Fuji FinePix HS10 Review

Look and Feel

The FinePix HS10 is a fairly large super zoom camera with a distinctive SLR-style design. While the outer shell of the body is plastic, there may be some metal underneath, as it feels pretty solid. The camera has a large, rubberized grip for your right hand, and the lens barrel can easily be supported by your left. About the only thing I would've liked would have been a gap between the lens and flash, which would make operating the zoom and focus rings a bit easier.

The HS10 is definitely a poster child for button clutter. There are eleven buttons on the back of the camera (plus the four-way controller), and two more on top. While these buttons allow you to quickly change camera settings, it does make the HS10 a bit intimidating to new users (the fact that most of these buttons handle more that one function doesn't help matters, either). I wish the buttons were a bit larger, too -- there's certainly enough room for that.

Now let's see how the HS10 compares to other super zooms in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon Powershot SX20 IS 4.9 x 3.5 x 3.4 in. 58.3 cu in. 560 g
Casio Exilim EX-FH25 4.8 x 3.2 x 3.3 in. 50.7 cu in. 483 g
Fuji FinePix HS10 5.1 x 3.6 x 5.0 in. 91.8 cu in. 636 g
Kodak EasyShare Z981 4.9 x 3.3 x 4.1 in. 66.3 cu in. 519 g
Nikon Coolpix P100 4.5 x 3.3 x 3.9 in. 57.9 cu in. 481 g
Olympus SP-800 Ultra Zoom 4.2 x 2.9 x 3.3 in. 40.2 cu in. 416 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 4.9 x 3.2 x 3.7 in. 58 cu in. 496 g
Pentax X90 4.4 x 3.3 x 4.3 in. 62.4 cu in. 400 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 4.6 x 3.4 x 3.6 in. 56.3 cu in. 453 g

As you can see, the FinePix HS10 is a giant, with a size equal to that of some digital SLRs. While you won't be putting it in your pockets, it does travel well on your shoulder, or in a camera bag.

Let's begin our tour of the FinePix HS10 now, shall we?

Front of the Fuji FinePix HS10

The obvious highlight of the FinePix HS10 is its whopping 30X Fujinon zoom lens. This F2.8-5.6 lens has a focal range of 4.2 - 126 mm, which is equivalent to an incredible 24 - 720 mm. What does that kind of zoom range mean in the real world? Have a look at this:

Full wide-angle At full telephoto you can easily spot the people looking down at me from the top of the tower.

The lens is threaded for 58 mm filters, so if you want to screw-on a neutral density or polarizing filter, go right ahead. One thing that you can't add is a conversion lens.

Behind the lens is a 10.3 million pixel, back-illuminated CMOS sensor. This is probably the same Sony-designed sensor that has been making the rounds for the last year. The design of the sensor allows more light to reach the photo sites, which promises higher sensitivity and less noise -- in theory, at least. The CMOS sensor also gives the HS10 its high speed burst and full HD movie capabilities, which I'll tell you about later.

You absolutely, positively need image stabilization on a super zoom, and the FinePix HS10 uses a sensor-shift IS system. The tiny movements of your hands produce "camera shake", which can blur your photos, especially in low light, or at the telephoto end of the lens. The HS10 detects this shake, and moves the CMOS sensor itself to compensate for it. The result is a much higher likelihood of a sharp photo than you'd have otherwise. Now, image stabilization systems won't allow for a multi-second handheld exposure, nor will they freeze a moving subject, but Fuji has put some other features on the HS10 to handle those situations (more on those later). For now, here's an example of the camera's IS system in action:

Image stabilization off

Image stabilization on (shooting only mode)

I took both of the photos at around the 70 mm position, with a shutter speed of 1/8. As you can see, the image stabilization system was able to produce a sharp photo at that setting. You can add digital IS into the picture as well (no pun intended), though it may degrade image quality a bit.

I'm not exactly sure if the sensor-shift IS system is used in movie mode. I say this because 1) I can't hear it, 2) it doesn't seem to work very well, and 3) your field of view is smaller when recording movies with IS turned on. I have to wonder if it's just an electronic system being used here -- Fuji doesn't say either way. Watch this sample movie and see for yourself.

Directly above the lens is the HS10's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The flash is quite powerful, with a working range of 0.3 - 8.0 m at wide-angle, and 2.0 - 4.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). If you want more flash power and flexibility, not to mention a lower likelihood of redeye, then you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a bit.

