Announced in January 2011 at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, the Fujifilm FinePix HS20 EXR (henceforth the "HS20") superzoom is the replacement camera for Fuji's HS10. What's with the extra letters? That designates a "brand new EXR CMOS sensor" working in tandem with a "newly developed EXR processor." More importantly, that sensor is of the backside illuminated (BSI) design that offers the promise of improved low light performance over conventional sensors of similar physical size. Resolution jumps to 16 megapixels from 10 in the HS10, but along with the BSI configuration sensor physical size is increased from 1/2.3-inch to 1/2-inch.
Ultrazooms are among my favorite compact digital cameras for the wide range of focal length they provide in a single, relatively light and compact package and the HS20 spec sheet made for some interesting reading. A 30x zoom covering the 24 to 720mm range in 35mm equivalents; a fairly fast f/2.8 maximum aperture at wide angle and a 1 centimeter/0.39 inch close focus distance in super macro mode.
That zoom is mechanical (manual), which offers the promise of increased accuracy and speed in framing over the powered versions found in most compacts. RAW/JPEG capability (!) and an 8 frame per second continuous shooting rate at full resolution (if only for 8 frames). If you're able to accept 8 megapixel resolution you can shoot 11 fps for about 32 captures. Write times for single full res JPEG fine images are on the long side - 2 or 3 seconds with a 16GB class 10 SDHC card. Writing bursts is time consuming as well.
With my photographic background built almost exclusively around film and digital SLRs the hardware of any camera draws my first attention, but the HS20 also provides the wealth of additional features we've come to expect in digital compacts - auto and manual shooting modes, face detection and recognition, auto release, cat/dog detection, a panorama mode and full 1080 HD video capability with a dedicated capture button. That cat detection mode could come in handy if any of our ten rescue kitties sit still long enough for a portrait. Fuji's website and press release for the HS20 speak of "no need to worry about slow auto focusing or shutter lag conspiring against you" and reports AF acquisition times as quick as 0.16 seconds.
I trekked to the beach hoping to capture a spectacular sunset and was rewarded with a heavy and slightly broken overcast - we're going through another summer with clouds on the beaches for much of the day. The HS20 acquired focus quickly in the somewhat dim conditions at wide angle, and predictably slowed a bit when zoomed to the telephoto end of the range, but not overly so. Shutter lag seems fairly quick as well. Returning to the beach this morning and with overcast but slightly brighter conditions, AF was still quick at wide angle and seemed a bit quicker at telephoto as well.
When I finally got some sun today colors seem true and accurate at their default settings. Image sharpness might be a little soft for my taste at default settings and I've already ramped up sharpness in the manual shooting modes. The jury's still out on this one, however - I spent a bit of time trying to capture hummingbirds in our backyard and may have been punching the shutter when I managed to get one in the frame. As with any camera equipped with a long telephoto, image quality can be very unforgiving of any operator error that introduces camera shake into the equation, stabilization or not. The hummingbird shot is a crop (and still specs out at about 13.5 x 9 inches at 300 dots per inch) and also post processed with Nikon Capture NX2 software, but if you've ever tried to photograph one of these little guys you know they don't hover for long in one spot. The HS20 has shown some promise in capturing speedy subjects but I think it can do better than this shot, which is the best I've come up with so far but far from tack sharp.
So, one day down with the HS20 and it looks like Fuji has come up with a fairly quick AF ultrazoom with nice image quality. The zoom lens itself is a bit notchy and not overly smooth, requiring rotation through about 135 degrees of motion to zoom from one extreme to the other - but I still prefer it to a powered zoom. Even with the larger BSI sensor than its predecessor, the resolution jump from 10 megapixels in the HS10 to 16 megapixels in the HS20 is a lot, and we'll be taking a close look at high ISO noise performance with the HS20.
A while back Canon ramped up resolution on their G10 to 14 megapixels from the 12 of its predecessor and reaped a whirlwind of grumpy user complaints about less than inspiring noise performance. Let's hope Fuji hasn't set that bar too high with the resolution increase in the HS20 - and after the briefest of periods with the camera the results look promising. I don't think Fuji has reinvented the wheel on high ISO noise performance with the HS20, but the camera looks competitive and I suspect noise performance to be at least average, given the resolution. We'll have a complete review of Fuji's HS20 in the not too distant future.