Nudging the lower end of the DSLR market in terms of price (£315), design and features offered, the Fujifilm Finepix HS20EXR is a superzoom with plenty of ambition. But is it a bridge too far? We put it to the test.
Dancing with the big boys
If you want a camera that looks, feels and costs the same as a DSLR but isn't actually a DSLR, then the Fujifilm Finepix HS20EXR could be the camera for you. It’s a superzoom or 'bridge' camera that's built around an EXR CMOS sensor, which -- at half an inch -- is slightly bigger than that found in the average compact camera but smaller than those you would find in a DSLR. The sensor's resolution is 16 megapixels, up from the 10-megapixel sensor that came in the HS20EXR's predecessor, last year's HS10.
It's a bulky device, weighing 730g with batteries and SD memory card on board, so it's aimed at serious photographers rather than casual point-and-shooters. The moulded plastic design has a rugged feel and the grip is satisfyingly sturdy to hold. There are plenty of dedicated dials and buttons to play with too, though this might make the HS20EXR a little off-putting for inexperienced users.
A top-mounted accessory hotshoe, support for RAW, an electronic viewfinder (with approximately 97 per cent coverage) and a high-resolution (460,000-pixel) 3-inch LCD screen further reinforce the HS20EXR's status as an enthusiast's model. Interestingly, the large display can be tilted on its horizontal axis -- about 45 degrees downwards for high-angle shots and 90 degrees upwards for when you're shooting from the hip.
There's no rechargeable power pack provided. The HS20EXR takes standard AA batteries, which is quite convenient in that they're easily replaced if you run out of power while you're out and about. Economically, though, it makes sense to invest in a set of decent rechargeables, though this will add to the cost of your initial outlay.
The key thing about superzooms is, of course, the lens. Unlike a fully-grown DSLR, the HS20EXR's lens can't be removed and exchanged for a different one, but you'd probably never need to, given just how versatile the supplied glassware is. The wide angle is pretty darn wide at 24mm (35mm equivalent) and this extends right out to 720mm, providing a massive 30x optical magnification. Not only that but the zoom is also controlled manually via a lens ring, making it possible to set the focal length with a quick flick of the wrist.
In use, the HS20EXR is, for the most part, fast and responsive. It's ready to shoot in a little over two seconds from a cold start, which isn't exactly lightning speed but is still better than many compacts can muster. A range of high-speed shooting options is available, including eight frames per second (fps) at full resolution or 11fps if you drop the image quality to four megapixels.
A word of warning for those who prefer to shoot in RAW format instead of JPEG; we found that setting the HS20EXR to RAW output slowed down image processing considerably, causing a noticeable pause between shots.