I have always said that those who process their images should shoot Provia (standard) film mode and those who don’t process should experiment with Astia and Velvia. These increase contrast quite a bit, darkening shadows and brightening highlights and mid tones.
I wondered how to demonstrate this without deviating too far from my Jamaican Dollar and Pentax flash motif. The answer of course was to combine them :-) … this gives us the ability to see the effect on the flash, which has subtle tone variations where the flash head and body are gapped with the hinge. If the shadows get too dark, this will devolve into a single tone and the key detail that makes it look like a flash head is lost.
So here are full sized images shot at 100 ISO and DR400 …
Nice tones, saturation under control, some visibility of the hinge area although it is quite dark on my calibrated monitor. On my TN panel (which may be similar to many reading this), the front face is very clear and the hinge area more visible. But that monitor has really low gamma and wacky white and black points according to lagom.nl’s LCD monitor test charts. If you see the flash too easily, take a gander at that site. Click through as the 800px version makes it all more visible.
Well, yee haw! Now that’s some kind of saturation :-) … obviously, I am into muted contrast and tones … this is pretty wacky looking to me. Note that the contrast is very strong … the flash and the printer have lost the tonal variations in the black areas. The dollar bill, though, is not too bad as this is still DR400. We’ll see DR100 later …
This has deep blacks, short of Velvia though … with saturation about half way between Provia and Velvia. It might be an acceptable compromise if you don;pt process your images, as you can darken the noise and stiffen contrast a bit … but you need to try it with DR400 and DR100 to see if you need the former for retaining the highlights. This continues to point to SN mode as a problem. DR mode with DR100 is better because you can quickly switch to DR400 and make a second capture … this being the equivalent of dynamic range bracketing.
For your interest, I have three large 100% crops for direct comparison of the critical areas to see the subtle tone changes …
Now let’s see how high ISO affects the response …
Here are the same crops from two sets of images … one set at DR400 and one set at DR100 … click through as these are large …
- 1600 ISO removes some of the tonal variations that were visible at 100 ISO … this is completely normal and is shown clearly on every dynamic range chart ever published.
- On my calibrated monitor, Velvia and Astia show only one dark tone in the black sections for both DR400 and DR100. As ISO rises, DR drops and fil modes add risk of blocking shadows. You need to be absolutely certain that the subject can handle it. And note: you can always block the shadows yourself in post processing if you shoot Provia :-)
- The crops show a definite increase in brightness when dropping to DR100 in Provia. But Velvia and Astia have a strange muting effect on the contrast in the upper mid tone range as shown on the head on the right side. That means that the upper mids are safer at 1600 ISO than they were at 100 ISO. This is probably Fuji’s attempt to save highlights by toning down the curve slightly as ISO rises. This would make sense and they are nothing if not meddling :-)
- On my TN panel (wonky gamma and white/black points remember) the black tones of Velvia remain almost completely black, which means that they are essentially blocked. But Astia is half way between Velvia and Provia, indicating that there is something to recover if you have a calibrated monitor and can print to match. So Astia might be salvaged for people who process, but there still is no advantage for us … Topaz handles noise better and the freedom to change tones is stronger with Provia.
- I see no difference in details retained with the film modes. All retain good detail, even at 1600 ISO.
Provia has the best tone curve for those who process their images and want to capture every possible tone. Astia darkens blacks somewhat, but less so than Velvia, which is really aggressive. Astia adds saturation and Velvia goes nuts on it … these are useful in really soft light (flowers on a cloudy day for example) but when there are lights at night or lots of bright contrast during the day, these are going to often be fatal to your images.
Handle with care!