Monday, February 28, 2011

Spring has left the building … for now … F300EXR

Left home this morning and had to scrape a coat of ice from the car windows. All the while being soaked with more freezing rain. Decided that there was no reason to drive in in that crap and signed back onto the office from home.

After several conference calls and a figurative hara kiri, I noticed that there was snow falling now. I grabbed a few shots of that just to prove that winter continues to fight off the spring that we saw briefly a few weeks ago …

This isolation shot of my woeful Christmas lights (they were never used this past holiday season) shows the flakes continuing to fall …

Here’s a pretty shot of the soft blanket of snow that covers the pool and patio in the backyard …

And finally, a close up of that lonely chair over there in the far southeast corner …

The F300EXR continues to be by far my favorite of the long zooms. I cannot wait to see how the F550EXR handles …

OMFG! Sweeter than sweet …

Snarg commented on that extra-sweet young girl who sang on vide a week or two ago. Well, he has a connection to someone even sweeter :-)

Fujifilm – A company without a message?

You would think that Fuji would ensure that their subsidiaries follow a fairly standard marketing plan. One key aspect would be to offer all of the new spring cameras on their web sites. Speed of retiring previous models could perhaps be left to the local companies in order to manage inventories etc.

But the wildly different lineups makes one wonder who is in charge of the overall company … and does he or she have any pull at all at the regional level?

Globally, the F series shows the three new compacts for example, the 500 and 550 that I have already reported on, and the newer 505, which tradition would say is a European variant of the 500 but which is in fact a hybrid of features between the 500 and 550. The older cameras still mentioned are the F300 and F80, which are the latest pair of cameras.


The US subsidiary, on the other hand, shows only two models. Strange …


And Canada shows pretty much every model ever made … but leaves out the low-end models of the spring cameras … what up wit dat?


Things are much more confused in Europe though … the UK site shows only three of the F series … and none of the new cameras.


France is a bit better, with the new models (minus the elusive 505) showing up with the last three as well.


It’s awfully clear that the companies are all independent and that they all have different ideas on how to market the parent company’s products. I wonder if this is one of Fuji’s problems where market share is concerned? If you cannot marshal your forces to a consistent theme, then how do you expect to compete against those who can?

83rd Oscars were kinda predictable …

I’m pretty happy with The King’s Speech taking Best Picture (despite my previous call for Black Swan to take it) and with Colin Firth getting Best Actor. I’m ecstatic at Natalie Portman winning Best Actress. The universe has unfolded exactly as it should.

Well, almost. One miss in my opinion is Best Director … I’m sorry, but Black Swan had to be a heck of a challenge when compared with The King’s Speech, which was pretty much a buddy film (and a damned good one.)

Darren Aronofsky deserved it in my opinion … oh well, can’t win ‘em all …


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Suggestion Box

Trying out a suggestion box. Leave comments as a permanent record of ideas for tests, comparisons, tutorials ... anything that comes to mind.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Spring for a Day



Absolutely stunning out there … F80EXR, straight out of the camera … my settings …


The forecast is not quite so terrific :-)


Later that evening, a snow squall raced through the area as I was coming out of the theater … F300EXR 1600 ISO …

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fuji Canada Cams Across Canada Contest Winners Announced!

The FLICKR Photostream:

The only instructions for this contest were “show us your Canada” … I interpreted this as akin to a theme … i.e. show us what your region is like at this time of year or something like that.

The contest took place in winter in Canada, where 90+% of the land mass is under a foot of snow. I guess I could never be a judge …

Grand Prize – $5000 Travel Voucher

"Black Duck on Blue" - Scott Grant

"Shot at 35mm equivalent of 720mm. The HS10's swivel screen allowed me to drop the camera right to water level to get this unique perspective."

Second Prize – HS10

"photo1" - Sebastien Roy

Taken by Sebastien Roy in Montreal, QC using a Fujifilm F300EXR.
"Perspective, plongé extrême et macro photo de la texture d’un meuble vintage dans les Atelier de Norwegian Wood. 1/18 sec - F 3.5 - ISO 1600."

Third Prize – F300EXR


"Expo Ball" - Jakob Granqvist

Taken by Jakob Granqvist (Nordica Photography) in Vancouver, BC using a Fujifilm HS10.
"The Expo ball is a landmark for Vancouver. I zoomed in to get a somewhat more unusual frame of it."


