Cameras

Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR Digital Camera Review

Fujifilm's first new ultrazoom since the overpriced X-S1 fails to improve on its predecessor.

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Introduction

Of all the many ultrazoom cameras in their crowded section of the market, Fujifilm's HS series stands out as one of the most compelling to enthusiasts. Like the HS20 before it, the HS30 is distinguished by a mechanical zoom ring surrounding the lens, plus a by-wire focus ring further up the barrel, making this fixed-lens camera feel less amateurish than the competition. Aware of their audience, Fujifilm added core improvements like a new sensor and the ability to shoot RAW, instead of extending the lens past 30x, which would've risked a drop in image quality.

We like the strategy, and think it could result in a much better value than Fujifilm's overpriced X-S1. The HS30EXR, meanwhile, is priced consistently with the competition at $499.95, and comes only in black.

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

Sides Tour Image

Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo

• Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR digital camera

• lens cap

• lens hood

• battery charger

• AC cable

• rechargeable battery

• neck strap

• lens cap strap

• A/V cable

• software CD-ROM

• Basic Manual

Lens & Sensor

The HS30's key feature is its lens. This is a 30x optical zoom barrel, unique for its mechanical manual ring, found only on Fujifilm ultrazooms. Action isn't as smooth or precise as a high quality interchangeable lens, but it works, and makes the HS30 capable of zooming in or out much quicker than even the most responsive competitor.

The lens' ability to focus close up is also rather amazing. Using the "Super Macro" focus mode, it's possible to lock as close as 1 centimeter away, meaning your subjects can be nearly touching the glass and the HS30 will still lock on.

Viewfinder

Like the HS20, the HS30 also has an electronic viewfinder, and there's even an eye-sensor that detects when you're looking through the finder and immediately swaps display from the LCD. But while the screen has decent resolution, rendition of color and detail are harsh, and response time is too slow for any kind of action photography.

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Display(s)

The rear LCD is a better way of previewing shots, but not by much. Onscreen display is still too sluggish for action photography, but colors are drastically more natural and closer to what the final image will be. We generally prefer viewfinders, but found ourselves using the rear LCD more often than not.

The panel itself has tilt functionality, so you'll be able to angle the screen 30˚ downward for overhead shots, or 90˚ up for framing videos.

Connectivity

On the left side of the HS30, you'll find output terminals for HDMI, standard USB, and a 3.5mm A/V jack. This last one is a bit rare, so thankfully the camera ships with appropriate cables for use here. At the peak of the body, the camera also has a hot shoe mount for use with accessories like external flash.

Image Quality

Other than some encouraging color accuracy scores, image quality is generally mediocre. Sharpness is poor, and noise is so prevalent that our dynamic range test barely runs. White balance, usually a pretty safe test, is also remarkably unpredictable.

Sharpness

The HS30EXR is not a very sharp camera, despite a heavy dose of edge enhancement. In the crops below, we can see the software attempting to compensate for low sharpness, in the form of dark black lines against edges. It's not enough though, our lab tests recorded average detail resolution of less than 1600 MTF50s at close and medium focal lengths, which isn't great, and less than 1000 MTF50s at maximum zoom, which is terrible.

Some of the poor sharpness results seem to be caused by image noise, which is unexpected at ISO 100. For more on that, check out the Noise Reduction page. Also, note we did not test the "Resolution Priority" EXR mode, since we make all attempts to turn off artificial image enhancement, plus this feature has historically made little different on previous models. More on how we test sharpness.

Image Stabilization

Our stabilization testing rig was down for this review, sadly. We'll circle back and update this page in the future, once the shaker is back online. When this happens, it may cause the HS30's overall score to increase slightly.

Color

Color accuracy seems to be one of the HS30's best features. The camera returned an uncorrected error value of only 2.62, which is better than average and just shy of what we expect from DSLRs. Looking over the gamut, we can see that errors are largely restricted to bright reds and oranges, with all other shades nigh on perfect. Saturation is over by about 8% though, and this will cause scenes to appear a little more vivid than they should. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

Only the Nikon P510 exceeds the HS30 in our color accuracy test, unaffected by the problems with oranges and reds that we noticed earlier. This means the P510 should render human subjects in a more natural, more realistic way. Another important point here is the score belonging to Fujifilm's expensive X-S1, which lags behind the whole comparison group, even though the camera costs $300 more.

