Note: These settings should work very well for any EXR-based camera, which includes the Fuji X10, XF1, X-S1, F70EXR, F80EXR, F200EXR, F300EXR, F550EXR, F505EXR, F500EXR, F600EXR, F605EXR, F660EXR, F750EXR, F770EXR, F800EXR, HS20EXR, HS25EXR, HS30EXR, S200EXR, Z700EXR, Z800EXR, Z900EXR, Z1000EXR.
Updated on 3 January 2011 – A complete rewrite!
Updated on 26 March 2011 – Additional information in several sections, and a new section on technical limitations.
Updated on 22 April 2011 – A major update distilled from the 41 part (so far) series of user experience review articles on the F550EXR and the F200EXR.
Updated on 7 October 2011 – Some info on the new F600EXR and siblings plus the X10 and X-S1.
Updated in November 2011 – Some restructuring and an up front default set of settings as short cut.
Updated in December 2011 – Preliminary additions and adjustments after days of hands on experience with the Fuji X10.
Minor updates in January 2012 – Been working with the X10 for two weeks now.
5 January 2012 – Added shot to shot times for X10.
1 April 2012 – revisit initial settings based on my own experience. No, this is not a joke, despite the date of the update.
24 Jun 2012 – Add some thoughts regarding the HS25, F770 and X-S1. Correct a brain fart found by Olivier in Belgium.
20 Sep 2012 – Clarify initial settings. Update my thoughts on the X series of EXR cameras. Add a few thoughts about the XF1.
31 March 2013 – Add some preliminary thoughts on the F800EXR, F900EXR and HS50EXR. Significant revision, with more HS50 / F900 content to come soon.
Recommended General Settings for All EXR Cameras
This section outlines how I think most people should shoot EXR cameras without telling you too much about why. These settings work on every EXR camera and they guarantee just about the best results that the camera is capable of. You should read the rest of the article with these settings in mind if you want to understand why they are so useful, and so you can see the alternative and additional settings that are helpful in certain circumstances.
- Program (P) Mode for 99% of day to day images …
- Aperture priority mode is a good alternate exposure mode for wider ranging apertures on the X10, X-S1 and the HS series cameras.
- Shutter priority mode should be used in cases where you want to control the shutter explicitly for flowing water, very fast action, and so on.
- Manual mode is best for concerts and other very challenging lighting …
Manual and shutter priority modes are a bit more advanced, and I touch on them later on if you need an incentive to read beyond this introduction :-)
- Medium (M) Size (I don’t believe that L size is better under any but the most contrived situations)
- DR400% (this is controversial, but I maintain that this gives the best captures)
- Auto ISO (400), (800), (1600) for most older EXR cameras
- choose based on your tolerance for grain versus blur, I say grain can be handled while blur is fatal
- Auto ISO (3200) for F200EXR, S200EXR, X10 and successors and possibly for F550EXR and successors, this last one being your call depending on how much grain you can tolerate and how much processing you are willing to do
Note: I regularly shoot and process up to 3200 ISO even on the 1/2” sensor of the F550EXR / F770EXR and I get decent results. But I know what I am looking at when I pixel peep and I know what it will look like when printed, so my tolerance for grain is very high. Your mileage may vary.
- Provia film mode
- JPEG FINE
For JPEG shooters of the HS20 through HS50, I like setting the sharpening to low, the tone to low, and the color to medium high. That works really well in my opinion. Although do remember that I process my images in Lightroom 4 now, and that makes quite the difference on some images.
Update: In good light, the HS series works well at 0, 0, 0, 0 as in factory settings. Setting sharpness to hard ruins images in my opinion. Bad halos that create a “sparkle” effect in branches and foliage and ruins edges. NR is dangerous at default or high when the light is anything but idea. I prefer it off, but in good light the default setting appears to do little harm. Test it yourself though, as I have only tested it a lot on the HS50.
Note that Provia is Fuji’s softest tone curve, which helps to avoid blocked shadows and blown highlights. If you do not ever want to deal with processing of your images, and if you find Provia is too flat, then you can experiment with Astia and Velvia, but be careful with them in contrasty light. They work well on cloudy days but Velvia ruins images with too much black shadow blown out white for my taste.
If you like the very best output and are experienced enough to handle processing every image (ACR support exists for the F550, S200, X10 and most of their follow-ons – as of 1 April 2013 the HS50 and F900 are imminent, says Adobe:
- RAW + JPG allows you to shoot at 100ISO and DR400 together (I am no longer a fan of RAW only mode, as it forces L size, which forces 400 ISO at DR400. That alone kills it for me.)
