Saturday, April 30, 2011

F550EXR — BANG that DRUM!

A comment made a few hours ago on the Fuji Talk Forum on … answering someone regarding RAW support.
ACR does support the F550EXR, warts and all.
Getting ACR support was a huge plus for all Fuji cameras and is something to be celebrated, but unfortunately, some people focus on narrow issues like the lens flare problem (about the only real wart that exists on the F550EXR) and on old issues like the rare battery drain that caught a few people out. By pounding on that drum at every opportunity they skew the perceptions of inexperienced people towards disliking an otherwise very nice camera.

It’s an old concept … often called FUD (Fear, Obfuscation Uncertainty and Doubt) … it is also tiresome and misleading, and for that reason I advise anyone to take the Fuji forums with an enormous grain of salt these days.

F550EXR – Sunny Exposure Modes — Review Part 48

I became curious about how this camera reacts when you fiddle with exposure modes. There are more than half a dozen exposure modes you could use on a bright sunny day, so let’s explore some of them.

First off, let me just say that I am not partial to DR800 and DR1600 as they are a combination of hardware and software trickery that force ISOs 200 and 400 respectively. On a bright sunny day I consider it anathema to raise ISO off of base, so these tests are set on DR400 across the board.

I do shoot the tests in Auto ISO mode, though, as I recommend for people. The mode correctly chose ISO 100 for every image. What surprised me, though, for the EXR AUTO mode was that it chose M size landscape instead of HR mode or DR mode. Landscape mode exposes brighter than necessary, as shown here. And thus I am not fond of it. I am not fond of EXR AUTO mode in general because it wants to constantly focus the lens, which is a real problem for battery life. Plus it makes poor decision in my opinion (landscape being a poor decision here.)

So … here are the five modes with their chosen exposure modes and exposures as shown by EXIFTool GUI. Interesting.

Mode on dial Exposure Program in EXIF Exposure in EXIF
EXR AUTO Landscape 1/300s f/5 DR400
EXR DR Program AE 1/420s f/5 DR400
Program AE Program AE 1/420s f/5 DR400
Aperture Priority AE Aperture Priority AE 1/420s f/5 DR400
Manual Manual 1/500s f/5 DR400

As you can see, I chose a slight underexposure in manual mode and got a slightly better exposure in return. I would have gotten this same exposure in the auto modes had I set -1/3EV.

So here is how these exposures look in jpeg, straight from the camera. Click through to see them better and read the blurb, which is pretty similar to what is written here :-)

Note: All images from tripod so the meter saw the same thing each time. All shots matrix (multi, pattern) metered.

As you can see, my preference here is the M exposure mode, and shooting my recommended mode of P mode and –1/3EV in this light would give you that exposure. But … some people will prefer the Canon-like open shadows at the expense of the fence being a bit too bright. Still, it is not technically overexposed and the sun is blazing today, so maybe that is the best exposure for many people. Nice, open shadows for sure.

Anyway, enough with the jpegs. They are very nice and DR400 saves super bright highlights quite well in my opinion. But what about the RAW images?

Well, a peculiar thing is that they all wrote out 24MB. And I have no idea why. Clearly, all five images shot M mode (file resolutions confirm that) and clearly DR400 was in play, which means that we would normally expect the half sized RAW images.

Beats the heck out of me. More exploration needed I suppose … sheesh.

So … I processed two RAW images, and they came our slightly differently because the exposures are very different. One thing about working in any editing program is that you will never get identical images from two different working sessions. So save your intermediate work!

I save a flattened PSD file when I am satisfied with what I have. I never save a layered PSD file because they are enormous. Note that I only save my final file if I think I will want to print it one day or if I did a lot of extra work (cloning, smoothing, make-up on eyes, etc.) If not, I save only the final 800px jpeg. I can always re-run the edit (I am quite fast with ACR6/CS5 but as mentioned the results are always slightly different.)

So here are the outputs from EXR AUTO and Manual mode. The brightest and dimmest exposures processed in ACR 6.4 with no extra processing in CS5.

You will note that I reversed the output exposures on these. Not intentionally, but that is how it worked out. RAW has a lot of latitude in these files, but there was definite shadow noise in both images so I applied some light luminance noise reduction. Small sensors and all that …


I would avoid EXR AUTO mode. Bad decisions and eats batteries. But any of the semi auto or manual modes are terrific and very consistent. Here, I would use –1/3EV or –2/3EV normally, but the 0EV images are perfectly fine I think. It is DR400 and Provia (default) film mode that saves the highlights here.