Color Modes

Color modes take the form of Fujifilm's "Film Simulation" modes, which harken back to the company's old line of traditional film brands, including Provia, Velvia, and Astia. The most accurate one is Provia, and we recommend shooting with it at all times. The other two worsen color accuracy dramatically, and each increase saturation to around 120%. Two other color modes for monochrome and sepia are also available.

White Balance

When shooting with the FinePix HS30, you should try to manually white balance whenever possible. We found the automatic white balance algorithm to be very unpredictable under all indoor illumination, and below average for outdoor daylight too. And when the white balance system failed, it failed hard. We saw shots cast in a green tint, or even bright pink. Inside our controlled test enclosure, incandescent light was off by as much as 2000 K, but manually white balancing reduced all errors to less than 200 K in all lighting situations.

Noise Reduction

For consistency's sake, most of our testing requires deactivation of extra shooting enhancement like sharpness correction or, in this case, noise reduction. When configured like this, the HS30 is very weak.

Fujifilm is at least honest about their noise reduction settings, at least we assume so, because the "Low" noise reduction setting appears to make little or no effort at all to remove noise. Artifacting rates start off at a too-high value of 0.85% at ISO 100, then immediately cross 1.00% at ISO 200. By ISO 800 noise is already weighing in at an unacceptable 2.51%, then the algorithm kicks things into high gear, reeling in noise for ISO 1600, but then spiking again at 3200 for a maximum full resolution noise rate of 2.89%.

So the result of this noise distribution is a graph with two "peaks," one at ISO 800, and one at ISO 3200. Remember that, it'll become important on the Dynamic Range page. More on how we test noise.

Science Section 2 Images

ISO Options

The native sensitivity spectrum ranges from ISO 100 to 3200. Why you should want to go higher than that—considering this camera's performance—is beyond us, but the option is there: ISO 6400 and 12800 are unlocked, but each cause a drop in resolution.

Dynamic Range

Dynamic range is poor, even for a fixed-lens camera. The best performance can be found at ISO 100, where the HS30 can manage 5.72 stops of dynamic range. By ISO 3200, this figure drops to 0 stops.

...wait. Zero stops? That doesn't make any sense.

Here's the thing. Our dynamic range test, in its current state, is based on signal-to-noise ratio. We set up an array of unevenly-lit zones, and measure how many of them each camera can expose with a signal-to-noise ratio of more than 10:1. Now, we already know the HS30 is a very noisy camera, so noisy in fact, that by ISO 3200, there are no zones left at all where signal-to-noise ratio is better than 10:1. Thus causing our test to think the camera has no dynamic range at ISO 3200 (and 800 too, strangely).

Is that really the case? No. Dynamic range is probably more like 2 stops at ISO 400 and above, which is still terrible. Bottom line, this camera has lousy D-range. More on how we test dynamic range.

Noise Reduction

For consistency's sake, most of our testing requires deactivation of extra shooting enhancement like sharpness correction or, in this case, noise reduction. When configured like this, the HS30 is very weak.

Fujifilm is at least honest about their noise reduction settings, at least we assume so, because the "Low" noise reduction setting appears to make little or no effort at all to remove noise. Artifacting rates start off at a too-high value of 0.85% at ISO 100, then immediately cross 1.00% at ISO 200. By ISO 800 noise is already weighing in at an unacceptable 2.51%, then the algorithm kicks things into high gear, reeling in noise for ISO 1600, but then spiking again at 3200 for a maximum full resolution noise rate of 2.89%.

So the result of this noise distribution is a graph with two "peaks," one at ISO 800, and one at ISO 3200. Remember that, it'll become important on the Dynamic Range page. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The native sensitivity spectrum ranges from ISO 100 to 3200. Why you should want to go higher than that—considering this camera's performance—is beyond us, but the option is there: ISO 6400 and 12800 are unlocked, but each cause a drop in resolution.