Fourth Prize – F80EXR

"The Cannon" - Stephen Rowsell

Taken by Stephen Rowsell in Newfoundland using a Fujifilm S1800.
"The Cannon taken at Signal Hill in St. John's, Newfoundland."

Fifth Prize – S1800

"Life's a Beach" - Kimberly Walsh

"At Point Pleasant Park in Halifax these markings were left behind on the beach. We see human and canine prints and the mysterious snake line in the sand."

Corning’s A Day Made Of Glass

This is a beautiful rendition of where we are likely heading. The iPad and iPhone show us how well touch screens can work and this video takes it all to an extreme. but one that is very plausible given what we know about existing applications …

Watson on Jeopardy – A very proud moment

When you work for a big company you are not always aware of some of the great things that might be going on in other cities or divisions etc. I certainly find my work interesting and at times rather exciting, yet also somewhat isolated from the goings on in other regions.

But the work that IBM Research does can be both extremely visible and simply mind-blowing …

The Watson project and its successful defeat of the two greatest Jeopardy players ever is really something to behold …

For more fascinating man vs. machine moments, read this.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

F300EXR meets old coffee cup … L vs. M reprised …

I have the coffee cup at work that has seen better days. I looked in it today and realized that it has hardened into a rather gross-looking mass at the bottom of the cup …


That’s shot at 100 ISO looking straight down the barrel of the cup at 24mm in macro mode. Cool :-)

Now, let’s get a bit closer in both Large mode and Medium mode – binned and blended for higher dynamic range, which will translate into a softer tone curve with much quieter highlights …



L 4:3


At this size, they both look fine. Lots of details (macro always helps that with Fuji’s jpeg engine since details are larger and thus more immune to the NR.)

The harsher tone curve looks nice on the L version, another bonus at this web sizes …

Now let’s zoom in and compare directly …


Ignore the 5mp caption … brain fart … it is 6mp :-)

That is one very interesting comparison. The 12mp image has some details in it that are missing from the 6mp image that has been upsized to match. On the other hand, a lot of the edges on the upsized 5mp image show better gradations and integrity. Which would matter were the image enlarged.

I have always preferred the much more 3D look of binned images. The HR images always have a flattened look to them. YMMV.

White Peppermint Cookies – F300EXR

My mother has always baked several varieties of Christmas cookies for the holiday season, and one of my favorites was the peppermint cookies with chocolate icing.

Jonathan’s enjoyment of baking turned into pressure recently for me to get this specific recipe from my mother, so I wrote it down the other day over the phone. The recipe is a little tricky, so she was worried that he would have difficulty getting the right feel for the dough.

Well … I got home Sunday evening from helping to repair a disaster left behind by some rather incompetent movers and Jon had already baked a full batch of the cookies. Most impressive.


These things are soft and chewy and stay that way for a long time. Mmmmm …

But we were missing cocoa for the icing, so off we went to pick that up. The icing is also tricky in that it must have just the right amount of butter for a nice taste but not so much that the icing refuses to harden. Well, here Jon was not quite so lucky.


They seemed to be drying well enough on the counter. None of the chocolate ran very far down the cookies …


They seemed dry enough to be stacked in several Tupperware containers for transport to a party with his friends where they ate every single one. We kept a couple of small containers around and they are going fast …

Of course, no post would  be complete without a portrait of the baker. Jon’s becoming famous for refusing to be photographed, so I have only two images to display. The best I could get :-)



Thursday, February 10, 2011

F550EXR – Sample Images Examined

So Fuji has finally posted a few samples for the F550EXR and the HS20. They use the same sensor, so I won’t bother looking at both at this point. Just the S550EXR, which is the one I plan to purchase.

