Saturday, October 2, 2010

F300EXR – Review Part 17 – The great SN vs DR vs P mode shootout …

Yesterday’s SN versus A mode shoot out was interesting enough … but the subject lacked fine detail and I was called on it by someone on the Fuji Talk Forum (new user adhemar) … so I decided to have a go at a massive test suite … SN versus DR at all DR settings, and DR versus P mode at all DR settings. To see what is really what.

I shot the SN versus DR mark II tests first, and instead of using P mode at DR400 I used EXR DR mode at all DR settings. Later, I realized that I have not shot DR against P mode on this cam, so I did that one too … and since I want identical framing, I had to shoot the EXR DR series again. Oh well … any sacrifice for (what might pass for) science.

First, on tone curves … since that is my reason for always shooting DR400 … here are full sized images at DR100 and DR400:

P mode 800 ISO DR100

DSCF0190_pmode_iso800_dr100[1] P mode 800 ISO DR400


They both look fine to me … but as always, I prefer to compress dynamic range as much as possible because I hate blocked shadows and burnt highlights. Passionately.

Now … series 1, which is SN mode versus EXR DR mode. I also shot an M mode series as a control … 100 ISO at DR100, DR200 and DR400. In a few cases, I found that the cheap tripod I was using had some shake … reasons unknown. I always release with timer, but cheap tripods still have problems. And who knows? Even though IS was off, is there really no chance that a Fuji software bug likes to assert itself now and again :-) ?

Those panels that are clearly blurred by movement (easy to spot as the writing is blurred, eliminating NR -- noise reduction -- as the cause) are marked as affected by movement.

Note that, in this series, we are looking for excess smoothing of low contrast ink (flower petals) and damage to edges on high contrast ink.


You *really* need to click through to the larger version, and if it is fit to the window click again to expand it. These are best viewed at 100% for obvious reasons.


  1. DR200 and DR400 progressively soften contrast. I should hope so, since that is what they are supposed to do :-)
  2. DR400 does not remove detail … it only lowers contrast. This allows you to choose to retrieve or enhance the detail if it serves your purpose.
  3. In the 800 ISO shots, SN mode looks no different from DR100. This does not surprise me as the sensor should be binning either way.
  4. DR400 looks substantially better to me, as lower contrast helps us see fine, low contrast details better.
  5. In both the 800 and 1600 ISO sets of images, SN mode white balance is a bit cooler. It’s your call which you prefer.
  6. At 1600 ISO, there is a very slight improvement in low contrast detail retention at DR100. This would be due to a slight increase in contrast in these areas (bottom left corner, top right corner.) This is not something that would ever show up at web sizes or in small prints. I actually doubt you could see it in an 8x10 either.

So ,,, my conclusion is that I will continue to avoid SN mode. I get the same performance from EXR DR mode ( and we are about to see if p mode is also a match) and there is more flexibility, since we get binning with less contrast … and that’s great for the kind of captures I like to make. I process everything, so the capture really matters to me.

Now let’s move on to the second phase … is EXR DR mode essentially equivalent to shooting P mode at M4:3 size?



  1. White balance seems a little variable … and EXR DR remains slightly warmer than P mode, which makes EXR DR the odd man out. How strange.
  2. Low contrast detail seems essentially identical. I really think they are interchangeable.
  3. The darker ink along the bottom seem slightly darker on the EXR DR shots at 800 ISO … but I need to mention here that 800 ISO is an underexposure in this light at 1/4s – the minimum shutter speed in any auto mode. These images were shot in very low light. So it is difficult to draw any real conclusions based on the white balance and exposure issues. However, there is no loss of detail, so I again prefer what looks like a softer tone curve in P mode. That’s a win for me, who processes every image.
  4. The 1600 ISO images are essentially identical. Certainly, there is nothing that could possibly show up unless you printed at 100%, which at screen resolution would be approximately 29 inches on the long side …

Bottom Line

I really see no reason to deviate from my recommendations of last year. P mode DR400 provides the nicest capture and does not remove details. If you process, you can easily get all the detail back and you can be assured that the shadows and highlights are as good as it can get (provided you set compensation to corral the tones inside the histogram as best as possible.)

If you don’t process your images, you can obviously try the lower DR settings to get a boost in tone curves. Or you can set one of the file modes to get more contrast … ASTIA adds contrast and mutes colors a bit (edit: from VELVIA, but ASTIA is still more saturated than PROVIA - standard), while VELVIA boosts contrast even more and boost saturation further. Pretty much equivalent to Nikon’s VIVID setting.

Using low DR and a tone curve together can really jack your contrast and will block shadows for sure … this is appropriate for some subjects (night time shots where shadows prevail anyway?) but really, really inappropriate for contrasty day time scenes where foliage will go black all over and clouds will blow out completely.

You pays your money and you takes your choice …

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