Thursday, March 3, 2011

F550EXR High ISO, has Fuji hit a home run?

This just might be the advent of a new era of Fuji hegemony for high ISO shooting. A set of sample images was posted the other day on a Japanese site and they are breathtakingly good.

I’ve always liked the EXR cams in low light, but they have also required some manipulation because of smearing and blotching. It’s been a problem from the start, even with the F70EXR.

But this new long zoom appears to have noise characteristics similar to those which make the Nikon dSLRs so nice to shoot at high ISO – fine grain and low to zero chroma blotching.

Of course, this is a limited set of samples, but still ….

Here is an indoor image of a cat shot at 3200 ISO. This is the processed version (mild processing, nothing heroic), click through to see the original. Also note that this is a fairly strong crop, which makes this image quality all the more impressive.


Very impressive. Note the fairly minimal smearing in the fur and the very clear edges in the eyes. This is really something for a compact.

And here is one of the series of pencil crayon images shot at 1600 ISO. The trick here is that this image was shot in HR mode, which in previous EXR cameras was near-fatal.


You will note that the saturation is superior … I added nothing to that. The edges are magnificent, something that the HR mode always had trouble with, even at base ISO. Now it is decent at 1600 ISO … I find this performance hard to believe.

All is not perfect though … the tiny pixels will bring a significant issue with dynamic range. There is simply not much headroom if you want to expose for shadows. This image was shot at DR100, so one cannot complain about the fairly harsh bright areas. I will reserve judgment on the DR until I can test one myself.

Let’s take a closer look at the HR and SN modes at 1600 ISO … there was always a rather dramatic difference in the earlier EXR cameras with rampant edge destruction and smearing evident in HR mode at higher ISOs …

What I see in the following crops is that Fuji have managed to draw HR mode much closer to SN mode, which makes me salivate to see how P mode and DR400 perform. I always find that to be superior to SN mode.

Note: the following crops are untouched and the SN crop has been upsized to match the HR crop resolution, which means that the SN half has been taken from 8mp to 16mp. This is a huge jump and should put it at a major disadvantage, yet it does not.

The SN image has excellent per-pixel quality and stands up very well to enlargement. Remember that these crops are the moral equivalent of looking at a section of a 46” print from 20” … this stuff is invisible at normal print and web sizes. But we look at it to see what the tendencies are …

The first crop shows us that the edges and fine details are decent in both modes. The main difference is that the local contrast is higher in the SN mode, but that may be due to subtle differences in exposure between them.


Where I notice the biggest difference in the above crop is the details in shadow, which are slightly better preserved in the SN crop. This appears to me to be the result of slightly better edge integrity. But this is a very subtle effect and some will much prefer the finer lines in the HR version. All in all, a wonderful performance.

The second crop is in shadow and shows us just how well Fuji are doing with their jpeg engine. Could it be that they have finally understood the destruction that their heavy selective noise reduction was doing? It would seem so …


This crop shows quite clearly that SN mode will remain cleaner where edges and tone transitions are concerned in shadow at high ISO. This may not matter to some, but it is something to keep in mind. It tends to affect the reality of an image … I look for a real 3D feeling. With the F10 it was often called a “liquid” smoothness that was hard to define.

Both of the above are excellent, but I would select the SN version for enlarging, despite its 100% resolution disadvantage.

Crop three is about saturation, and the F550EXR is loaded with it.


You can see subtle edge integrity issues in the HR image with both the lettering and the hair as it approaches the top of the frame. But this is still a remarkable performance and at any normal size will be completely invisible.

And how about that saturation? The SN again holds the color a bit better in my opinion but both are pretty excellent for such a tiny sensor.

Finally, let’s look at the scarf texture and the other side of the face.


Again the SN shows better local contrast on the eye. The edges are a bit better too. What really amazes me about this crop is that the subtle texture in the shadow area right next to the face is intact on both HR and SN images. The only area where it breaks down slightly is the bottom right corner, where the really fine details are seen in the SN image but on in the HR image. This just shows that there are still limits in HR mode … but they are so far below the usual visibility threshold that it just might be possible to shoot this cam at full resolution in concerts with impunity.

Holy cow … Fuji just may have the best compact in the world again.

I would be willing to bet that this thing is going to finally put the F31fd into its place in history …

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