Fujifilm's 30x zoom HS-series camera hasn't changed much from generation to generation. It more or less just gets fine-tuned, and that's the case with the 2012 version, the FinePix HS30EXR.
For example, this newest version gets a redesigned manual zoom for smoother movement and a larger, ultrahigh-resolution electronic viewfinder. It also gets rid of the AA batteries in favor of a lithium ion rechargeable giving it excellent battery life. (Check out the HS25EXR if you want AA batteries instead.) And despite having a 16-megapixel EXR CMOS sensor like last year's HX20EXR, the new model gets an improved sensor and processor for better performance and image quality.
It's not a huge step forward by any means, but it is a better camera and continues to have one of the best designs for users who really like to take control of their results. On the other hand, just because it looks like a digital SLR does not mean you're getting an SLR.
As with most compact cameras, photo quality really comes down to expectations and what you plan to do with your photos. In general, the HS30EXR's photos are very good, and it is capable of taking some excellent shots. However, 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.
Basically, if you're considering this expecting digital SLR photo quality for this price with its lens and features, you're going to be disappointed. If you understand that this is essentially a point-and-shoot camera with a lot of control and a long lens, you'll probably be thrilled with what the camera can produce under the right conditions. My main issue with the results is that there's a lot of visible artifacts when photos were viewed at larger sizes, and subjects look soft. Both of these can be corrected to some extent by shooting and processing its raw files, though. You can read more about the camera's picture quality in the slideshow above as well as view full-size photos.
The HS30EXR is pretty much on par with other cameras in its class in terms of shooting performance, which is an improvement over past models. From off to first shot took 1.8 seconds in our lab tests, though it felt a touch faster. From shot to shot it averaged about 1.2 seconds and its shutter lag -- the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- was very good at 0.3 second in bright lighting. However, it does slow down some in low light, with about 0.6 second lag. The autofocus also gets noticeably slower with the lens extended, which is typical for megazooms.
The HS30EXR has a lot of burst shooting options to pick from depending on what resolution you want to use. At 16 megapixels you get 3 frames per second (in raw plus JPEG, too), though our lab tests clocked it at up to 5.6fps. If you're OK with smaller, 8-megapixel images (and you should be), you can get up to a fast 11fps.
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. Also, although the camera can continue to shoot continuously up to 200 shots, the speed drops significantly after the initial burst. For example, at full resolution, after about four or five photos it gets much slower. It's better to release, let it store your images, and shoot again.Design and features
The HS30EXR hasn't changed much at all from previous models, which is a very good thing. It is similar in size, weight, and appearance to an entry-level digital SLR. It might be a compact camera, but it's not small. A large, deep hand grip on the right allows you hold it securely, helped by a rubberized coating and a slight indent for your middle finger to rest in. (There's an ample thumb rest on back, too.)
On top at the front of the grip is the shutter release with a ring around it for quickly powering the camera on and off. Just behind the shutter are exposure compensation and continuous-shooting buttons. Behind those are the ergonomically slanted Mode and Command dials; the angle puts them in easy reach of your thumb.
Similar to button layouts you'd find on a dSLR, the HS30EXR has a row of direct-setting buttons down the left side of the LCD: ISO, metering modes, autofocus areas, focus modes, and white balance. You simply press the button for what you'd like to adjust and spin the Command dial.
Jumping to the right of the LCD is a discrete button for recording video; an AE/AF lock button; a four-way control pad with a Menu/OK button at its center; a Disp/Back button for changing shooting information onscreen and navigating out of a menu option; and a playback button for viewing photos and video.
The control pad can be used for menu navigation and in lieu of the Command dial. It also changes flash, self-timer, and macro settings, and one programmable function button that can be set to change things like raw, film simulation, and image quality modes. The control setup is excellent and continues to be one of the best layouts I've seen on a megazoom camera.