Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR review: What a bridge camera should be

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The Good The Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR has a nice 42x manual zoom lens; fast performance; very good picture quality for its class; a lot of shooting options, including manual and semimanual modes and raw capture; and excellent hardware features.

The Bad Its manual zoom isn't great for zooming while capturing movies; it's large and heavy; for those uninitiated with Fujifilm's EXR sensors, getting the best results can require a little extra effort.

The Bottom Line The Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR's features and performance are well beyond those of your average point-and-shoot megazoom, making it a fine choice for enthusiasts and as a family camera.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 7

The Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR is much more than a large point-and-shoot with a long lens.

Like the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 and to some extent the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, the HS50EXR offers more control over results and higher-end features like a hot shoe for an external flash. It's more for enthusiasts than snapshooters, but it's perhaps not as intimidating as a digital SLR, making it a good choice for a household with multiple users.

Building off 2012's HS30EXR and its 30x, f2.8-5.6, 24-720mm lens, the HS50EXR gets a 42x f2.8-5.6 24-1000mm lens. It's still a manual zoom lens, too, giving it an advantage over motorized zooms when it comes to quickly finding your target should lose your framing.

Along with the new lens, there's a new 16-megapixel 1/2-inch type EXR II CMOS sensor with a hybrid autofocus system combining contrast and phase detection AF, which allows for the fastest focusing possible for your lighting. Continuous phase detection AF is available when shooting movies, too, which can be captured at resolutions up to 1080p at 60 frames per second (fps) with stereo sound using the built-in mic or an external one.

Fujifilm upped the performance in general, too, with much better startup and shot-to-shot times and up to 11fps when burst shooting at full resolution.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Indeed, the camera's new lens and faster performance are reasons to upgrade for owners of previous HS-series models, and for anyone looking for a megazoom camera with a lot of control, this is a good place to start.

That said, its photo quality is just slightly better than the HS30EXR. That model was very good for its class and this one is, again, slightly better. Pixel peepers might still be disappointed by what they see; despite appearances and features, this isn't a digital SLR when it comes to image quality.

Picture quality
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.

Much like its predecessor, photos viewed at 100 percent are 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 (SilkyPix software is included for working with the RAF file format, but Adobe Camera Raw supports the HS50EXR), 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. For more on the camera's photo quality and capabilities, see the slideshow above.

Video quality is very good and the continuous autofocus works well, though it still does a fair amount of hunting. The built-in mics did an excellent job of picking up even distant audio. However, when listening with headphones I could hear a lot of popping in quieter scenes.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Shooting performance
While the HS30EXR's performance was good, but average for a megazoom, the HS50EXR is definitely better. From off to first shot took 1.7 seconds in our lab tests, though it felt a touch faster when I was actually out shooting with it. From shot to shot it averaged about 1.1 seconds; turning on the flash barely slowed it down, too, keeping to 1.3 seconds between shots. Also, its shot-to-shot time when shooting raw was about 1.3 seconds, too. Its shutter lag -- the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- was excellent at 0.2 second in bright lighting and 0.4 second in low light.

These times just about match the Panasonic FZ200 and beat it on shot-to-shot with flash. The only time the autofocus gets noticeably slower is with the lens extended in low light, which is typical for megazooms. And even then, it's better than other high-end models I've tested.

Where the HS50EXR can't match the FZ200 is on continuous shooting. Though the camera can shoot bursts at up to 11fps at full resolution, it's only 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. The FZ200, however, can shoot with autofocus at up to 5.5fps at full resolution. Canon's SX50 HS can do this as well, but at 0.9fps. (Comparison charts are at the end of this review.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features
Though it's generally the same design as previous HS-series models, the HS50EXR does have some notable changes. It is slightly bigger and heavier, which isn't that unusual given the longer lens. However, competing models have added longer lenses and have actually gotten a little smaller and lighter.

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.

Gone is the HS30EXR's row of direct-setting buttons down the left side of the LCD for ISO, metering modes, autofocus areas, focus modes, and white balance. The buttons were an acceptable sacrifice to get the new vari-angle 3-inch LCD. At 920K dots, it's a higher resolution than its predecessor's screen, and instead of just pulling out and tilting, the LCD now flips out and rotates.

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