When it comes to higher-end megazooms like the HS50EXR, their design and features can lead people to believe the photo quality will be close to the same as that of a digital SLR. Though I really liked the photos I got from it, the overall quality -- especially at higher ISOs -- doesn't compare to cameras with larger sensors like dSLRs.
These are 100 percent crops from our test scene to give you an idea of what you'll get at full size onscreen using the HS50EXR's highest resolution, 16 megapixels. They're on the soft side with visible artifacts right down to its lowest ISO setting, so they're not great for enlarging and heavily cropping. On the other hand, at about 50 percent, you can get up to ISO 800 and get nice photos. And if you take advantage of all the camera can do, you can actually get good results above that sensitivity.
It may take a lot of adjusting of settings, shooting in raw, or experimenting with its EXR modes to get the best results. If that's not something you're willing to do, this probably isn't a good choice. Its EXR Auto mode is very good as auto-shooting modes go, but even tweaking that mode's settings can get you better shots.
Color performance is very good: bright, vivid, and pretty close to accurate. However, at higher ISOs colors look gradually duller. If you need to shoot at higher sensitivities, you should capture raw or both JPEG and raw, if possible.
Contrary to what I was told back at CES 2013 when the camera was announced, the HS50EXR's super macro setting can't be used through the entire zoom range; it's only available at the wide end. That said, it can focus as close as 0.4 inch from a subject. This is a 100 percent crop from the inset image.
As long as you don't have a moving subject, the camera's Pro Low Light mode works really well. The images on the left are the full photos with 100 percent crops of each to the respective right. The top picture was taken in Program mode with the ISO set to Auto with a limit of ISO 1600; the camera chose ISO 800. The bottom was taken in Pro Low Light mode, which takes several shots and combines them into one, which reduces noise and artifacts despite using ISO 1000. Take a closer look and you can see more of a difference.
The camera's Pro Focus mode fakes an out-of-focus background look of a digital SLR when shooting portraits or macro subjects. This was taken with the maximum amount of background softening. The results are OK, but frankly, you can take advantage of the camera's long zoom to get better results.
Just to give you an idea of the ground you can cover with this lens. The top photo is at 24mm while the bottom is fully zoomed in to 1000mm. You can view this 1000mm photo as well as others at full size toward the end of this slideshow.
If you're concerned at all about the HS50EXR's image stabilization, it's very good. Both of these shots were taken handheld at 1/15th second at 1000mm set to ISO 100. I'm sure you can tell which one was taken with image stabilization turned on.
The camera can shoot burst at up to 11fps at full resolution for up to five frames. After five shots, it will continue to shoot, but the speed drops significantly after the initial burst. It's better to release, let it store your images, and shoot again. Also, focus and exposure are set with the first shot, though, so for really fast-moving subjects all of your shots may not be in focus. This is typical of most burst modes on compact cameras.
In with the continuous shooting settings are a few bracketing options for exposure, dynamic range, and film simulation (standard, vivid, and soft). They're all nice to have, and since there is no option for artistic HDR photos on the camera, you can use the exposure bracketing to create your own.
There are five film settings to experiment with on the camera: standard, vivid (top), soft, black and white (bottom), and sepia. While I typically like to handle things like this with software after the fact, the results from the HS50EXR are pretty nice.
The following five slides are included to give you an idea of the camera's image quality at full zoom and in general. I've included a link below each image to view them at full resolution. Be warned: these are large files and take time to download.