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Product Review: Fujifilm Finepix HS 10
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Product Review: Fujifilm Finepix HS 10

With a whopping 30X optical zoom lens, it stretches the limits of EVF digital cameras

With effective anti-shake, and packed with hi-tech features, the FinePix HS10 is an intriguing camera that may have wide appeal while expanding and redefining the Superzoom camera category.


 

Features

  • 10MP BSI (back side illuminated) CMOS sensor
  • 30x 24-720mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8-5.6 manual zoom lens
  • ISO range 100-3200
  • 3-inch movable LCD screen
  • 10 frame per second burst rate at full resolution up to 7 continuous frames
  • 1080p full HD Movie capture
  • 1000 fps high-speed movie mode
  • RAW, JPEG format image capture
  • Multi-frame technology for multi-motion capture, sweep panorama, removing moving objects from image
  • Sensor-shift and ISO boost image stabilization
  • AF Tracking


Positives

  • Good image quality
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization is effective
  • Loooong zoom range


Negatives

  • Disappointing viewfinder
  • Need clearer macro indicator
  • Manual focus, zoom rings are ergonomically challenged


Ideal for

  • Travel photography
  • Landscapes
  • Sports and action
  • Science and experimental shooting


Pricing: $429.95 (as of 7/26/10)

Overview

The Fujifilm Finepix HS10 holds the distinction of housing the longest-range zoom lens of any self-contained compact digital camera. “Compact” is a relative term here: The camera is actually a bit larger and heavier than most EVF cameras and side-by-side with the Samsung NX-10 or Panasonic G-series cameras it is somewhat larger. However, considering the 24-720mm (35mm equivalent) f2.8-5.6 optical zoom is not much bigger than a typical 18-55mm DSLR kit lens, the HS10 is an incredible miniaturization achievement.

The 10-megapixel CMOS sensor is back-side illuminated, which at least theoretically should translate to lower digital noise at high ISO and low light, an important feature considering the camera uses the same sized sensor that’s found in most smaller cameras. Fujifilm’s Multi-Frame technology lets you perform all kinds of neat tricks, such as creating a panorama by moving the camera in a semicircle as it captures the scene (the camera stitches the shots together), combining movement of a moving object against a fixed background in a single scene, and detecting and deleting moving objects from a scene. There’s internal HDR to open up shadows and capture more highlight details, continuous high-speed video and still photography options, image stabilization, tracking AF, and some 14 shooting modes. All this, and RAW capture, too!

In other words, this camera is crammed full of features, and promises be a blast to use. Let’s see how it performs in the field.

Zoom range:

At 24mm (35mm equivalent), the lens takes in this sunny scene in downtown New Brunswick, NJ. Do you see the woman with the baby about to cross the street a block away?

There she is! A 200mm, this is where most compact digital cameras give up and say “that’s good enough.” But is our little HS10 satisfied? Of course it isn't! It wants to keep zooming…and zooming…and zooming...

 

Fill the frame! Shot from more than a block away, you can see the telephoto compression in this shot and the fact that, thanks to the fact that I was a bit shaky from having just visited Starbucks, the image was a bit soft. But when you consider that this was shot handheld at 720mm at 1/250 sec at f/5.6, this isn’t so bad!


Special features

The HS10 uses several high-end technologies, some of which we’ve seen before but not all together in one camera. SR auto scene recognition (sometimes called intelligent auto exposure) has become a commonly found feature. It chooses from one of the camera’s exposure modes based on an analysis of the scene and bases exposure, aperture and shutter speed choice, white balance, color intensity, and contrast on what’s best for that scene. The “Advanced” mode, ironically, is really for beginners—it accesses the individual scene modes such as Beach or Portrait.

But the multi-shot technology is where this camera sets itself apart. First, there’s multi-Motion Capture. It’s best to try this feature with the camera mounted on a tripod. Let’s say you’re photographing someone throwing a ball. The camera shoots a quick sequence of frames, then combines them, multiple-exposure style, into one shot showing the entire movement. The opposite end of the spectrum is Motion Remover, which again is best used with a tripod. Photograph a static object and if anything in the image is moving, Motion Remover takes it out. For example, if you are photographing a building and cars drive by, Motion Remover eliminates the cars. Nifty!

 

When shooting in Multi-Motion Capture, the camera saves the original, untouched scene, above….

