Fujifilm FinePix HS10

The Fujifilm FinePix HS10 ties with its direct rival, the Olympus' SP-800UZ, for offering the world's longest zoom range on a non interchangeable lens camera. The Fuji - alternatively known as a bridge model because feature-wise it plugs the gap between point and shoot pocket compact and more professional digital SLR, closely resembling the latter - has a robust-feel 30x optical zoom bolted on its front.

This provides a 24-720mm equivalent focal range in 35mm film terms, enabling close up portraits and wide angle landscapes to be captured with the one device (and for this reason such bridge models are also known as "all in ones"). It's ably backed up with sensor shift image stabilisation to help avoid blur.

Though the headline resolution is a "mere" 10.3 effective megapixels - the argument being that lens pixels crammed onto its smaller sensor (here 1/2.3-inch CMOS) makes for clearer, less noisy images - the HS10 is currently Fujifilm's flagship model for photo enthusiasts. We haven't seen a DSLR from the brand for years, and it seems content instead to concentrate its efforts on delivering souped-up compacts. It might have been nice, therefore, to have seen a triple use "EXR" sensor being deployed here, as in the recently reviewed F80EXR, to further help it stand out from the competition. 

With a flick of the on/off switch that handily encircles the large and springy shutter release button, the camera powers up for the first shot in just less than 2 seconds, locking onto target and determining focus and exposure in a further second. Unlike Olympus' challenger, the Fujifilm HS10's zoom can be manually operated with a twist of the wrist. Very useful this is too, making for quicker, more precise compositional adjustment than having to use a lever or switch and gingerly tab forward or back to achieve similar framing.

In this way it's an improvement on not just the mechanically operated Olympus, but also current big zoom alternatives from Nikon (P100), Pentax (X90), Kodak (Z981) and Samsung (WB5000).

Going one better, just behind the rubberised zoom ring is a manual focus ring; an enlarged central portion of the image provided on-screen to aid adjustments in shooting modes other than the ever-reliable full auto. However since this enlarged section becomes quite pixelated, it's difficult to wholly rely on it to achieve critical sharpness.

There is of course a trade off for the HS10's longer lens. It means that the camera is physically larger and weightier than all of the above-mentioned rivals, the Olympus being a good third less in size. On the other hand there will be those who admire its chunky entry-level DSLR-like dimensions of 130.6 x 90.7 x 126mm and body weight of 636g - due in part to four bog standard AA batteries inserted at the base of the handgrip for power.

So while it might not be the most portable of big zoom options and you'll need to make use of the provided shoulder strap, the HS10 certainly feels built to last and in that respect partly justifies the £399 asking price. Though you'll of course want to budget extra for a set of rechargeables.

While the cost matches a DSLR proper, so too do some of the camera's features, such as nifty eye sensors located below its electronic viewfinder that automatically switch the EVF on, and the larger 3-inch LCD below off, as you bring your eye level with it. This means that a dedicated button for switching between the two - as found on rival models - isn't required.

The capture of unadulterated (by the camera) RAW files is also offered alongside common, compressed JPEG files, as on a DSLR proper. The RAW feature has to be first enabled via the camera's set-up menu, where it feels rather hidden away. Otherwise the factory default is JPEG, with a wide choice of ratios and compression levels, including the regulars of 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9.

The HS10 additionally offers the best of compact technology in that Full HD movie clips can be recorded in stereo, with a one-touch red record button located top right of the angle adjustable LCD monitor on the camera's back, and mini HDMI output to be found at its side alongside regular USB/AV out port.

Like Sony offerings, the HS10's LCD can be folded outwards from the body and angled up or down, but cannot be flipped out at right angles to it. Nor can it be folded so that the screen is facing inwards to the body for added protection. Still, some flexibility is welcome and the screen still allows for a greater degree of low or high angle shots than otherwise possible with a fixed alternative. 

Save for video itself, shooting options are selected via a large dial set into the camera's sloped top plate, with a DSLR-style command wheel alongside. There's a scene and subject recognising auto mode alongside regular auto for consistently impressive point and shoot simplicity, or more experienced owners can take advantage of the creative quartet of program, shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual shooting modes, which afford access to a greater variety of personally rewarding image adjustment options.

A feature the HS10 also shares with a growing number of Sony compacts - including its NEX-5 - and located on the same mode dial, is a panorama function that automatically stitches together a series of images to form a single "grab" after the user finishes sweeping through an arc. Very useful for travel photography and if shooting landscapes that even employing the full extent of the 24mm equivalent wide angle lens fails to do justice to.

It's not quite as sophisticated as Sony's increasingly refined Sweep Panorama version - moving subjects can come out blurred or disjointed here, otherwise it's fairly cohesive for static subjects - but again, whilst you wouldn't buy the camera for this feature alone it's a welcome extra to have.

Over our test period the HS10 delivered warm, albeit natural looking colour and mainly even exposures, though images were inevitably occasionally soft when shooting handheld and utilising almost the full extent of the lens' maximum telephoto zoom setting. There is some pixel fringing visible between areas of high contrast, but it's relatively subtle.

The self-stitching panorama feature is a fun addition, and the Pro Low Light mode and ability to give images a chrome-like appearance - features borrowed from the manufacturer's previously released pioneering compacts - ensure that, fixed lens or not, you won't soon exhaust the HS10's creative possibilities.

Verdict

Okay, though the Fujifilm FinePix HS10 looks like a DSLR, it's not a DSLR. Whilst this means images aren't quite as pin sharp as an interchangeable lens alternative, non professionals will well be able to live with that in exchange for a much broader range of creative possibilities than the pocket camera they may be upgrading from.

Let's also not forget that the HS10 is a far, far cheaper all-encompassing option than what it would cost to equip a digital SLR proper with a paparazzi-like equivalent lens. Add in the fact that this bridge model otherwise offers DSLR-like (or rather DSLR "lite") features and handling, and even more experienced users won't readily get bored.

Ultimately though, whether or not the HS10 is for you largely depends on whether you will actually make use of the broad compositional scope on offer. If you won't, for the price, an entry level DSLR would be a sounder investment. If you do go for the Fuji however, it should provide years of service.