Looking at the HS30's exposure options, you'll find that this camera offers an option for just about any user, and any situation. All of these settings are accessible from the HS30's large mode dial, which is situated on the top of the hand grip; right in reach of your thumb. Beginner's will appreciate the fully automatic functionality of the camera's Auto and EXR Auto modes, and when they want to be more specific; the HS30 offers 17 pre-programmed Scene modes that cover situations ranging from capturing a beautiful sunset, to snapshots of your dog or cat. These creative modes are found when the mode dial is rotated to either the SP1 or SP2 positions. Having two SP options gives you the ability to have two of your favorite modes on hand at all times; giving you the ability to quickly recall them without having to search through the menu.
There are also four Advanced shooting modes under the Advanced position on the mode dial. This setting gives you access to Pro Focus, Pro Low-light, Multiple Exposure, and Individual Shutter 3D modes. These "advanced" settings use multi-frame technology to create high-quality images by combining image data from several photos into one single image. For example, Pro Low-Light boasts that it can help you capture better photos in marginal lighting by snapping four photos of the scene at hand, then combines them into one image with reduced blur and image noise. These options consume a bit more resources, meaning that the camera may be much slower than normal due to all of the extra processing required. Combined, these options, along with the 17 other scene modes, give you a greater opportunity at capturing the shots you're after; regardless of your photographic knowledge.
Looking at EXR Auto mode more closely, we see that Fuji continues to push their EXR sensor modes. EXR Auto is Fuji's take on intelligent auto, which is pretty much standard in all digicams nowadays. This option allows you to focus solely on framing your subject(s), while the camera takes care of the rest. While most intelligent auto modes stop after adding scene mode settings to a shot (on top of choosing the optimal exposure settings), EXR Auto takes it one step further by applying one of three EXR sensor modes. These include Resolution Priority (the camera focuses on creating the largest image possible), High ISO & Low Noise (the camera is more concerned with low noise, then image size), and D-Range Priority (the camera tries to create the most dynamic image possible, with high amounts of detail in both shadows and bright areas of the photo). By adding in this extra step in processing, Fuji hopes to help you create even better photos than using plan old Auto mode. While there is some extra processing for this option, we didn't notice any real slow down in camera performance.
For those who desire more control over the exposure process, the HS30 offers a variety of more advanced settings that give you as much, or as little control as you want or need. If you're just starting to dabble in the art of photography, you can use Program AE mode to start making adjustments to ISO, White Balance, Metering, etc.; while the camera still chooses the optimum shutter speed and aperture values. You can then move on to settings like Aperture priority and Shutter Speed priority, which allow you to choose one side of the exposure process while the camera helps with the opposite setting. If you still crave for more control, the HS30 does offer a full Manual option, where you have control over all of the available functions of the camera. As you dial in the exposure, the LCD or EVF will display a handy exposure scale. This helps give you an idea of whether or not the camera feels the settings you've chosen will create a good exposure. Any way you look at it, the HS30 offers a plethora of exposure options to suit the skill level of just about any user.
The body of the HS30 is also pretty much identical to the HS20. The exterior gives you that dSLR-like look and feel, with a large hand grip on the right hand side, long lens barrel, various controls spread out across the landscape, and an EVF positioned above the lens; in the same position you'd find the optical viewfinder on a dSLR. The body is quite large, and the enlarged hand grip gives you a very comfortable and secure grip on the camera. It won't fit in any pockets, but dangles from the neck comfortably with the included "shoulder" strap. We found that all of the camera controls were well spaced out, and easy to operate with your fingertips. All of the controls are raised above the body's surface, ensuring you can easily depress them. They are also very well labeled, so you know exactly what function they control. During our evaluation of the camera, we experienced no issues with the controls.