 

But the Multishot version is kind of, but not totally, successful in combining a seven-sequence study in motion within one shot. I think I'll nickname this the Marcel Duchamp mode.


The camera can also stitch together images for a panorama covering 180 to 360 degrees, shooting horizontally or vertically. But the way it captures the images to stitch together is interesting: Press the shutter release down and move the camera in a smooth, continuous motion in the direction of the on-screen arrow. The camera will then stitch the scene together (it takes about a minute) and produce a completed panorama. It took me a couple of tries to get the speed of the motion just right; too fast and the image is disjointed. With a little practice, you’ll get the speed. Be sure to meter the scene manually as autoexposure might change as you pan through the scene, causing unwelcome variations in the final shot.
 

Panorama mode: This 180-degree sweep of the New Brunswick, NJ theater district under construction, above, looks well put together (I know, this is tiny but take my word for it) until you take a closer look. The seams connecting images often blur or doubled-up details. My take? Panorama mode may be fine for scenics, but not so much for fine-detailed scenes like the one at right.


 

Best Frame Capture starts shooting from the moment you’ve pressed the shutter release halfway down. The camera goes into burst mode, which can be 3, 5, 7 or 10fps at full frame, bracketing exposure and the moment. When you’re done shooting, the camera sifts through the shots and selects what it thinks is the best one. For Zoom Bracketing, each time the shutter release is pressed the camera takes three shots—full frame, cropped 1.4x, and cropped 2x. Of course, the cropped shots are not at full resolution and are really just a form of digital zoom; it’s a gimmick.

Autoexposure Bracket, however, is a useful tool and could be used for HDR (high dynamic range) photography. Each time you press the shutter release in AE BKT, the camera takes three shots, one overexposed, one normal, one underexposed. The exposure range can be up to two stops. However, you don’t need to go to that effort if you’re interested in HDR capture, because the camera’s D-Rng (Dynamic Range) mode can do that for you.


Does the HS10’s built-in HDR work? Well…compare the above shot, made without HDR, with the shot below, made at full-blast HDR. I can’t see a significant difference—can you? If full HDR is only a 1-stop range, which I suspect, then this doesn’t surprise me.



In the hands

For a camera categorized as “compact” the HS10 has quite a bit of bulk to it, but we can forgive Fujifilm for that because of the zoom lens’s long reach. The generously-sized grip might be a bit too big for small-handed users, but my average-sized hands were able to grasp the camera comfortably. The weight is well distributed whether the lens was at its wide angle setting or fully zoomed, which is important for stability when hand-holding with the lens zoomed out.

 

 
The long and the short of it: Top, a view of the HS10’s top plate, with the lens at the 24mm (35mm equivalent) setting. Above, the lens is zoomed all the way out to 720mm (35mm setting). Actual focal lengths, which won’t mean much to the average shooter, are indicated on the right side; I wish they would have put maximum magnification ratios there instead.

The menu structure is fairly flat, divided into shooting and setup/playback modes. Because there are so many features, some quality time with the manual is advised so you don’t get completely lost while using this camera in the field.

DSLR-type modes (Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority or Manual) are easily accessed via the top mode dial. A smaller dial next to the mode dial adjusts settings. In manual exposure, turn that dial to adjust shutter speed, and turn the same dial while simultaneously pressing the EV button to change the aperture. This has become standard procedure on many digital cameras and is easy enough with a bit of practice.

Zooming the long zoom lens is smooth with good action, but be careful where you place your hands to zoom the lens or you may find yourself bumping up against the protruding viewfinder/flash housing, which covers most of the zoom ring. Manual focusing is a bit of a problem. It takes at least five turns of the ring to go from super macro closeup (basically focusing to the front of the lens in wide-angle mode) to infinity. Since the focus ring is at the base of the lens, it is impossible to turn it steadily because of the aforementioned protruding viewfinder/flash housing, which covers the top of the focus ring completely. Placing the focus ring at the front of the lens rather than the base would have been an ergonomically better choice.

 

Where’s the manual focus ring? All the way to the left, tucked in all-too-snugly underneath the protruding flash/EVF housing, which prevents users from doing a full turn. The same housing partly blocks the zoom ring and can get in the way of those loooong zooms.