Focus Performance

Focus performance is usually pretty standard, not particularly fast, but average. However this behavior is sometimes interrupted by occasions in which the camera will miss focus in unchallenging situations, or even report false locks on an out-of-focus subject. Like many ultrazooms, these issues are exacerbated by operating at long focal lengths.

On the other hand, we were impressed by the HS30's close-up focusing capabilities. Using the appropriate macro mode, it's possible to focus on subjects at almost any distance, even if they're touching the very lens itself. Fujifilm marketing materials advertise this feature prominently, and for good reason.

Video: Low Light Sensitivity

The HS30 requires 28 lux of ambient illumination to gather 50 IRE of video image data. That's quite average for a still camera, but you'll get better low light results from just about any camcorder.

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration is largely controlled in the center of the frame and at modest focal lengths, but things go downhill quickly at maximum zoom. The center of the frame is still okay, but the glass just cannot keep up anymore at the corners, and severe, obvious fringes appear. Expect these to manifest themselves as bright purple borders in high contrast areas, just like the ones in the crops below.

Distortion

Radial distortion is severe throughout the focal range. We observed over 1.00% pincushion distortion at both middle and maximum focal lengths, plus 1.11% barrel distortion at the closest focal length.

Motion

Videos are good for 30p, but don't move with the kind of smoothness we'd expect from the 60p competition. We also noticed some issues with compression artifacts in shaded areas, as well as some minor frequency interference that can be observed in high contrast areas like the spinning circles. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Video Sharpness

For a $500 camera, the HS30 is capable of average sharpness during video. In our lab test we observed approximately 525 lw/ph horizontally on average, but only 450 lw/ph vertically. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

When we reduced ambient illumination to only 60 lux, horizontal resolution increased to 550 lw/ph (though this is within the test's margin of error), while vertical resolution dropped to 400 lw/ph.

Low Light Sensitivity

The HS30 requires 28 lux of ambient illumination to gather 50 IRE of video image data. That's quite average for a still camera, but you'll get better low light results from just about any camcorder.

Usability

We really dig the mechanical zoom ring, but it seems like most complaints about the HS20 haven't been addressed. We're stuck with the same obtrusive flash enclosure and the same amateurish menu system. Thankfully, that also means we get the same excellent handling.

Automatic Features

The HS30 has two automatic modes, three if you count EXR. Program Auto is where we spent most of our time, even though program shift functionality is not supported. For true beginners, a fully automatic mode is also available. This is not a scene-detecting auto mode, and the menu system still allows a slew of shooting options and settings, which could be confusing for some.

EXR mode is a bit different. This setting crops the sensor (except for Resolution Priority) to provide enhanced functionality like lower noise or better dynamic range. We don't test reduced resolution modes, but there's also an EXR Auto setting that applies an appropriate EXR effect based on the camera's evaluation of the scene.

Buttons & Dials

The HS30's button layout is divided between the right and left sides of the body, making this a camera for two-handed operation. Labeling of the rear control panel is a little tricky, and that goes for the clusters on both sides of the chassis. We do actually like this arrangement, however the complexity of this scheme relative to other ultrazooms will require a bit of a learning curve. Many important settings are absent from the main menu, so you'll need to remember your hotkeys when appropriate.

The menu system is Fujifilm's typical vertical list, a high contrast, low resolution interface that displays too-few options at once across many pages of settings. Finding the one you're looking for is a slow process, and without color coding it's hard to remember familiar pathways. In fact the entire default color scheme is kind of an eyesore, and makes the camera feel low-end. The interface can also slow down dramatically at times, especially right after a shot has been captured or the camera has been powered on.

There is no "quick menu," but that's because most of the appropriate settings get their own physical button instead. This is ideal, but again, will take some getting used to.

Instruction Manual

The HS30 ships with a mildly-useful basic guide, but you'll really want to download the full instruction manual from Fujifilm's website. Here you'll find a thorough document that contained almost all the information we needed for review.

Handling

Since all these bridge cameras are modeled after SLRs, handling is always superior to more compact models. Even in this company, the HS30's ergonomics are still among the best. Texture and rubberization surrounds the body, and the right hand grip protrudes far enough for an adult hand to hold comfortably. There's an indentation on that grip, below the shutter release, which gives the index finger a little more leverage.

