||8||8.0 fps|
|Canon PowerShot SX30||∞||1.4 fps|
|Olympus SP800-UZ||10||1.2 fps|
The HS20 is pretty good about displaying images during high-speed captures – there’s a brief blackout after the first shot but succeeding shots come up quickly and tracking moving subjects is easier than with many other compact digitals. Of course, shooting full resolution at high speed you’re finished in 1 second, but if you opt for the 11 fps rate the camera can capture approximately 32 images and take about 3 seconds to do so, so the ability to visually track fast moving subjects is a plus.
The HS20 features a panorama shooting mode that can stitch multiple images together to form single images with 120, 180, or 360° fields of view. This mode is simple and easy to use, rivaling the Sony A55 DSLR for ease-of-use and overall performance.
Fuji reports a 0.16 second AF acquisition time for the HS20 but our studio measurement came in at 0.33 seconds – well short of the claimed figure but right in the ballpark with the better performing super zooms we’ve tested recently. In the field the camera seemed fairly quick at wide angle in good light. More significantly, this perceived speed carried over to telephoto in good light as well. But while the HS20 performed steadily in quick autofocus acquisition at the wide-angle end of the zoom, as the lens was zoomed out towards maximum telephoto the camera became a bit inconsistent in acquiring focus – not an unusual occurrence in compacts zoomed to long telephoto focal ranges.
I had a difficult time trying to isolate hummingbirds in flight against a busy background of foliage and other backyard objects – the HS20 doesn’t allow the user to size the focus area as some compacts do, and the camera kept selecting the background over the bird. The ability to minimize the focus point size for more precise focus selection would be a welcome addition to this camera’s feature set.
Hummingbirds are an admittedly tough assignment to photograph and my best results (which weren’t DSLR-esque) came by establishing focus at a point and then waiting for a bird to insert herself into the shot. By contrast, the same angle shot with a DSLR produced consistent results with the ability to isolate the bird in flight against the background. The HS20 produces good AF results for a compact, but it’s not in the DSLR’s league in this respect. Shutter lag seemed quick in the field and our studio results confirmed this – the HS20 produced a 0.01 shutter lag time.
The FinePix HS20 specifications list sensor shift (mechanical stabilization) as the image stabilization (IS) mechanism, but both the basic and regular user’s manuals briefly mention a dual IS system utilizing both sensor shift and high ISO sensitivity. This dual system is enabled continuously by default – the user may opt to activate it in the act of shooting only or disable it altogether. Fuji recommends disabling the system when the camera is used on a tripod, which suggests that stabilization is an all or nothing package – certainly there are no menu items that allow the user to enable sensor shift while disabling the high ISO portion of the equation. In practice, shooting in the manual modes with ISO set by the user to something other than auto, the HS20 did not change ISO with the dual stabilization system enabled, so apparently you can keep the sensor shift stabilization and dispense with high ISO by going manual.
When shooting dark scenes or using the telephoto in EXR auto mode, the HS20 offers an “advanced anti blur” feature – disabled by default – that uses the camera’s high-speed shooting prowess to combine four frames of higher ISO images at reduced resolution into a single image. I left this feature disabled for the review.
And while not stabilization per se, there is also a ” best frame capture mode” that starts recording photos at 11 fps at 8 megapixel resolution with a half push the shutter button. When the shot you’re waiting on appears, fully press the shutter button and the camera captures up to 16 frames including pre-recorded frames, giving you the opportunity to select the best shot.
Fujifilm lists a flash range of about 23.2 feet at wide-angle and 12.4 feet at telephoto; these values are obtained with ISO set for auto. Users can expect to not reach these figures using the built-in flash at the camera’s base 100 ISO setting, but the flash power seems about average for cameras in this class. Recycle times range from 3 1/2 to about 5 seconds.
Battery life is listed as 350 shots with alkaline batteries; 400 with nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) and 700 with lithium.
The Fujifilm HS20’s 30x zoom lens starts at a fast f/2.8 maximum aperture at wide-angle and ends up an average f/5.6 at full telephoto. By the time the lens reaches approximately 30mm maximum aperture has started up to f/3.2 and f/5.6 is reached at a bit past 300mm. There is barrel distortion (verging on moustache distortion) present at 24mm which gradually decreases and then disappears at about 55mm; 55 to about 130mm looks largely distortion free with pincushion distortion commencing around 135mm on out to full telephoto.
Edges and corners of the frame are a bit soft at the wide-angle end of the zoom while the telephoto end looks uniformly a bit sharper across the entire frame. There is chromic aberration (purple fringing) present throughout the focal range in some areas composed of high contrast boundaries, but the effect typically requires enlargements in the 200 to 300% range to become readily noticeable. The EXR processor of the HS20 reportedly can identify and reduce chromic aberration, but whether it’s the properties of the lens, characteristics of the processor or little bit of both, the HS20 does a fairly good job of dealing with purple fringing. It’s not the best super zoom I’ve seen in this regard but certainly far from the worst.