Monday, February 23, 2009

Fuji F200EXR at 1600 ISO -- Revisited

There's been a bit more hyperbole surrounding this camera. What a shock :-)

The latest comment is that this camera can take images at 1600 ISO that "no compact camera has ever been able to take."

The example that was quoted to me is here. Now, it's a nice shot, but the rails are blown out completely, so clearly the EXR sensor was doing its high ISO trick and not its high dynamic range trick.

I was told that the faces were really good, which presumably means that all other compacts would be unable to duplicate the feat. So to be quite clear on what we are talking about, here are the faces isolated in a 100% crop. Remember to click on the image to see the larger version, then click your back button to return here.

So yes, the faces look decent. Especially when you consider that this image is shot at 1600 ISO.

Now, the first thing I thought about was that my F10 and F11 have shot a lot of concerts and night images ... so perhaps I could find similar images from them. Remember that the F10 was the breakthrough camera that started the whole Fuji low light revolution.

People poo-poo the earlier cameras these days because DPReview said that the F30 was a full stop better with noise than the F10. In fact, this is true when looking at out of camera output. But it is hardly true with competent processing.

For the purposes of this test though, very little processing has been applied to the images ... just enough to tease out some detail. *No* extra noise processing. At all ... on any of these images.

So let's have a look at the F10 ... granddaddy to them all.

Wow ... those 100% crops are pretty smooth for 1600 ISO, aren't they? I think a lot of people have forgotten how smooth and clean Fuji's 6mp sensors looked before Fuji cranked up the NR, contrast and sharpening to create rather water colory images that happen to print well straight from the cam. These are pretty darned good, and remember that there is *no* extra noise reduction here, other than the freebee you get from downsizing for the web.

So ... what about the F11, the one that shipped only to Europe and Asia? I got one on eBay and loved it. That is, until I got the G10 ... but let's wait a moment for that.

That de-icer driver was shot through an airliner window and of course through his window. That's a lot of detail at 1600 ISO through two thick glass elements. The Roger Waters image shows how detailed his hand is ... really amazing when you consider how far I was from the stage :-)

I think the F200EXR is going to struggle to outdo these older cameras. Frankly, these cams are *very* friendly to additional processing, so they can be brought up to a pretty decent standard.

Now ... let's move to the ridiculous. The G10 is not a 1600 ISO machine at all ... that is easily its worst ISO. And yet, when you shoot RAW and process carefully, it's not awful. Remember that you downsize a long way just to get to the EXR's 6mp high ISO images. So what does this all mean?

Well, here's an interesting image ... shot in jpeg only because it was my first night with the cam and I was unfamiliar with the menus and controls. I included two 100% crops here ... one of the original 15mp image, and one of a 6mp version of the image. The latter is the only fair comparison, since it is the same size (exactly) as the EXR and F11 images.

I actually find the detail to be pretty decent for 1.7 micron photosites shot at 1600 ISO. The web image looks pretty decent to me.

But I don't tend to shoot this cam at 1600 ISO. I prefer to shoot at 200, 400 or 800 and to underexpose a bit in RAW, then pull up in post. After doing this for a couple of concerts, I am pretty sure that it works better than shooting at 1600 all the time. The easy manual control of the G10 makes it trivial to experiment with the technique ... and I am pleased enough with the results.

Two more example ... 400 ISO then 200 ISO.

So there you have it ... I think this shows that there is plenty of detail available in current cameras in low light. I am sure that the F200EXR will be pretty good at it, providing some of the strange noise patterns we've seen do not get out of hand under certain conditions. But I don't consider head and shoulders above the rest of the Fxx series at high ISO.

In fact, I don't find its images particularly smooth ... Fuji could have done better with a simple 6mp sensor with current technology. But then they'd have no way to get the high dynamic range mode ... and there would be no way to advertise it as a 12mp camera.

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