We were left feeling a bit underwhelmed by the overall image quality of the HS20. Certainly compared to the Fujifilm F550 that we recently tested, the HS20 seemed to come up a bit short. No doubt part of the problem is the perceived ability of the HS20 – with its DSLR-like styling and rich feature-set it’s all too easy to assume it will produce images of DSLR-like quality, which it most certainly doesn’t.
That’s not to say image quality is particularly bad, because it’s not. Indeed, the HS20 is perfectly able to hold it’s own against many mid-range and advanced-level compacts, it’s just that given the price, feature-set and form factor you might well expect it to produce a bit more.
On to the specifics, metering is generally quite accurate, albeit when the camera is used in one of the standard shooting modes outside of the EXR settings, there is a slight tendency for the camera to overexpose, sacrificing highlights in return for extra shadow detail. The Dynamic Range EXR mode performs quite well, producing images with more punch. Used on the Auto White Balance setting, we didn’t experience any major problems, even when moving from unbroken sunshine to artificial lighting
We found colour to be pleasingly accurate, albeit slightly muted when the camera is used on the ‘Provia’ Standard film simulation setting. Opting for the ‘Velvia’ Vivid setting instead does go some way to alleviating this by adding more vibrancy to processed images. We also found that using the camera in EXR Dynamic Range mode produced images with more punch and contrast when used in bright sunlight too.
While looking through our sample images, the lack of sharp edges quickly established itself as the HS20’s major bugbear. Given that the single biggest selling point of the HS20 is its huge zoom this lack of basic sharpness is a real let-down. The problem isn’t confined to using the camera at the far reaches of its telephoto capabilities either – indeed the sensor-shift image stabilisation does a noteworthy job of compensating for camera shake at long focal lengths. Rather the problem crops up at wideangle settings too. As is often the case with superzoom lenses the trade-off for being able to cover all focal lengths with a single lens is a compromise in overall image quality.
On paper the HS20 looks to be an attractive proposition. The 30x zoom certainly appeals, as does the range of advanced shooting modes. However, it's important to bear in mind that despite its DSLR styling and dimensions the HS20 is essentially an advanced compact and delivers image quality to match. If all-in-one convenience tops your priorities then the HS20 certainly ticks a lot of boxes and is well worth a look. If, however, image quality is equally or more important then you might want to consider eschewing the 30x zoom and try out some entry-level DSLRs or perhaps even a rangefinder style compact system camera instead.