Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR review

The Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR is a big camera with an impressive 42x zoom lens and plenty of controls, but its images don't hold up in low light.
Photo of Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR

The Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR ($549.95 list) is a big camera with an impressive zoom lens. It’s styled like a D-SLR, complete with manual control over the zoom, and covers a staggering 24-1,000mm range. Additional features like a sharp EVF, vari-angle rear display, and a very sensible control layout make the 16-megapixel shooter an appealing choice for photographers in search of a camera that can capture wide landscapes and distant objects. The HS50EXR does well at lower ISO settings, but its images suffer when shooting at higher sensitivities. It’s a good camera, but can’t match Fuji’s top-end superzoom, the X-S1, which features a similar manual zoom lens, or our Editors’ Choice, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200, which manages to maintain a wide f/2.8 aperture throughout its 24x zoom range.

Design and Features
A lot like a small SLR, the HS50EXR has a deep handgrip, an eye-level electronic viewfinder, and a big lens with manual focus adjustment. Unlike an SLR you can’t change the lens, and you won’t benefit from a huge image sensor. The HS50EXR uses a 1/2-inch sensor, which is a little larger than the 1/2.3-inch design used in most compact and long zoom cameras, but not quite as big as the 1/1.7-inch type used in high-end compacts like the Canon PowerShot G15 or the big 2/3-inch sensor used in Fuji’s own X-S1 superzoom.

The HS50EXR measures 4 by 5.3 by 5.7 inches and weighs 1.8 pounds. It’s a bit bigger than the FZ200 (3.5 by 4.9 by 4.3 inches, 1.3 pounds), which keeps its size and weight under control thanks to a shorter zoom ratio. The HS50EXR lens covers a 24-1,000mm (35mm equivalent zoom range) and features  a variable aperture that opens up to f/2.8 on the wide end, but dwindles to f/5.6 as you zoom in. The FZ200′s lens is only a 24x design (24-600mm), but it maintains f/2.8 throughout. The HS50EXR closes down to f/5.6, which captures only 25 percent as much light as f/2.8, at focal lengths longer than 300mm. The lens is stabilized, and I was able to get a sharp, handheld shot at maximum zoom with a shutter speed of 1/60-second—which is about four f-stops of effectiveness.

Because of the SLR-like design, there’s plenty of real estate for control buttons and dials. On the top of the handgrip, to the right of the pop-up flash, you’ll find the power switch and shutter, the mode dial, and a control wheel. Buttons to activate continuous drive shooting and to control EV compensation for quick image brightness adjustments are also here. The rear panel holds buttons to activate exposure lock, toggle macro focusing, control the flash, set the self-timer, and record movies. There’s also a Q button, which is located to the left of the eyepiece, that brings up a software menu that allows you to quickly adjust common shooting settings. From that menu you can adjust the ISO, white balance, video resolution, still image quality, metering pattern, focus area, and activate Fuji’s film simulation settings. These settings tune the JPG output to match the look of classic film stocks, including Velvia, Provia, and Astia.

The 3-inch LCD is a hinged vari-angle design. It can sit flat against the back of the camera, but also swings out and rotates so you can view it from above, below, or with the camera facing you. It packs an impressive 920k-dot resolution, so you can review images to confirm critical focus right from the camera. There’s also an eye-level LCD viewfinder, which is quite handy when shooting at longer focal lengths as shooting at eye-level makes it easier to hold the camera steady. The EVF is about a quarter-inch in size, but packs 920k dots into that space. The EVF in the Panasonic FZ200 is a bit sharper and crisper; it packs 1,312k dots into its frame.

If you’re a fan of manual focus, the HS50EXR has one feature that will jump out—Peaking. When you switch the camera into manual focus mode, Peaking activates to highlight in-focus areas in white. It works best on edges that show contrast. There’s also a focus aid that acts a bit like a bar graph—a white line lengthens as you get closer to locking proper focus, eventually lining up with a yellow dot to let you know that you’re ready to take the shot. The autofocus system generally does a good job, but it’s good to know that you’ll have some help achieving accurate focus on your own if needed.

