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 …

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