There are three images posted and all are low ISO. They are all shot at maximum resolution, which is 16mp in case you might have forgotten. Now, 16mp on a tiny 1/2.3” sensor is a recipe for disaster under normal circumstances. Certainly, I’ve had a peek at images from the new Nikons with that sensor and I saw what I expected … too much smearing and blown highlights.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached two of the Fuji images that best represent what people really care about … people photography and scenic images. And I must say right up front that I am pleasantly surprised at the quality they display. Remember that they have a couple of strikes against them right up front:

  • The pixel density is outrageous at 52MP/cm2. That’s 3.5 times the density of the F31fd and 33% more than the much-maligned F300EXR.
  • The EXR technology has been shown to produce weird artifacts and soft images out of camera … speculation has it that the stronger anti-aliasing filter required to cover two pixel groups for binning purposes really hammers the full resolution images. At any rate, strike 2.

But what I see in these images is simply the usual clumping of hair that is unavoidable at such density. Otherwise, the details are rather decent. Let’s have a closer look.

The first image they posted is a lovely portrait of a girl in natural light. This has become somewhat of a tradition and I remember one posted a while ago was particularly soft, leading to significant angst on the forums. This one seems different to me … I think they’ve finally tuned the jpeg engine to perform without heavy smearing.

F550EXR Straight from the camera …


That’s a lovely image with simply excellent tone and color. Her eyes are  incredible and all the highlights were held well. At these sizes, the hair looks nicely textured. The files look really good for jpegs. And we haven’t even seen RAW images yet. Can’t wait to see those …

All is not roses of course … those who pixel peep will be lamenting another poor showing by Fuji I am sure … but they should have a peek at the competition before coming down too hard on Fuji …

One example is the hair … clumping happens right from base ISO, as it does with all the compacts since the F10-F31fd series …


Yet there is a surprising amount of detail here … remember that this crop looks on screen like a section of a 46” print would look on the wall … and who looks at one of those from 20 inches? (Yeah, I know … some people do :-)

The eyes look pretty nice, even though the eye brows are pretty soft. The low contrast makes them a real target for Fuji NR, but again I do not see the signs of pure smearing as we have seen in the last generation of cameras. Perhaps that is a good sign.


The iris is detailed and I see no truly nasty edge artifacts around the eyelashes. Thus crop looks really good. Even the rather soft eyebrow still shows some fine detail. That’s quite impressive for a Fuji compact of recent vintage in my opinion.

And here comes the big surprise …. shadow detail! It shows up very well in Photoshop, and should print very nicely. 


Image 2 is a scenic. The first thing you will notice is that, despite being shot at full resolution the dynamic range has preserved the highlights. This is a bit peculiar, since these are extremely tiny pixels and most meters manage to blow highlights with abandon under such circumstances.


It is striking how well balanced the tones are in these images … shadows are open and highlights are held. Very good saturation. These are beautiful images at web sizes. I'd bet at 8x10 as well.

Let’s look at an area near the top left corner to see how foliage is handled … this has become a weakness in the Fuji EXR cams …


Well … that’s not how dSLR images look, but it’s certainly perfectly detailed for web use and probably for prints up to 8x10. I've not advocating it for professionals of course, I would presume that they spend more time looking at cameras with much larger sensors as companions to their dSLRs. u4/3 mirrorless or perhaps the G12 / P7000 crowd. But for a cam that fits in the pocket, this is pretty decent.

Close high-contrast details are a traditional strength of Fuji cams and this one is no exception.


Pretty terrific. But what about the foliage way in the back? Well … here we see the smearing that we are used to from the EXR cams. But even here we also see texture at a macro level. Thus, there is no real negative impact at web sizes.


In fact, there are a number of individual leaves and other details that create the illusion of a lot of texture. This is easily the best performance I have yet seen on distant foliage from an EXR camera.

I really look forward to seeing what the RAW images do for this camera. It’s already made a very positive impression on me with these jpegs. I also can’t wait to see some samples shot in binned modes …

The definition of a good sport …

Karen sent me this very funny skit … great ventriloquist and amazing audience member …

Oh … My … God … this has got to be the sweetest thing I have ever seen …

Just under 7 million views … and no wonder …

Monday, February 7, 2011


Kurt Vonnegut’s drawing of the anus … from Breakfast of Champions.


Star Anise seed …


Some people think this spice tastes like ass when used in my favorite soup

This blew me away …

Don’t ask me why … I just thought it was really cool when I received it
today in an email :-)


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Neil Young Reprised – Canon G10 is better than I remembered …

I saw Neil Young at the Scotiabank Center way back in December of 2008. I had had the Canon G10 for only a few days by that time, so I was quite unfamiliar with it. Still, I got some images that were ok. But I’ve always felt that the images would have been much better with a camera with longer reach and better high ISO.

