Saturday, January 22, 2011

F300EXR – Walking in the woods …

Another lovely day, I had planned to drive to the office at lunch and stopped for a few minutes at the Monaghan Forest to see how the snow of the last few days had manifested. By now, many of you will know that I am thoroughly addicted to how fresh snow looks on trees and land.

The F300EXR was in my pocket, as always. Today I am shooting on 100 ISO with no exceptions. Bracing the camera if necessary instead of allowing it to raise ISO. This is landscape photography and so base ISO should generally be used to preserve the most detail possible.

Upon parking, the first thing I notice is these lovely branches in a very well balanced tree. The detail is remarkable. In fact, I shot a number of images at both 6mp and 12mp in order to see where the threshold is for loss of detail at the higher resolution. In this image, a lot of the finer details on distant branches etc were smeared out by noise reduction. The image still looked fine at web sizes, but I used the 6mp image as it had better edge integrity and looked more like a 3-dimensional object.

You’ll really need to click through in order to see it in full glory. Although glory might be a strong word. Jonathan hates this image as it has no subjects and no specific focus. For me, it is about the random nature of the branches that form a regular pattern that I happen to find beautiful.

Now, this next image is a close up of this tree, but a little lower down. It peers through a couple of main branches into the forest behind. And I absolutely love the tone in this one. And the detail of the snow that has formed a sort of spine along the back of the big branch.

Here, I did choose the 12mp image as it had more detail and a better composition. More balanced.

On 6mp versus 12mp images with EXR cameras: What I have always said is that you really should shoot EXR cameras at half-resolution for general purpose shooting. And I stand by that. The reasons are two-fold – (1) the noise reduction at 12mp make a hash of fine edges and distant low contrast details, and (2) at base ISO you are forced to use DR100 mode instead of DR400 mode. In harsh light this alone will ruin a lot of images.

But … if you take care to learn where the threshold of distance and lighting is, or if you bracket your sizes as I did here and then choose the better one, you can find that closer images with larger and more contrasty details can benefit slightly from the higher resolution. But it is not for general shooting as the vast majority of normal images benefit from DR400 mode and the netter NR handling of half resolution mode (bin + blend.)

And just to make my recommendations a bit more ambiguous, this is the second image in a row where I preferred the 12mp image.

In the above image, the lighting is pretty flat, with little overall contrast. So DR100 at 12mp is not a problem. Yet the local contrast is extreme between the snow and the branches. And so there is little to fear from NR kicking in. And since these are rather smooth branches, any softening effect of fine details is mostly lost in the downsizing. So again a pathological example of a shot that worked at the higher resolution. However … ask yourself if the difference between 6mp and 12mp matters when displayed at .3mp? It doesn’t …

And the triplet is complete … another high resolution image downsized here. This one is so detailed that it’s simply noisy-looking. Not much to redeem it, but I wanted to capture the broken glass … you just cannot escape the less appealing elements of society …

And finally, we get back to the images that looked much better at half resolution. Here, the distant details resolved better when NR was less aggressive.

Click through, as this one has excellent distant details. This answers the critics who believe that the EXR cameras cannot be used for landscape photography. In some circumstances they work quite nicely, and of course the brighter areas where the sun fall work far better at DR400 than they do at DR100 on most other cameras. For cameras from other brands, you simply must try their software dynamic range solutions and hope that they work without increasing noise too much.

Oops … another where I chose the 12mp version. This image was underexposed and hardly seemed worth rescuing. But the closer tress have nice bark detail and I like the interplay of sunlight and shadow on the snow, so I processed one of them. And the high res looked just as good in this case so I chose that one.

I always find images with any amount of flat surfaces look better in half resolution modes because the subtle tonal shifts needed to preserve low contrast details and the 3-dimensions of an object that is not as dramatically shaped will be better preserved when noise reduction is less aggressive.

I could be barking up the wrong tree there, but I don’t think so.

A lovely pastoral scene here. Fallen logs covered in snow. The low resolution scene won this battle.

And again the next scene went low resolution because DR400 preserved the skies much better.

A note on switching back and forth between L3:2 and M3:2 – The EXR cameras correctly maintain ISO at 100 and switch DR from DR400 at half resolution to DR100 at full resolution. Further, they mark the change in DR in yellow so it is obvious what you have done.

This next scene also brings pastoral to mind as a description. This is shot across the highway into a scene at the local farm. The elements all fell into balance and at full zoom I was able to frame them all perfectly. Further, the details are quite stunning in this duotone presentation. Here, the branches of the tree were somewhat smeared by the higher resolution shot, so paradoxically all this incredible detail was better preserved in the lower resolution image. Such is life with Fuji jpeg engines these days …

I can’t wait to get access to Fuji’s RAW engine in the F550EXR compact and the HS20EXR at even higher resolution.

And finally, a scene that I have shot so many times with every camera I own. I stopped as I was driving because the misty look of the ice crystals perfectly set off the distance from this small tree in the center of the farmer’s field (I call it the Sentinel) to the patch of woods in the background. Another duotone, although a different mix of colors.

And that, as they say, was that. Off to work …

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