Friday, December 30, 2011

Fuji X10 – Review Part 8 – Reach versus pixel clarity …

Yesterday’s walkabout in the frigid air produced a number of images laced with white. A very good test of metering and of the high protection of various sensors and such. I came upon a pair of Martin houses that had these four pods hanging underneath. Talk about the perfect subject for an examination of 3-dimensionality.

Those who have read this blog for a while know that I have this “thing” … I can’t stand the breaking down of clarity and edges when it affects the dimensional feeling I get from an image. I find that images fairly quickly feel like they are 2-D sketches instead of captures of 3-D life. It really bothers me when I feel like I am looking at a comic …

This happens a lot with smaller sensors. It is a real problem when people overexpose. Some do not seem to realize how much damage flat spots in an image do to is overall sense of dimension. I’m not saying that it is fatal every time, just that it should be prevented when it can. Like in images where the whole subject is white.

Now, reach plays into this since you might be trying to isolate a detail or two (with Martin Houses, that can be those cool little pods) and your choice will always be to zoom or crop. My walkabout included three cameras: the X10 with 28-112 lens, the F550EXR with 24-360 lens, and the D7000 with 27-300 effective focal length lens. A kit lens of course.

So … advantage to the X10 over the F550 for sensor size. Advantage to the F550 over the X10 and D7000 for reach. Advantage to the F7000 over the X10 for reach and over both Fujis for sensor size.

This should kame things interesting.

This is the scene from about 15 or 20 feet away I suppose … I later walk parallel to the houses and shoot from about 10 feet.

X10  f/10 1/420s  100ISO  0EV
F550EXR (zoomed in a bit from a few feet closer)  f/3.5  1/2000s  100ISO  0EV
D7000  f/8  1/8000s  800ISO  -.67EV

Since these are all processed from RAW, it is impossible to speak of Fuji color versus Nikon color. But I do prefer the ease with which I can get good tonality with the D7000. That may simply be the latitude of the pixels, they being huge by comparison.

So let’s take a closer peek at the Martin Houses from this distance. I was curious as to pixel clarity in wide angle. I upsized the X10 to make for similar crops at 16mp equivalence.

The order we should see here is D7000, X10, F550 with the distance between the Fujis about one stop of detail retention. I.e. we should see a noticeable difference in clarity for the X10.

And yet …

I’m not sure what to say … the D7000 is far cleaner, despite giving up 3 stops of ISO. The F550 gives up nothing to the X10, which actually shows visible CA and edge destruction. I am tempted to pin this on the diffraction at f/10 … but I’ll have to test that before I declare this a problem with the aperture I chose. Note, though, that at small print sizes this is invisible, as you can see in the 800px versions above.

By the way, details at long distance has long been the EXR Achilles heel, so this performance should surprise few who been following this blog. Landscapes are really not its thing …

The Martin House that I chose to shoot closer was the taller one on the right side in the above images. As you can see, I was standing on the pathway looking across the fence directly.

X10  f/10  1/420s  100ISO  0EV
F550EXR  f/5.9  1/1200s  100ISO  0EV
D7000  f/8  1/6400s  800ISO  -.67EV

This is the kind of image and presentation size that makes people declare that “there is no difference between dSLRs and compacts at base ISO” … because sometimes you cannot see it, as in these shots. In fact, because of a bit of extra zoom and a slightly more subtle conversion, I would choose the F550 image here. This is also what makes statements based on images from two different people so unreliable.

Since this is the limit of the X10’s range, we would have to crop to go any closer. The D7000 and F550 can get closer by zooming. So let’s continue exploring the relationship between optical and digital zooming.

At 300mm, the D7000 can frame half the Martin House like so:

This is the very definition of pixel clarity. 16mp of sharp pixels sized down to .4mp for web. The F550 gets even closer, and at that kind of magnification, it too looks pretty clear.

There’s not much doubt that optical magnification works pretty well. Even on the 1/2” sensor, the magnification make things look pretty clean.

So let’s compare crops from the wider shots now …


That’s not bad. At these sizes, you can get away with crops that are reasonable. Same for the F550:

… and the D7000 and kit lens at 120mm:

They are all acceptable, with details and edges that do not break down and with good tone right into the shadows.

But what if we decided to print these as posters?

Well, we might want to search out the right lens. Because as prints get bigger, clarity gets more and more important and so does sensor size.

Click through to see it full sized and you will note that the X10 beats the F550 at similar focal lengths, but the longer focal lengths win without breaking a sweat.


So … if you like isolating your subjects, optical wins over small increases in sensor size. Sometimes over big increases in sensor size.

The X10 looks like a big sensor when the tones matter most … but so does the F550. When fine details matter, the X10 and F550 shoot like small sensors. Can’t be helped.

The X10’s meter was already documented as wonky in part 7 of this series. So I won’t pound the drum, but I cannot help but feel that the F550EXR is easier to shoot in bright light. I’ll have to spend some more time trying to parse out the differences.

So the X10 does not have the reach, that is obvious from the crops. But the wide angel crops nearer the top also make pixel clarity an issue. I’m trying to find the image quality strengths of the X10 and so far it is eluding me.