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2010.02.02

Today Fuji introduced a whopping 16 new digital cameras. The most impressive of them and also the most radically different is the Fuji Finepix HS10 which uses a 10 megapixels Back-Side Illuminated CMOS sensor instead of a SuperCCD. Like SuperCCDs, BSI CMOS sensors are designed to improve performance in low-light by leaving more of the sensor surface sensitive to light. Sony used such sensors in a few models last year. Unlike CCDs, CMOS is much faster to read and therefore allows much faster shot-to-shot and continuous shooting speeds.

Although 10 megapixels is not class leading, it is certainly sufficient for the vast majority of users. What is incredible is that this Fuji digital camera packs an incredible 30X optical zoom lens, equivalent to 24-720mm in 35mm terms. Not only is this the most zoom of any fixed lens camera, it starting at an ultra-wide 24mm-equivalent is extremely useful. Most ultra-zooms now start at a wide 28 or 26mm but this wider range is extremely welcome.  That is not all though! The Finepix HS10’s lens features a mechanical zoom too, meaning that it is infinitely precise and as fast to adjust as possible. This is something that is really needed for precise framing, particularly on the wide-end of the zoom where each millimeter makes a substantial difference. As expected and required by such a long zoom, this camera features built-in image stabilization.

The speed of the CMOS sensor seems put to excellent use by the HS10. First up is 1080p HDTV video-recording, that is 1920×1080 @ 30 FPS at 16:9 aspect and with stereo sound. Second is 10 FPS full-resolution continuous shooting for up to 7 images.  Then there are low-resolution high-speed movie modes from 60 to 1000 FPS and a number of features which require fast readouts such as sweeping panorama mode that creates a panorama from image slices.

This is an extremely interesting camera because it packs so many advanced features, including full manual-controls, custom white-balance, manual focus, mechanical zoom, tracking autofocus and ISO up to 6400. Counting the ultra-wide zoom it is certainly a model to investigate for a DSLR backup camera. The 3″ LCD with 230k pixels on the rear should be big and clear enough. It also tilts up and down for added framing flexibility. If the hinge is as solid as it is on the Fuji Finepix S100FS, it should not be much of a liability.

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There are unfortunately places where the HS10 unfortunately falls short of being a useful backup or alternate camera for a DSLR. In term of capability, Fuji closed the gap on the focal-length side but cut the slowest shutter-speed to 4s, which is too low of night photography in general. They also did something quite unacceptable by only providing 97% coverage on both the LCD and EVF. There should be truly no reason for this and it is actually the first time that Fuji’s top model does not have 100% coverage. The only explanation is that this is to not cannibalize an even higher-end model which as yet to be announced. In theory this could be remedied via firmware, so I am truly hoping Fuji can correct this. Speaking of the EVF, it has an awesome eye-start sensor. Once you get used to having one, it becomes essential by automatically switching between the LCD and EVF when needed. It is however one of the smallest EVFs ever made, which may limit its usability.

Finally I am happy to see that Fuji is moving away from proprietary technologies without advantages. The Finepix HS10 uses SD and SDHC for memory and AA batteries for power. AA batteries are incredibly versatile as one can easily replace them with disposable ones in case of emergency and solar chargers for them are plenty.

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