ISO comparison--original firmware
If you buy the HS10, there's a chance it'll be using the camera's 1.0 firmware. That means that out of the box, this is how it measures up and its various ISO sensitivities. For a nearly $500 camera, its photos are fairly disappointing. Details are soft and smeary from the get-go, but photos taken at ISO 100 or 200 should be usable for 5x7-inch prints or smaller with light cropping. Quality nosedives at ISO 400, which is generally the starting sensitivity if you're shooting under dimmer indoor lighting. Photos taken at ISO 800 might be OK for Web use with no cropping, but you'll have to be OK with washed-out color and yellow blotching and nearly no fine detail. The last three sensitivities aren't worth using unless you really just need a picture of a subject.
ISO comparison--firmware update
Just as I was done shooting with the HS10, Fujifilm released a firmware update to improve sharpness as well as a couple other issues. This is after the update, which takes only a few seconds to do and is as easy as downloading the file, putting the file on an SD card, inserting it in the camera, and pressing a couple buttons. The update seems to have only made a slight improvement to sharpness, most noticeable at ISO 400-1,600. (Though it seems to have increased color noise above these sensitivities.) It doesn't turn it into an entirely different camera, but the update is worth doing.
Overall, the HS10's shooting performance is nearly as disappointing as its photos. The seven-shot JPEG burst mode gives you a fighting chance of getting a fast-moving subject like this runner. However, the photos are pretty average point-and-shoot quality, looking flat and digital. The top image is a 100 percent crop of the last frame. They'll be good enough for a 4x6 print without too much cropping and certainly for Web use.
Macro and f2.8 aperture
Despite the low-light problems and the general lack of sharpness, the HS10 can take good photos. It certainly helps that it has full manual controls and a starting aperture of f2.8 in its widest position and f5.6 when the lens is fully extended. Its macro and super macro options are nice to have, too, the latter letting you get as close as 0.4 inch from your subject. (Though cropping and enlarging those shots might not be rewarding.)
Of course, a lot of people will just want to buy the HS10 for the flexibility of the lens, which goes from a 35mm-equivalent wide-angle 24mm to a telephoto 720mm. Though a lens with this reach does have certain stalker implications, it does have noncreepy uses such as getting an across-the-field shot of an athlete or a bird high up in a tree or even the moon. In this case, it's people on the observation deck of the Empire State Building.
720mm at 100 percent
This is a 100 percent crop of the shot at the bottom of the previous slide. First, the image stabilization does an excellent job of controlling motion blur (though it doesn't make the camera any easier to hold still). The results are predictably soft, but if all your after is getting a shot, the HS10 can certainly accommodate.
There is surprisingly little lens distortion at either end of the lens. Maybe some slight pincushioning when the lens is fully extended, but really nothing worth worrying about.
There is also little fringing in high-contrast areas, and what is there is difficult to see until photos are at 100 percent. There is some haloing, however.
Color performance is very good: bright, vivid, and reasonably accurate. Plus, there are controls to fine-tune them to your liking. White balance is particularly good outdoors, but indoors was a little green. Again, there is an option to fine tune. Exposure is good, but highlights do have a tendency to blow out--common for compact cameras.
The HS10's Motion Panorama mode will turn out decent photos. However, you probably won't want to use them at full size. Stitching issues are commonplace with these modes, and with subjects like this landscape where there's not a lot of scene variation, the results are worse.
The top photo was taken in the HS10's SR Auto mode at ISO 800; the bottom was using the camera's Pro Low-Light option in the Advanced mode. If you're going to shoot in low light without a flash, go with the Pro Low-Light setting. The one catch is your subject has to be still because the camera rapidly takes four shots and then compiles them into one.
Multi Motion Capture
Multi Motion Capture--another of the options in the Advanced mode--takes a series of photos and then creates this. Well, not this exactly, but you get the idea.
The last of the Advanced options is Motion Remover. There was actually a yellow taxi driving through this scene when I shot it, but the camera removed it. You can actually see part of the cab in the curtained window on the left side. It doesn't always work correctly, though, and when it does, the editing results in a lot of artifacts, so they're not really usable for much.