On the rear panel, the thumb rest gets extra sticky rubberization, and there's a tall lip on the right side of this area to give the thumb some leverage too. Hey other manufacturers, are you paying attention?

Handling Photo 1

Physically handling the camera is very comfortable.

One handling woe that has not yet been rectified is the flash enclosure's effect on the zoom and focus rings. Part of what sets this camera apart is the large, mechanical manual zoom ring on the lens barrel, which is far more dynamic and precise than solutions found on competing ultrazooms. However the flash enclosure sticks out and over the zoom ring and focus ring, meaning it's very difficult to turn them all the way around without your fingers crashing into the flash. We were hoping for a slight redesign to fix this, but apparently we'll have to keep waiting.

Handling Photo 2

A lip beside the thumb rest adds plenty of stability.

Handling Photo 3

The control scheme lends itself to two-handed operation.

Buttons & Dials

The HS30's button layout is divided between the right and left sides of the body, making this a camera for two-handed operation. Labeling of the rear control panel is a little tricky, and that goes for the clusters on both sides of the chassis. We do actually like this arrangement, however the complexity of this scheme relative to other ultrazooms will require a bit of a learning curve. Many important settings are absent from the main menu, so you'll need to remember your hotkeys when appropriate.

Buttons Photo 1

The main control layout, split into two section.

On the top panel, we love the manual control dial, however the EV and drive mode buttons are too far out of reach here. The shutter release, while usable, also feels cheap, like thin plastic.

Buttons Photo 2

The shutter button is functional but cheap.

Display(s)

The rear LCD is a better way of previewing shots, but not by much. Onscreen display is still too sluggish for action photography, but colors are drastically more natural and closer to what the final image will be. We generally prefer viewfinders, but found ourselves using the rear LCD more often than not.

The panel itself has tilt functionality, so you'll be able to angle the screen 30˚ downward for overhead shots, or 90˚ up for framing videos.

Viewfinder

Like the HS20, the HS30 also has an electronic viewfinder, and there's even an eye-sensor that detects when you're looking through the finder and immediately swaps display from the LCD. But while the screen has decent resolution, rendition of color and detail are harsh, and response time is too slow for any kind of action photography.

Image Stabilization

Our stabilization testing rig was down for this review, sadly. We'll circle back and update this page in the future, once the shaker is back online. When this happens, it may cause the HS30's overall score to increase slightly.

Shooting Modes

The HS30EXR is equipped with a full sized mode dial featuring all four "PASM" shooting modes, a custom mode, two scene mode presets, and dedicated stops for EXR and panorama modes.

Manual Controls

The HS30's manual lens rings are some of the camera's best features. The zoom ring is mechanical, so you'll be able to adjust zoom much more dynamically than you would on a competing ultrazoom from another manufacturer. The action is a little sticky, and the barrel feels somewhat cheap to be honest, but at least the functionality is there and working.

The focus ring is less usable. It's a "by-wire" solution, meaning your input doesn't directly manipulate the glass, but rather triggers a motor which moves the glass. The HS30 has a manual focus assist zoom to aid the process, but we're rarely satisfied with systems like this.

Focus

Focus performance is usually pretty standard, not particularly fast, but average. However this behavior is sometimes interrupted by occasions in which the camera will miss focus in unchallenging situations, or even report false locks on an out-of-focus subject. Like many ultrazooms, these issues are exacerbated by operating at long focal lengths.

On the other hand, we were impressed by the HS30's close-up focusing capabilities. Using the appropriate macro mode, it's possible to focus on subjects at almost any distance, even if they're touching the very lens itself. Fujifilm marketing materials advertise this feature prominently, and for good reason.

Recording Options

Three shooting resolutions of varying size are available for each of the three aspect ratios (4:3, 3:2, 16:9), for a total of nine size options. JPEG compression quality may be set to either Normal or Fine, and the HS30 is even capable of shooting in RAW or RAW + JPEG simultaneously.

Speed and Timing

Drive modes are given a position of prominence, with a dedicated button right behind the shutter release for easy access. The camera is capable of traditional continuous photography in your choice of four different speeds, plus an automatic best shot selector, as well as brackets for exposure, dynamic range, and film simulation settings.