Well … maybe the issue was more my lack of sufficient skill to peel away the blue channel noise. That seemed to really affect every shot I processed, and I even abandoned one or two because I could not get control of the blues …

So this evening I was fooling around with a G10 and a G11 RAW file and found that the G10, while much worse than the G11 where luminance noise is concerned, was in fact quite clean after processing and downsizing. So much so that I saw little value in shooting a G11 over a G10 if one shoots RAW

I went back in time to the Neil Young concert and processed or reprocessed a few images. Some turned out quite a bit cleaner than their earlier counterparts, so here they are …

Remember to click through these to see the larger versions.

I am very pleased with these … and I have to admit that I am not sure at all any more that I made the right move when I got rid of the G10 :-)

So what is the secret sauce?

Well … here are the steps I took for each one:

  • Convert in ACR 6.3 … this is the most important step. You need to lift the exposure (all of these were underexposed to keep ISO down) and add fill if necessary. It rarely is. Set blacks until there is just a hint of blue in the background. We’ll take care of that later on. Select the 2010 setting on the appropriate tab, and I like to select Camera Neutral or its equivalent. No sharpening … just enough color NR to remove the blotching (about 1/4 to 1/3) and enough luminance so the grain evens out. But leave some grain so the details are not affected.
  • Once in CS5, go to levels and select the blur channel. Drag the black point to the right until it is slightly into the histogram and the blues in the background have disappeared. Neil would be overly warm by this point, so slide the gamma (middle) marker left until Neil looked like his old self. Check that by making the levels layer invisible … you should see the background blue grunge disappear and everything else should be about the same color.
  • If necessary, address the green and red channels a bit as well. That happened to me on a couple of images where I used less contrast. But it also leaves a much more smooth and subtle set of tones in my opinion. The final image in the set shows that nicely.
  • Clean the rest of the noise using Topaz Denoise 5. Fine tune each slider to get the right balance … it can smooth anything while leaving or even restoring details. It’s simply remarkable.
  • Downsize to 800px on the long side (or whatever you want.)
  • Sharpen to taste. I use the new PKSharpener2’s Superfine output sharpener for web. I sometimes dial it back on a layer because it can get overly strong, but for Neil it worked perfectly without fine tuning.

And that’s it … the real secret is the high quality NR of ACR followed by the levels and later the Topaz Denoise. Although I got some good images back on 2008, these images look more dSLR like in their tones, and that’s always my goal.

Is the HST a Rip-off?

It’s not often that you get the HST thrown in your face … but today I have decided to upgrade from Quicken Cash Manager 2009 to Quicken Turbotax Suite 2011, which provides the latest Quicken Home and Business plus Quicken Turbotax at a savings of about 70 bucks for them both. And since I need them both, I actually consider this a decent deal … YMMV of course.

But when I went to actually complete the purchase online, the default was set to Alberta, which makes sense as it is first in the alphabet. However, Alberta is one of the last holdouts to retain the separated GST and PST. And why does this matter? Because the HST charges this extra tax on every-fucking-thing I buy.

Not that I am bitter …

This is what I saw when I clicked through to the cart:


And then I switched to Ontario:


Now … that’s not a lot of money … 9 extra dollars … but it’s on a small sale of a hundred and ten bucks! Imagine had I purchased a service that was worth something … like lawyer’s fees at 350 an hour … they come under HST now too!

While I am at it … let’s see who pays what …



Northwest Territories








British Columbia




New Brunswick


Newfoundland and Labrador






Nova Scotia


Prince Edward Island


Aaaahhhhh … salvation. We’re only tied for fourth highest taxes in the country. Well  that’s much better then :-)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Millennium Trilogy – Stieg Larsson’s Amazing Mysteries

I avoided these books because of their titles. They reminded me of Harlequin Romances. But someone at the office recommended them as a decent example of the mystery genre, and so I took the chance.

Well, I can say that these books have been responsible for the single largest ongoing sleep deficit of my life :-) … on no less than 5 occasions, I have seen the sun come up while reading these books in bed. And all this has occurred in about three weeks. Wow …

Now, I read everything on Kindle, so I managed to buy the entire trilogy for about the cost of one new hardcover book. But Amazon has even better deals on some formats … for example, the first book – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – sells for under three bucks new in trade paperback form right now.