In-between the grip and the lens barrel is the HS10's AF-assist lamp. The camera uses this lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations, and it also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

The final thing to see on the front of the camera are the stereo microphones, which are located to the upper left and right of the lens.

Back angled view of the Fuji FInePix HS10

The FinePix HS10 features an articulating 3-inch LCD display. The screen can be pulled away from the back of the camera, and then tilted up (about 90 degrees) or down (45 degrees). While these kinds of LCDs aren't as handy as those that flip out to the side and rotate, they still allow for easy overhead or ground-level shooting.

Back of the Fuji FinePix HS10

Here you'll find the LCD in a more traditional position. As I mentioned, it's a 3-inch display, and it has 230,000 pixels, resulting in average sharpness. I found outdoor visibility to be just okay -- I've definitely seen better. Low light viewing was just average as well -- the screen could definitely "gain up" some more.

Right above the LCD is the camera's electronic viewfinder, or EVF. The EVF is essentially a little LCD that you view in the same way that you would an optical viewfinder. It can show the same things as the main LCD -- even the menus -- and it shares the same 97% coverage, as well. However, EVFs are never as sharp or bright as a real optical viewfinder, but this is all you'll find a super zoom camera. The EVF here is on the small side (0.2 inches), and its 200k pixel resolution results in somewhat fuzzy images. Outdoor and low light visibility was about the same as the main LCD -- average. Something that you might notice on this EVF is a sort of rainbow effect when you blink or quickly pan the camera -- this is a side effect of the field sequential technology used on this viewfinder. Another thing that bugged me is that the EVF does not protrude very far from the back of the camera, which leads to lots of nose smudges on the LCD.

Two last things about the EVF: there's a sensor to its right that knows when you put your eye (or anything else) up to it, which allows the camera to automatically switch between the LCD and EVF. There's also a diopter correction knob on the left side of the EVF, which you'll use to focus the image on the screen.

To the right of the EVF is a button that you can press to manually switch between the EVF and LCD.

Now let's talk about all those buttons on each side of the LCD. Let's start on the left side, with these five buttons:

  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, Auto 400, Auto 800, Auto 1600, Auto 3200, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400) + playback zoom in
  • AE metering (Multi, spot, average) + playback zoom out
  • AF area (Center, multi, area, tracking) + face detection (on/off)
  • AF mode (Single, continuous, manual) + info (toggles what's shown on LCD/EVF)
  • White balance (Auto, custom, sunlight, shade, daylight fluorescent, warm white fluorescent, cool white fluorescent, incandescent) + image search (discussed later)

Yep, I've gotta discuss some of those in more detail before we can continue the tour and talk about more buttons.

First, what are all those Auto ISO settings for? In some shooting modes, you just have "Auto", and nothing else. I believe this one tops out at ISO 800. The other Auto modes let you set the maximum sensitivity that the camera will use, ranging from 400 to 3200. Naturally, you can also set the sensitivity manually when you're using the manual shooting modes.

There are four AF area modes to choose from on the FinePix HS10. The center and multi-area modes should be self-explanatory. The "area' mode allows you to pick one of forty-nine possible spots in the frame on which to focus. Finally, there's the tracking option, which will follows whatever subject you've locked focus on as they move around the frame.

Manual focus

The single AF mode locks focus when the shutter release button is halfway-pressed. Continuous autofocus is always running, even when the shutter release isn't being pressed. This can reduce focus times, though it's at the expense of battery life. In manual focus mode, you'll use the electronic focus ring that is around the lens barrel. The camera shows a rather unusual focusing guide (you can see it about 2/3 of the way down in the screenshot) that doesn't give you any actual focus distances, but it does show you (via a yellow indicator) where it thinks you need to be for your subject to be in focus. The center of the frame is enlarged, as well.

The camera locked onto five of the six faces in our test scene

The HS10 also has face detection AF, as you'd expect in 2010. While the manual seems to imply that there are regular and "intelligent" face detection modes, I think they're the same thing. Whatever it's called, the face detection system works well, with the HS10 easily locking onto five of the six faces in our test scene.

Getting back to the tour now, let's talk about the additional buttons that can be found to the right of the LCD. Surrounding the four-way controller are the dedicated movie recording, AE/AF lock, display/back, and playback mode buttons. The four-way controller itself is used for menu navigation, reviewing photos you've taken, and also:

  • Up - Instant zoom + delete photo
  • Down - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 sec)
  • Left - Macro (Off, macro, super macro)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, forced flash, slow synchro)
  • Center - Menu/OK

The Instant zoom feature is a kind of digital zoom. Press the button once and a 2:3 aspect ratio frame appears in the center of the LCD. Press it again and you'll get the portrait version. Either way, when you press the shutter release button, the camera takes a photo, recording only the area within the frame. Keep in mind that image quality is reduced if you use this feature.