The HS30 offers two high-quality viewfinders for you to use in framing your photos and videos; a 3.0-inch tilting LCD or the eye-level EVF. The 3.0-inch LCD screen is a very nice display, offering a resolution of 460,000 dots. This gives you a crisp picture, with a great deal of fine detail and accurate colors. The surface does offer an anti-reflective cover/coating, however as with most LCDs you may find a few angles which still reflect bright light. This unit can tilt upward or downward, giving you some versatility in composing your shots. Whether you're shooting overhead, or at waist level; you'll have a clear view of your subject. When you want a more traditional view, or when the bright sunlight is just too much to use the LCD, you can frame your shots with HS30's EVF (Electronic ViewFinder). This unit boasts an impressive resolution of 920,000 dots, and it shows all of the same information as the LCD on the back. This tiny 0.26-inch screen is enclosed inside a magnified eyepiece, which offers a handy eye sensor that will turn off the rear LCD when you bring your eye up to the EVF. While the EVF offers a very clear image, I personally found the eye piece was a bit too small. It also lacks a soft rubber eye-cup, so I did not find it very comfortable for extended use. For those of you like myself that don't have perfect eyesight, the EVF does offer a diopter adjustment so you can focus the image for your eyesight. While the EVF is a nice unit, I found myself using the LCD most of the time due to the eyepiece and lack of eye-cup; however this is personal preference, your opinion may differ.
Like with past HS-series models, the most marketed feature of the HS30 has to be its awesome FUJINON 30x manual zoom lens. Not only does it offer a massive zoom range of 24-720mm (in 35mmm equivalence), but it also boasts manual zoom control. Like the lens on a dSLR, you rotate the zoom ring on the lens barrel to move through the zoom range. This gives you the ability to precisely frame a scene, without having to change your position like you would with a standard super-zoom that uses a stepping zoom motor. The lens moves smoothly from wide angle to full telephoto, and as you zoom you can see focal length marks on the top of the lens barrel as it extends from the body. With an equivalent focal range of 24-720mm, there are very few photo opts that you can't capture; whether up close or far off in the distance. We found that the lens was able to produce pleasing results throughout the zoom range. It seemed to favor the wider aperture settings however, producing the sharpest photos when the aperture when the aperture was opened up versus being stopped down. This is actually good news, especially if you plan on taking advantage of the fast f/2.8 - f/5.6 (W - T) maximum aperture settings. Overall we feel this is a very high-quality lens, one that helps the HS30EXR capture pleasing photos through the zoom range. Aberrations and other distortions are very well controlled also, with minimal traces present in our photos. We did however see some softness on the left and right hand sides of the frame when shooting at full wide angle.
To help combat camera shake when using the telephoto capabilities of this lens, Fuji has incorporated their Dual IS system. This combines Sensor-Shift image stabilization with high ISO digital IS.; however, when you manually set the ISO, you are replying on the sensor-shift system only. Either way, we found the IS system on the HS30 was quite responsive; even our handheld, 720mm telephoto shots look great. While this is great news, we still highly recommend you bring a monopod or tripod if you are planning on using the telephoto end of the zoom for a large number of photos.
Image quality from the HS30EXR is quite pleasing for a consumer level camera. The HS30's 1/2-inch EXR CMOS image sensor did well, producing very nice 16-megapixel images that show good detail, sharpness, and color balance. EXR Auto seems to produce more vivid colors, which many will prefer as they seem to pop more than images taken in program mode. However, we found that Program mode (or one of the A/S/M modes) at times produced sharper results. Other than some softness we saw when shooting a full wide angle, which we already noted above, images are nice and sharp with plenty of fine detail. Even when viewing images at 100% (aka pixel peeping), we see fine detail with minimal noise at the lower ISO settings. Images are very clear when using the wider aperture settings; even when shooting at f/2.8 the HS30 can capture tack sharp photos. The only exception is the left and right sides of the frame, which still show slight softness due to shooting at full wide angle. Overall, whether I was viewing images full screen on my 24" wide Dell monitor, or at 100%, I was pleased with the output of the HS30 in most conditions.
