Friday, June 25, 2010

Fuji HS10 Review

I've had the HS10 for some time now, taking it on trips, using it by night and day and in different weather conditions, and I've a few observations to share. Hope you find them helpful. In this discussion, the Canon is my previous generation Canon Powershot S5 IS.

Things I like
The lens is awesome -- so awesome it nearly makes up for the many flaws in this camera. The telephoto is sharp and clear, with no noticeable barreling. The super macro is like walking around with a microscope in your hand. Simply amazing.

At the higher ISOs the images are relatively clean of noise. That picture of the Mikado Pheasant I took in Taroko was taken at 1600 ISO.

Some of the functions are really nifty. The tracking function is pure fun -- I was experimenting with it today on traffic going by the 85C where we had stopped for slushies. The red car above is one of the shots I took -- I set the focus on TRACKING and just followed the car. The result is excellent. The scenery setting, as you can see in the Taroko pics a few posts down, is outstanding, much better than my old Canon. Sometimes the arrangement of camera functions is very sensible. Instead of having all the functions on the dial where they are not needed, there are three settings -- ADV., SP1, and SP2, that enable you to access many different settings and keep three of them up at all times. Really an economical approach, meaning that you don't have to turn through 100 settings on the dial to reach the one you want.

The lens cap does not come off easily. This is a great quality when you put the camera away, protecting the lens.

The Fuji HS10 takes AA batteries. I detest proprietary battery systems.

Fuji has absolutely mastered making the camera feel right in the hand. No other camera brand I've ever owned has that property: the grip makes it seem like your hand was born to hold that camera.

Things I don't like
The manual control of the lens is clunky and requires a little effort to use. It lacks the smoothness of a true SLR lens.

The manual focus is nuts. In theory it is a great idea. You set the camera on manual focus and manipulate a second ring to make the function work. In practice it requires two hands, and because one is moving the ring, the camera shakes -- making it harder to focus! In other words, it has a built in Catch-22: the more you use the manual focus, the harder it is to achieve a good focus. This is especially if, as so often, you are leaning over or out to get the shot you want. The manual focus needs to be automated with a thumb button on the right side of the camera.

The layout of controls was clearly done by an engineer for engineering purposes, not for user convenience. Except for the macro and ISO, all of the camera's major controls require two hands, one to hold the button down and the other to select the setting. My Canon Powershot does everything with one hand with a set of efficiently nested menus and is vastly superior to the layout of the Fuji. This is a real problem since I do lots of shooting while moving on a bike or in my car, and I need one hand free, but then shifting the hands around is a problem in any shooting situation. The lens cap requires two hands to remove -- the Canon pops off when the lens extends as you turn on the camera. It also requires two hands to put back on. While riding my bike, I can pop the lens cap off with my mouth, but I lack the coordination to put it back on the same way. I suspect that if I try to use the Fuji on my bike, my last words are going to be something like Wow, look at that beautiful -- SPLAT!

My Canon used the UP/DOWN/LEFT/RIGHT arrow function to control the increase/decrease of most functions, very intuitive. The Fuji has an additional dial on the top of the camera that controls some functions, others are controlled elsewhere. Clunky, inefficient, and sometimes difficult to remember. For example, while you are sitting there contemplating the insect on the leaf you want to shoot, you ask yourself Do I increase the exposure compensation by turning the dial while holding the button, or by pressing that other button on top of the camera and holding down another button? You next adjust the manual focus, which takes ages because your hands are shaking from holding the bulky camera at full extension while stretching and turning your fingers around holding buttons down like some new and painful game of Miniature Twister. By then, from studying your contortions, the insect has mated, reproduced, and founded a new, superior civilization that threatens mankind's grip on the earth. On the Canon, needless to say, I did all those functions with one thumb.

The Fuji has only basic color controls; the Canon Powershot has a wider range.

The shutter lag is like something out of 2002. WTF?

The panorama function is a joke. So far I have not been able to get it to produce a decent panorama and I have basically given up trying to use it. The Canon Powershot took the sensible route of providing stitching software that produces excellent panoramas, which I now use with the Fuji.

The HS10 does HD video but I have not used that function yet. The Canon Powershot has a sound recorder in addition to the video, the Fuji lacks one. Fuji does not permit you to shoot an image while videoing, but the Canon does. Overall, despite being the next generation camera, the functionality and ease of use of the Fuji appears to be lower than the Canon, despite some areas where it offers greater functionality.

