The Fujifilm HS30 EXR superzoom updates last year's HS20 model bringing with it a small number of fairly substantial upgrades. Chief among these is a new 16MP EXR sensor that is claimed to deliver 30% less noise at higher ISO settings, a much-improved electronic viewfinder (EVF) that boosts resolution from 260k-dots to a much more usable 920k-dots. In addition, the HS30 also ditches the 4xAA batteries required by its predecessor in favour of a more efficient Li-ion battery that’s good for a claimed 600 shots. Last but not least, the HS30 also gets a new electronic level, which is a big help when trying to keep your horizons straight.
In most other respects, however, the HS30 is largely identical to the HS20. As such its highlights include a manually controlled 30x optical zoom; the ability to record lossless Raw image files as well as fine or standard quality JPEGs; a generous range of exposure modes including the full quartet of PASM controls and Fuji’s proprietary EXR shooting modes; a one-touch panoramic capture mode; 1080/30p Full HD video recording; a number of high-speed video capture modes that play back in slow-motion; a tiltable 460k-dot rear LCD monitor, and of course the same DSLR-like styling and handling characteristics of its predecessors.
At its heart the HS30 uses a backside-illuminated 1/2.3in CMOS EXR sensor that Fuji claim has been “improved” from what was found inside the HS20, which works in tandem with a dual-core Fuji EXR image processor. The EXR sensor is unique to Fuji and uses a triple-layer pixel array that allows neighbouring pixels to be combined when required to increase the signal-to-noise capacity of the sensor – a major factor when it comes to controlling noise in low light. In addition to this, the EXR sensor can also be augmented for dynamic range or for resolution. There is a price to pay, however, in that optimisation of the EXR sensor for either low-light or dynamic range halves its effective resolution from 16MP to 8MP.
Maximum output at 16MP in the default 4:3 aspect is 4608 x 3456 pixels, although if you’re short of memory card space or just feel that you just don’t need the full 16MP then there are also options to record at 8MP and 4MP. Alternative aspect and resolution options include 3:2 up to a maximum 14MP, and 16:9 up to a maximum of 12MP. In addition to Fine and Normal JPEG quality settings the HS30 can also be set to record Raw image files in Fuji’s proprietary .RAF format, or even simultaneous Raw and JPEG. Unfortunately though, the option to shoot Raw lies somewhat buried within the main in-camera menu, so if you regularly switch between JPEG and Raw you may well want to assign this to the Fn button.
Of course, the biggest single selling point of any superzoom camera is the convenience of having such a wide focal range to hand in a single lens, and in this respect the HS30’s 30x optical zoom is up there with the best of them. Offering the 35mm focal range equivalent of 24-720mm the HS30 is bettered only by Nikon's 42x P510 and Canon's 35x SX40.
Unlike these two models, and indeed just about every other superzoom on the market, the HS30's zoom is controlled manually by rotating the lens barrel, just as you would with a regular DSLR. This gives the HS30 a big advantage over its competitors, simply because it’s much quicker and far more intuitive to operate than the fiddly, spring-loaded power-zoom controls employed by its rivals. In addition, it's also much easier to achieve precise framing of your subject with a manual zoom ring as powered-zooms tend to move in incremental steps, meaning you often need to lightly feather the zoom control back and forth (and sometimes even physically move) to frame your shot exactly as you want it.
The lens itself is a Fuji-made Fujinon optic that offers a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at 24mm, rising progressively to f/5.6 at around 350mm and beyond. The lens incorporates 15 elements in 11 groups and includes three aspherical one ED lenses to minimise purple fringing on high-contrast borders. In addition, all of the elements have been treated with Super EBC (Electron Beam Coating) in an effort to further reduce image flare and ghosting.
Given its telephoto reach it’s reassuring to know that the HS30 offers built-in sensor-shift image stabilization that can be set to counter both handshake and also more general motion (for example when shooting from moving vehicle). Furthermore, if 720mm doesn’t provide quite enough telephoto reach for you then the HS30 also offers 1.4x and 2x ‘intelligent’ digital zoom options that essentially take a crop from the central area of the sensor and enlarge it. While the 1.4x digital zoom produces generally acceptable results, the 2x option is much more hit and miss with resolution issues and processing artifacts fairly evident even when the results are viewed at smaller sizes.
Used in the regular focus mode, minimum focus distance at 24mm is 45cm, rising to about 2m at 720mm. That said, the HS30 also offers some excellent Macro capabilities with regular Macro mode taking minimum focus distance down to 4cm when the lens is set to 24mm. Even more impressive is the Super Macro setting, which slashes minimum focus distance to just 1cm – again with the lens set to 24mm. Macro results are very good indeed and even outshine the camera’s telephoto capabilities. If you’re a particular fan of shooting small things up close then the HS30 comes highly recommended.
Shooting modes extend to the regular Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual (PASM) quartet found on DSLRs. These are complimented by the three EXR specific modes – Resolution Priority, High ISO & Low Noise, and D-Range Priority. Of course, if you’re not sure which EXR mode you should be using then there’s also an Automatic EXR setting that lets the camera decide on your behalf.
Complimenting the EXR modes are four ‘Advanced’ exposure modes: Pro-Focus and Pro Low-Light both take and then blend multiple exposures to achieve their results and are further complimented by a Multiple-Exposure mode and a newly introduced 3D mode for which you’ll need a 3D compatible viewer. Rounding things off are a fully Automatic setting, 17 individually selectable Scene modes, a one-touch Panorama mode and, last but not least, a Custom setting.
Movie modes include the facility to record 1080 Full HD movies at 30fps, backed up by 720 HD at 30fps and VGA quality movies also at 30fps. Sound is recorded in stereo, but there’s no microphone input. In addition to regular movies the HS30 also offers a range of high-speed recording options including 640 x 480 at 80fps and 320 x 240 at 160fps. All of these high-speed options play back in slow motion.