Ok ... lots of recent discussion on the Fuji Talk Forum over the detail retention at high ISO of the F200EXR against the F31fd. User PhotoFreak7 has tested the living sh*t out of these cameras and has rendered his opinions thoroughly and completely here. And guess what? The F31fd came out on top.
That started an interesting debate, and MrClick mentioned my name ... suggesting that I or some other noise reduction guru (not claiming the status, just the word he used) should run the test.
Well, seemed like a pretty good idea ... for a third time. You might want to read the first three blog entries I did on this topic here, here and here before you read this ....
So I thought perhaps I could perform a simple test using images that have a pretty good chance of being comparable. Luckily, a set of just such images exists at this review site. Thanks to user rax for linking to the translated site.
So the test goes like this:
1) Grab the 1600 ISO image from the F200EXR shot in SN mode and the F31fd. No need to bother with the F200EXR in any other mode, as the pixel binning mode is the only one that comes close to an F31fd anyway.
2) Load each in ACR5. Open shadows a bit, recover highlights a bit. Try to make them look the same.
3) Crop in three places for each and form a composite image in CS4.
4) Run Topaz Denoise on each image. Same settings for both.
5) Add same crops to composite image to show how each handles sophisticated noise reduction.
And that's it.
Here are the crops (remember to click to open to full size and then use the back button to continue reading):
So what do I see on the six crop pairs from top to bottom?
1) Grain: F31fd is smoothest
2) Grain: F31fd
Detail: F200EXR by a hair
Third crop is in shadow.
3) Grain: F31fd
Detail: F31fd by a hair (two actually)
Next three have had a strong dose of Topaz Denoise.
4) Grain: tie (a few edge artifacts on smooth surface in F31fd image)
Detail: F31fd by a hair (per pixel sharpness)
5) Grain: tie
Detail: F200EXR by a hair (per pixel sharpness)
Final crop is in shadow.
6) Grain: F31fd (smoother shadow texture)
Detail: F31fd (most decisive difference of all)
The F31fd won 7 and tied 3 tests, losing only 2 of 12 tests ... I guess the answer is rather clear, isn't it?
Now remember that this test is as pixel peeped as you can imagine. Deep, deep into the pixels ... and these two are so close to a tie that worrying the differences seems almost silly. Either one will look great in prints or on the web.
But ... straight from the camera there is an obvious difference in grain. There is very significant grain in F200EXR images versus F31fd. And the F31fd grain cleans up better, especially in shadow. Again ... the F31fd seems to be a little better.
People have been commenting on Fuji being more restrained now and using less luminance NR and cleaning up color noise much better. Well, doesn't look like that to me. I believe that they were forced to turn down the NR because they tend to mangle small details when they use it full strength on the current crop of cams, even after pixel binning. In these images, there is no difference in color noise, despite the obvious darkness of the background.
So if you want straight from the cam perfection, the F31fd is still giving the best output. If you want to clean them up, it's a toss up ... unless you are a low-key kind of photographer, in which case I would choose the F31fd for better shadows even after NR.
But, of course, the F200EXR has the wonderful stabilized lens with better range and it takes SD cards. It's smaller, too. So there are excellent reasons for going that way. But then there's that crappy battery life. *Sigh* ... I've said this many times ... Fuji giveth and Fuji taketh away ...
Good luck on your choice everyone ... I'll stick with my F11 and G10 for now ...
Here are the two final images ... I've worked them over to look a lot like each other ... and frankly, they are near identical. But there's still visible grain in that F200EXR background ... how do you like them apples?
Your mileage may vary :-)