My other complaint about this camera is the EVF. I found its 200K dot resolution to be only fair (the LCD, at 230,000 dot resolution, is similarly challenged) while the illumination is poor; in bright sunlight, I felt it was hard to see the image in the viewfinder. Fujifilm needs to boost finder brightness. Additionally, I find it odd that only 97% of the image is displayed in either the EVF or LCD monitor. It shouldn’t be so difficult to display the entire scene if you’re capturing electronically!

In the field/performance

With so many high-speed features, it was no surprise that the HS10 was quite responsive, especially when doing multi-shot type work. In bright, well-lit scenes, focus was quick and decisive, but as light or contrast diminished it became a bit searchy but not objectionably so.

AF from infinity to super macro focus of a few inches away took less than a second, but you have to have the Super Macro mode turned on if you want super close-up shots. However, close focus is hit or miss because the closest focus point varies, depending on focal length and you have to use the camera for a while to figure out how close you can get at which focal length (it’s about ½ inch at 24mm, 3.3 feet at full tele and 16.4 feet at full tele if not in Super Macro Mode). A clearer indication (other than the shutter locking) of when you’ve passed the closest focal point would be nice.  That said, the camera shot respectable flower shots.

I found the Electronic Viewfinder’s performance to be surprisingly slow. Once you bring the camera to your eye, a proximity detector notifies the camera to automatically switch from LCD to EVF. On the HS10, the lag time during this switchover was around a second—long enough to miss some action shots. This needs to be addressed and hopefully there will be a firmware update to fix this problem.

At 200mm, I was able to get this close, for a good, respectable almost-macro shot.

Lens/Image Quality

I am generally suspicious of long-range zooms because engineering such a lens requires optical compromises that manifest themselves in different ways. I took test shots to determine center and corner focus accuracy and sharpness throughout the zoom range at f/8, edge vignettting, and distortion as well as chromatic aberration.

That said, I was impressed with the HS10’s optical performance. All focal length references here refer to 35mm equivalents. Focus was sharp in the center at all focal lengths including (surprisingly) 720mm. Edge sharpness is average at 24mm, but is almost as sharp as the center by 50mm. It remains consistently sharp up until 500mm, when edges start to blur somewhat and by 720mm, the corners of the frame are soft, which is not a surprise. Lens distortion is well controlled, although I suspect the camera applies some internal software corrections before we see the shot. There is very slight pillow distortion at 24mm that is gone by 50mm. Minor pincussion distortion appeared by 300mm.

 

Pushing the envelope: At 720mm, on a tripod at ISO 100, this center detail at 100% enlargement shows remarkable sharpness (can’t say the same for the corners of the frame, but I wasn’t expecting this level of sharpness at this focal length.)

 

Pushing the envelope further: What’s the difference between this 100% detail shot at 720mm at ISO 100? I handheld the camera at 1/250 sec (after drinking 3 cups of coffee!), while the shot above was made on a tripod! This demonstrates that the HS10’s sensor-shift image stabilization is effective, despite the long focal length and my java jitters.


The lens’s biggest weaknesses are is vignetting and flare. Minor vignetting was visible at 24mm; by 105mm edge darkness became more noticeable.  By 300mm vignetting is moderate, and is pronounced by 720mm. Again, this isn’t surprising given the lens’s reach, and I would say that as optical compromises go, this is reasonable. Flare was visible at all focal lengths, and was best at 24mm. By 80mm, flare was significant and remained so for much of the focal range. Bottom line: use the lens hood and don’t shoot into the sun.

Overall, my concerns about the extended focal length were allayed by the image quality, which I found to be excellent. While optical compromises were made, they’re ones that I think the camera’s most likely users (serious snapshooters and hobbyists) can live with.

 

No fuzzy dog here! Inside in low light, the camera produced better-than-average image quality at ISO 400. Quality was acceptable at 800.

Conclusion

The Fujifilm HS10 is an impressive camera thanks to its 30x zoom lens and high-tech features that surprised me with its lens’s image quality even at the longer zoom settings. That said, I wouldn’t recommend using the lens at full extension but rather wouldn’t go beyond 400-500mm since image quality does deteriorate after that due to inevitable camera shake. At higher speeds, the image quality remains pretty good when shooting JPEGs, a reflection of the internal noise reduction software.

The final printed image is what counts most, and  the HS10 can deliver good, sharp prints in many settings and shooting situations. If you can handle the viewfinder’s foibles, this is an excellent camera for all-around use with a few high-tech features that might be useful both creatively and for scientific applications.

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