Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dawn of a New Era in Digital Photography ... Not!

Well, it actually is the dawn of a new era, just not the one I thought. The announcement of the Canon S90 and the Sony WX1 with much improved high ISO led me to think that there was a real battle brewing between these brands for supremacy in the "shoot anywhere" category.

That category requires that a camera be compact, have decent reach and shoot well from the lowest to the highest ISO. And, of course, that the highest ISO be at least 1600.

So ... the first cam that met that standard was the Fuji F10. It revolutionized the industry, at least for enthusiasts that knew how to deal with its quirks. For mom and pop, Canon, Sony and Panasonic made more approachable cameras and they sold more as a result. But their image quality was never in the same league as soon as you got out of the brutal sunlight (which makes horrible images anyway.)

Fuji went on to refine the camera and split into two series, one with more manual control. I bought the F11 (never imported into North America, I bought Grey market) which was the first of the more controllable series. Better LCD, better metering, superb cam. I still have that one.

They follow the F10 with the F20, F40fd and F100fd. They followed the F11 with the F30, F31fd, F50fd, F60fd and the F200EXR and now the F70EXR, which actually addresses the long lens compact market. Still, I consider the F70EXR to be a better F200EXR, so to me this is Fuji's current compact leader.

The Sony WX1 was one of the darlings of my search for a new concert camera. Terrific cam at 3200 ISO ... pretty mediocre everywhere else. A lot of people really hate it at 160ISO to 400ISO. I have become one of them. Recent samples show that 400ISO is smoothed so heavily that eyelashes turn to mush. I can resolve eyelashes at 1600ISO with the F70EXR, so what gives?

The WX1 gets away with their very clever noise reduction at 1600 ISO and 3200 ISO because these are often used in dark circumstances. In fact, all of Sony's examples are dark scenes of city lights and people by camp fires. It works well there, since color noise and grain are very destructive, and since the eye does not resolve a lot of detail in the dark anyway. We are used to a reduction in detail in really dark scenes.

But a daylight scene at 400 ISO should perfectly resolves all available details. Eyelashes should be individual, not mush. The Sony has so far failed that test. Their clinging to the horrid memory stick technology and their choice of a 3x lens (what were they thinking?) for the W series had already killed that cam as my next concert camera, but the image quality is really looking tragic now. Turns out that you can't quite pull rabbits out of a hat that is backed by a 1/2.4" sensor ... the second tiniest in any digital camera that is not in a phone.

So ... what about Canon? Well, the S90 has a huge sensor with much less reslution than the G10 had. 10mp versus 15mp to be exact. This makes it a real contender. And it resolves detail like nobody's business. The examples I have seen are excellent. The cam is a bit too big for my preference, and the lens has less reach than I want, so it's out anyway. But the new and much better image quality still leaves a bit to be desired. It seems to have quite a bit of chroma noise in shadows. That's a chore to work with, as I know from my G10.

So ... dawn of a new era? Yes ... for Fuji. The F70EXR appears to break new ground. Quality imagery at any ISO (so long as you shoot it correctly -- there's the rub) ... superb reach and stunning sharpness once you leave 27mm behind. Perhaps Fuji would consider refining this excellent design for a few generations. They should be able to stomp the others for a few more years yet ...


Lili said...

I quite agree.
I was never enamoured of the Sony, esp once I saw the Daylight shots
Those were terrifying.
I had the F31fd for a while but the zoom range and size mix killed it for me and I gave it to my best friend for her birthday.
I did get and enjoy the F60fd, but that was mainly because of its superb sharpness in a much small package.
I adore my F200EXR and it has supplanted all my small cameras including my GR Digital.
I AM eyeing the F70 with regards to the ultimate pocket travel cam.
Well, not pocket, I keep all my cameras in Lowepro Cases until use.
Back to your case here, I do think Fuji has shown considerable elan despite the $$ situation and, if they don'tfumble the ball, could easily wipte the floor with the rest.
Of course, for them, the ball is slippery!
BTW I had been thinking of the S200EXR as an 'all-rounder' but its still so large I might as well take my e510 and 2 lens kit.
I really wish Fuji'd do an EXR version of the S6000fd; less ambitious lens could be better corrected and IS would be a godsend.
It would be just enough smaller and lighter to tip that decision in its favor.
And it'd bnice to have a histogram of any stripe...well its my birthday today so a gal can dream, right?

Lili said...

Here a street shot with the F200

Kim Letkeman said...

Happy Birthday Lili ... I checked your F200EXR group on FLICKR; that's a pretty nice series. Enjoyed the man on a mission image you linked ... enjoyed the closeups too ... the tiny flowers and the cats.

Lili said...

Kim, thanks for the Birthday wishes and the compliments on my Flickr set.
I TRY not to overdo the kitties, but I am in serious danger of being that crazy-lady-down-the-street-with-all the-cats, LOL

archish said...

Kim have got the opportunity to try Sony HX5V. Seems to be better than WX1 at low iso as per the images available on the net.

Kim Letkeman said...

Archish: Let us know what you find. I hope that Sony continues to refine the technology and finds a way to lessen the huge amount of NR they use so details look better at all ISOs.