In yet another moment of heart over brain, I went ahead and purchased a super-zoom camera. Of the three cameras I was considering (Canon, Panasonic, Fuji), I opted for the Fujifilm Finepix HS50EXR.
The Canon PowerShot SX50HS is an upgrade of the Canon PowerShot SX20IS that I had. I was very happy with the old Canon and also had an opportunity to tinker with SX50 in detail. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70 has an interesting 20mm wide-angle lens (versus the 24mm lens on the other cams). I also had an opportunity to tinker with the FZ70 in detail.
I had no opportunity to try out the Fuji camera and bought it blindly based on it’s advertised specs alone. So what tilted the balance in favour of the Fujifilm?
- The Fuji has a tilt-swivel LCD display. I am not exactly agile on my feet anymore and this helps me frame the shots at the subject’s eye-level. The Panasonic has a fixed LCD display.
- The Fuji has a high-resolution eye-level viewfinder with auto-detect of eye placement. Both Canon and Panasonic don’t have this feature.
- The Fuji has a bright f/2.8 lens. The Canon has a f/3.5 lens.
- The Fuji has a 58mm filter attachment thread. Both Canon and Panasonic don’t have this feature.
- The Fuji saves RAW images. The Panasonic does not have this feature.
- The Fuji shoots Full-HD movies at 60fps. It also shoots 480fps High-speed movies. The Canon and Panasonic have a slightly reduced feature set.
- The Fuji has a manual zoom-lens. Though it seems counter-intuitive, I actually prefer the fine-control over the zoom ring over the electronically driven zoom function of Canon and Panasonic.
- The Fuji features a manual focus-ring.
- The Fuji offers external mic-in.
- The Fuji features “Auto EXR” mode. Just this mode alone makes this camera superior to many others in this range. The camera automatically determines the scene based on light and color-tones and faces. It then dynamically alters the ISO, Shutter-speed, Aperture, Image-size and Dynamic range. In low-light scenario, it will take images at 8MP resolution by combining pixels on sensor for greater light sensitivity, take up-to four consecutive shots and then merge them all to form a low-light image!
- The versatility of a super-zoom camera cannot be matched by a DSLR camera. Flip it out, shoot and bag.
- The Fuji features a manual focus override switch and you can refocus via a focus ring. The Fuji displays focus-peaking by a bar-graph and also focus areas using highlights.
- The Fuji features a “Q” button that puts all relevant shooting related controls just a click away from your thumb. Using a dedicated mode-dial, you can very quickly adjust the parameters.
- The Fuji features a very thoughtfully designed menu system with icons, explanations and help. It’s easy for anyone to get started with the camera after spending only a minute with it.
- The Fuji features a single click method to put the camera into silent mode. This mode turns off all sounds, all external lights and make the camera so silent that even the photographer will have to double-check if the camera actually took the photograph.
- The 1080p 60fps videos shot using a global-shutter are beautifully free of motion blur and rolling-shutter effects. Sound is captured effectively and user also has control over microphone sensitivity.
- The SD Card slot supports 64GB SD Cards and also Micro-SD Cards (using SD Card Adapter). The slot is located at the side, so you can easily swap them while the camera is mounted on a tripod.
- The battery lasts for almost 500 shots and the Lithium battery maintains charge for a month with only 20% decline in capacity.
- You can quickly switch between single-shot, continuous-shots and best-shot modes by pressing a single button. Continuous shots are displayed like a running movie while previewing but you can control individual files.
- The onboard Flash rises high when released and avoids the flash shadow artefact when the zoom barrel is extended.
- The Fuji bested the Canon and Panasonic in the dynamic range test. The Fuji offered the best detail in the shadows and the least clipping in the highlights. The Canon was the worst with highlights blown out and shadows turned very dark.
- The auto-focus uses both phase-detect and contrast-detect. In daylight, the focus is very fast. Half-pressing the shutter button results in almost instantaneous focus confirmation beep. In low-light, the focus is still very good with the camera finding focus in less than a second. Only in pitch-dark does the auto-focus fail.
