Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR review
1/2in 16.0-megapixel sensor, 42.0x zoom (24-1000mm equivalent), 824g
The HS50EXR is a tempting proposition for anyone who's used to shooting with an SLR. It looks and feels strikingly similar, with a large handgrip and lens rings for zoom and focus. The 920,000-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) is much bigger and sharper than the ones on most ultra-zoom cameras, and compares well with an SLR's optical viewfinder.
The 920,000-dot LCD screen is exceptionally sharp, too, although the benefit over lower-resolution screens isn't so noticeable at normal viewing distances. The screen on the older HS30EXR could tilt up and down, but this one is hinged at the side. This allows freer movement including the ability to swing right around for self-portraits. The downside is that the strip of buttons on the HS30EXR for direct access to various key functions has gone. Instead, the HS50EXR has a Q button that calls up a grid 15 functions on the screen. It's a decent enough system but we preferred the older model's controls. The more flexible screen is welcome, though – overall we feel fairly neutral about this change.
We're happy to see that the chronic problem of not being able to adjust settings while the camera is saving shots has finally been resolved. This removes a big caveat to an otherwise impressive turn of speed. It can capture a photo every 0.9 seconds in both JPEG and RAW modes. Continuous shooting was at 10.2fps in our tests, although it didn’t last very long, slowing to 1.9fps after six frames. An 8-megapixel mode ups the ante, capturing 12 frames at 15fps before slowing to 4.7fps. As usual for an ultra-zoom camera, the screen and EVF show a sequence of captured frames rather than a live preview, but this 8-megapixel mode is fast enough to give a vague approximation of a real-time view.
The video mode has its ups and downs. Details could be sharper and the optical stabilisation struggled with handheld telephoto shots. It coped admirably in low light, though – the picture was a little noisy in the shadows but it was still nicely exposed. The soundtrack was thin and boxy but there's a microphone input to bypass the internal mic. It's a shame it's a 2.5mm rather than the more common 3.5mm socket, though, and that there's no level metering while recording.
The biggest change compared to the HS30EXR is the move from a 30x to a 42x zoom. The 24mm (equivalent) wide-angle focal length is as before, but the telephoto range has been extended from 720mm to 1,000mm. Sadly, though, it struggled to maintain sharp focus throughout this enormous zoom range. It was reasonably sharp at short focal lengths, but began to deteriorate around 400mm and became quite vague at around 800mm. We routinely take two or more shots for each scene when testing cameras, and we found that focus was a little inconsistent, with the second shot often giving better results than the first.
The 24-1000mm zoom range is extremely ambitious, and focus deteriorates a little at the long end
Still, these problems aren't unusual for cameras with such massive zooms, and the HS50EXR acquitted itself reasonably well in our comparative tests. It put in a solid performance in our telephoto tests. However, it began to fall behind when shooting into the shade, with noise reduction taking a heavy toll on fine details.
Image quality in low light is good rather than great
It sat in the middle of the pack in our low-light tests. The 1/2in sensor is a little bigger than the 1/2.3in sensors used elsewhere, which helps to keep noise levels down, but the excessive 16-megapixel resolution pushes them back up again. Dropping the resolution to 8 megapixels improved matters, though, and it also gave much better per-pixel sharpness and an expanded dynamic range – all thanks to Fujifilm's unique EXR sensor technology. We'd be tempted to forget about the 16-megapixel mode altogether and use this purely as an 8-megapixel camera.
In Auto mode, the camera reacts to high-contrast scenes by raising the ISO speed to 400. This lets it capture a wider dynamic range but it also means that noise reduction is working harder - hence the syrupy details in this shot
The FinePix HS50EXR can't quite match the leaders for photo or video quality, but it's close enough to keep it in the running. Meanwhile, its exceptional viewfinder and ergonomics really boost the enjoyment of using it. That may well be enough to clinch the deal, but the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 has better image quality overall.