Okay, that's finally it for the back of the FinePix HS10!

Top of the Fuji FinePix HS10

The first thing I should point out here are the markings on the 30X zoom lens. The focal length is shown in two places, so you'll always know where you're at. If you didn't know any better, you'd think this was a D-SLR!

Right at the center of the photo is the HS10's hot shoe. This is what I'll call a "dumb shoe", which means that the camera doesn't share any information with the flash, other than telling it to fire. This means that you'll need to manually set the exposure settings on your flash to match those on the camera. Fuji recommends not using a shutter speed faster than 1/1000 sec with an external flash.

Moving to the right, we find the camera's mode dial, which is fully loaded. The options here include:

Option Function
SR Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with automatic scene selection. Some menu options are unavailable.
Auto mode Point-and-shoot but without scene recognition. Why they have both is beyond me.
Program mode Still automatic, but with access to all menu options. A Program Shift feature lets you select from several shutter speed / aperture combinations by using the command dial.
Shutter priority mode You choose the shutter speed, and the camera picks the aperture. Shutter speed range is 4 - 1/4000 sec.
Aperture priority mode You choose the aperture, and camera picks the shutter speed. The aperture range is the usual F2.8 - F11.
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself. Aperture range is the same, but shutter speed range expands to 30 - 1/4000 sec.
Custom mode Your favorite camera settings can be saved to this spot on the dial.
Motion Panorama Pan the camera from left-to-right (or any other direction) to create a huge panoramic image with ease. Only works with lens at full wide-angle position.
Scene Position 1/2 Both spots on the mode dial contain the same options -- this just allows you to have two favorites stored. The available scene modes include: natural light & flash, natural light, portrait, portrait enhancer, landscape, sport, night, night (tripod), fireworks, sunset, snow, beach, party, flower, and text.
Advanced mode Contains Pro Low Light, Multi Motion Capture, and Motion Remover features, all described below.

As you can see, the FinePix HS10 has a full set of manual controls, plus numerous auto modes. The only thing to mention about manual controls is that the full shutter speed range isn't available in shutter priority mode. Fuji has done this for quite some time, and I'm not sure why.

The HS10 has a regular auto mode, a second auto mode which picks a scene mode for you, plus two spots on the mode dial where you can pick a scene mode yourself. Some of the notable scene modes include:

  • Natural light & flash: camera takes two photos, one with natural light, another with flash (I guess that one is self-explanatory)
  • Portrait enhancer: retouches skin tones in your people pictures
  • Night / night (tripod): one boosts the ISO to hopefully capture a sharp low light photo, while the second uses a low ISO and a slow shutter speed for a cleaner shot

To be frank, the HS10's Motion Panorama feature is basically a ripoff of Sony's Sweep Panorama feature. You first must put the lens at full wide-angle, then you pan the camera from left-to-right (or any other direction), and the camera will create a single panoramic image that is 5760 x 720 pixels in size. The camera is taking photos at a rapid clip those whole time, and then it spends a few seconds lining everything up. Below are two examples, though I stopped them a bit early, so they don't show the full area that you can capture.

The resulting photos are decent, though not spectacular. You can see some funny stuff in both of the photos, especially the bridge photo, though admittedly this photo is hard for even the fancy software on your PC to stitch together.

Finally, I want to mention the three options in the "advanced mode". The Pro Low Light mode combines four exposures into one, with the hopes of producing a sharp photo with less noise than you'd get normally. The Multi Motion Capture feature tries to capture a moving image multiple times in a single image. Finally, the one I couldn't wait to test, Motion Remover. This promises to remove moving objects from your photographs! Here's more on each of those:

Here's the official description of Pro Low Light mode, from Fuji's website:

Ideal for shooting non-moving subjects in low light, this mode automatically takes a series of four high-sensitivity & low-noise exposures and then combines them into an image with less noise than the single exposures.

Fuji isn't the first to have a feature like this - I believe Sony started it with their back-illuminated CMOS cameras that came out a year or two ago (though they use six exposures, rather than four). Anyhow, below are two examples of Pro Low Light in action. You'll first see an unprocessed photo (presumably one of the four shots the camera takes) followed by the image that results from the 4-shot burst.

