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Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR review: What a bridge camera should be

Lots of features and strong performance make this a top choice.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

10 min read

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

Fujifilm_FinePix_HS50EXR_35566922_05.jpg
8.0

Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR

The Good

The <b>Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR</b> 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.

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.

Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR sample pictures

See all photos

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In place of the buttons, there's a Q button for controlling those settings. Press it, and up pops a whole screen of important settings, which still gives pretty fast access to the same stuff and more. Navigate to whatever you want to change with the four-way control pad and then change the setting with Command dial.

Next to the Q button is one for flipping between the electronic viewfinder (also 920K-dot resolution and it is really nice) and the LCD or turning on the proximity sensor next to the EVF that will automatically activate it when you bring it up to your eye (though the switch from LCD to EVF is just a little too slow for me).

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 programmable function button and a Menu/OK button at its center for accessing all settings and making selections; 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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The camera's battery compartment is on the bottom, and a little too close to the tripod mount; depending on your tripod, you may have to remove the camera to get the battery out. The SD card slot is under a sliding door on the right side of the camera, so at least you can pop that in and out without removing it from your tripod.

Key specs Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR
Price (MSRP) $549.99
Dimensions (WHD) 5.5x4x5.7 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 1.8 pounds
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2-inch BSI EXR II CMOS sensor
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 920K dots/Electronic
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 42x, f2.8-5.6, 24-1000mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG, raw (.RAF), raw+JPEG/MPEG-4 H.264/AVC (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li ion rechargeable, 500 shots
Battery charged in camera No
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC

On top of the eyepiece is a hot shoe for adding an external flash. The camera can be used with units that provide aperture adjustment, external metering, and sensitivity control. Fujifilm has three of its own for use with the camera. Also available is a stereo microphone that can be plugged into the mic jack on the left side of the camera.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's there you'll also find a Mini-HDMI port and Micro-USB/remote trigger port and a switch for quickly moving from single autofocus to continuous AF or manual focus. At the center of the switch is a focus-assist button that, among other things, will give you a focus peak highlight to help with manual focusing. (Manual focusing, by the way, is done with a focus ring that sits behind the zoom ring. It moves a bit too freely for me, but it works.)

Then there's the lens itself that, again, goes from an ultrawide-angle 24mm with a maximum aperture of f2.8, out to a very long 1000mm with a maximum aperture of f5.6. That aperture range isn't bad, all things considered, but if you're going to be doing a lot of shooting indoors using the zoom, I would recommend going with the Panasonic FZ200 and its f2.8 aperture that's available through the zoom range.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There is no motor for the zoom; it's manual, operated by rotating a wide lens ring. It's great for fast control when framing shots, and as the lens extends there are markings on the barrel and the lens ring so you can see your focal length. Since it is manual, you can use it while recording video, too. The movement, however, is not entirely smooth, so the camera may jerk some when using it and if you're not careful you'll hear a knock when the lens hits the 1000mm mark. Using the zoom for movies while on a tripod is better, but it still may stick at points depending on how fast you're moving the zoom ring (the slower you move, the more likely it will stick).

The lens is threaded, too, for use with 58mm filters, and a lens hood is included.

General shooting options Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Direct Sunlight, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, Incandescent, Custom
Recording modes EXR Auto, Auto, Advanced, Scene 1, Scene 2, Motion Panorama, Program AE, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, Custom, Movie (Normal, High Speed)
Focus modes Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual, Macro, Super Macro; Center, Multi, Area, Tracking
Macro 2.7 inches (Wide); 8.2 feet (Tele); Super Macro 0.4 inch to 3.2 feet
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Standard, Vivid, Soft, Sepia, B&W
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 5 shots

There is no shortage of shooting modes on the HS50EXR including two Auto modes (with or without scene recognition) right up to semimanual and manual controls. In manual mode, available shutter speeds start at 30 seconds and go down to 1/4,000 second (though they're dependent on the ISO used); selectable apertures go from f2.8 to f11 at wide end, and f5.6 to f11 at the telephoto end. Again, because of the camera's control layout, using this camera outside of Auto is a pleasure; if you want fast access to settings, this is your point-and-shoot.

There are Fujifilm's EXR options as well, made possible by the camera's sensor. These consist of High Resolution Priority, D-Range Priority, and High Sensitivity & Low Noise Priority. The High Resolution Priority setting uses the full 16-megapixel resolution for photos, while the other two shoot at 8 megapixels to improve dynamic range in high-contrast scenes or reduce noise in low-light photos. (Fujifilm's site has a full explanation of the EXR technology if you're interested.) If you're not sure which to use, there's an Auto EXR mode that includes scene recognition and that can also recognize which EXR Priority option to use. It's effective and reliable as long as you're OK with the possibility that you'll end up with 8-megapixel photos if the D-Range and High ISO & Low Noise Priority modes are used for your shot.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Advanced mode gives you a few more tools to work with that take advantage of the camera's speedy sensor: Pro Low-light and Pro Focus. The Low-light mode snaps off several photos and then combines them into one lower-noise photo, while the Pro Focus creates a shallow depth of field by digitally blurring the background. (The former works better than the latter.) In this mode you'll also find a cool multiple exposure option that lets you layer one shot on top of another as well as eight advanced filters (Toy, Miniature, Pop Color, Dynamic Tone, Partial Color, High Key, Low Key, and Soft Focus). (You can see example of these in the slideshow in the photo quality section of the review.)

For video, you can shoot at resolutions of 720p or 1080p at 60fps. You also get high-speed movie movie capture at 480fps (320x112 pixels), 160fps (320x240 pixels), and 80fps (VGA 640480 pixels).

Conclusion
There are definitely a lot of megazoom options available -- from basic snapshot cameras to ones that are mostly point-and-shoots with a bit of extra control to those designed for enthusiasts. The Fujiflim FinePix HS50EXR falls into "enthusiast" group, but it's a very capable "family camera," with solid results if you just leave it in auto. Though its photo quality and performance still isn't that of larger-sensor cameras like dSLRs and mirrorless compacts, you're not going to get one of those with a 24-1000mm zoom lens. The Panasonic FZ200 still has a bit of an edge for its continuous shooting performance, better video quality, and its f2.8 zoom lens, but the HS50EXR does have a longer telephoto and some nice extras that will help you get better pictures in difficult lighting. I like having the manual zoom for shooting fast-moving subjects, too, because you can move in and out faster and more accurately than a motorized zoom; it's just not great for movies.

Shooting speed
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim)
Shutter lag (typical)
Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR
1.7
1.3
1.1
0.4
0.2
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS
2
2.4
1.6
0.5
0.3
Typical continuous-shooting speed (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Fujifilm_FinePix_HS50EXR_35566922_05.jpg
8.0

Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8Image quality 7
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