Trial by Trail: the Fujifilm HS30EXR

In addition to its capabilities, the HS30EXR from Fuji is a sexy little camera.
In addition to its capabilities, the HS30EXR from Fuji is a sexy little camera.

In a previous entry I talked about buying matching Fujifilm HS30EXR digital cameras for my wife Abby and me.

First and most importantly, this camera is light and small. I spent many years carrying too much equipment on many of my hikes, the result of which was more fatigue and less fun. As years went on, I shed more and more gear, and in 2009 I bought a Fujifilm S200EXR, with which I felt I could both express my vision and enjoy myself in the process. The HS30EXR is everything the S200 was, plus some key improvements, like a wider angle on the wide end, and high-definition video, in an even smaller package.

In the first week of April I took this small wonder to the Colorado Plateau as my primary camera, backed up only by my Olympus point-and-shoot. The convenience of having only one very small camera bag was huge in itself, since my car was bursting with camping gear and provisions.

Panographs like this of Arches National Park are quick and easy most of the time with the HS30EXR. (Click, then click again to see it larger.)
Panographs like this of Arches National Park are quick and easy most of the time with the HS30EXR. (Click, then click again to see it larger.)

With two 16GB SDHC cards, ten 8GB cards, and three extra batteries, I set out, and here’s what I discovered about this camera…

The digital SLR still reigns supreme for image quality, but for my purposes, the Fujifilm HS30EXR is an excellent addition to my hiking kit. Here the evening light is captured with amazing saturation and clarity by the Fuji.
The digital SLR still reigns supreme for image quality, but for my purposes, the Fujifilm HS30EXR is an excellent addition to my hiking kit. Here the evening light is captured with amazing saturation and clarity by the Fuji.

Positives:

  • Excellent, saturated colors, including a mode that simulates Fuji’s famous Velvia color slide film.
  • A huge zoom range, the 35mm equivalent of 24mm to 740mm, with effective, active image stabilization.
  • SLR-like handling, with controls where an SLR user can find them.
  • Panorama mode; though this feature is starting to be available in most cameras and phone cameras, this camera does a particularly good, high-quality job of making panoramas.
  • Full high definition video is smooth and sharp handheld, and focus doesn’t hunt while shooting.
  • Battery life was good.
  • In spite of my insistence in shooting RAW files, most of the time I preferred the JPEG images from this camera.
  • The wide angle of 24mm (equivalent) is the tipping point for me; it is wide enough to satisfy my need to express those key near/far relationships.
In spite of my praise of the HS30EXR's excellent color, it does have a tendency in some situations to go a bit too green. I found that a slight bump in the Hue/Saturation dialog in Adobe Photoshop was all I needed to perfect the color rendition.
In spite of my praise of the HS30EXR’s excellent color, it does have a tendency in some situations to go a bit too green. I found that a slight bump in the Hue/Saturation dialog in Adobe Photoshop was all I needed to perfect the color rendition.

Negatives:

  • Smaller image sensor results in higher noise levels, even at the base ISO of 100. I created a custom Adobe Photoshop/Neat Image noise reduction action just for HS30EXR files. ISO 400 is about as high as I would go, and I consider ISO 1600 unusable with this camera.
  • When shooting RAW files, after two frames the camera stops taking pictures so it can write to the card. The RAW files are 25MB each, so it takes a few seconds to complete before it is ready to shoot again. For landscapes, that’s not a bad trade-off, but it would certainly be a problem if, for instance, you were shooting a wedding.
  • Sometimes the camera goes to sleep and requires turning it off, waiting a couple of seconds, then turning it on again to get it going.
  • Despite its SLR-like handling qualities, it is not an SLR, and is not as responsive as one, particularly regarding focus.
  • In certain situations, such as mixing mountains and flatlands in the same scene, the panorama mode can’t process the image correctly and gives an error message.
  • “P” mode, for Program, tends to pick medium apertures even in situations when more depth of field is required; I recommend “A” mode, for Aperture Priority, for direct aperture control.

In conclusion, I would give this camera a grade of A for my specific purpose of hiking and travel, and a B minus as a general photographic tool.

Bold, beautiful colors like in this image of Canyonlands National Park at sunset, and a compact, ergonomic form, are the fortés of the Fujifilm HS30EXR.
Bold, beautiful colors like in this image of Canyonlands National Park at sunset, and a compact, ergonomic form, are the fortés of the Fujifilm HS30EXR.
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