F550EXR – Big Wind and the Bernoulli Effect

The tornadoes that rocked the US on the 27th were part of a huge system that came through here overnight and on the 28th. We had a sunny day for part of the 28th but the wind was unbelievable. We had gusts over 100kph, gale force.

Apparently, more trees were knocked down in these few hours than during the ice storm a few years back that lasted days and knocked out power across huge sections of Ontario and Quebec.

Here, for example is a garbage container whose bag was inverted by the wind and then stuck straight out for hours, held there by the low pressure from above (Bernoulli’s Principle.) The container itself blocked the wind from going below, hence the pressure was higher underneath, which lifted the bag up and held it there. Cool.

Note that I brain-farted and shot these in RAW only. The problem with shooting in RAW only mode is that the camera automatically shoots high resolution only. It does not allow you to tell it to set medium resolution, but it does respect the previous DR400 setting (which actually means that it forces ISO to 400.)

So here I got a full sized image shot at 400 ISO instead of a half sized blended image shot at 100 ISO. Fuji’s engineers really don’t understand the value of a feature interaction table where you cross reference every setting to see how it *should* behave …

Anyway, the images are ok after processing through ACR 6.4, but it’s still really annoying.

So here is what it looks like in action. No wind-cut filter on the F550EXR by the way. Not that they work well anyway.

And speaking of things being knocked down … trees weren’t the only casualty. Hundreds of roofs were ruined and that many fences were flattened as well. I was up in the middle of the night trying to get my temporary barrier to stay up reasonably well as a back yard pool without a barrier is illegal here (as it no doubt is everywhere else too.)

You can see shingles peppering the ground around the fallen fence. Take a closer look …

Rather different processing on all three … but all suffered the same brain fart as the day before. Higher ISO because of RAW only mode. Duh.

Here’s a close up of a leaf with water on it that took an even bigger beating from the brain fart … I left the aperture at f/16, which made for a really excellent depth but also made for 1000 ISO during the day. Big duh …

Still … a nice shot.

So the great wind storm of 28 April 2011 lasted only a few hours but kicked the sh-t out of the whole region. And apparently Windsor got it worse …

Thursday, April 28, 2011

F550EXR versus F200EXR versus F300EXR – Long Exposures in Low Light – Review Part 47

So what would these cameras do in jpeg when you expose them for 8 seconds in low light of a poor color temperature? Something like my nasty old halogens that bounce from the ceiling at least 15 feet from the subjects here.

At 100 ISO, 8 seconds (minimum shutter speed for all three cameras in manual mode) is a slight over exposure for all three cameras. The F550 is brightest, with the F300 a bit less bright and the F200 less bright again. Still, close enough for this comparison.

Remember to click through to see the much larger crops. 500px square for all three cameras, times for crops each.

The top image is a crop from the focus target, a free trip to the Caribbean that came in the mail a while ago. It also includes two days in Orlando and 2 days in Fort Lauderdale. Of course, you have to sit through multiple full-court press time-share sales pitches, and were I in the mood for that, I might even consider it. Naaaaaaa :-)

Anyway, the top row is clean enough. The F200 and F300 are at their 6mp native M resolution. The F300 is a bit smaller because it’s at 24mm instead of the F200’s 28mm. So a wider angle of view, which shows in the size of the subject. The F550, on the other hand, is at the same wide angle of view but sports more pixels at 8mp, which makes up the difference and looks about the same as the F200.

So crop 1 looks good for all three. Decent contrast and edges, no real grain to speak of. That’s a good performance for small sensors at 8 seconds.

Next, though, we look left of the subject to the now familiar candy hearts sitting on top of a white drawer unit in crop 2. The F200 renders it very well, almost perfect color on AWB. It’s large photosites allow it to control the blue channel without any real pollution. Only a slight shift in the green channel mars a great performance. It renders the white a light beige and the shadows of the candies slightly shifted to brown. No big deal.

The F300 is also surprisingly good. It looks lighter here, but that is mainly caused by the higher exposure. There is again a slight shift in the green channel.

The F550’s Achilles’ Heel crops up as it did the last time we pushed the blue channel, except it is the camera pushing it here. The whole crop is pretty off-putting, shifting towards magenta on the candies and strangely, strongly towards brown on the white area. Not sure what that means.