I like to shoot ISO 100 in bright, high-contrast light, so I shoot RAW + JPG. Some say that the RAW is identical to that shot in RAW only mode. Even if true (I have not seen unequivocal tests), there is still the JPEG, which does have proper binning. And, of course, I can set M size which allows me to shoot DR400 at 100 ISO. So I eschew RAW only as a matter of course.
If you want to shoot RAW only anyway, then try to do it mainly in soft light situations (e.g. overcast) where DR100 is acceptable so that ISO 100 is useable.
Bottom line to keep things simple:
- Shoot DR400 and auto ISO at M size most of the time.
- If you want more control, manage ISO, size and DR level based on the quality of the light.
- Use exposure compensation to protect the highlights yourself. It’s a bit complex, but that’s photography.
And that’s that. If that’s all you came for, thanks for reading. But I encourage you to read the rest as there are tips scattered throughout and I have continued to augment the article as I have acquired more of the EXR family for testing. As of April 1 (tomorrow), this April fool is testing the HS50EXR and F900EXR. I have the cameras until the 19th. There are already 10 parts posted.
And now for something completely different: a Huge Caveat!
X series EXR shooters (X10, X-S1, XF1) should generally shoot JPEG. Fuji has an excellent JPEG engine and these cameras have issues with how their RAW output is treated by Adobe software. Fuji seems to have preferred to deal with Silkypix and has apparently ignored Adobe, which means that Photoshop and Lightroom users like myself have a lot of difficulty with these files. I am testing an X-S1 as I write this and I have set it to JPEG as there is no advantage at all to shooting RAW.
Note: The standard advice is to use the raw converter that Fuji ships, or the full blown version of Silkypix. And that is an option to explore by downloading the free trials or installing the one that comes with the camera. My personal feeling on these converters is that I dislike the interface intensely. Too twitchy, too unfamiliar a processing model. So I would just use the excellent JPEGs from the X series cameras.
Last word: Fuji is moving away from EXR sensors at the 2/3” size towards X-Trans. This will make people think that the little X20 is a baby X1-Pro. Don’t be fooled. It is nothing of the sort. But it does look like bright light shooting might get better results at higher resolution on the X20 than the X10. For now, what this means about EXR cameras is that the future looks like a 1/2” future. Which is fine by me … this sensor tests out as over-performing in relation to its peers, so it has real legs if Fuji keep making strides such as the very effective phase detect auto focus in the HS50EXR and F900EXR.
Detailed Information on Shooting EXR Cameras
I covered my thought processes on the various modes of this camera in a kind of gestalt back in 2009 in this post. But one thing about that post is that I covered everything and updated as I learned, so it is very hard to follow logically. This article documents the various ways to shoot EXR cameras in a hopefully logical progression.
Before you begin shooting, set your LCD brightness down one click. (Note: For the F550EXR, the LCD is so bright – excellent in bright sunshine – that I prefer it set down 2 clicks.) This keeps things looking accurate, else you will be tempted to make exposures that are slightly dark.
When shooting in the dark, it helps to set your LCD brightness up several clicks because Fuji don’t have proper amplification to help you out with framing. But please, you must remember to reset the brightness when you get into good light, else you will be seeing horrible blown out images that are not real. Fuji needs to fix their amplification algorithms so that, no matter the exposure, they properly display the predicted result.
I recommend that you set IMAGE DISP. on the SET-UP menu to the setting named ZOOM(CONTINUOUS) to help you confirm exposure and sharpness in real time. This really helps me and I think you should try to get used to seeing whether your images are coming out in focus or not. It will save you the need to shoot more images, and more importantly it will confirm for you that you might have got a keeper and allow you to try again if you missed focus.
Update: Years later, I still set this on every camera I own and test. Zoom Continuous is the chimper’s chimping tool, if you will.
This article has existed for several years now and it has been very popular. Over 105,000 page views and counting. But … one thing I originally failed to do is to outline my own style and allow you to map and then tweak things for your own style. So here goes …
I like a compact to be basically automatic when I am wandering about. I shoot big cams for serious control, but I just want to press the button on a compact and get a good result. (Caveat: The X10 and HS series shoot like a dSLR.) And with the newer EXR cameras with the dial, it is very easy to dislodge the aperture if you like semi-auto in A-Prio mode. So I used to recommend A-Prio quite a bit, but now I just go with P mode myself. It is too easy to get really low shutter speeds when shooting A-Prio.
RAW shooters note: If you are coming from older EXR cameras where DR400 was the norm, then watch out. You will end up in ISO 400 all the time if not careful, as RAW only forced DR100 or ISO400. And the last one you set usually wins, making a crap shoot out of the ISO you are using. As I mention earlier, just don’t both.
