Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Panasonic ZS3 versus Fuji F70EXR -- Round 8 -- Indoor Portraits

Questions are getting asked about whether these cams are goods for indoor work. I already know that the Fuji is about as good as it gets in a compact long zoom contest, but I thought I'd see how they both faired head to head. A few surprising things came out of this ...

The setup was pretty simple ... my son had painted a David Bowie cover shot (Alladin Sane) and I asked him to sit by it at the top of our curved stair case. The light came from a single compact fluorescent bulb in a fixture attached to a ceiling fan above my head. I was about 8 feet (2 meters) away form him. Give or take a bit.

I shot four pairs of images. Two framed at perhaps 30mm and two face shots at 270mm. Obviously one with and one without flash. I used slow sync for both. Red eye reduction for the Fuji, which did not seem to help.

I shot all images with face detection on and in auto. The Fuji was on my recommended setting ... P mode, M3:2 size, DR400, auto ISO 1600. The Panny was on the best setting I could think of ... auto (red camera, not intelligent auto), auto ISO 800, intelligent exposure.

NOTE: These are "beginner mode" settings ... or close enough. The cam is doing all the work, no compensation is used, etc. And because this is for beginners, there is NO post processing. Yup ... you read that right, these are only downsized with a touch of output sharpening ... there is no editing of anything else. (Well ... a few zits etc.)

NOTE 2: I had to rewrite my verdicts when I realized that I had been inspecting the final images on my TN panel. That panel has very bright presentation and exposes noise all over the place. The calibrated MVA panel, on the other hand, is much more accurate. If you see a lot of noise in the Fuji images, your monitor is probably set too bright or you are set to the wrong gamma.

Let the fun begin.

First shot. No flash.

Fuji: f/4.5 1/8s 1600 ISO

Panny: f/3.6 1/4s 400 ISO

Verdict: Panny is showing blue channel contamination on the bright monitor at 400 ISO, but holds the line on the calibrated monitor. The fact that it chooses to accept a 1/4s shutter speed at 400 ISO when I had it set to intelligent ISO 800 tells you a lot about Panasonic's confidence in this cam indoors. But the Panny has slightly better white balance, as the Fuji went warmer. The Fuji looks great on the calibrated monitor and the Panny looks a tad dark. It is a toss up. I prefer the Fuji's choice to go with the faster shutter speed, but then the Panny really cannot go there anyway.

Image 2. Slow synchro flash.

Fuji: f/4.5 1/15s 1600 ISO (yes, you read that right)

Panny: f/3.6 1/4s 200 ISO (wow ... 3 stops better)

Verdict: The Fuji probably went one stop too high while the Panny went a stop too low. The Panny used about a half stop more flash, which happens to be a good decision here because the light is so warm ... and the Panny's tendency to run with cooler colors works well for it here. Mostly. The Fuji image is slightly grainier. Again, your choice. I like both. Panny maybe slightly better because it calmed the shadows more.

Image 3. Full zoom, no flash. In this dim light, a brutal challenge.

Fuji: f/5.6 1/4s 1600 ISO (best of 7 attempts!)

Panny: f/4.9 1/4s 800 ISO (first try)

Verdict: Yuck. In my opinion, both totally failed. I had to ask my son back for a reshoot after seeing the hash that Fuji made of it. Seven attempts in total, and this crud was the best I had. The Panny faired better ... its crappy shot only took one attempt. I suppose I should have reshot it too, giving it a half chance to get something sharp. But seriously ... don't bother.

Final image: Full zoom with flash.

Fuji: f/5.6 1/15s 800 ISO

Panny: f/4.9 1/4s 320 ISO

Verdict: Now that's more like it. Turn on the flash and the cameras start to behave again ... even at full zoom. Both make decent choices, although I think I'd have preferred that the Fuji try 400 ISO. Both shots look great ... eyelashes are detailed, skin color is fine. This is where these two shine.

My final verdict: I like both cams with flash. The Fuji is better at high ISO, but you want to limit that in this kind of awful light. At long zoom, the Panny is better but still sucks. So since we are talking mostly flash in this low indoor light, the Panny is a contender. I would say that either cam is quite competent indoors, presuming the use of the flash and allowing the cam to choose the ISO it wants. The Fuji gets consistently higher shutter speeds, though, so you might want to force the Panny to 400 ISO or even 800 ISO if you get blur even with flash on (which looks like ghosts.)

One caveat ... lots of complaints on the Fuji Talk Forum over the F70's weak flash. People are trying to force the ISO to 100 and shoot flash ... and that does not work. Fuji have been using weak flashes since the F10 ... *because they can.* Up until this year, they were always one to two stops better than the competition ... but with the G11 and S90 appearing, Fuji need to rethink that strategy. Or maybe Canon will start shipping weak flashes :-)

EDIT: Important note: These are portraits where you are not trying to include a room behind the subject. I.e. the flash is able to light the wall as well. I will try to shoot a round with a real background and show you the difference ... the Panny should have a lot more trouble there because of its inability or unwillingness to use high ISO. For this sort of portrait, though, it is quite good.


AHWest said...

Thanks for doing this, Kim.
I bought the Panny ZS3 back in December when you started posting these, and seemed to show decent quality up to 400 iso. Costco was selling at $250, and I wanted HD video. I have the F30 already. One of the things that I didn't like about it, which the F70 still seems to do, is use overly high iso in indoor flash photos of people. Another thing I noticed about the Panny ZS3 is that portrait mode and face detection seems to do a good job of exposing for proper skin tone.

Kim Letkeman said...

Thanks for the comment ... I missed this one for some reason. Sounds like you are enjoying the ZS3 ... it is certainly capable in its milieu.

archish said...

Personally I feel if the cam had stronger flash it would have been largest selling cam ever made by fuji. I guess they dont want customer to be happy with one model and make them wait for the next best :)

Kim Letkeman said...

Fuji is pretty hung up on their high ISO, as they have been since the F10. Because they can do a pretty clean 800, they weaken the flash to match. What they miss is that the hair clumps quite a bit at 800 ISO. Then again, I've shot images at 1600 ISO that looked better than these, so the F70 is still a bit inscrutable for me.