The second book – The Girl who Played With Fire – is also cheap in that format. But so is the Kindle edition. And the Kindle edition of the third book is cheaper than all the others new.

Now, the second and third books are really one book split in two. The story runs smoothly through the break and maintains its pace without a hitch.

I’m not going to bother reviewing them, though, since there is already so much written about them. But my take is that these are some of the best stories of the genre.

Being set in Sweden gives them a fairly exotic feel for those who have generally been forced to read endless books by American authors. But more importantly, these books never seem to lose pace at all. One investigation after another pits good against evil and you are never quite sure who will win.

I can’t wait to see the movies now. I know they are in Swedish, but that’s not a problem. It’s just much better than rereading the whole trilogy so soon. I need some sleep :-) … There is also a miniseries with the same main characters reprising their roles. Sounds very interesting …

One more thing though … I consider it an absolute tragedy that the author, Stieg Larsson, died right after delivering the trilogy, at the very young age of 50. Here’s a quote from an article in the Sunday Times archive that outlines the depth of the tragedy …

Larsson, with his round glasses, chubby features and springy thatch of hair, died from a heart attack after climbing seven flights of stairs to his office because the lift did not work.


He was known to boast about only one thing … his work ethic. And perhaps that’s something to take away from his untimely death.

F300EXR goes to the movies … Sanctum

I was on my way to pick Karen up for a movie on Friday evening and was in a bit of a rush. This, of course, guarantees that the extremely rare occurrence of a train leaving the Fallowfield station coincides with my arrival at the signals on Woodroffe.

So I whipped out the F300EXR and took this shot into the sun just as the train hit the spot …

This image is flawed in numerous ways … too much grain, sun in the center, nasty wire anchor slashing across … this image needs some serious work.

Yes, that’s much better.

After popping into the theater to get tickets to see Sanctum at 7:55pm, we popped over to the Baton Rouge for some nice Cajun fare. I sat the camera on the table at one point to let it capture our little private lamp with the rum and the Bud Light Lime …

For this sort of subject, any of the EXR cams will do a nice job. These cams do very well in DR400 mode because they capture the scene’s tones a lot better than many cams can manage. The lights do not blow out and the shadows have some detail.

I shot this for the halibut … it’s a Cajun soup with a tea biscuit. Very tasty …

The composition is pretty strange … but it appeals somehow.

Anyway … off to the movies we went. We chose to see this one in IMAX 3D, which I was presuming would knock my socks off.

Yes, that shot is of the screen by the F300EXR.

James Cameron New Thriller SANCTUM in RealD 3d and IMAX 3D Opens February 4!<br />Be Part of the Action By Entering to Win a Fabulous UNDERWATER EXPERIENCE Prize Pack!

I’ve read some pretty bad reviews for Sanctum … and I cannot help but find them somehow Sanctumonious [sic]. The movie is meant to be an action flick with lots of impressive scenery and amazing feats by the actors. It is meant to keep you on the edge of your seat. It provides all that in spades. It reminds me of Vertical Limit in some ways. And any number of similar movies.

In my opinion, Sanctum is an excellent example of its genre. It is extremely suspenseful with its share of tragedy, and a suitably uplifting ending … what more could you ask for an evening of escapism?

What I did not like was IMAX 3D. This was my first experience with the theater version of IMAX and I was completely underwhelmed. The screen is tall and slightly curved. The opening IMAX test scenes were impressive, but when it came down to it I did not like the glasses and the field did not seem flat. It was not all sharp and clear as regular 3D has been every time I’ve seen it.

For example, I saw Green Hornet last week in 3D and it kicked butt. Some extremely funny scenes and the sharpest and crispest 3D imagery I’ve seen since Avatar. But this one should have blown Green Hornet away and rivaled Avatar. It did not come close. It was more like watching Alice in Wonderland … where you struggled to get over the flaws in the 3D and just watch the movie.

So I can easily recommend the movie … but I suggest that you give the IMAX version a miss and see it in regular 3D or even 2D. You’ll enjoy the story and the action that way.