Caveat on P mode: concerts are very demanding, so I always shoot them in full manual mode. This style is covered later on, and in my tips for better photography article.
I process all of my displayed images in Lightroom. What this means for readers is that my settings are designed to obtain a perfect capture with minimal processing in the camera. Meaning that I don’t want the camera “bruising” the pixels overly much. This is the key to better looking final images if you so desire. To do this in JPEG, I invariably recommend shooting at the highest DR setting in hardware, which remains DR400 even in the latest generation (X10.)
This can lead to somewhat flat looking images, for which you may choose to compensate in camera using film modes or dynamic range settings. Basically, the short answer is that you might as well boost contrast using a film mode and get the nicer saturation while you are at it … Astia for slightly nicer color with a bit stronger contrast, and Velvia for very strong color and contrast.
DR200 can also be used to boost contrast somewhat, DR100 to have the tone at its highest But note: Any of these settings puts you more at risk for blown highlights and blocked shadows, so use at your own risk. (This topic is addressed again later.)
As I mentioned in the initial settings chapter, I have gone back to RAW+JPG and I do in fact use the JPEG now and again. The F770EXR and newer cameras have really nice JPEGs, as to the HS and X series cameras. Fuji is getting really good at JPEG. But I will use the RAW whenever I feel the detail in the scene benefits, which is often. Lightroom 4 is simply amazing, and if you use Lightroom, give RAW a go with these cameras. (CS6 / ACR 7 also of course.)
Introduction to the EXR Family
|The F200EXR was the first of the family. It sports a 1/1.6” sensor, the same size as the F30fd, but with 12mp. It can bin those pixels and thus have very low pixel densities. This is the best of the breed for street photography and especially at night. |
The F70EXR followed fairly quickly, sporting a smaller sensor at 1/2”. This sensor had 10mp, which turned out to be the sweet spot for that size. This is the best of the long zoom variants for detail at high ISO.
|Six months later came the F80EXR, an updated F70EXR with 12mp instead of 10. This reduced the image quality somewhat, although daytime image quality is excellent. The F80EXR has more saturation in Provia than the F70. Also a warmer white balance. Great for flowers. The F80EXR is the first Fuji compact to have an orientation sensor. |
The F300EXR is a new body and very long lens with the F80’s sensor and a better jpeg engine. Saturation and tone is between the F70 and F80 and most agree it has the best white balance of all the Fujis. This camera is a joy to use.
|The F550EXR and F500EXR were announced on 5 Jan 2011 and I bought one of the first to come into Ottawa. No regrets at all so far. |
These use the F300EXR body and lens with a new BiCMOS/EXR hybrid sensor! The 550 gets a GPS!
The vast number of new features and differences is too much to discuss in the short space available in this article … so please pop over to my article contrasting them to the F300EXR and have your mind blown!. The prices seem excellent to me and are fast getting better at Amazon.
Edit 7 Oct 2011: I have recently recorded the entire rock concert Tommy on the F550, as well as some excellent covers and Who hits by Daltrey. These can be found in posts in September and October 2011. The videos are on YouTube as well, but you will want to see the stills, along with those from The Lion King, all of which are shot at 1600 and 3200 an d are magnificent … this camera definitely has the high ISO chops!
|The F600EXR and F605EXR were announced on 11 August 2011. Sadly, Fuji Canada has decided not to import these so it is not likely that I will get direct experience with them. On the other hand, they are very similar to the F500 series, so there is not much to test. |
Key features on these new cams include motion detection for better auto ISO control (raise it for faster shutter); improved lens consistency edge to edge (samples and early owners confirm this); and improved GPS (one early owner thinks this is probably true.) The kaleidoscopic flair is still present, but is less sloppy looking, so that’s something anyway. Most of the rest of the features are tweaks in software and none of the new owners discuss them at all. I suspect they are mainly fluff while we wait for the newest line to start up.
All in all, you should buy this one instead of the F550 if the price difference is acceptable. But the F550 remains a great bargain today.
There are no differences in general shooting for the F600, so all F550 comments on shooting parameters can be considered to apply to the F600 series as well.
|The X10 was announced on 1 September 2011 and the X-S1 on 24 November 2011. |
The big news this year for Fuji is the more or less roaring success of the X100 fixed lens compact in the Leica mold. Fuji sold 300,000 of these, which was apparently more than they expected. This is good as they deserve a break. But that is not an EXR cam (despite the use of the term for its processing chip), whereas the new X10 short zoom compact is definitely an EXR camera. Moreover, this new camera has a 2/3” sensor and has been reduced to 12mp, which should help with chroma noise. All in all, this thing has high potential for excellent all round kid chasing.