- The camera has in-built Inclinometer and displays the camera tilt. Using it, you can ensure that your shots of the horizon are perfectly level. The camera also displays rule-of-thirds grid, 3:2 grid and shooting information.
- The camera offers in-built digital zoom that doubles the effective zoom. You can choose to keep it activated all the time or assign a key to activate it by a single click. Surprisingly, the digital zoom images are quite usable.
- The Fuji was bested by the Canon in image detail and sharpness test. The Canon reproduced details at 1200mm that were invisible in the Fuji at 1000mm. Since the Canon shoots at 12MP and the Fuji at 16MP, the relative sizes of the objects was actually the same.
- The videos created by the Fuji are really large in size and quickly fill up space. A 32GB card is only good for approx. 40 minutes of shooting at 1080p 60fps.
- The 480fps high-speed videos are really small in size (320px wide) and so blurry that it feels like a 96px wide video was digitally zoomed. The 120fps 480p videos are quite though.
- The Fuji uses a non-standard USB connector on the camera. The cable frequently comes loose and loses connection with the computer. Though you can use Eye-Fi cards with the camera, you are likely to find yourself frequently taking the SD Card out of the camera.
- The Fuji’s auto-focus mechanism can fail if focusing at infinity and at large areas of plain color. For example, focussing on a sky that is cloudy can result in temporary loss of focus. Focus can be quickly reacquired by focussing on a break in the clouds.
- Manual zoom ring means that you will need to use a Follow-focus mechanism attached to the zoom ring if you want to shoot video and smoothly zoom in/out. Even with a tripod, moving the manual zoom ring causes a lot of vibration. You are in-fact better of trusting the camera’s inbuilt image-stabilizer during a video shoot.
- The camera keeps losing focus during recording video if you you are zooming or objects appear in front of the camera at closer distances. Though the camera quickly refocuses, you are likely to end up with unusable footage. Putting the camera in manual focus mode while video recording is a good idea. Note that you cannot shoot video in manual focus mode if using the eye-level viewfinder.
- The 58mm filter thread exists but is of limited use. I have a clear-filter installed to protect the lens from dust and scratches; considering that I handle it a lot more casually than I handle the DSLR. I have tried ND filters but with only 4 seconds as the maximum exposure time, creative use of the ND filter maybe a challenge. Trying creative bokeh shots can also be a challenge. The small sensor means that it is harder to make light points out of focus.
- The digital zoom function is not available during video shooting.
- The Fuji goes bonkers when applying JPEG compression to an image that has extreme level of details (for ex: a field of small trees). The excessive compression results in the image being reduced to a mush of pixels.
- The Fuji also goes bonkers when applying JPEG compression to large areas where tone changes are gradual. It tends to change the gradual tonal changes to a single color. Leaves, barks of a plant may look as-if they had bad water-color effect applied in Photoshop
- As expected, the RAW file format is all but useless. Both the Canon and Fuji produce RAW images with so much noise that you will have a tough time eliminating it. In fact, all the cameras produce images that are quite noisy even in ISO as low as 200.
- Fuji batteries are very expensive. A spare set will set you back by Rs. 4000/-. Alternates are available from Wasabi batteries which cost half and also deliver half the shooting time.
- The camera is not weather-sealed. Though no camera in this range offers this feature, such cameras are used by amateurs at the beach etc. and the sand does tend to get in the gaps.
- The Fuji supports timer-mode shooting but is limited to Face-detect, 2 second and 10 second delay. The Canon offers a custom-delay for the timer (for ex: 5 seconds).
Am I likely to consider moving to another super-zoom camera in the near future? Though the Nikon Coolpix P600 offers a tantalizing 65x zoom (1400mm max focal length) and it way cheaper than the Fuji, I will probably stick to the Fuji for a few years just because of the overall satisfaction that I am receiving from it.
Canon PowerShot SX50HS Zoom Test
Fujifilm HS50EXR Zoom Test
Panasonic FZ70 Zoom Test