Rob.k - Just as a test, get a Canon SX10, put it in 1.4x Teleconverter mode, which gives a 'virtual' 28x. The IS on the SX10 is good. Now try some hand-held shots (not for 'good IQ', with the TC) - just to test for camera-shake. Now try it on a tripod....
As a second test - get a DSLR with a 700mm lens (the sort where you get both DSLR and lens for US$500.00....
) - and try that, IS on, but hand-held... Then try it on a tripod.
Just having a bit of a Tease, of course...
The HS10 has not a hope in the Hot-Place of comparing with a DSLR on IQ at 30x / 700mm+. It isn't going to do that at the Wide End or In-Between, either. Backlit Sensor or not - the size is a fraction of even entry-level DSLR Sensors.
If any Prosumer Zoom Camera at 20-30x or around 500-700mm equivalent, for US$350-500.00, came within a bull's-roar of what a DSLR with a 500 or 700mm lens can do, sales for hobbyist-enthusiast (non-pro users) - Entry-Level DSLRs would plummet!
Even with the SX10 at its maximum optical zoom of 20x, images, using IS and hand-held are just "okay" as Snapshots. Put the SX10 in Aperture Priority or Manual, IS off, on a tripod - and from mid-high to max 20x zoom, the IQ improves a lot. It is, of course, never going to compete with any DSLR - but the difference is very noticeable.
When the Optical Zoom goes over 700mm to 30x - as with the HS10 - it isn't too realistic to expect pin-sharp images hand-held at 30x... Anything much over 20x hand-held will either be a "usable snap" - if at reduced size - or is 'tripod territory', when it still won't even nearly match a DSLR.
The HS10 is a User-Level Snaps Camera - that has a lot of interesting Functions. And with Continuous 7-frames at 10fps, RAW, and more, it's quite a lot of fun for AUD$559.00...
And yes - as mentioned earlier in the thread - I've been looking seriously at the Pentax K-X. Which in Sydney is AUD$725.00 with the kit 18-55 lens. We don't get the US kit with that lens and the very low cost L series 55-300mm lens.
So for a reasonable quality lens with some reach - it'd be the Pentax DA ED 55-300 - which is AUD$670.00 here. That's a vastly better setup for IQ than the HS10. But it'd cost around AUD$1,400.00.
Worth it, for an over-60 learner on a very limited (disability) income? Sure - of course it would be. Even the 1.4x TC to take the 450mm out to 630mm, would be, and the images would still be better than the HS10 at that equiv.
But that's another $300.00, too. Total - AUD$1,700.00+ - about 3.5 times the price of an HS10.
Sometimes, situations can arise where getting out and having a lot of fun with a camera - as I've been doing with my SX10 - can override the obviously much better results to be obtained with a DSLR.
And yes - I'm going back to the "long save" for a DSLR after the HS10... Possibly the K-5 or whatever replaces the K-X - or fits between it and the K-7.