And the reason why it is great for kids is that, in addition to the excellent sensor, they have attached a very fast lens. The 28-112mm equivalent zoom is f/2 at the wide end and f/2.8 at the long end. Wow!
So this camera has a 1 2/3 stops advantage over the F550 at the long and wide ends on aperture alone. Adding in a 1 stop advantage in high ISO prowess due to sensor size and you have a serious increase in low light capability.
The camera has many other features as well, you can see the press release here.
This camera shoots like a dSLR, but also works well when using the same settings as earlier EXR cameras.
A smaller compact camera with a very unusual manual zoom feature is the XF1. It was introduced on 17 September 2012 at Photokina. It uses the same sensor as the X10 and X-S1, presumably the new non-ORBing one, and it sports very retro styling with aluminum body and faux-leather covering. Nice looking cam. It also sports a fast 1.8-4.9 lens for 25-100mm, an average reach for its class. All in all, shot as I document up top, the XF1 should make a lot of people very happy in JPEG.
|The F660EXR, F750EXR and F770EXR were announced together on 5 Jan 2012. The 660 has the old lens from the 300, 550 and 600 but has the new flash that does not come up until you release it. |
It also have new firmware features that have begun creeping into the line with the X series. Two of my favorites are macro mode, which is now remembered across power cycles, and timer mode, which is now remembered across images. Note that the 660 does not shoot RAW.
The F770EXR has an amazing rubberized body that fits the hand nicely. It also has an extremely long range zoom – from 25mm to 500mm. This is pretty stunning in use, although it takes some effort to learn how to shoot steady enough to let the stabilization work at full zoom. It does shoot RAW, and very well. Its RAW is supported by Adobe now, as are all the compacts.
The 750 is the same camera minus RAW and GPS. I took the 770 to Stockholm with me, courtesy of MSL (Fuji’s marketing company here in Canada) and it performed very well. That blog entry has yet to be posted. I’m having a busy summer. Sorry.
The follow on from the F770EXR is the F800EXR, which was introduced on 25 June 2012. It is mostly an F770EXR minus GPS plus WiFi, and it appears that the two will be sold together this year.
The HS20EXR was announced on 5 Jan 2011, and a year later Fuji followed up with the HS25EXR and the HS30EXR.
These cameras have the same body and lens as the HS10, but the HS20 has the F550’s sensor and the two newer camera share a sensor with the F770EXR. Fuji has mentioned that the newer sensor is more efficient, but there is little evidence of that when you produce the RAW images.
Sharing the HS10 lens has interesting implications. The range of the lens changes because the 1/2” sensor of the newer cameras is larger than the 1/2.3” sensor of the HS10. So the larger crop means that the lens is wider at both ends of the spectrum. Fuji advertise these cameras as having the HS10’s 24-720 effective focal length (EFL), but in fact the 5.45 crop factor of the new sensor makes the range closer to 23-687mm EFL.
They have manual zoom and pretty good dSLR like controls, so they are worthy of your attention, especially if you shoot them in RAW. The EVF in the HS25 is poor, to say the least. But I used it in my tests to capture subjects that were otherwise difficult to capture with the LCD at high magnification. The HS30 has a better EVF.
The HS25 uses AA batteries, which will be good news for those who like Eneloops and who really feel that access to batteries at a local drug store matters. The HS30 uses a proprietary rechargeable lithium ion battery.
My personal feeling is that the HS20 is probably a good bargain over the HS25 just for its RAW capabilities. But the HS30 is almost certainly the best of these cameras. Caveat: I have not shot the HS20 or the HS30, but I shot the HS25, F550 and F770 extensively in my tests and am very familiar with the sensors.
The F800EXR came and went in the fall of 2012. It is basically a an F770EXR with the GPS removed and WiFi inserted.
It performs two interesting tricks:
-- It can jump onto your home network and transfer images wirelessly to your phone or PC (I think the latter is true.)
-- It can connect to your phone and the phone (a Fuji Camera Application you download from their site) can send the current location to the camera. The camera remembers it for an hour I think, so you need to send it pretty much every time you move.
The F800 also has the new revamped menu system, which breaks all settings into pages and adds more hierarchy by grouping complex settings such as WiFi.
The F900EXR and HS50EXR began shipping in the spring of 2013. They are based on the venerable (and excellent) 1/2” EXR CMOS sensor, but it appears that this new generation is an FSI design versus other previous generations’ BSI (back side illumination) design. At least, Fuji no longer calls out the BSI design in their literature.
