The HS30 follows the same design blueprint of its predecessors with the overall size and shape of the camera not dissimilar to that of a small, entry-level DSLR. Overall build quality, while not quite up to the same benchmark standard of Fuji’s flagship X-S1 superzoom, is still very high with the HS30 encased within a tough plastic outer shell that feels strong enough to survive the odd knock or two.
The handgrip, while still relatively deep, feels slightly thinner than it did on the HS20 – no doubt on account if it not having to accommodate four AA-sized batteries anymore. Able to accommodate between two to three fingers (depending on the size of your hands, of course), the ergonomic shape and rubberised finish allows you to get a good, secure hold of the camera. This is further aided by a ridge on the back of the camera that is perfectly placed to brace your thumb against. Together these make the HS30 a very comfortable camera to hold overall.
The zoom ring is covered in small ridges making it especially easy to get a good firm hold of. The manual focus ring, however, is a little too close to the camera body for our liking. Given how far forward the EVF/pop-up flash housing extends, getting a good hold on this ring can be a little fiddly. That said we do like how the camera displays a focus bar indicator on the rear monitor/EVF when the camera is being used in manual focus mode.
The HS30 is well adorned with a good selection of buttons that enable you to quickly select and chance regularly used settings such as ISO, White Balance and AF mode. The command wheel to the right of the main mode wheel is a nice touch too and well placed within easy reach of the thumb. We also like the inclusion of an AE/AF Lock button as this can really help out in tricky metering situations. While the HS30 would undoubtedly benefit from some sort of quick menu, the omission of one is just about forgivable given the sheer number of direct-access buttons it offers.
The in-camera menu is relatively simple to navigate, although as we mentioned earlier in the review the option to shoot Raw is rather oddly tucked away at the bottom of the Set-up menu rather than prominently displayed near the top of the Shooting menu as you might expect. In all other respects though, the menus and sub-menus are all well laid out, making it easy to find and adjust the camera’s various settings.
The new 920k-dot EVF is a huge improvement on the old 230k-dot EVF of the HS20. Whereas the older model offered a particularly unsatisfying user experience on account of its low resolution and washed out colour, the new viewfinder is much sharper and with much better colour rendition too. It's still no match for an optical viewfinder and falls some way behind the current crop of 2.4m-dot Sony viewfinders, but as an alternative to the 3in, 460k-dot rear monitor it's perfectly useable. Should you want to use the rear svcreen to compose with then the ability to tilt the screen upwards by just over 90 degrees and downwards by around 45 degrees is particularly useful for overhead or waistline shooting.
In our review of the HS20 last year we were somewhat critical of that model’s slow start-up time, perceptible autofocus delay and lengthy image processing wait times. We certainly weren’t alone in these criticisms either. In response Fuji has claimed that the HS30 offers notable performance upgrades over its predecessor. While we didn’t have an HS20 to hand during our test to make any direct comparisons against, we have to say that the HS30 remains a bit on the slow side.
Start-Up is one area where performance has improved though. With the Quick Start option set to ‘on’ the camera takes approximately two seconds to switch on and lock focus, which isn’t bad at all – certainly a big improvement over the 3.5seconds of its predecessor.
Autofocus speed feels much the same, although the slight delay between the act of half-pressing the shutter button and the AF system actually kicking into gear still seems to be a bit of an issue. Once the AF system is up and running it’s fast enough and in general you’re looking at less than a total of 0.5secs for the AF system to lock on, however the slight delay at the start of proceedings does make the HS30 feel slower than its main rivals.
Processing times remain one of the bigger chinks in the HS30’s armour though. The times taken to process images will, of course, vary depending on the complexity of the scene you are photographing and the quality level and drive mode you have the camera set to. By way of an example, shooting full-resolution fine-quality JPEGs on Single-shot drive mode, each image takes around 2.5 seconds for the camera to fully process – we only managed to shoot four images within a timed ten-second period, getting exactly the same result when we switched over to shooting Raw.
While the HS30 offers a good range of Continuous shooting options (including a Best Shot Selector and some useful bracketing options) the memory buffer does fill up quite quickly, after which the camera will slow down considerably. For example, shooting 16MP JPEGs with the 8fps Continuous option we were only able to record six consecutive frames before the camera slowed to approximately 0.6fps. By reducing resolution to 4MP we were able to reel off 12 consecutive shots before the camera slowed. This isn’t particularly terrible performance overall, although it’s worth bearing in mind if you were hoping to use the HS30 to regularly shoot fast-moving action with.
Used on the lowest ISO settings, image quality isn’t at all bad. First and foremost, it’s important to bear in mind that while the HS30 might resemble a small DSLR it has much more in common with compact cameras and, as such, uses a sensor that is much smaller then the APS-C sensors found in the vast majority of entry-level to mid-range DSLRs. In this sense, it’s important to judge the HS30 on its merits as a compact camera and to be realistic about what it’s capable of producing in terms of overall image quality.
That said, if you’re primarily looking for a well-featured camera to take non-critical snapshots with then the HS30 is more than capable, and certainly able to hold its own against other superzooms currently on the market. The EXR modes in particular are capable of producing consistently vibrant images with good levels of contrast. By the same token though the regular Automatic mode often disappoints with flat, lifeless looking shots. Images taken in the PASM exposure modes can also come out a little flat – at least compared to their EXR counterparts.
Unlike many modern digital cameras the HS30 doesn’t offer any built-in digital filter effects, although there is quite a bit of scope to ‘shape’ the in-camera image processing as you like. In addition to selecting basic Colour, Tone and Sharpness levels the HS30 also offers number of Film Simulation options that essentially mimic the look of classic old 35mm film stock from Fuji. We tended to use the Provia (Standard) setting, but if you want to boost saturation then the Velvia (Vivid) setting can come in handy.
The Fujinon lens produces good levels of sharpness when used to shoot subjects in close proximity, especially at wideangle settings, although faraway objects tend to come out much softer – even at wideangle settings. Likewise, extending the zoom to its furthest telephoto reaches tends to result in images that lack sharpness. This is a common problem with all-distances-covered zoom lenses mind, and certainly isn't unique to the HS30. The sensor is on a par with other mid-range compacts at resolving fine detail at lower ISO settings although some JPEG processing artifacts can be seen even at the lowest sensitivity settings. At mid to high ISO settings (and despite Fuji’s claims to the contrary) noise really does become quite intrusive, leading to images where fine detail takes on a ‘smeared’ or ‘painted-on’ look by the in-camera noise reduction.
Given that the HS20 can still be purchased for around £260 whereas the HS30 can be found for as low as £310 online, do the various incremental upgrades make the HS30 worth the extra £50? We think that they do. The HS30's new EVF is infinitely more usable than its predecessor's, and battery life is better too. Judged against other compact cameras using small 1/2.3inch sensors image quality is pretty good and the EXR modes remain useful in a variety of challenging situations. Add to this the HS30's manually operated zoom, generous feature set and general ease of use and there's plenty here to tempt you. If you're looking specifically for a superzoom then the HS30 is certainly worth a closer look.