Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fuji X100 – Review Part 5 — My thoughts so far …

This was supposed to be the ISO ladder with the D7000, X100 and F550. The reason why it isn’t happening this evening is that the X100 made me want to throw it against the wall.

Yes, this nice little piece of hardware engineering is in fact pretty terrible in a couple of areas that matter to me.

  1. HORRIBLE rear 4 way controller with wheel. On the F550 I can just hit any button and it all works perfectly. As with the dial. On the X100, the dial is smaller and I did not even know it had one until I moved it accidentally one day. But that’s not the real problem, the real problem is that hitting the OK button invariably selects “down” instead of “ok” … and I am not exaggerating. I hit the button 6 straight times a few moments ago without any success, and I had used the corner of my thumb nail 5 of those times. I had to carefully position my thumb nail corner dead center and then press slowly to get the right action.
  2. So I got that done and moved on with the torture. I try to set Low ISO (100) to start the test and it won’t let me. I look and I look and it remains greyed out. I can find no menu item that deals with this, nor an extra button (but two wasted levers are in evidence, my goodness) and so I use Google. Surely someone has written up how to set to a boost ISO. And the answer is, not so you would know. Wow … after 10 minutes, I simply gave up in anger. I will do the test later in the week when the X100 has less chance of being flung at 100mph into a wall. (I’m kidding, my arm has been clocked at an embarrassing 45mph, so that’s the best I could do.)
  3. The controls really feel wrong to me. I shot the Pentax Spotmatic II for a long time and it just worked. Simple, yet really effective. Despite its simplicity, the X100 does not give me that feeling. It just feels a little clunky. And that is compared to both the D7000 and the F550EXR. I would pick either up over this camera.

Its one saving grace so far is pretty decent ISO 3200. But even then, the lack of wide angle is getting to be a drag when shooting indoors (trying to finish up my kitchen renovation) …

Anyway, apologies for ranting, but your reading this has saved the life of this X100 Smile

Fuji X10 Versus Nikon D5100 / D7000 – who has depth of field supremacy … *Updated* for the 18-55 kit lens as well … *Updated* again for a different 2/3” sensor …

Fuji’s X10 is their newest advanced compact camera, sporting an incredibly fast f/2-f/2.8 lens on a 2/3” sensor. These specifications have everyone in tizzy over the depth of field possibilities. So much so that DPReview’s own preview makes a very bold statement, which I have underlined for your enjoyment.

Bright manual zoom lens

Despite the larger sensor, Fujifilm manages to find room for an image-stabilized, retracting 28-112mm equivalent F2.0-2.8 lens. The wide aperture, combined with large sensor means not only does the X10 offer more control over depth-of-field than any other camera in its class - it also allows for shallower depth of field than most DSLRs when used with their kit zooms.

WOW! Is it possible that a tiny sensor like the X10’s can achieve supremacy over a bog standard and dirt cheap kit lens like Nikon’s ubiquitous 18-105VR? Because that would be an incredible coup for Fuji. This would be a near-ideal on location portrait lens, which would really shake things up I think.

Well … they were actually a little overly enthusiastic and in fact their statement is just plain wrong. In fact, when you compare the X10 against Nikon’s D51200 or D7000 (or any Nikon APS-C sensor, frankly) with the 18-105VR mounted, the Nikon easily defeats the Fuji in every category.

So I have no idea how DPReview could make such an error of unbridled enthusiasm, but I can show you the real numbers. So first we have to pick some criteria (which DPReview failed to mention at all as some form of framework for their statement.) Let’s choose two subject distances at 5 feet and at 15 feet. That ought to be close enough to cover a lot of range of portrait situations at full wide to full telephoto.

Next, we define the categories, which are actually really easy. We’ll shoot at the two extremes at full wide and full tele at both distances. That gives us 8 comparisons over which we can tally the shallowness of the depth of field at wide open and the opposite for fully stopped down, i.e. we are going for more in the image (e.g. to shoot groups) and since subject distance is fairly close, we will determine two sub-categories. If we are shooting wide, we usually want what is in the background fully in focus when we stop down. But when we shoot at full tele, we usually want the background slightly blurred (especially when shooting people.)

I used DOFMaster.com to handle the calculations, selecting the 2/3” sensor since the X10 is not in there yet. And I selected the D7000 since the D5100 is not in there yet. But in both cases the sensor size is correct and that is what matters.

The Fuji lens is 7mm at the widest with apertures from f/2 to f/11. At tele it is 28mm with apertures from f/2.8 to f/11. The effective range is 28-112.

The Nikon lens is 18mm at the widest with apertures from f/3.5 to f/22. At tele it is 105mm with apertures from f/5.6 to f/36.

From a cursory reading of the apertures it sure looks like the Fuji should do well. And it does. But the Nikon does better, which contradicts the statement in the preview.

I put all the calculations in a small text file, which I will embed here:

x10_d7000_dof

The Fuji really does ok for a small sensor. But the 18-105VR is everywhere and it is cheap. So DPReview really stretched the point with that comment. Shooting a kit lens allows great control over depth of field, far more than is available on the tiny sensor.

The major difference is that the dSLR is not limited to the kit lens. It can go much shaller with fairly inexpensive lenses like the 50mm 1.4G or the 35mm 1.8G. And it can go much wider with the Sigma 10-20 or even the Nikon 16-85.

Not to denigrate the X10 in any way. I expect this thing to be fantastic. But don’t subscribe to the fantasy that it is the answer to the cream machine (name for any lens that gives buttery smooth backgrounds) because it is not.