Crop 3 is just a peek at the noise in dark areas, and it is under control.

Crop 4 is an intentional hard push of the blur channel. These items are all sitting on my desk, which is white. So I called up a curve on all three images and used the neutral dropper to set the table to neutral white. That shifted everything else towards blue.

The F200 continues to dominate this test. The large photosites vanquish the other cameras easily, A very slight magenta shift of the white area and candies is all we see. It would not be acceptable in a real image, i.e. you would probably set the white area neutral and allow the table to go warm. But this is still a good performance compared with what is coming. The F300 almost handles the white area, but there is a noticeable magenta shift there as well. (Perhaps purple, I can’t really tell the difference.)

The candies, though, are really shifted out of control. Very strong shift to magenta.


If you are planning to shoot in really bad light (low and orange), you will be happier with the F200 than any other EXR camera. The larger photosites tolerate bad light better. Simple as that. The F300, though, is not bad. Without the slight over exposure, it might have competed. But the F550 is definitely not cutting it. These super tiny photosites had to have at least one major down side, and blur channel performance looks to be the culprit.

Requiem for a Season 2010-2011


Another year, another early exit.

With only 2 minutes left in the game, they tie it up with a brilliant rocket one-timer by PK Subban.

But alas … the defense had a short lapse in O.T. and that is all it takes sometimes …

(faint echo …. go Habs go …. go Habs go ………….)

Frak …

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

F550EXR – ACR 6.4 RAW Conversion of 3200 ISO Image – Review Part 46

I went back in time to the owl images that I covered in part 29, shot at 3200 ISO in jpeg and RAW. I was comparing with the F300 back then, but here I am just showing how cleanly ACR converts the RAW image.

There is no noise reduction in this image beyond Adobe’s ACR chroma (which is magnificent) and a small amount of luminance NR in ACR as well. I did have to remove some flare from lights that were raking across the lens from the bottom right corner, but that does not affect the image much at all.

Note the cleanliness of the details and the smoothness of the walls etc. This camera takes quite a nice 3200 ISO image. I do understand that there is no hair or other fine low-contrast detail in this image, but it is still pretty nice to look at for its ISO.

But it gets even nicer when Topaz Denoise 5 is applied delicately. In Photoshop, you can always fade the results of any filter after the fact to tailor the output. I did not need to here, but had there been too much smoothing I would not have hesitated to tone it down.

Even at blog size, the difference is pretty obvious. Topaz is famous for removing grain with minimal impact on detail. The sliders are not twitchy, which allows confident control over all forms of noise, even in the red and blue channels separately. Very cool tool.

So there you have it. I’m really liking ACR for the EXR sensor. I cannot say it enough. Thanks Adobe!

F550EXR in RAW – Silkypix versus ACR 6.4 – Review Part 45

Well, after the raging success of our campaign to get Adobe to support the EXR sensors (and truth be told I have no idea if we had any effect at all) … I downloaded the update within 30 minutes of the announcement and ran my first test.

Remember the post about the deer, where I showed how much better Silkypix was than the jpeg? It’s here if you want to see it again.

Well, I took the same RAF image and processed it in Adobe Camera RAW 6.4. Only the Adobe Standard profile is available for the 550, and the black point slider is very insensitive, but otherwise the experience was the same as it is with any camera, which is to say glorious :-)

This conversion took me less than a minute (far less time than with Silkypix) and I like it far better than I do the Silkypix conversion.

And I updated the crops to show the three at 100% again …

Of course, you must click through on that image to see the full-sized crops. And you will notice that the nasty patch of what looks like dead skin on his neck behind his ears is quite visible on both the jpeg and the Silkypix images. But with the ACR image, you can see that there is a bit more texture there. I was able to control the sharpening with far more precision, so I believe I was able in very little time to strike a near-perfect compromise between texture and smoothing.

Also, note how easy it was to get white balance to come pretty close to the jpeg. this is always a nightmare in Silkypix, whereas in ACR I simply clicked the WB tool on the ear tufts and the white balance was set accurately enough.

Now … I still like the Silkypix conversion. It.s more pleasant than the jpeg, partially because it is so much less contrasty and harsh of tone. But I believe that the ACR conversion retains that less harsh feel while getting back to what is actually out there in the field at this time of year (early spring.)


With apologies to Silkypix, this is no contest. ACR is as good with these sensors as I had hoped.

