Design & Usability
Bigger is better these days, so Fujifilm slapped a whopping 42x zoom lens (24-1000mm) onto the HS50EXR, up from the 30x lens used in the past few generations.
The sexiest feature is still the lens barrel—a mechanical, twist-barrel zoom mechanism with a smooth focus ring, both with a ridged, grippy texture. It's the closest you'll get to true DSLR feel in a superzoom.
The other big change is the fully articulating LCD. It's a great feature for video and off-angle photography, but as a consequence the body no longer has room for the column of hotkeys that the HS30EXR and its predecessors had. It was one of the design choices that set the older HS models apart from the rest of the pack, and another thing that helped them handle more like DSLRs.
The sensor is apparently updated as well, though it's still a 16-megapixel 1/2-inch EXR CMOS chip (version II, this time). It supports burst shooting up to 11fps, as well as 1080/60p video. And like some of the upmarket Fuji X-series cameras, the HS50EXR uses both contrast- and phase-detection autofocus systems—something that should improve both speed and accuracy for AF.
The HS series has been the most comfortable, best-handling superzoom series for a few generations.
I've done some pretty extensive shooting with the HS30EXR and especially the HS20EXR in the past, and the HS50EXR feels like it's another chip off the same block.
The manual zoom is buttery smooth and allows much finer control than the motor-driven lenses on most other superzooms. While the lens ring on previous models was a nice feature, it was tough to use manual focus reliably—it's always harder with electronic viewfinders. But Fuji implemented focus-peaking with the HS50EXR—the outlines of in-focus objects glow bright white—so manual focusing is actually useful. We got it working on the show floor, no problem. It's just like the focus peaking in the latest X series cameras, though not quite as refined as the system in the Sony NEX models.
There are shooting options aplenty here, probably one of the largest selections in the superzoom class. The EXR shooting modes unlock some alternative capture and processing techniques; in older EXR cameras, they've helped image quality in some situations. The HS50EXR can also shoot RAW, and allows a degree of control over JPEG processing options like noise reduction and sharpness.
In our time with the HS50EXR, we missed the column of hotkeys on the left just a little bit; it was probably nostalgia as much as anything. In its place, Fujifilm added the Q menu from the X series cameras—basically a control panel with all the important settings in one place. It's slightly less convenient than a set of physical buttons, but photographers seem to be getting more comfortable with menu-heavy interfaces thanks to the rise of compact system cameras. Your mileage may vary.
The HS50EXR is yet more evidence that the superzoom class is continuing to diversify.
Most of them are pushing the limits with preposterous zoom ranges, including the attention-grabbing Canon SX50 HS; big numbers always look great on spec sheets. A select few, like the Panasonic FZ200, are banking on more subtle enhancements like constant, bright apertures and intricate DSLR-level controls—features that appeal more to hands-on, enthusiast photographers. Both approaches have merit, as our ratings suggest. Those two cameras are our number 1 and 2 superzooms, respectively, as we're writing this.
The HS50EXR should be a good superzoom—a 1000mm telephoto range is mighty impressive, and we've seen Canon and Nikon do it well already. It's just a little bit surprising to see Fujifilm shying away from that enthusiast-centric approach. It isn't a drastic departure from its predecessors, and the lens-barrel design alone makes it one of the most attractive superzoom designs out there.
The image quality could blow us away once we get it into our labs, and then we'll happily eat our plaid shirts. The Q menu should make it easy to forget the dearly departed physical controls, too. But it feels more like "just another superzoom," and less like a camera that you'd brag about owning because it makes you different—if that's something that matters to you.
The Fujifilm HS superzoom series usually appeals to enthusiast photographers for two reasons: they tend to handle like DSLRs, and they offer greater control over image quality than other cameras in their class. On our lab testing, they've never quite contended with the top superzooms, but they do have a dedicated user base.
We got to spend some time at CES with the newest member of the family, the HS50EXR. Fujifilm made some adjustments to keep pace with market trends, but we aren't sure that the enthusiast base will appreciate them.