Sunday, April 10, 2011

F550EXR — RAW, JPEG and Dimensionality — Review Part 27

So let me beat my two favorite drums again with the F550EXR:

  • The jpeg engine seems to have trouble controlling exposures with DR400. I’ve never seen this in a previous EXR camera.
  • The RAW engine is simply amazing.. Too bad the converter is so ordinary.

So here is a chipmunk from the Beaver Trail (hyuk hyuk hyuk) that had been sucking up as many seeds as it could in a minute or so. This might be the cutest expression you will ever see on a chipmunk :-)

And it’s certainly not a bad image … it’s just not an image that gives me that sense of soft fur and 3 dimensionality that I crave. The exposure is too hot, despite my setting –0.33EV and DR400, which should be more than enough to get a nice moderately exposed jpeg. I really think that Fuji has a flaw in their exposure calculations and blending curves in this new camera.

If you look at the 800px version (by clicking on the image) you will see that the fur is nicely detailed but that there is a slight harshness to the sharpening. Still, few would complain about this image.

Now let’s see the RAW conversion with processing in ACR6 and CS5 – my new method is to perform as little of the processing as possible in Silkypix and then load the file into ACR6 followed by CS5. That is a nicer workflow and I think a better result.

Here, the fur is perfectly rendered. Detailed, soft, and the animal retains a clear feeling if roundness and dimensionality. The exposure is perfectly controlled, and in fact a little dark. I could spike it a tad.

Now, most would agree that both are decent. But I am trying here to show that the RAW is significantly better at its core … that a large print would look good form the RAW but not so good form the jpeg. And so we need to look at the crops …

Some will no doubt prefer the top crop from the jpeg. But look very closely at the cheeks and other parts of the fur. The jpeg is clumping the fur slightly and robbing detail. At small print sizes and web sizes, this results in a slight feeling of loss of texture … but the harder sharpening results in a feeling of “digital”, which I like to avoid if possible.

The bottom crop, on the other hand, retains all the texture of the fur with a very slight amount of grain. The grain ensures that no detail is lost (meaning that, if we push noise reduction to remove all the grain, we will also remove the first bit of detail.)

I believe that Fuji should work on the exposure engine … it seems unaggressive, leaving harsh contrast in images that should be tamed better. I think the sharpening is a bit high, although have noted that it is actually the lowest of all EXR cams so far, so I suppose that complaint has little merit. Gotta keep mom and pop happy too. I can always go RAW if I want to get the best from the cam.

So the lessons I have learned so far …

  • Jpegs are really nice in moderate light or at night
  • RAW works much better when the light gets harsh

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