Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Fujifilm HS30 EXR: A Review

I thought it was about time I raved about how fucking awesome my new camera is. I’ve always had an interest in photography simply because it’s something that even the most retarded, cretinous idiot can get in to with the minimum of effort, but if you want to get really deep (man), you can. Y’know – messing about with white balance, f-stops and all that crazy shit. Up until very recently, I was getting by with my trusty Panasonic Lumix point-and-click, and as a basic compact it is one of the best around. You just point...and click, and invariably the images come out all crisp and nice and everyone’s happy. The thing is, there isn’t a lot of room for manoeuvre with the Lumix. Sure, it’s 16 megapixel and it’s got loads of built in modes, but if you want to be a bit more creative or want to set manual focus, depth of field etc...well, you just can’t. 

So I trawled the internet looking at reviews and educated myself in the mystic art of the camera. I looked at DSLRs first and it kinda dawned on me that buying one of those beasts simply wasn’t practical for a novice. Too many lenses, too many settings...fuck – DSLRs are intimidating bits of equipment if you don’t really have any idea how they work. I had a quick play around with one in a camera shop a few weeks ago and I couldn’t even get the thing out of the menu screens, so I just put it down and walked away, defeated. From that experience alone, I knew that the DSLR simply wasn’t an option. 

I then turned my attention to that hybrid category of cameras known as the ‘bridge' camera. Now, as far as I can tell, the bridge camera is kind of a stepping stone between simple point-and-click compact digital cameras (like my Lumix) and the Lovecraftian steam-punk head-fuck that is the DSLR. Hence the name ‘bridge’ (I guess). Again, I went head-first into Google absorbing every review and blog I could find to try to get an idea of which camera I should buy. I looked at Canon, Olympus, Fujifilm, Nikon... every kind of bridge (or super zoom as they’re also known) I could find and I started to build an idea of the kind of features my perfect bridge camera should have: a rechargeable battery, a decent zoom lens, SD card compatibility (none of that proprietary ‘XD’ shit for me, thanks) and possibly a HD movie mode. I set out with a fairly miserly budget of around £150, but it soon became apparent that for that price I would have to knock one of my desirables off that list – namely, the rechargeable Li-ion battery option. That’s because budget-priced bridge cameras all seem to be powered by 4 AA batteries – something I wasn’t aware of before this little quest began. Running off AA batteries isn't a major issue, and it’s probably the best option if you’re taking your camera off around the world because those types of disposable batteries are pretty ubiquitous, whereas three-pin UK compatible plug outlets most definitely aren’t (most of the rest of the world use those weird, unearthed, death-trap two-pronged things). However, this blogger likes Li-ion rechargeable so I upped my budget slightly. 

This also increased the number of cameras I had within my reach and my attention was drawn to the Fujifilm HS30 EXR. I was going to steer clear of Fujifilm cameras simply because one of my previous compacts was a Fuji...and it was a load of crap – the colours were washed out and everything looked grey and horrifically grainy under low light conditions. Basically, I didn’t want to go anywhere near a Fujifilm with my debit card. Curiosity got the better of me though, and I read a few reviews and they all seemed to give positive opinions of the HS30’s performance. I was intrigued. I was even more intrigued by the fact that the thing offered full manual zoom and focus (via rings around the lens) and had every other feature I was looking for: the rechargeable battery (boasting best-in-class 600 pictures from a single charge); the zoom (30x optical zoom – again one of the best in the class); SD card compatibility; and a full 1080i HD movie recording mode. In a word (well, several), everything I wanted in a bridge camera, and more. 

The tilting LCD is a nice feature
The price was slightly higher than I wanted to pay, so this lead to about a week of agonising over whether I should splash out that much cash (£280) on a fucking camera, especially when I only spend about £40 a month on food shopping. So I went on ebay and looked for a used one – they were all going for over £220 - so it was pointless even bothering to try to get a used one when new ones are only £80 more. Slightly deflated, I took a trip to Curry’s/PC World (or whatever they're calling themselves this week) and found the thing nestled in, all anonymous, with the other digital cameras. I picked it up and instantly liked the weight and chunky feel of the rubberised casing. I turned it on and was instantly impressed with the simple menus and multiple auto modes...and even more impressed by how simple it was to switch to full manual mode, bringing the focus ring into the mix. The manual zoom felt super smooth and the picture quality on the LCD screen was pin sharp. There wasn’t an SD card in the display model, but the built-in memory allowed me to take some pretty impressive snaps of unaware shoppers on the other side of the shop. Basically, I knew I wasn’t going to be leaving that shop without the damned thing, but the little Tyler Durden voice in my head was constantly telling me that I didn’t really need it. I told Tyler to fuck himself, but I still had to walk around the store about three times trying to convince myself to buy it and stop being such a tight-wad. 