F550EXR, S200EXR, HS20 and X100 – Adobe Camera RAW Support is a Reality – Be Still my Heart!!!!!

OMFG. I really did  not think this would happen. And so fast!

I just saw an email for a post into my thread at Adobe’s ideas forum. We have achieved a massive lead thanks to your support … over 40 votes now, 33% more than second place. I really have no idea if this thread made any real difference, but Camera RAW 6.4 and Lightroom 3.4 have been released and they support these cameras!

From my email of a moment ago:


The announcement on adobe’s site is here.

My thread with our 42 likes is here. It auto scrolls you to the official post form Tom.

Update: I can safely say that ACR is a dream come true with this sensor. I get much better output with much less work using ACR instead of Silkypix. Handling of noise is especially competent. One missing feature is lens distortion correction, but I just need to create a profile for it one day …

F550EXR versus F200EXR and F300EXR – Macro Magnification – Review Part 44

I had not managed to actually measure these three cameras as far as their actual coverage was concerned. From my first macro test of the F550EXR, we know that the F550EXR’s auto focus is not as good at macro as the F300’s is. The fancy shmancy hybrid auto focus on the F300EXR really was one of a kind. It had super reliable close focusing capability and got closer than any other compact I have seen, short of the magnificent G10, which was a microscope.

But wait, you shout! The two cameras are advertised as having 5cm closest focus. In fact, so does the F200EXR have that closest focusing distance in macro mode at full wide.

So what we *should* see is identical optical magnifications (number of millimeters we see in the width of a complete frame) for the F300 and F550, since they both have the same 24mm widest angle and the same sensor size. We should see a similar magnification for the F200EXR because, although it has a larger sensor, it also has a longer minimum focal length. This should all make for a pretty similar performance.

And I can tell you right now that the F200EXR is a veritable dog as a macro camera. Really poor closest focus.

So what is going on? Well, I don’t really know. I put the cameras on a tripod with a focusing rail, which allowed me to find the closest focus to within 1mm and to replicate it reliably. Closest focus is, of course, where the camera shows a yellow focus indicator and not a red one :-)

Two things to note: The F200 and F300 are able to reliably focus on my test subject (a plastic measuring tape) in center AF mode, but the F550 was finicky, so I switched to multi AF, which seemed more reliable. Fuji need to work on their AF algorithms … they nailed it with the F300, but that was probably the phase detect giving a boost to reliability.

So … on with the crops. The first set of crops shows you the maximum optical magnification. In other words: “How few millimeters can you pack into a frame at closest focus?”

So, the results are:

Camera F200EXR F300EXR F550EXR
mm captured 59 40 40.5
magnification ratio on sensor
1:1 life-sized
1:7.4 1:6.25 1:6.33

So the F300 is the winner but the F550 is not far behind. The F200’s magnification on the sensor does not look much worse, yet it really is. The other two camera have 33% less width recorded and that is significant.

Note: The magnification ratio is a simple calculation: the number of mm captured / sensor width in mm. The F200’s sensor is 8mm wide and the F300/F550 sensor is 6.4mm wide.

And since the ratios should match the image, we can see that the focusing distance must be dramatically different. I know from working with the three cameras on the focus rail that the two newer long zooms can focus to within about a cm of the lens. This is readily apparent when you note that the lens itself blocked some of the light, which was coming from a window to my left and slightly behind. Pretty much what happens when you shoot anything out in nature. The F200 gets nowhere near this close, and that shows.

That light blocking thing is the Achilles’ Heel of the small sensor macro feature. People often mention it as being a differentiator for small sensor cameras over dSLRs, but the reality is that lighting is often an issue, so you end up backing off and getting even less magnification than these rather poor ratios.

For example, an all in one zoom can get a better ratio unassisted. The D300 with the original 18-200VR at max zoom and closest focus has a 1:4 ratio. Now, you have to understand that the sensor is much larger, at 23.6mm wide. Which means that 1:4 ratios still mean about 94mm captured, far less frame-based optical magnification than the sensors on these small cameras. Even the F200 captures half that, and the F550 is much better. But … I can crop to match the F200 easily with 3mp left, which is more than enough for a nice 8x10 at the pixel quality of the D300. Thus, one more myth is a little less obviously true than many think. You can do excellent close up work with an APS-C sensor and the typical all in one zoom.