Moving indoors, the HS30 did Ok. While it has a powerful built-in flash (covers up to 23ft. at wide angle) that has no problem illuminating subjects, even when shooting across the room zoomed in, I was disappointed to see a good deal of noise. This noise was very easy to see when viewing at 100%, with strong speckling through the images due to the camera choosing ISO 400 and above. This also caused the full screen images to appear a bit soft; due to the loss in fine detail from the image noise. That's not to say the images look terrible, however they did not look quite as good as our outdoor photos. I was able to produce some nice close-up portraits of my daughter, which show excellent flash coverage, even though I was shooting at telephoto end of the zoom range. While EXR Auto did well, you may choose to use the Portrait or Portrait Enhancer scene modes. They also performed well, with the Portrait Enhancer mode adding a skin smoothing effect; which also seems to add some saturation to your subject's skin, resulting in unnatural looking skin tones. I nicknamed this setting "Glamor Shot" mode, due to the look it produced. While I personally didn't care for this option, some of you may like the effects it applies.
Looking at noise more closely, we can see that at the lowest ISO 100 setting there are only faint traces of speckling across the frame. However, we see a noticeable increase in noise even when jumping to just ISO 200. Noise levels continued to jump noticeably as you increase ISO one stop at a time. Images look the best up to ISO 400, and retain the most detail up to ISO 800. After that, you start to see some fine detail loss and strong speckling across the frame. ISO 800 is the maximum setting I would use for larger prints, and even at that setting you'll possibly see some graininess in your prints. ISO 1600 and beyond would work best for smaller prints of online sharing, with ISO 1600 being the highest setting I'd even consider using. After than point, noise is unacceptable for almost any purpose, with the 3200, 6400, and 12,800 settings producing dismal results with images showing so much noise that speckling can be easily seen at full screen resolution.
Looking at the HS30 from a performance perspective, one can see this is a well tuned camera. Not only does it capture images quickly, its AF system was also fast and accurate; even when shooting in low-light. The only time we has some issues with autofocus was when shooting at full telephoto in marginal lighting. However, when shooting in the same conditions at wide angle, the camera had no problem focusing.
The HS30's video options are plentiful. Not only can you record high definition video at 1080p (1920x1080) and 720p (1280x720) resolutions (with a fixed frame rate of 30fps), but there are also some fun high-speed options available. You can record video at 80fps (640x480), 160fps (320x240), or even 320fps (320x112). The field of view narrows as you increase the frame rate, so you have to pay close attention to framing. All three settings play back at 30fps, giving you a slow-motion playback. These options are great for slowing down motion, whether for inspection of your golf swing, or for creative purposes. Video quality seems to be on par with most digicams, with the camera producing decent quality HD video. We did see some exposure issues when shooting from a shaded area. While the objects inside the shade look Ok, anything out in the sunlight is extremely overexposed. I think this was a very difficult shooting situation, one where just about any camera would struggle. We also saw some flickering during some of these videos, which we attributed to the AE system trying to adjust the exposure. The rest of our sample videos consisted of having fun with the high-speed options.
Like mentioned earlier, Fuji incorporated a new power supply in the HS30. Instead of using four AA type batteries, the HS30 is powered buy a single 1260mAh Li-ion battery pack. Fuji claims that this pack can power the HS30 for up to 600 shots on a single charge. This is a very impressive battery life claim, one that surpasses most any other consumer level camera; and even some entry-level dSLRs. While we did not capture 600 frames, we were able to capture over 250 photos and several short videos without any sign of the battery being close to exhausted. Even so, it's still not a bad idea to snag a spare pack if your budget allows. Since you can charge a spare pack in the included AC Charger while using another; you'll always be ready to capture a spontaneous photo opt.
Bottom line - we enjoyed testing the FujiFilm FinePix HS30EXR; my wife especially. Fuji has enhanced an already popular model with some welcomed 2012 upgrades. This camera captures pleasing 16-megapixel photos, and does so faster than its predecessor. With the level of quality, performance, and versatility you are receiving, the HS30EXR offers an outstanding value.
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