Performance and Conclusions
The HS50EXR starts and grabs a shot in about 1.5 seconds. Its shutter lag is an acceptable 0.2-second, and it can fire off a burst of 7 JPG photos at just under 8 frames per second. If you opt to shoot Raw or Raw+JPG the speed and number of shots you can get in a burst are reduced; you’ll be limited to a maximum of 5 shots at 5.7 frames per second. The Panasonic FZ200 does a better job; it starts and shoots in 1.3 seconds, can grab a 12-shot burst in just over a second, and its shutter lag is a minimal 0.1-second.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness of images captured by the HS50EXR’s lens. It managed 2,132 lines per picture height on the test, better than the 1,800 lines required for a sharp photo. The Fujifilm X-S1 didn’t do as well, only scoring 1,685 lines on the same test. At its maximum zoom the images appear to be a bit softer, but space in our studio doesn’t allow us get a resolution score at that focal length, but shots of our studio test scene captured at the 1,000mm focal equivalent show that the HS50EXR holds up when zoomed all the way in.

Imatest also checks photos for noise, which can make a photo appear grainy and sap detail from shots. Noise increases along with ISO, which is a numerical representation of a camera’s sensitivity to light. The HS50EXR keeps noise below 1.5 percent through ISO 800, but fine details are erased by noise reduction at this setting. Image quality isn’t that much better at ISO 400, but it’s quite good at ISO 200 and 100. These low settings will be used on bright days, but if you’re shooting in dimmer conditions or trying to get a fast shutter speed when zoomed in, you’ll likely have to shoot at a higher ISO. The Fujifilm X-S1, which features a larger 2/3-inch image sensor, does a much better job at higher ISO settings. It keeps noise below 1.5 percent through ISO 1600, and delivers images with about as much detail at that setting as the HS50EXR captures at ISO 400.

Video is recorded at 1080p60 or 720p60 quality in QuickTime format. The camera refocuses with ease and motion is quite smooth. The lens is a manual zoom design, so the sound of it moving being captured on the recording is largely dependent on how careful you are in doing so. I didn’t find it to be noticeable on the soundtrack, but you can connect an external microphone if you’re using the camera for more serious video work. The microphone port is a 2.5mm design, smaller than the more common 3.5mm, so you’ll have to get an adapter in order to use a standard microphone. A dedicated charger is included, so you won’t have to charge the battery inside the camera as you do with other recent models. In addition to the mic input there is a mini HDMI output and a proprietary USB port. As with most cameras, SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards are supported.

The HS50EXR delivers an impressive 42x zoom range in a form factor that’s about the same size as a D-SLR with a 3x zoom lens attached. Its EVF is quite sharp and its optical stabilization system is effective. It doesn’t do as well at higher ISO settings as the more expensive Fujifilm X-S1, and its zoom lens isn’t as fast or sharp at the telephoto end as our Editors’ Choice Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200. We still think that the FZ200 is the superzoom to get—its range isn’t quite as long, but it makes up for it with a lens that never drops below f/2.8—capturing four times the light at its maximum zoom as the HS50EXR is capable of at the same focal length. If you prefer a camera with a manual zoom lens, save your pennies and splurge for the Fujifilm X-S1; it debuted at $800, but is currently selling for less.

Specifications
Dimensions 4 x 5.3 x 5.7 inches
Interface Ports Proprietary, micro HDMI, Mic
GPS No
Megapixels 16 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.13 seconds
LCD dots 920000
LCD size 3 inches
Touch Screen No
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 12800
Type Superzoom
Sensor Type CMOS
Optical Zoom 42 x
Boot time 1.5 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 24 mm
Weight 1.78 lb
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Lines Per Picture Height 2132
LCD Aspect Ratio 4
Image Stabilization Optical
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 1000 mm
Shutter Lag 0.2 seconds
Sensor Size 6.4 x 4.8 (1/2") mm
EVF Resolution 920000 dpi
Viewfinder Type EVF

Verdict
The Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR is a big camera with an impressive 42x zoom lens and plenty of controls, but its images don't hold up in low light.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
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