And if you want to invest 300 bucks in a used macro lens and maybe 50 bucks in a Canon 500D from eBay (as I did), you can get some pretty wicked magnifications. Here, the D700 captures an astounding 1.2:1 image that is larger than life on the sensor. The lens is a used Sigma 105mm 2.8 Macro and I added the Canon 500D that I got form eBay for around 50 bucks.

If you are wondering why it goes out of focus on the right side, that is caused by a brain fart. I shot it wide open at 2.8, which is insane. At this magnification I probably have a half mm of depth of field and should have taken pains to perfectly align the sensor plane with the tape measure plane. Working too quickly I suppose. Because of crop factors, the magnification of this setup on APS-C sensors goes to about 2.1:1, or more than double life sized. I’ve used this setup a lot in the past. It’s pretty terrific for not much money.

Now back to the show.

Let’s examine digital magnification. Which is really just a simplistic measurement of the number of pixels per mm. To make it simple to follow, though, I will simply crop exactly 500 pixels from each frame and we’ll see what sort of digital magnification we get.

Why is digital magnification different from optical magnification you ask? With optical magnification, we are relying on the lens and sensor to work together to cast the largest possible image onto the sensor itself. When we display the full frame, we get whatever the optical system produced. But digital magnification changes when the pixel density changes. At the same distance and angle of view and on the same sensor, more resolution means that we see less information on the same number of pixels. So if we take crops of the same size to look closely, we see more detail when there are more pixels on the subject. That seems obvious, but now you need to think of that as digital magnification.

So … the crops, which are exactly 500px wide. This is life-sized even here on the blog. No need to click through to see the actual info.

And because the F550 has 50% more total pixels than the F300 (and remember that this is an area measurement, the linear difference is 4608/4000 or about 15%.) That shows up here, making up the slight optical loss with significant digital gain. Well, one more mm or so, which is about 15%.

So, just for sh-ts and giggles, let’s look at the D700 crop.


The F550EXR lays more pixels on the subject than any other EXR compact at closest focus. While the F300 has slightly higher optical magnification, the difference is quickly swamped by the digital magnification improvement in the F550EXR.

So this is another area where I am quite pleased with the F550EXR … with a wee bit of cropping, it provides the highest magnification in its family.

But if you want to do serious macro work, you should really be getting yourself an APS-C, a cheap macro lens (they are all terrific in that range) and perhaps a Canon 500D or the Raynox DCR250, which has 4 times the magnification of the 500D.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Twin Baby Boys Conversing – Viral!

Warning: if you soil yourself from laughing I take no responsibility. Seriously, this is really funny.

4.5 million views and counting …

Watch for the part about 2/3 of the way through where they briefly channel the aliens in District 9 … that’s way cool :-)

And part 2 … 21.8 million views … unbe-fricken-lievable!

F550EXR – Optical Zoom 15x versus Digital Zoom 62x – Review Part 43

Noobs are people too …

The forums are often clogged with what are affectionately termed “noobs” … people who are inexperienced and who often jump onto the forums with great enthusiasm backed with little knowledge. This is perfectly normal, as that goes for every topic and every forum on the Internet.

Ya gotta start somewhere.

Of course, the noobs who are reasonably open to learning something tend to do very well. Those who think they know it all, despite ample evidence to the contrary, do poorly. The Fuji forum at has many noobs in it right now. One example is notably irascible and bigoted, constantly berating the whole forum for pretty much everything. Such is internet life.

But others come into the forum and help us all relive the joy of discovery. Photography can often blow our minds while we are still inexperienced enough to find it all a little bit magical. And it is often nice to read such comments. So this morning, a fellow jumped into the Fuji Talk Forum with a thread announcing that the 62x zoom on the F550EXR was amazing to him.

He was, of course, immediately accosted with the facts. Which are that the 62x zoom on the F550EXR is a combination of 15x optical zoom and the maximum amount of digital zoom that the camera will allow. I would have apprised him of that too had I a voice in that forum. He did not like the tone some people took, but that too is life on the internet. If you are going to bare your soul on the internet, not everyone is going to play nice.

My point … and I do have one …

So what is digital zoom? Well, it’s simply a crop from the middle of the frame followed by a resampling algorithm like Bicubic or Lanczos to fill back out to the resolution set in the camera. To create the full resolution’s worth of pixels, intermediate pixels are interpolated from surrounding pixels. This can be done in camera with the digital zoom and it can be done in Photoshop or any other editor after the optically zoomed image is captured. People do this all the time when shooting tiny birds from long distances.

