I’ve been dealing with a bit of a dilemma for a while. At my weekly venues, I’ve been incorporating more and more larger pieces, which means they take up more space in my truck. I knew the time would come that I would have to leave something back at the studio so I could accommodate my display pieces. The part of my “kit” that now stays behind is my camera bag, and yes, it poses a major issue: When that once-in-a-lifetime scene presents itself while I’m out and about, how can I capture it?
For a while, I’ve been carrying my trusty Canon G10. The problem is the lens has a short focal length, and digital noise is a factor anytime you shoot over iso 100. And if I wanted to shoot a sunset, I would have to do without my trusty split ND filters. So I hit the Internet and started researching some options.
I had some pretty specific features in mind: I needed focal coverage from 24mm to 300mm+ without a motorized mechanism, the lens needed a threaded end so I could attach my split ND or UV filter, shooting in RAW format was a must, it had to have the option of full manual control, including focusing, and it had to fit under the seat of my truck.
Out of the thousands of cameras available on the market, there was only one that fit the bill: Fuji’s HS20EXR.
The HS20EXR plays in a very small category. It has all the features you’d want in a DSLR, yet it’s about 1/3 the size and can be fully automated like a point and shoot. In fact, it’s in the “Bridge” category, in that it bridges the gap between a point and shoot and it’s big brethren DSLR.
Of course, the camera has its plusses and minuses. On the happy face side of the coin, it has a 24-720 mm (equivalent) lens with manual twist-zoom and 58mm threads, so you can screw on nearly any filter that’s available. The camera shoots in RAW, or a range of Jpeg modes, or combinations of RAW + Jpeg. Its 16MP sensor and processing engine renders incredible color and contrast for images that rival DSLRs that cost thousands of dollars more, and it runs on good, old-fashioned AA batteries.
But this camera isn’t a bed of roses. For one, because it doesn’t have an internal buffer memory, it’s painfully slow to record RAW images, even with the fastest SDHC card on the market. We’re talking real slow. Autofocus is not the quickest, and in low-contrast or low-light conditions, it’s almost impossible for it to nail a focus point. And there’s the digital viewfinder that’s pretty much useless. Just use the three-inch LCD screen on the back.
So yeah, it’s not perfect, but for the size and all of the great features it has, it fits the bill for getting images that I otherwise wouldn’t have if I didn’t have my bag of gear with me.
Yesterday, the HS20 proved it metal. I got a request from an outlet: a client was looking for a shot of a single lavender bloom with the rest of the plant out of focus. Did I have one? As I was already in my truck, I headed for Alii Lavender farm. Their back plot was in full bloom and I found a beautiful specimen to shoot. I put the Fuji into aperture priority, dialed the f-stop to the 2.8 mark and set the exposure to ½-stop under. The result was magic – a beautifully focused lavender stalk with a sea of out of focus purple and green in the background. I downloaded the image to my laptop, make a quick tweak in the white balance and emailed the image to the client. Five minutes later, I had an order.
Bridge cameras may not be the be-all, do-all that a photographer wants, but it comes fairly close. Would it replace the 40+ pounds of camera gear I normally carry around? Not a chance. With my DSLRs and lenses, I’m ready for anything, but in a pinch without my “bag of toys,” the Fuji HS20EXR bridges the gap between hero and zero.