The following is a historical record of my exploration of this camera ... every mistake is recorded as is every success. If you want a shortcut to the correct settings, read my Mark II post on this topic here.
*** Updated *** 21 Sep 2009 ... changes marked as **Edit2:
*** Updated *** 09 Oct 2009 ... changes marked as **Edit3:
So I've shot a lot of images with it in all sorts of circumstances. I've tried all the settings and have some preliminary thoughts on how it should be shot.
Edit: Took it to San Antonio for a week and shot 671 images in all sorts of light ... indoors, late evening, dark and harsh midday sun. I have definite thoughts now on how to shoot this camera.
Let's go through the options for day and night photography and see how they stack up so far ...
1. EXR Auto. During the day it will choose HR mode or a DR mode, which is more correct. But since you cannot use compensation, you may blow highlights anyway, even in DR. **Edit2: This mode is not of use to me.
**Edit3: This mode eats battery quite badly as it sets continuous focus.
2. Resolution priority. Yuck. NR wipes fine low contrast details even at base ISO. This is not a 10mp cam in my opinion. **Edit: confirmed with tests at 100ISO. Raises ISO when DR set to 400%, so you get a lot of smoothing of shadows. **Edit2: Confirmed that this problem manifests on all EXR sensors, even the larger one in the F200EXR. This mode is evil. **Edit3: We continue to see images on the Fuji Talk Forum that are simply awful from EXR cameras, and it is always because HR mode was engaged. DO NOT USE IT.
3. DR priority. Works pretty well. Allows you to set floating ISO *** but ISO must float!*** Chooses ISO 100 most of the time in bright light. Allows you to set 400% DR mode. And will shoot that at ISO 100, meaning that it will use the hardware to do the job, unlike an S100fs which is all software. ** Edit2: I like to set this mode to DR800 now. I use it in very bright sunlight or with severe contrast.
4. Manual. Set everything. Works perfectly. But suffers badly from an inability to set floating ISO. What were they thinking ... **Edit2: I use this mode when I have to to get shutter speeds as I want them.
5. Aperture priority. Works well enough, but for some reason also does not allow you to float the ISO. So is not nearly as useful as it should have been. **Edit2: Not of any interest at all.
6. Program. Works well. Allows ISO to float. Allows setting of DR400. Allows compensation, although not sure how well that works in daylight. Had some difficulty in some modes. But I see no practical difference between P and EXR DR. Same settings, images look the same. **Edit2: I set this mode to auto ISO 1600, DR400 and I use it for everything except harsh contrast and bright sun.
*** Edit: If you shoot large 10mp images in P mode (cannot shoot L in EXR DR or SN modes), it reverts to the software DR400, which means ISO is 400 minimum. So shoot P mode at 5mp and then you have the near-perfect mode. ***
Night (indoors also):
1. EXR Auto. Chooses SN mode. But that sets DR100, which does not handle contrast very well. Also cannot compensate the meter ... which is bush league. **Edit2: Mode is of no interest to me.
2. Resolution priority. You're kidding, right? **Edit2: Mode is evil on any EXR cam in my opinion. **Edit3: It is even worse than I thought.
3. SN Mode. Allows compensation, but still only DR100. **Edit2: Mode not of interest as I find DR modes work as well on noise but much better on highlights.
4. Manual. Gotta keep up with the light ... painful. But if you have time, works fine. Also, this is the only mode in which you can directly control shutter speed ... and that's critical for concerts and action. **Edit2: Preferred mode to astro-work and concert work. Also useful to try to get flowing water images.
5. Aperture priority. Why bother. ISO does not float. Might as well use Manual. **Edit2: Useless mode in my opinion.
6. Program. Ditto from day time. **Edit2: Yup, this mode is what I shoot exclusively at night.
Conclusion ... I shoot DR priority in DR400 and Auto ISO 1600 most of the time. Or P mode. One can be set with flash on, and one with flash off. Since they are next to each other on the dial, that's a quick way to go back and forth.
**Edit2: I now shoot P mode at auto ISO 1600 and DR400 for everything except the following. I shoot P mode at 3200 ISO for really dark scenarios, although I must say that U never set 3200 ISO in San Antonio. I shoot EXR DR mode at DR800 (which selects 200 ISO) for any harsh contrast situation. This includes any midday sunlight. I flip back and forth between P and EXR on the dial all day long. Easy peazy ...
**Edit2: One further setting ... the lenses on this cam run the gamut from fairly sharp to blurry in the corners. I always shoot 3:2 mode, which is the same aspect ratio as dSLRs. You might try that if you don't like the quality of the corners in your prints. This ratio perfectly matches 4x6 prints anyway ...
**Edit3: A note on film modes ... the standard mode is Provia. That is *all* I shoot. Astia softens colors but hardens tones. Velvia hardens both. I prefer to save the highlights and shadows and do contrast work in photoshop. If you prefer out of camera images, try the other film modes ... but be careful with Velvia, as it will burn highlights and block shadows very quickly in harsh sunlight. Try it on cloudy days in soft light. It would probably do well with flowers.
One last thought ... how come there are a thousand modes? Well, ask Fuji. There are caveats and limitations on all modes except program and DR priority (and even then, there are just less of them :-) ... so the others are just not that interesting. **Edit2: Really seems dumb now that I have thoroughly tested the cam ... needs only a couple of modes to handle everything.
Manual is cool, though, if you want to have total control. It really works. And in fact is how I will shoot at concerts, since fixing the shutter at 1/100s is the cornerstone of my technique. I may be using 1/250s now to handle the longer lens ...
One more last thought .... gotcha. How about a comparison of all these modes at 1600ISO? Well, I actually produced one, and to be honest I see so little difference that I will no longer sweat it.
DR mode should not get the same benefits as SN mode in shadows .... and yet they look similar enough that I can't get excited. This is really good news as I like DR400 ... it works well indoors.
Here's a third last thought ... what about DR800? Well, it does work ... but is limited to 200 ISO . So it's yet another unfinished feature ... nice one Fuji. Edit2: Perhaps it is not unfinished, but inherently limited. It must adjust the two exposures three stops apart, which means that it needs room on either side ... and with the aperture being so limited, it makes sense that there is only a tiny range of ISOs at which it can all work.
1) I've just sent in the Neat Image profiles for this camera. They should hopefully be up soon. Edit: They went up same day.
2) The FINE compression ratios are different between 5mp and 10mp images. This is the first time that I've seen such a thing. The 5mp images use 6:1 compression and the 10mp images use 8:1 compression. This is not a huge deal, as 10:1 is still considered excellent and both are below that ... but it is yet another reason why I don't shoot 10mp images with this cam. Edit: A good argument was made on the FTF that this is irrelevant, since the same image shot in two resolutions will compress more easily in the higher resolution because of a lot of redundant data. I.e. more pixels at the same value. However, there is still more fine detail to be compressed and Fuji could in fact crank up the jpeg quality to ensure the 6:1 ratio is maintained. That makes sense in what should be thought of as the "premium" mode. **Edit2: Yeah, it really is irrelevant. There is in fact no extra detail in HR mode images. What might have been there tends to get smeared out anyway. So compression is not important.