Three or four years ago, the resampling in cameras was pretty crude, so digital zoom wasn’t an obvious choice. But starting at the time of the S100fs, Fuji improved the resampling to the point that there is little difference wherever you perform it. Of course, not using digital zoom means that you can chose the crop after the fact. This is usually a winning argument in my experience. But some people mistakenly believing that they are getting optical magnification and will always do it in camera.

So …. on with the test. How good is full digital zoom?

Here is an image showing two shots, one at full optical zoom and one at full digital zoom. That’s certainly a lot of zoom.

Man, that looks pretty clean at web sizes. But let’s confirm that it is as good as Photoshop can do. I won’t use any heroics here … just straight from the camera.

Crop set 1 – JPEG and RAW images cropped to match the digital zoom, digital zoom downsized to match the crops.

You should click through on that one to see the full sized crops. The digitally zoomed image is clearly sharpened a bit more, which makes sense when you realize that it is sharpened by the jpeg engine after upsizing. My crop is upsized without that extra sharpening. But otherwise, the images are pretty darned close.

The RAW is a lot nicer, though. But grainier too, since I chose not to pound it with the NR that the camera uses. YMMV and you can do anything you like in Silkypix.

Crop set 2 – a 100% crop of the digitally zoomed image to see what the pixels look like at this magnification; the same crop upsized for the JPEG and RAW at full optical zoom.

Well, this one shows that processing differences make a lot more difference when enlarging. We’re looking here at a section from a print of approximately 132” in width (100% crop is nominally a 32” print at M resolution and 100 ppi on screen multiplied by 62/15.)

I’d say that the RAW is best, but that all three look pretty good. I prefer the cropped version over the digitally zoomed version because I prefer the smoother reds. But YMMV.

Digital zoom works well in these cameras. Whether you use it or not really depends on your preferences. If you hate processing in any form then you are probably going to use digital zoom now and again. The rest of us will crop later, which means we’ll sometimes find a better crop while looking more closely at the original scene.

F550EXR – Night Shooting 2 — Review Part 42

The original night shooting article has proven to be very popular. But also controversial. The flare probably tops the charts in the “greatest hits of the F550” hate files. So I thought I might be useful to shoot a few evenings over the last week with the camera set to P mode mostly. Let it decide what to do. I always shoot this camera and the F200EXR in auto ISO 3200, but the F550 can be quite conservative at times with ISO.

Part 1

So … filling up with gas one evening after dark, I shot the pump before starting (these are someone else’s numbers but mine were higher later.

Here is a JPEG original. Click on it to get the big one. The camera chose ISO 1250 by the way.

The astute among you have already seen the flare. Lots of it and in kaleidoscope formation. Lots of people call it “pink” … but if you float the mouse over the area you will see the colors shifting from blue, through aqua, hitting pink and even magenta. It’s all over the place, but of course always fairly subtle. Some will tolerate it, some will hate it.

Me, I process it to lessen the effect.

Backing up, I shot the whole station. I processed the flare, but left the original grain after opening the shadows. You can see that a higher contrast would be better for most night images. If you prefer open mid tones as I do, then you need to get proficient with 3rd party noise removal tools like Topaz Denoise or Neat Image.

I then drove over to the theater and looked around for images that might show how it responds to the dark of night. Here, the local Staples is closed, but you can see some traffic coming in towards the theater and a few restaurants. This one is ISO 3200. The next few have their flare desaturated by me to show how I handle it.

For full disclosure on this last one, here is an animation of what I did with the hue/sat tool brushed over the flare and with the patch tool to remove the streaks, which come from bare reflective edges inside the lens – SHAME ON FUJI for that.

Here’s a 360-degree sweep panorama I made of the area.

Part 2

Driving downtown again to pick Jon up on a rainy night and carrying the F550 and F200 in my pockets. It appears that I accidentally uploaded the full-sized version of this F550 image shot as I was leaving. A macro of the rain. The F200 image follows, but is processed to 800px. Weird …

The white balance differences are pretty obvious all through this series. The F200 loves its blues.

Stopping at a red light as I approach the war memorial, I shoot the memorial at full zoom with both cameras. Here, I present them with the F200 cropped to match the reach. F550 first.

The grain difference tells the story on reach.

Here we see the major difference in exposure. A lot of people criticize the F550 for its much more open presentation of mid tones and highlights. Neither of these has any compensation applied, so you’re looking at what the meter likes to do on each camera.