Regular photo (ISO 800)
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Pro Low Light mode
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The photos of Zoe (my loyal assistant) are not only crops of a larger image -- they've also been downsized to fit the page. So, view the full size images for a closer look. Even in these downsized photos you will notice that the regular image is noticeably sharper and, in my opinion, more appealing that the soft Pro Low Light mode picture. Let's try something in lower light now:

Normal photo (ISO 800)
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Pro Low Light mode
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Fuji's statement about Pro Low Light mode is correct: you do get photos with less noise than you would otherwise. That's at the expense of detail, though, as you can see above. The Pro Low Light photo is much softer, with noticeable artifacting from noise reduction. I don't know about you, but I find the original image to be a lot more usable, since there's more detail retained. I'll show you later than you can get even better results by shooting RAW and doing some basic post-processing!

Multi Motion Capture combines isolates a moving subject from a series of photos and puts them into a single image. Thus, you could show an entire golf swing in one photo. Now, I don't have any really cool photos like that, but I can give you an example of this feature with less exciting subject matter:

Two people walking, captured with Multi Motion Capture feature

The feature I most wanted to see was Motion Remover, mainly due to the seemingly miraculous (and simulated) photo on Fuji's website. The idea is that somehow, by taking a number of photos and then grinding away for 10 seconds, that the camera can take moving objects out of a photo.

Notice the woman walking

Here's the Motion Remover version... she's now cut into pieces

In short, this feature doesn't work very well, despite numerous attempts, both with and without a tripod. The example above is one of the better results I got with this feature. While part of the object is removed, there's usually some piece left, like a leg or part of an arm.

So there you have the advanced shooting modes, which are a disappointment to this reviewer. I should add that you cannot use the RAW image format for any of these.

The next stop on our tour is the control dial, which is located right next door to the mode dial. You'll use this to adjust manual exposure settings. Above that are buttons for exposure compensation and continuous shooting. The exposure compensation range is the usual -2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments. I should add that the only time you can ever see a live histogram is when you're adjusting the exposure compensation.

That brings us to the FinePix HS10's drive options, which includes one of the camera's top features: its high speed burst mode, which Fuji calls Top 7 (RAW 6). In this mode you can select a frame rate of 3, 5, 7, or 10 frames/second, though the two fastest options are for JPEGs only (not RAW). The camera will take up to five RAW+JPEG, six RAW, or seven JPEG images in a row, before stopping to save everything to your memory card. Do note that the time it takes for the camera to write a RAW+JPEG burst to the memory card will exceed 15 seconds, during which time the camera is locked up. In all cases, the HS10 met or exceeded the advertised frame rate.

Setting up Best Frame Capture feature

There are other options in the drive menu, some more useful than others. They include:

  • Best Frame Capture - similar to the main burst mode, but you can set the camera to save photos that were recorded before you fully pressed the shutter release button (see screenshot); the camera doesn't actually choose the best photo for you, as its name implies
  • Zoom bracketing - the camera takes three shots in a row: the first at the current zoom setting, a second at 1.4X, and a third at 2X; the resolution drops from large to medium to small as the zoom increases; image quality stays about the same.
  • AE bracketing - the camera takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure; you can set the EV interval in the shooting menu

The last items of note on the top of the HS10 include its shutter release button, which has the power switch wrapped around it. I found it quite easy to inadvertently bump the power switch, turning the camera on when you had no intention of doing so.

Side of the Fuji FinePix HS10

On this side of the HS10 you can get a good look at its manual zoom and focus rings (left and right, respectively). The zoom ring is fairly nice, though it's too jumpy for professional use in movie mode. The focus ring is electronic, meaning that it's not actually moving any lens elements as you turn it.

Just below the hinge for the flash is the button which releases it. continuing to the right, you can see the camera's speaker. Underneath that are the HS10's I/O ports, which are protected by a rubber cover. The ports include HDMI and USB + A/V output.

The lens is at the full wide-angle position here.

Side of the Fuji FinePix HS10

On the opposite side you'll find the HS10's SD memory card slot, which is protected by a fairly sturdy reinforced plastic door.

The lens is all the way at the 30X position here.

Bottom of the Fuji FinePix HS10

Our tour ends in the same place as it always does -- looking at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find a plastic tripod mount (boo) and the battery compartment. The battery compartment door is sturdy, and includes a locking mechanism.