Well yes and no. It all depends on what you want or can forego if contemplating an alternative to let us say the HS30. The HS30 is by no means a bad camera, it just doesn't have a great deal to offer in the way of improvements over its predecessor the HS20. The new improvements are nice but if you are looking for a bargain then the HS20 is a definite buy.
The main competitors are:
All offer images stabilization and all have an electric zoom, most now sport a second zoom toggle on the lens barrel to control zooming while keeping the camera stable.
All these cameras use a 1/2.3 type sensor in various forms and all are smaller than the sensor in the HS20/30. While the difference isn't large in terms of area it most likely is when considering pixel density.
The SX40 and the FZ-150 as well as the Leica sport 12.1 MP sensors. The P510 comes in at 16.1 the same as the Fuji's, with the SP-810UZ at 14 MP and the DSC-HX200V coming in at an amazing 18.2 Mp on a 1/2.3 sensor. Based on pixel density you would expect the likes of the Canon and Panasonic cameras to be the least affected by sensor noise and the Sony would need to employ some fairly sophisticated noise reduction to give good imagery without affecting Image Quality.
We already know that at 16.1 MP on a 1/2 inch sensor as in the Fuji HS20, it does indeed need to employ some fairly serious noise reduction software, and does so with some very good results. This shows that it can be done but at nearly 20MP density on such a small sensor one has to wonder where the upper limit lies for such a small piece of silicon.
Most sport a movable LCD as well as viewfinders of variable usefulness.
Sensors aside, all these cameras boast a plethora of shooting scenes, shooting modes, and video support. Some do these things well, but not necessarily perfect while others excel in some areas but lack in others.
By and large image quality runs from very good to excellent depending upon the camera and the mode of shooting. All will give very good results if the time is taken to learn how to properly get the best from each of these cameras. If you arent printing above A4 sizes you wont be disappointed. Printing above these sizes will take some forethought and planning to achieve a really top result. By no means impossible, just a bit harder to do.
We now return to the original question, is there a really good alternative to the HS series from Fuji. Thats hard to qualify if you judge the cameras on image quality alone as some of them employ very different method for getting a nice crisp image.
Its probably better to check what you are giving up in terms of ergonomics and equipment. This depends of course on manufacturer differences. here are some of the things you will lose if considering other manufactures, not all of the items are lost on every camera. There are however things that the Fuji's have that none of its competitors have. These are highlighted by the red asterisk.
- Weight - the HS series has a nice small DSLR like form factor and weight with good balance and a very good grip.
- Articulated LCD screen (Olympus)
- Reduced LCD resolution.
- Full manual control including full manual focusing ring (Ala DSLR)*
- Fully manual Zoom Lens*
- EXR shooting & Jpeg technology*
- AA Batteries, something I find indespensible when traveling, especially lithium AA's at 1000 shots or better*(HS20 only). The Nikon's estimated amount of shots on the standard battery is appalling when matched against the others.
- Std 58mm screw threaded lens, good for ND filters and polarizes.
- Large number of external controls (buttons) this is unique to the HS series and the XS-1.*
I'm sure I've missed something off this list, so feel free to add yours as well. For me foregoing any of those items really isn't an option as I regularly employ all these and many other features in my HS20. Thats what makes the Fuji's such a nice camera to operate, and for those who use a DSLR as well they will quickly appreciate the amount of external controls the the Fuji applies. Theres nothing worse than having to delve through a large number of internal menus to get what you want.
The Fuji's are not without their flaws and I have said as much when necessary. It now remains to be seen as to what Fuji's direction will be for the coming year(s). I think the development of their Bridge-cam is a very smart direction to take. They are getting very close to what the more experienced camera user is wanting from these types of camera. It wont be long before the Bridge camera will rival the entry level DSLR if the manufacturers continue to develop this format, which is one that I think should be persued.
Not everyone is able to afford a DSLR but most folks are willing to stretch a bit if they can have a similar quality product that does just as well.
There is one caveat to this list and it concerns Panasonic's FZ-150 & the Leica V-Lux. They are one in the same camera, the only difference is cosmetic as the Leica version has all the Leica badging, and cost 30% more the the Panasonic/Lumix FZ-150. Heres an interesting comparison/report well worth reading.