Both at ISO 3200 and 0EV. F550 first.

And yet again, I prefer the F550’s interpretation of this scene. YMMV of course.

Bottom Line …

The flare on the F550 will be a show stopper for some. The slight increase in detail in low ISO jpegs for the F200 will appeal to some, but of course will not show up in their prints :-) … and the blue-ish white balance will appeal to some. That’s a personal taste thing and that’s not up for discussion. But I find it hard to consider the F550 anything but a competent small sensor camera with excellent reach and RAW as its ace in the hole.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

F550EXR – A deer bit me in the neck …

Years ago, I found this very funny 911 call regarding a deer that hit a car and the 911 call that resulted from it.

Of course, this call has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of this article. I just felt I had to share that as the subject reminded me of it and finding it on YouTube took about 1 second.

Anyway … Jon and I were driving off to see if The Works was open this evening (it was not) and as we passed a local field I mentioned to Jon that I’d seen deer here off in the distance a few times. Well, low and behold if a couple of young fawns weren’t grazing about 50 feet from the road! I was gobsmacked …

So I pulled over onto the shoulder and had Jon open the passenger window (I was heading west into the sun) and shot several images through the window. The IS on the F550EXR is not strong enough to easily overcome the vibration of the car while idling, so I switched that off for the last few.

And I got a couple of keepers, with one really nice image. I cropped it about 50% before reducing for the web. Here is the jpeg rendering of this little fella …

ISO 160 (chosen from auto iso 3200), f/5.3, 1/60s

And the RAF file run through Silkypix, ACR and CS5.

Very cute animal, and this sort of image is exactly why RAW is so useful. All the burnt highlights are saved, there is much finer gradations in the fur and all sort of little tufts of hair (e.g. in the ears) are rendered much more realistically. For those who like to see things at 100% (equivalent to a 46” print viewed from about 20 inches) here are the crops. Click through to see them full sized (they are pretty big.)

As always, I am somewhat impressed by the jpeg engine. It saves enough detail to be reasonable but of course the animal’s fur looks much better with the RAW treatment. So those of you who think this camera is difficult in sunlight, spend more time working with Silkypix. It’s worth the time.

Sony HX9V versus Fuji F550EXR

Now here are two cameras that are very appealing as concert cameras. I would seriously like to get my hands on the Sony to test directly against the Fuji in full concert shooting mode.

The video is obviously going to be much better from the Sony … so much so that it could replace my Panasonic ZS3 as my primary video camera. The F550 really cannot compete well, but I would need to record a concert where I have a better view before I can make the final call on that.

The ZS3 is pretty nice for stills at 400 ISO, but that does not really work at all concerts. Sometimes you must have the long reach and higher ISO clarity. So how well does the HX9V compete at higher ISOs?

Well, there aren’t enough of the usual sites with comparison shots to get a very strong feel for it, but the French site “LES NUMERIQUES” with its comparometer can give us a wee bit of insight.

I want to thank Joe from the HX9V Blog for providing many links that have allowed me to look a little further into this comparison.

I have gathered specifications from several sites and will provide here a summary of important characteristics (to me ;-) with what I think to be the leader in each category highlighted red.

Camera Sony HX9V Fuji F550EXR
Sensor BSI CMOS 1/2.3” BSI CMOS EXR 1/2”
Pixels 16mp 16mp / 8mp
Pixel Density 56mp / cm2 52 mp / cm2
Binning for noise / dynamic range No Yes
Multi-Shot HDR Yes No
Multi-Shot NR Yes Yes
Multi-Shot BG Blur Yes Yes
Contrast / Sharpness / White Balance Tuning Yes No
Stabilization Optical Sensor Shift
RAW No Yes
Burst 10fps 8fps(L) / 11fps(M)
Bracketing No Exposure / Dynamic Range / Film Modes
LCD 921k dots 460k dots
Manual Mode Yes Yes
A-Prio / S—Prio No Yes
Max Shutter 1/1600s 1/2000s
Min Shutter 30s 8s
Focal Range 24-384 24-360
Apertures 2 3
Min Focus Distance 5cm 5cm
3D compatible Yes No
Video Format AVCHD 60i / 60p / MP4 / MPEG-4 AVC(H.264) MOV 30p / 80fps / 160fps / 320fps MPEG-4(H.264)
Audio Dolby Digital (AC-3) / MPEG-4 AAC-LC WAVE
Microphones Stereo Stereo
Max Video Clip HD ?? (probably hours) 29m
GPS Yes Yes

Ok, that’s enough for now. They are very similarly spec'd, which leads one to believe that they might be competitive as concert cameras or general purpose shooters. So let’s have a peek at some clips from Les Numeriques:


You’ll need to click through to see the actual crops. What I see here is that the Sony has pretty heavy sharpening while the Fuji is more conservative. This makes it much easier to process these images as the pixels are not as bruised.