During these laps of the store, I was accosted by a Sony salesman who did his best to sell me a 3D TV and also told me about a time he got stabbed in a pub in London just because he was wearing a Charlton Athletic shirt...and then it just happened. I saw other people spending triple, quadruple what I was thinking of spending; taking out credit agreements for £3000 TVs and iPads and all kinds of other glorious gadgety shit. At that point, the words ‘fuck it!’ snapped into my mind and I went back to the camera section, found a sales assistant (who – in all honesty – was dressed up like the Heath Ledger version of the Joker in aid of Children in Need) and asked for a HS30. Trying my luck, I also asked if there was any possibility of a discount on a camera bag, and found to my surprise that he could give me 20% off because I was purchasing the camera at the same time. He didn't, however, ask me why I was so serious. Which was a bit of a missed opportunity, but meh. 

In total, the camera and bag cost me just short of £300 and I won’t lie – I felt physically sick for a good while after I’d paid for it...but upon unboxing and using the thing for the first time, all of that sickness dissolved. So what were/are my impressions and experiences thus far? Well, being a novice as far as advanced photography goes (even though I know a little about scene composition and other shit like the rule of thirds etc), the first thing that hit me was just how user-friendly the HS30 is. There are lots of automatic modes that can be selected via (one of ) the little toggle wheel(s) on the top and they allow the camera to select the best settings for any particular shooting environment. If you want to delve into the manual setting options, they are but a click away...but for the first week or so I never went near the manual stuff simply because the auto settings are so good at selecting what it thinks you need. 

On the odd occasion that I wanted to add depth of field to an image, selecting the ‘aperture’ setting on the wheel allows you to adjust the focal length while the camera sorts everything else, giving you really good shots that make it look like you know exactly what you’re doing (note – I don’t). The ‘EXR’ bit in the camera’s name refers to a special uber-auto mode where the camera goes into overdrive selecting all sorts of utterly impenetrable settings to give you the best shots possible. In truth, you could probably leave it in EXR mode and never switch out of it; such is it’s the excellence. There are lots of other nice features too – the HS30 allows you to shoot video in several resolutions, including 1080i full HD; and super slow-motion hundred frames per second (I forget exactly how many) movies too. These are pretty low res, but being able to film a match being struck and then playing it back in slow motion to see the individual sparks igniting; or filming water pouring into a cup and marveling at the viscosity...well, it’s very cool. Some other stuff I've been playing with: 

  • A panoramic mode that allows you to sweep the camera from left to right (or vice versa) in one continuous arc before stitching them all together seamlessly 
  • A ‘pro focus’ mode that adds a blurred effect to backgrounds in order to emphasise your subject matter (with 3 levels of blurriness, I might add), 
  • A ‘3D’ mode that isn't really 3D – but it just lets you take two images of the same object and then in quickly switches between the two on playback to create a kind of animated GIF effect,  
  • A 'super macro' mode that is even better than the normal macro mode
  • A delayed flash option allowing for better capture of backgrounds in night shots
  • Multiple shot modes that then choose the best of the lot and then lets you agree or disagree with it before deleting the shit ones

The list goes on. Obviously, the real test of a camera’s metal is whether it can actually take decent pictures...and well, with a 16 megapixel sensor the HS30 takes some stunning, crystal clear images. 

This is by no means an expert review - for that go and look at a dedicated photography blogger's opinions - this guff is really just for the layman who wants to know if the HS30 EXR is worth the asking price. You've probably already guessed my opinion – it is. By God, it is. Going back to the Lumix after using the HS30 just isn't an option (unless I’m going out on the lash or to a party or some shit where the size isn't practical), and I’m glad I took the plunge and bought the thing. In the few weeks I've owned the HS30, I've also bought a few lens filters (a polarising filter that blocks out reflections in glass, a clear UV filter which is mainly for protecting the lens and a yellow filter that enhances black and white shots' contrast), and another bargainous (£1.99) 4GB SD card to go alongside my existing 8GB one. 

I’m really happy with the performance so far and am seriously considering doing a photography course in order to make the most of the extensive manual shooting modes. My better half has bought me a guide to digital photography to work my way through in the meantime though. And if you’re still interested in the HS30 EXR, have a look at the shots in the ‘Photos’ and ‘Flickr’ tabs at the top of this blog to see some of the shots it (under my control) hath produced thus far.


Luffer said...

Nice little review, I also have the HS30 EXR and agree with everything you've said.

My only gripe is you can't swap the lens on the thing... which is a pretty pointless argument since that's the whole concept of a bridge camera. However, I've progressed so far with my photography already that I'm craving more lenses! I really want a Canon 6D, but that's over £1k and this beauty is a bargain in comparison. The vast majority of people will never need anything more complex than this!

Tomleecee said...

Thanks for the comment Luffer, yeah - the HS30 is a cracking little (enormous) camera and I thought I should tell the world!

Martyn Croft said...

Good review but do you really have to emphasize points by using the 'f' word? Says more about you than the camera.