Further, Fuji have once again brought out a phase detect version of the sensor, which last appeared in the F300EXR. The F300 had superb close auto focus, but speed and accuracy never seemed any different from the F80 and F550 that bracket it as models.
Not so with the F900EXR and HS50EXR. In bright light, the AF can be near-instantaneous. This is really nice on the HS especially, with its vast range to 1000mm. I have to say that I really like these as outdoor shooters, as they are both very sharp and very fast and responsive. The new menus continue with these two and the WiFi has been refined. There is little question in my mind that these are the best EXR cameras to date. An argument for the larger sensor in the X series can obviously be made. But I would shoot the F50EXR over an XS-1 and an F900EXR over an X10 without a lot of soul searching. YMMV and please make sure that you try them all before choosing.
This is actually a pretty decent movie about how EXR technology works, so it is worth watching to provide some background around what I am talking about here.
Shutter Speed Issues
Now that you’ve seen the movie and understand that the dynamic range extension mode relies on the two half sensors stopping at different times, you can imagine that the shutter speed must be tied to one of them. Fuji has correctly chosen the mid-tones and shadows as the determinant of the shutter speed. The highlights are shot at a faster speed in order to protect them – 2x for DR200 and 4x for DR400. Note: DR800 and DR1600 are software hacks that smear data and turn white to grey. these are best avoided.
So which half is limited by the “official” maximum shutter speed? Unfortunately, the fast half .. the highlights. Which means that, in DR400 mode, an F70EXR for example can only manage 1/500s in bright sunlight. Well, that really sucks. You will be shooting at max aperture all the time. And if you shoot in A-Prio mode all the time and forget to boost aperture, you will be wondering why your exposures are too bright.
So, the max shutter speeds in M size DR400 at 100 ISO for F200, F70, F80, F300 and their contemporaries is 1/500s. For the F550 and newer (the RAW ones) it is 1/1000s. Beware.
Update: Another issue to be aware of is that these lenses are all moderately slow at full zoom. The HS50EXR is f/5.6 at 1000mm, the F series are at 5.3 at 500mm. Thus, you will get mediocre shutter speed at base ISO on cloudy days. Under 1/100s if shooting dark subjects like foliage. What this means is that you are relying on IS to maintain sharpness, and you are probably about 3 stops or 4 stops down from where you want to be. For the HS, you want 1/1000s to maintain a sharp image hand held. at 1/70s you are 4 stops down from that (divide by 2 four times.) The F series are 3 stops down. The sensor shift IS is capable to giving you sharp images most of the time, but you need to be shooting more than one image to be sure you get one critically sharp I mage. So make sure you are shooting several at a time. I do that with individual shutter presses, but some do it with burst mode. Whatever floats your boat.
Recommended Settings in Detail
I recommend several settings as standard no matter what shooting mode you are in. These settings enable a quality capture and maximize both dynamic range and noise reduction:
- P Mode or A Prio Mode? I like P mode for the compacts and A-Prio mode for the HS and X series. Because of their shutter speed limitations, you can suffer real problems with slow shutter and some blurring if you accidentally set a higher aperture than you intended. P mode tries hard to avoid that. The F300 and later compacts all have a real aperture as their third aperture, with their second aperture being ND filter only. That’s when A-Prio can be very useful. But note that It is easy to exceed the 1/1000s shutter speed limitation in bright sunlight, so watch for the shutter speed to turn red on the LCD. If that happens, dial another stop or even two of aperture. This is the surest sign that you have accidentally dialed in a too-open aperture.
- M size at whatever ratio you favor. dSLR shooters often like 3:2 to match their main camera’s output. 4:3 is the standard for small cameras and crops well for display sizes like 8x10. The reason for always shooting M size is that the camera’s effective pixel density is cut in half and this removes the majority of destructive noise reduction effects. It makes a *huge* difference for fine, low contrast details like distant foliage, animal fur, human hair or feathers. I would simply not waste my time trying to find situations where L size is useful. Because the EXR sensor and the strong AA filter means that it really is not useful at all. High resolution also forces 400 ISO when you want the dynamic range protection offered by DR400, and this destroys any possible advantage L size might have given you.
- DR400. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Kidding. These cameras have excellent dynamic range compression in hardware. This means that they are able to shoot two exposures on each half of the sensor and combine them to capture highlights and shadows with a lot of range. This mode preserves the largest amount of shadow and highlight detail, and I find it always gives me a great capture. Note: The images sometimes are a tad flat for some people. If you are one of those, try Astia film mode to add spice to the images. Or drop to DR200. Either way, you put highlights and shadows at more risk, but you get a bit more punch. That said, I still see no reason for most people to give up the protection of higher dynamic range. Far too many people are still blowing out highlights or blocking shadows by trying to shoot EXR cameras at anything but DR400. This is a waste of time in my opinion.
