Friday, September 4, 2009

F70EXR -- How to shoot it ...

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 ...

Day:

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.

Tidbits:

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.

7 comments:

Lili said...

Very thourough Kim, thanks for all your effort on this.
I was about to pull the trigger, as they, say on the 70 when Amin Sabet put up his F200exr up for sale for a very good price enough so that perhaps the IQ difference will make up in part for the lack of zoom range.
And truth be told, even with my S6000fd the times I use anything over 135mm-e are very very rare.

kahren said...

i just got the f70, and find your review here very helpful, i have been playing with all the settings trying to figure out why there are so many of them that all seem to do pretty much the same thing :) as you have mentioned here. my findings pretty much mirror yours here. the 5mp picture size seem to get rid of a good amount of red and blue channel noise, so i think i am going to stick to the 5mp or the 4mp 3:2 version. its weird that in the EXR mode setting it lets you keep auto iso 400 when you select 800 DR since it only can be used in iso 200, i find this annoying. it also seems that the pro focus mode can sometimes blur out parts that you dont want to be blurred out or leave out some parts that should be blurred out as well. i haven't used this mode at lower iso's yet maybe its just having trouble working with the high iso jpg compression.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kim. I am a new F70 exr user and all the information you have provided here is too valuable for a first time user.

archish said...

Thanks Kim, I have been reading all your old F70EXR posts before I make my decision to buy this cam as it seems good if the 5mp does not bother one much.

I was looking at the chart of the various setting and find at 1600iso with M mode and DR400 1/6 F5.2 the image seems to loose lot of detail compared to 1/4.3 F5.3 in P mode. It seems as if the EXR does not kick in manual mode? The tests clearly show the EXR working in P mode though.

Kim Letkeman said...

Archish: I can't reproduce the drop in detail in M mode.

Andrew said...

Hi Kim
I've been reading all your comments/observations regarding F70/F80 and that helps me a lot. Thanks a lot for your wonderful work.
I have a few questions about AF modes:
Which one do you usually use - center one? What do you think about other modes?
Multi-spot seems to pick random places, so I cannot say it is very reliable.
Continuous seems to be focusing constantly but still when I half-press the button it makes adjustment. So I am wondering what's the point of having "Continuous" mode if one still has to adjust the focus before shooting?
Tracking focus seems to be interesting though often loses the object and jumps to something random.
Also, how the face recognition mode works along with the auto-focus? If I have a recognized face, do I still need to half-press to set the focus or can just click the button without waiting?

Again, thanks a lot for all useful information you post.

Kim Letkeman said...

Andew: With compacts I am a center focus shooter. Half press shutter, reframe, and release. However, of late I have been running the F80 in face detect mode and it works well in that capacity. I use face detect while making videos as well, especially with the ZS3. It keeps things in focus while zooming too ...

I would only shoot tracking focus if I were going after BIF or something like that.

Regarding how face detect works ... it will see faces quite reliably but seems to sometimes forget when half pressing the shutter. I usually repress until I get what I want, but I have to say that for party situations, face detect is not that great. For concerts though, it's excellent as they generally face forward.