First Look: Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR review

0 out of 5
£399.99

For

Control in the hand seems great, new sensor promises excellent results

Against

Too soon to tell

The Fujifilm FinePix HS20: 30x optical zoom, brand new 16MP sensor, EXR processor and more besides. Pocket-lint got hands-on a near-complete Fujifilm HS20 at this year’s Focus On Imaging show.

Superzooms: no decent ones for ages and then they come along in pairs. Along with the Sony HX100V - that we’ve just published our First Look review of - the latest Fujifilm FinePix HS20 looks set to be a belter of a superzoom.

Updating the HS10 from yesteryear was never going to be an easy task as that model set the bar rather high. Saying that it wasn’t completely perfect, and we were always hopeful that the Fujifilm FinePix HS20 would bring some closure to issues such as the small and low-resolution viewfinder and fiddly manual zoom ring. Regrettably, that doesn’t seem to be the case as the overall HS20’s design is exactly the same as the HS10. In fact, put them side-by-side and, ignoring the obvious badge change, it’s only a small red ring design feature on the lens itself that has changed.

But that’s not to paint a bad picture. Far from it. Given the time we’ve managed to spend with the HS20 we’re most impressed with the way it works, and it’s the headline new 16-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor that’s the biggest change. Not only is the sensor a higher resolution but the pixels aren’t mounted as per other sensors. Nope, Fujifilm has spun them by 45 degrees in order to cleverly let the light more accurately land and distribute itself to the sensor.

The results, so the theory goes, are that more (and better) light directly lights up each of the pixels and this brings a clearer signal for better image quality. Add to this the “BSI” (back-side illuminated) designation and things go a step further too: the wiring in this design has moved from the centre of the sensor to the rear in order to allow light to pass more freely. It’s all very clever tech and, for those reading the HX100V First Look, you’ll notice a lot of similarities. That’s simply because, unofficially, Sony produces the sensor for Fujifilm too. But you’d just never hear them say that out loud.

So what’s the image quality actually like? Well, the model we got our mitts on was a couple of months short of release and so the quality is not even near final and we don’t have test shots to demonstrate it. To assess the final quality based on this would be unfair, but we’re hopeful it’ll be pleasingly decent. However the rather high-resolution sensor does seem a little bit overkill in our books - a full 16-megapixels is far more than your average Joe is ever going to need and it just seems both a bit unnecessary and potentially detrimental to image quality for such a rise to have taken place.

Elsewhere and there are some changes that could make big differences for those looking to use their HS20 in certain ways. For starters the standard hotshoe now has three pins for TTL (Through The Lens) connectivity - important if you want to use an additional flashgun in auto mode. There’s also the capacity to utilise the Fuji RR-80 remote release to fire the shutter without so much as needing to touch the camera - great for extra stability when firing off long exposures, for example. And perhaps it’s here where most of the changes make those big differences.

Using the HS20 is good, though the same issues we found with the HS10 still ring true. The fact that the manual focus ring is so far back towards the camera’s body just really doesn’t feel natural. Of course not everyone will use such a feature, but it does feel miss-placed. The zoom ring, on the other hand, is set much further forward and is effortless in terms of extending the lens - no need to fiddle around with annoying, slow “toggle” controls as per many lesser compact cameras. And the lens itself, with its wide-angle 24mm setting, is wider than any other offering on the market. This does limit the full telephoto appeal perhaps a little, but only when comparing to models like the Sony HX100V and Canon SX30 IS that have longer reaches overall. 

One of the HS10’s more prominent hiccups was how slowly it processed its RAW files. That plus the 10 frames per second continuous shooting mode could actually only snap away 7 images before clogging the buffer. The HS20 partially sees to this issue, firstly by speeding up RAW capture and secondly the now-lower 7.6fps continuous shooting mode can cycle off the full round of images without stoppage.

Outside of stills capture and the HS20 offers a 1080p30 using the H.264 compression codec. Quality is good, as expected from a CMOS sensor, and based on what we’ve been able to judge so far and the manual focus and zoom can be deployed during capture, which will please those looking to get a little more creative with video. Of course, we’ll have to have a good look at video capture, and the final quality, when we get the HS20 in for a full review.

Verdict

Rounding up and, on the whole, the Fujifilm HS20 really isn’t that different from the HS10. There are some subtle features that may make existing users want to upgrade, but otherwise the latest model just feels like it’s been given that standard annual lick of paint and a re-boxing. For a newcomer unaware of the HS10 this won’t be a problem of course as, all things considered, the HS20 looks to be a serious contender for the superzoom crown.