Nudging the lower end of the DSLR market in terms of price (£315), design and features offered, the Fujifilm Finepix HS20EXR is a superzoom with plenty of ambition. But is it a bridge too far? We put it to the test.
Dancing with the big boys
If you want a camera that looks, feels and costs the same as a DSLR but isn't actually a DSLR, then the Fujifilm Finepix HS20EXR could be the camera for you. It’s a superzoom or 'bridge' camera that's built around an EXR CMOS sensor, which -- at half an inch -- is slightly bigger than that found in the average compact camera but smaller than those you would find in a DSLR. The sensor's resolution is 16 megapixels, up from the 10-megapixel sensor that came in the HS20EXR's predecessor, last year's HS10.
It's a bulky device, weighing 730g with batteries and SD memory card on board, so it's aimed at serious photographers rather than casual point-and-shooters. The moulded plastic design has a rugged feel and the grip is satisfyingly sturdy to hold. There are plenty of dedicated dials and buttons to play with too, though this might make the HS20EXR a little off-putting for inexperienced users.
A top-mounted accessory hotshoe, support for RAW, an electronic viewfinder (with approximately 97 per cent coverage) and a high-resolution (460,000-pixel) 3-inch LCD screen further reinforce the HS20EXR's status as an enthusiast's model. Interestingly, the large display can be tilted on its horizontal axis -- about 45 degrees downwards for high-angle shots and 90 degrees upwards for when you're shooting from the hip.
There's no rechargeable power pack provided. The HS20EXR takes standard AA batteries, which is quite convenient in that they're easily replaced if you run out of power while you're out and about. Economically, though, it makes sense to invest in a set of decent rechargeables, though this will add to the cost of your initial outlay.
The key thing about superzooms is, of course, the lens. Unlike a fully-grown DSLR, the HS20EXR's lens can't be removed and exchanged for a different one, but you'd probably never need to, given just how versatile the supplied glassware is. The wide angle is pretty darn wide at 24mm (35mm equivalent) and this extends right out to 720mm, providing a massive 30x optical magnification. Not only that but the zoom is also controlled manually via a lens ring, making it possible to set the focal length with a quick flick of the wrist.
In use, the HS20EXR is, for the most part, fast and responsive. It's ready to shoot in a little over two seconds from a cold start, which isn't exactly lightning speed but is still better than many compacts can muster. A range of high-speed shooting options is available, including eight frames per second (fps) at full resolution or 11fps if you drop the image quality to four megapixels.
A word of warning for those who prefer to shoot in RAW format instead of JPEG; we found that setting the HS20EXR to RAW output slowed down image processing considerably, causing a noticeable pause between shots.
The HS20EXR can also be used as a fairly good movie camera. It records high-definition video at up to 1080p resolutions, with a decent frame rate of 30fps and with a stereo sound accompaniment. The full length of the zoom lens can be used while filming video, which is a welcome bonus, as is the inclusion of a super slow-motion filming mode and HDMI output.
Photo quality is roughly in line with what we would anticipate from a bridge camera. Strong points include deep, rich, naturalistic colours and high levels of detail, particularly in good, even light. There's minimal blur too, thanks to a pretty good image stabiliser. Close ups are great with a Super Macro mode allowing you to shoot right up to 1cm away from your subject.
Noise is something of an issue, however, especially at high ISO settings (sensitivity can be pushed right up to 12800). But even as low as ISO 200 you can clearly see noise artefacts in some areas of solid colour, as our standard test shot attests -- take a look at the solid area of grey and you'll notice some pinkish flecks. You'll also see some signs of chromatic aberration -- it's the giveaway purple fringing where the white meets the grey on the colour charts. It's not terrible but you'll often notice it happening in areas where high contrasts occur.
That said, we are guilty of nit-picking slightly here. Overall performance was very good for a camera of its type, if not exceptional. We had high expectations and it's a shame the HS20EXR never really exceeded them
There are tons of modes and settings to explore, however, and here's where HS20EXR really hits its stride. Set the dial to EXR mode and the camera will attempt to automatically adapt to your situation. Pro Focus mode, meanwhile, provides professional-looking depth of field effects that are perfect for portrait shots. Pro Low Light mode works well for night shots, combining four separate exposures into a single shot to minimise noise. Aperture and Shutter Priority can also be selected straight from the mode dial, while the Program, Scene and Manual modes provide further options, including a 360-degree panoramas, film emulation styles and more.
If you're prepared to take a slight quality hit then the Fujifilm Finepix HS20EXR could be a viable alternative to a full-blown DSLR. It's adaptable, it has a lot of great features and comes with an amazing lens. A couple of minor issues aside, this is a great camera for enthusiasts.
Edited by Jennifer Whitehead