- Auto ISO 400 / 800 / 1600 / 3200. How much tolerance do you have for grain and smearing? How is the light? Are you shooting moving objects? Poor light and movement force higher ISO. But if you can, keep it to 400 or 800 max. With the F550EXR I am happy to say that I shoot auto ISO 1600 or 3200. It’s that good. I would shoot that way with the F200EXR as well, assuming I could get over the clunky body and lack of reach, which I can’t. The X10 is a no-brainer for 3200ISO.
- Matrix metering mode. The Fuji cameras have very good matrix meters, although there are differences between them. There have been reports of some of them being more sensitive and requiring –1/3EV compensation when compared with others. Watch for that. The F550EXR appears to be prone to higher level exposures at night. The meter is actually behaving more correctly than others in the series, so you need to set –1EV or more if the image is predominantly dark and you want to save some highlights. Note: Recent cameras like the F770EXR, HS25, HS30, X10 and X-S1 have wonky matrix meters at times. They seem overly sensitive to the composition and over exposures are common. Many people switch to average metering to tame this problem.
- Provia Film Mode. This is the default and it has the lowest contrast. The small sensors already have issues with tone and contrast, blown highlights, blocked (black) shadows and anything we can do to alleviate that can make a difference in the smoothness perceived in our images. DR400 is one such tool, and Provia is another.
- RAW. The new cameras shoot RAW at a tolerable pace. Use a UHS-1 card if you can, or at least a class 10 card and shave seconds off every image capture. As for converters, I find the Silkypix editor annoying and difficult, so I would choose JPEG instead of that. Luckily, ACR 7 now supports pretty much all of the RAW EXR cameras up to the X-S1. Consider getting Lightroom 4, which has droped to $149 list, a tremendous deal for anyone who take stheir photography even a little bit seriously. Make you you get the latest update of camera raw or Lighroom. I use RAW+JPG exclusively on the compacts as there is extra detail and flexibility in processing them yourself. But you need to practice and learn the various controls. The X series should simply be shot in JPEG as Fuji have not straightened out issues with RAW and Adobe converters. I have not actually heard of any converters that create JPEGs to match the in camera JPEGs.
The difference between JPEG detail and RAW detail is shown here for the F550EXR. Also shown in the reach difference from the F200EXR to the F550EXR.
General Purpose Shooting
F200EXR, F70EXR, F80EXR, Z700EXR, Z800EXR, Z900EXR – set to P mode on the dial
F300EXR, S200EXR, F550EXR and siblings, HS20 and siblings – I no longer prefer to set to Aperture Priority mode and am happy in P mode most of the time, because I don’t like constantly thinking about the settings with a compact. The exposure compensation button is where you should focus when you think you need to change the exposure.
X10, XS-1 – A-priority mode.
Extreme Harsh Lighting
F70EXR 1/480s f/6.4 ISO 200 –.67EV
|I used to recommend EXR DR mode with DR800. But it has been shown that this mode increases smearing of low contrast fine details such as distant foliage. This, coupled with its reliance on a fixed ISO at 200, makes this mode fairly specialized. |
Closer subjects (e.g. desert plants) seem to look acceptable at DR800, but I think this would have been as good at DR400. The cactus at left was shot in this mode on a scorching day in San Antonio, TX.
I never use DR800. Since I process everything, I prefer to shoot P mode at DR400 with –EV compensation for skies and then lift shadows in ACR later. The size of the sensor in the X10 will make it even better for this style. Remember to set M size so you don’t end up at 400 ISO! And, of course, with the RAW available, that is all I shoot now.
DR1600 mode on the F550EXR and HS20 is pretty gross. It requires 400 ISO, as I predicted in the earlier version of this article, and what it really does is flatten the whites to grey. This creates the illusion of saving the highlights, but does not really save them as the combination of higher ISO and the software algorithm simply flattens all details to nothing in JPEG. RAW is better, but again, raising ISO does more damage than good in my opinion. See below for an example of this in action.
Damage done by DR1600 in JPEG
Concerts and Shows
If you click through on the F500EXR images, you will see that RAW allows you to open shadows and retain slightly better detail in hair etc. at web sizes. However, the JPEG is quite excellent for such a high ISO.
Update: In late 2011, I attended a string of concerts and shows and photographed them all in RAW (one brain fart exception was photographing Prince in JPEG.) The results are at times breath taking, and this on the F550EXR and its 1/2” sensor.