Fujifilm lists the best full resolution shooting speed at 8 frames per second, however the best we could do was 7.5, and this was only with a fast shutter and low ISO. What's worse, the buffer fills up after only four or five shots, after that, speed is reduced to the vicinity of 0.5 frames per second. RAW shooting is slower, and fills the buffer even faster.

The self-timer comes in non-customizable 10-second and 2-second countdowns, plus an auto-release mode that captures a shot only when a face is detected.

Focus Speed

Focus performance is usually pretty standard, not particularly fast, but average. However this behavior is sometimes interrupted by occasions in which the camera will miss focus in unchallenging situations, or even report false locks on an out-of-focus subject. Like many ultrazooms, these issues are exacerbated by operating at long focal lengths.

On the other hand, we were impressed by the HS30's close-up focusing capabilities. Using the appropriate macro mode, it's possible to focus on subjects at almost any distance, even if they're touching the very lens itself. Fujifilm marketing materials advertise this feature prominently, and for good reason.

Features

Despite our findings to the contrary, the HS30 seems to have been designed with enthusiasts in mind. As a result, ancillary features are left out, in favor of flexibility and control for video and drive modes.

Recording Options

The HS30EXR is capable of capturing Full HD 1080p videos at 30 frames per second, as well as 720p and 480p. High speed video is also available, at speeds of 80, 160, or even 320 frames per second, however this locks resolution 480p, 240p, or 320x112 respectively. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

Zoom

Optical zoom control is of course unlocked during video, because the glass is mechanically linked to the ring. Common practice is to limit zoom speed while a recording is in progress in order to cut down on the noise of the motor. That's not the case with the HS30, but noise is still an issue since the barrel elements rub plastic on plastic. This also means zoom won't be as smooth as other cameras, since you'll need to pull it yourself.

Focus

Focus behavior during video will obey the overarching Focusing option, meaning it can be set to continuous, single, or manual. Continuous will probably be best for most people while shooting video, but single is most common for stills. We wish there was a way to configure them independently.

Exposure Controls

Shooting variables that are available for still photography are locked for video. Shutter speed, aperture size, and ISO sensitivity cannot be manually configured for video, however the camera will obey the metering settings found in the Photometry menu.

Audio Features

Stereo microphones are arranged above and to either side of the lens barrel, but no options exist in relation to them. The HS30 does not even support commonplace features like wind cut or level display.

Conclusion

The Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR is a solid superzoom, but we come away from this review a bit disappointed. The mechanical zoom ring is a unique innovation, and despite the just-okay image quality produced by the HS20 last year, we found ourselves rooting for this series. Then, when we heard the HS30 would stick with the same zoom ratio as its predecessor, we thought "perfect, they're going to work on image quality instead of just more and more zoom." Heck, they even designed a new sensor.

Yet here we are again, one year later, talking about a camera we want to love, but don't.

Despite a supposedly-new sensor, image quality is still rather mediocre. Hit-or-miss white balance tends to ruin the camera's best feature, color accuracy, while both sharpness and noise reduction lag behind the competition. Chromatic aberration is extremely bad at the longest focal length, and shots at every zoom ratio are affected by distortion.

Design-wise the body still feels cheap, and didn't give us much confidence in build quality or durability. Problems with the HS20's design haven't been fixed, like the obstructive flash enclosure, in fact the chassis is altogether identical to the previous model. The menu system could still use an update, it's slow and inefficient, and gives the camera an entry-level user experience.

What Fujifilm needs to do to bring this series into contention is...well, exactly what we thought they were going to do. Stick with 30x zoom, stick with the manual rings, and focus on image quality. Improve the glass so it still looks sharp at maximum magnification. Start over with yet another new sensor. No, not the one from the X-S1, that camera takes lousy pictures too, and $800 is not an acceptable price for an superzoom. Finally, redesign the chassis with a more clever flash enclosure, hopefully one that doesn't stick out two inches above the lens barrel.

That's the formula, but until our dreams become reality, the HS30EXR is sadly just another superzoom.

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