Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR superzoom camera


OUR VERDICT: There is much to like about this camera, though image quality isn't quite up to the same standard as the model's nearest rivals.

With their appealing combination of compact size, light weight, high magnification and affordability, all-in-one ‘bridge’ cameras with telephoto zoom lenses continue to increase in popularity among birders. But are models like this new release from Fujifilm up to the task of serious wildlife photography?

More than most, the HS50EXR has the look of a small DSLR. It is a bulkier, more solid and more weighty model than Canon’s broadly comparable SX50 HS, which I tested earlier this year. While this is not good news weight-wise, the 808 g Fujifilm model being more than 40 per cent heavier than its rival, it has a chunky, balanced feel with a deep handgrip that will appeal to photographers more used to a DSLR.

The weight gain is as much down to optical design as it is to the bigger body. Unusually for a bridge camera, the lens is a manually operable (and therefore bulky) zoom, rather than extending at the touch of a button. While this might take some getting used to for those who like ‘auto everything’, it will again strike a chord with DSLR users. The 42x optical zoom, featuring 17 lenses in 12 groups and with mechanical image stabilisation, has obvious potential for bird photography, being equivalent in 35 mm terms to a huge 24-1,000 mm range; this can be doubled digitally to 84x. Maximum aperture ranges from f2.8 (wide) to f5.6 (telephoto).

A key design difference from single lens reflex models is the smaller sensor size. The HS50EXR fares better than most of its genre in this respect, offering a 16 MP half-inch sensor which produces a maximum image size of 4,608x3,456 pixels.

However, the quality of the image delivered by the camera’s default settings is where the camera’s performance dipped. Viewed at 100 per cent in Adobe Photoshop, test shots showed a fine ‘stippled’ quality which compromised sharpness and seemed to be exacerbated by any form of subsequent sharpening. Discussions with Fuji led to a slight improvement by setting both ‘sharpness’ and ‘noise reduction’ to +2, but potential users should note that the camera reverts to the default image quality setting of ‘normal’ when it is powered off and on again, so the preferred setting of ‘fine’ has to be re-entered prior to every use.

The HS50EXR is not alone in resolving detail imperfectly, with Canon’s SX50 HS also showing artefacts, but to my eye they are more pronounced in the Fujifilm model. While most images would not be scrutinised in such detail, the results may be disappointing if you want to capture fine aspects of plumage, or perhaps detailed landscapes, and underline the fact that bridge cameras do not render the same quality produced by DSLRs.

The ISO range on the HS50 EXR extends from 100 to 3,200, or up to 12,800 at smaller image file sizes, but the quality visibly deteriorates away from the lower end of the scale, with noise becoming significant at the upper end. Using the camera in mainly sunny conditions, I found ISO 200 was a good average setting.

Still-image shooting is possible in both JPEG and RAW (producing Fujifilm’s equivalent RAF file). While the RAW option might appeal to more serious users, it’s less necessary in a camera of this type. The HS50 EXR has a selection of video shooting options via a dedicated movie button, including full HD in 1920x1080 at 60 fps, and there’s a handy HDMI socket for playback on a larger HD screen. It’s also possible to take still images while recording film.

There is much else to like about this camera. Fujifilm claims class-leading autofocus speeds, and the HS50EXR is undeniably fast in use. A three-inch articulated LCD with 920k dots is excellent for composition and playback, and the electronic viewfinder is also up to the task. A button on the left side of the body allows fast switching between single, continuous and manual focusing modes, rather than having to select options through menus, and in addition to the pop-up flash there is a hotshoe to accommodate a separate flash unit or microphone.

There are multi, spot and average metering modes, while focusing can utilise centre, multi, area or tracking options. The main control dial offers 11 different shooting settings, though for bird photography I found that aperture priority coped well in most situations. Two ‘scene positions’ allow the user to assign 13 preselected shooting settings by subject type, and of these ‘sport’ may work well for flight photography in certain conditions. Other creative options include 10 different film simulation modes.

Further useful features include in-camera image cropping and movie editing, allowing you to prep your shots and footage on the go. Combined with sturdy construction, attractive matt finish and a wealth of practical features, overall it’s an impressive package which has much in its favour. But investigate image quality carefully if you’re considering the HS50EXR, ideally by taking some test shots, to ensure that the results live up to your expectations.

Click here to view our gallery of test shots.

Tech spec

• 16 MP, half-inch sensor
• Image file max output size 4,608x3,456
• 42x manual optical zoom (equivalent in 35 mm terms to 24-1,000 mm)
• 3" articulated LCD
• Full 1080p HD, 60 fps
• Image stabiliser
• Weight: 833 g (including battery, card, lens cap, lens hood and strap)
• SRP £449.99; available from £399 online from UK websites

Click here for the full specification.

In the box: battery, charger and power lead, USB cable, strap, lens cap, lens hood, basic manual and CD-ROM.