The balance you need to strike for shows and concerts works something like this:
- Start at ISO 800 and 1/100s
- If images look overexposed (easy to do if performers wear white shirts) then drop ISO to 400
- If images are very dark, then raise ISO to 1600 or 3200 for the F200 or F550 / HS20, X10 / XS-1.
- I have lately favored 1600 ISO at 1/125 or 1/160 …
- If images remain dark then drop shutter to 1/80 then 1/50 … possibly 1/30 if performers do not move much
Some concerts change lighting all the time, which makes them a nightmare to photograph. Move ISO back and forth to compensate.
If the venue is very dark you may need to turn your LCD up +2 clicks instead of the usual -1 click (-2 for F550.) This allows you to see and prevents you from overexposing highlights just to see something on the LCD.
You can always pull out the mid tone detail and either go B&W for heavy grain, or run Neat Image or Topaz DeNoise to clean out the grain. Concert shooting is an advanced mode ... just setting night mode will get you somewhere, but not with the control you need to prevent both blur and blow outs.
Also remember that there is a threshold in every camera below which images are almost noise free. You can shoot a dim image at 800 ISO with the F70EXR and pull it up to look terrific. Much better than a perfectly exposed 3200 ISO image. And you have protected your highlights perfectly. Advanced processing makes a big difference.
Soft Light – Cloudy Days, Morning, Evening
Film modes can be a bit dangerous because they add contrast, and in sunlight this pushes your images closer to blown highlights and blocked shadows. I’ve seen many a harsh image posted obliviously that could have been far nicer shot in Provia.
But with soft light scenarios, you get a free pass to try these modes. Try both experimentally and see which you like for your nature shots on cloudy days. ASTIA seems to be useful at night as well as it buries noise deep in darkened shadows. However, I have observed that shooting light colored surfaces with ASTIA at high ISO can add a lot of unwanted chroma noise in the form of yellow blotching. This is to be avoided.
Please learn and use Exposure Compensation. This is critical to getting good exposures. Meters are not nearly as smart as you are, so don't leave everything blindly in the camera's hands.
Suggestions for reading are John Shaw's Field Guide to Nature Photography and Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure. In fact, have a look at my list of favorite books in this article. Also read the Expose to the Right Article at Luminous Landscape.
For night shooting where you want to preserve the look of the lights (e.g. Christmas Lights) –1EV is a good starting point. (People on the forums manage to forget this obvious technique day in and day out as they complain the the F550EXR over exposes at night. What is really happening is that they got used to some other camera underexposing at night. Learn your meter!)
General outdoor shooting often benefits from a slight underexposure of –1/3EV. This helps preserve highlights but it also helps increase color saturation. In strong sunlight and especially when there are white areas in frame, I often go with –2/3EV compensation.
If you are unsure, you should bracket your exposures. Shot images at 0EV, –1/3EV, –2/3EV and even –1EV or more if the subject is white and in bright sunlight.
Assuming you have time of course. As you get better at judging the light, you will be able to shoot fewer exposures to get what you want.
Make sure that you confirm the exposure in the LCD.
F300EXR 1/1000s f/5.3 ISO 100 -1.33EV
Still Life in Low Light
F300EXR 1/10s f/3.5 ISO 1600 Pro Low Light Mode
|For subjects that are not moving in low light, examples being food, a painting, a statue, a church interior and so on, consider using the Pro-Low-Light mode. In this mode, the camera will shoot 3 or 4 images at high ISO with fairly quick shutter speeds and combine the images into one very clean and detailed image.|
That is, assuming that the camera is held very steady. If one image is blurred, then you will see blur in the combined image. To help this work better, I always set the 2s timer and breathe out while the timer runs, then hold my breath while the images are shot. Seems to work well.
Depth of Field Control
Many people post questions asking how to get that nice background blur they see in dSLR images. Well, small sensors work against you in this regard because they increase rather dramatically the depth of field you get at all focal lengths.
For example, the depth of field you get from an HS10 at f/2.8 will be the same as the depth of field you get from the Nikon D700 at f/16 at any given focal length. That’s a huge disadvantage and is illustrated by the image above with my three EXR cameras pitted against the D700. Click on that image to go to the original and rather large comparison.
An interesting note on apertures and depth of field: The F300EXR has three apertures instead of two. And the third, i.e. smallest, aperture slightly affects depth of field. That makes this the only EXR camera to have more that one actual aperture, since the other EXR cameras simulate a second aperture with an inline neutral density filter. So you can use f/16 on the F300 to get a wee bit more depth whereas f/11 on the F70 and f/16 on the F80 do not affect depth of field. The same goes for the F200.