One annoyance I have with all cameras, not just the Fuji, is the firmware wasted on functions I don't need. The IMAGE controls in the HS10, for example, include CROP and RESIZE. Who the hell crops inside a camera on that tiny screen? Instead of giving me these controls I don't use, why not spend the firmware space on more useful shooting functions? Especially since firmware hacks are available that allow you to shoot in all sorts of modes not original to the camera (on the Canon I had a hack that allowed me to shoot stereo 3-D shots). Or better yet, why not give users a basic set of firmware and then have them download firmware add-ons that they desire. After all, it is highly unlikely I will ever use the SNOW SHOOTING function here in Taiwan. Shouldn't I be able to discard it for something like TRUE BETEL NUT SPIT COLOR? User involvement can be solicited this way too, with people writing scripts for cameras (already going on in the informal firmware hack world) just as today people write iPhone Apps.

Great moments in "God Help Us, We're in the Hands of Engineers"
In image review system in the camera Fuji establishes a new WTF? benchmark: after you delete a photo it returns to the last image in the series. Yes, that's right: if you take 500 pictures in a day, like I often do on long trips, and as you scroll through, decide you don't like image 203 in the series, the Fuji HS10 helpfully returns you to image 500 at the end after you delete, not to image 204 or 202, meaning you have to scroll back 300 images to get to where you were. Welcome to 1996. This tiresome 'feature' alone is enough to make me recommend that you wait for a more intelligently designed camera with a massive lens.

Overall Recommendation
If you are looking for that bridge camera between a prosumer camera and a true SLR, this isn't it, even with that awesome lens. I'd wait until Nikon or Canon comes out with a similarly massive lens system and a CMOS sensor before upgrading from your current camera. Fuji gave it the old college try, but they missed the mark. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Daily Links:
  • NOT TO BE MISSED: When excavators came to the rice fields: Foxconn's land grab in central Taiwan.
  • Central Bank unexpectedly raises the benchmark interest rate, hitting property stocks.
  • Richard Bush on the social foundations of Taiwan's future from Brookings, with some interesting thoughts. Bush, like many commentators, argues that "Uncompetitive, previously protected firms will go out of business. Opportunities will blossom for the most advanced sectors." Reality: ECFA will preserve government-subsidized big firms and financial houses while even by KMT thinktank estimates will reduce the size of the vanguard electronics sector 8-9%. Meanwhile our nimble SME sector will also take a hit.
  • Terms of ECFA deal agreed on: Rueters has a sturdy report. More on that later.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Unknown said...

'Great moments in "God Help Us, We're in the Hands of Engineers"'

Michael, I assume you are referring to Fuji's photo editing app (computer, not camera).

Unfortunately, that sucky system exists in iPhoto, too. It didn't used to; when I first used iPhoto, back in 2006, if you deleted the photo, it took you to the one before you deleted, not back to the beginning of the series. Ever since 2007? 2008? of those 2 years, anyway, they changed it. Why? I've hated that ever since. At least they could give you a choice!

Unknown said...

lol. "True Betel Nut Spit Colour"! Necesary, indeed!

Michael Turton said...

No it is in the freaking camera, man.

Anonymous said...

OK how much for the slightly used Fuji?

Sage said...

Good info on the Fuji HS10, thanks!

Speaking of cameras ... I've got a Nikon D70S Digital SLR with 18-70mm and 70-300mm I'd like to sell.

Excellent condition, actually I haven't used it much, which is why I'd part with it.

Will throw in a couple of good books about digital SLR shooting too.

Hope I'm not stepping out of bounds posting an ad on your blog Michael... just say'n.

Michael Turton said...

Hahaha. Not selling the thing, the lens is too awesome.

Ad can stay, Sage. How much for the Nikon? Just answer in a comment, I'll delete it so no one ever sees...

P. S. said...

Michael, I was happy to see you pan the Fuji, because I like the pics from your Canon, better.

I need to make an acquisition, soon, what do you recommend? Should I go for the latest equivalent version of your Canon? Or have you seen a clearly better alternative?

Michael Turton said...

I'm still on the fence as far as picture quality goes. i think both cameras take excellent pics.

I don;t know what i'd pick right now. Nikon has a 26X camera out that i looked at today, it looked sweet, but the proprietary battery sucks. I'd go to steve's digicams and start looking.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike! Beautiful twin peaks!

Can you please tell us the name of those two splendid mountains?

Anonymous said...

Try the Pentax Kx SLR. Highly rated and recommended especially with the Limited Lenses.

Michael Turton said...

Twin Peaks, I have no idea which mountains they are. I checked the satellite photos but it is hard to tell. They are stunning, though.

Anonymous said...

If you care about the presentation of your nice photos, I'd change the background of the blog. Really jarring to see interesting photos up against a very amateur background.

Sage said...

Hey Michael .. much to my dismay while fooling around with the camera yesterday, I discovered that it seems to be eating CF cards.
I'll have to take it to the Nikon shop to have it checked out I guess. Bought this thing new in a couple of years ago, probably doesn't have over 200 shots on it. Shouldn't do this kind of thing ...

I'll check in later with update