So, zooming in to 100% shows this more clearly.


Here we can see that the Sony resolves more detail, but also shows more obvious sharpening halos. That has the potential to give the Sony a more “digital” look.

When a low light shot is made without flash, we see a pretty big difference in auto white balance.


My own tests confirm that the Fuji goes wonky when you push too much blue channel, so it is fairly obvious why the Fuji engineers don’t do that with AWB.

Here, the Barbie image is shot without flash and the Fuji’s now infamous “over-exposure” tendency shows up clearly.


I don’t hold to theories about over exposure by the way … the photographer must learn the meter and then use that tool properly. Still, the review shows this and that’s useful knowledge. With a proper exposure for the Fuji, the detail would come out to be pretty much a tie at 400 ISO:


And here is the Achilles’ Heel for the Sony …

Complaints about this abound on the forums …


Even at this reduced size, you can clearly see the difference in details. Lots of detail at 1600 for the Fuji and none for the Sony, despite using a lower ISO. The smearing is evident on this camera as ISO rises even at such small sizes. This issue is what would stop me from adopting the Sony as a concert camera if anything would.

However, it handles chroma noise perfectly and I would love to test it anyway, as the video quality alone makes it a stunner …

Bottom Line

Tentative conclusions because I have not seen the camera shot with lower contrast and sharpening … also how does it respond when underexposing and then pulling up in post processing? I’ve used that trick successfully before, but much prefer the option of just shooting without worrying about such tricks.

Unless I get hold of an HX9V somehow to test, I would have to declare the F550EXR the better concert camera for me (please note the emphasis) as it is never just about the videos. I value stills and cropping too much. Which is really too bad, as I was drooling over the amazing Sony video … imagine what would happen if Sony figured out how to bin pixels using a funky Bayer-like mask …

For most people, though, the video is superb and the stills are not too bad at web sizes, so this just might be your best choice.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Future Shop – MEGA Brain Fart :-)


The Nikon (nee Canon) T3i?

Hard to imagine the staggering incompetence that led to that one …

Sony HX9V – Oh my … the video is astounding …

The F550EXR has been somewhat disappointing in video mode. I so like the sound, it’s decent with the stereo microphones. But the openness of the video does not match the ZS3 at all and the stabilization at 360mm does not quite handle the field of view. A little jitter creeps in, which is also common to other Fuji cameras like the HS series.

Then I see this unbelievable video from the HX9V … I’ve seen others that show off Sony’s prowess as a video company, but this one was shot in the same mode as my Bruce Cockburn videos and there is no jitter. To be fair, he was not fighting to get around heads as I was, but still … this is a remarkable piece of video.

Robert Plant & The Band of Joy - Ramble On - Portland, OR - Sony HX9V from ML71 on Vimeo.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Amazon … insane regional price differences …





See … the Canadian dollar is actually up against the US dollar at this moment …


So it’s mighty depressing to see things cost double. And did you notice that shipping inside of Canada is 48% more expensive than shipping across the border to my house?

I mean … how could this make any sense?

Of course I ordered it from the US … I think we should change the words in our anthem to “True North strong and fleeced …” ;-)

Update: Dotbalm points out that Americans have been aware that the Alien Quadrilogy Blu-Ray has been available for much cheaper at Amazon UK than in the USA. I did a wee bit of research regarding region codes, which plagued distribution of DVDs for their entire life span, and Blu Ray has such a concept (which amazes me) … but there is a site that shows that many region free Blu Rays do exist, and the Alien Anthology is one of them :-)

Sidebar: Perhaps it is time we simply boycotted those money-grubbing bastards who manufacture region-locked Blu Ray. Enough is enough already.

Back to my point in this article, the actual difference in prices is staggering



That’s about 30 bucks Canadian … wow …



Canada, the True North strong and fleeced … ;-)


What more is there to say? Oh yeah … in the cart the price drops again and the shipping is less expensive than the US shipping …


That’s amazing …