Pro Focus Mode
This is Fuji’s alternate to understanding depth of field. It will give you a blurred background through software in camera. I have never found it effective as it creates a lot of ugly edge artifacts, but of course your mileage may vary.
The following demonstration shows how pro focus has problems even with straight edges like the table edge. It mangles people pretty badly, although at web sizes it might not be a huge issue.
F70EXR P Mode
F70EXR Pro Focus
I’m not a big fan of scene modes, however they do the job and should be explored. I always try to get the best exposure through my own knowledge, so I won’t go into any depth with scene modes.
I have experimented some with TEXT mode. It has the advantage of assuming white paper so that it can get a nice crisp image with great contrast in any light.
Flash photography with these cameras is tricky because Fuji have been shipping really weak flashes in their cameras since the F10. No doubt they do this because they made 800 ISO look pretty great in pretty much every one of their F series compacts since then, so the camera defaults to 800 ISO for flash imagery.
I suggest that you let the camera shoot at 800 ISO for two reasons:
- The flash will go much further than it would at 100 ISO … 2.8 times further in fact. Or it will use 1/8th the power, which means longer battery life and faster recycling.
- Generally speaking, the cave look makes for horrid flash images. So shooting at 800 will improve your images by bringing more ambient light into your images. This makes a great deal of difference.
F70EXR 1/15s f/5.3 ISO 800 24mm
Obviously, I favor P mode for general indoor shooting. And P mode offers the slow synchro flash mode, which lets in as much ambient light as possible while tuning the flash to light only the subject. Matrix metering allows the camera to balance the exposure perfectly. This is something that Fuji are really good at.
Try some ROSCOE CTO Orange gel (or equivalent – try Google), taping it over the flash to balance with indoor light colors. Window Green gel for fluorescent lights.
Else you may have to switch images to black and white to get the lights the same color. As I did with the shot at the left. But notice the nice bright background and perfectly exposed face. He was backlit by that section of the restaurant and this turned out far better than the ambient only exposures.
Aperture: The compacts tend to have only two apertures, and the second one is implemented using a neutral density filter, which makes it useless for depth of field control. The F300 introduced a third – real – aperture, which does allow additional depth. So in A-prio or M modes, you now have that extra control.
Shutter: The maximum shutter speeds on the compacts is 1/2000s (1/1500s for the F200EXR.) This is a more severe limitation than it seems because of how the sensor split with blend is implemented for high dynamic range. One half of the sensor is stopped early. 1/2 the exposure for DR200 and 1/4 the exposure for DR400. (DR800 is additional software with boosted ISO and so does not participate in the shutter limitation.)
So when the shutter speed is 1/2000s for the shorter half of the exposure, the real shutter speed is either 1/1000s or 1/500s for DR200 and DR400 respectively. This is for base ISO. As ISO rises, so does the maximum shutter speed. Fuji still plays a lot of dirty tricks in firmware.
I have tested this in M mode (pointing at sunlit snow on my pool) and it continues to hold true for the F300EXR and the F550EXR. Note that the camera reports the lower half of the sensor, as that determines the amount of blur you get and shutter speed is all about blur. So just watch for that. BUT: With aperture priority mode in the F300EXR and F550EXR (and now the X10), the limitation is raised to 1/1000s even at base ISO. Which makes us all wonder what sort of nasty tricks Fuji is up to in firmware for the A prio mode …
Flash: The flashes on Fuji cameras have been weak ever since the F10 came out. They have always recommended that these cameras shoot flash at 800 ISO because all these cameras are quite good at 800 ISO. So you should allow your camera to shoot at 800 ISO as well. Dropping ISO to 100 or 200 to get perfect details trades away good lighting for the cave look. That’s not acceptable in my opinion. YMMV.
Shot to Shot Times with Various SD Cards
Here is a new matrix specifically for the Fuji X10.
My analysis of these times:
- The cheap Ultra 2GB SD card is surprisingly fast
- The Sandisk Extreme Pro is ultra quick, and that’s in cameras that are not designed to take advantage of the UHS-1 speeds
- EXR cameras do not write all that fast
- Shooting M size is much faster shot to shot than L size
- The X10 has much better JPEG writes speeds than previous EXR cameras
So I recommend that you start looking at the new Sandisk Extreme Pro line, or any of the other UHS-1 cards. They are quicker even in cameras that are not designed for them. And in the card reader, they fly. Newer cameras like the D7000 and X10 are designed to use them, so they are more future proof than older cards (obvious, I know.)