EDIT: A user suggested that the preview probably meant the older, previously ubiquitous 18-55 kit lenses that remain in kits at the low end and with sell outs of older models (as is happening right now at Future Shop) … well, 55mm at f/5.6 sounds like a loser to me. But …

x10_d7000_dof_2

Yeah … still better than the tiny sensor. LOL

EDIT 2: A few people are pushing hard to get the X10 the recognition it deserves. They say that DOFMaster generates the wrong numbers for the 2/3” sensor, but generates the right numbers from cameras with 2/3” sensors (Minolta dImage A1, Sony 717, Sony 828.) So I checked, and indeed the numbers are different and the 2/3” sensor finally eeeks out a narrow victory over the cheapest kit lenses at 55mm and f/5.6. By inches.

Of course, we don’t really know who is right, but some are offering to “show me the math” so one presumes that they at least believe the new numbers. So let’s see them:

image

So … what to conclude? Well, all those people who buy the cheapest 18-55-based kit on Nikon will have slightly less subject isolation at the long end wide open than the X10. That appears to be true (at least, on some settings of DOFMaster.) But if you buy the newer and much better 18-105 (not that much more expensive), you still get better subject isolation, and by a bigger margin.

So the comment made in the preview has some merit when you take into account that the cheapest entry-level dSLR kits are what the masses like to buy at COSTCO and Best Buy. I’m not really favorable to such writing, as equivocation can be used to untangle some of the many variables involved. And, of course, the fact that DOFMaster has two different sets of results is a bummer :-)

Friday, October 28, 2011

I give up … time to take a bite of the Apple … as in the Apple Airport Extreme – AWESOME!

I’ve suffered for many years with the home networking router syndrome … that being that your new router runs beautifully for a while and then it simply starts failing. And that happens with greater frequency until you feel like throwing it against the wall.

Over the last decade or so, I’ve used the Linksys WRT45G, possibly one of the most famous of all early routers and one for which there are many excellent third party firmware builds. I’ve used a D-Link, an Asus, a Netgear and for the last couple of years another Linksys, this time the 400N. This last router promised dual-band N and G performance that would blow your mind.

Well, I think it’s fast, but I’ve not been able to figure out if it works on dual bands, because I never really manage to get connected above about 55Mbps on my main machine upstairs.

Anyway, that’s not the real story … the real story is that the Linksys began failing pretty early and has become a total nuisance lately. I was using Skype for a couple of back to back conference calls last week and the network crapped out at the 40 minute mark of both calls. The coincidence is staggering, but so was the embarrassment.

So I’m done with this router … it is known to get hot and we know that fries electronics slowly but surely, so this one is over.

And finally … to my point. I have decided to get the one router that tops every list for simplicity, performance and reliability. The Apple Airport Extreme. It is a bit expensive at $179cad, but that is only 30 bucks higher than what I paid for the 400N POS. So I consider it a tax on using the Internet that must be paid semi-annually. Even Apple is not completely immune, or so I have read.

Anyway … more on this as I get it deployed …

Update: Wow! I have never had a setup this easy … it copied the key settings from my Linksys 400N and I simply swapped them out and all is well. Each device must reset the security to go onto WPA2, but that is a small price to pay. And the speeds …

Update 2: Jon’s machine is direct wired and here is his speed from this afternoon (29 Oct 2011)

Wow …

The force of marketing is greater than the force of engineering …

CMOS sensor inventor Eric Fossum gives a terrific lecture at his alma mater Yale University and you can catch it on YouTube.

The title of this post is from that film at around the 39 minute mark and he suggests that it is one of his favorite sayings.

What it specifically refers to is the fact that the best optics can focus down to a useful point size of about 4.4 microns. That’s pretty small, but today’s cell phones and small sensors have much higher pixel density than that in order to be able to advertise 16mp resolution in a camera phone (yes, he showed an image of the assembly from Sony that has that ability.)

And such densities mean that pixels are down to 2 or even 1 micron in size, which means of course that the camera is diffraction limited (i.e. images will be soft) right out of the box, no matter how good the optics are.

And his point is that, if the number on the box is bigger, the item will sell. Thus, marketing has more influence than engineering.

Physics is working against you, and he says that it is “not so easy to fix, but it pays the bills for us engineers and gives us something to do …”

If you are interested in how CMOS devices have evolved and how they work, this is an excellent talk. Note: He also goes into the myriad social and societal implications of having ubiquitous imagery and high speed computing to analyze it … so if you have interest in social issues, watch at least the first part.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fuji X100 FIrmware Upgrade to Version 1.11 fixes the nasty solarization issue!

Thanks goodness. This was really bugging me. When you get an item into focus, even in low light, the contrast on the LCD is pretty high. So much so that light grey turns pure white on the LCD even at brightness –1 setting. But under firmware 1.10, it also would go into total solarization, which is horrid to look at. It sort of looks like this:

image

Now, in fact Fuji lists three fixes as increments over firmware 1.10; these points are a direct copy and paste from their page (see link at bottom of article) with spelling and grammar adjusted:
  • Performance of auto focus at near distance has been improved.
  • When "SHADOW TONE" is set to "MEDIUM SOFT" or "SOFT," live view in LCD may display with abnormal pattern (so-called "solarisation") just after pressing the shutter halfway. This update improves the phenomenon.
  • When self-timer mode is selected, focus and exposure (AE/AF) are set just after pressing the shutter button and these settings remain for the final shutter release.
These seem like very useful fixes, but the middle one is the one that bugged me the most so far.
For those who would like to see proof, and who perhaps have never seen this issue, here is a short video I put together with the before and after proof that it was bad and appears to be gone …



Get the new firmware here: http://www.fujifilm.com/support/digital_cameras/software/firmware/x/finepix_x100/

A Cuppa STFU?

At the Roger Daltrey concert a few weeks ago, we had a slight verbal altercation with a member of the audience sitting in front of us.

Nick was rather boisterous, thoroughly enjoying the concert as he is wont to do … at some point during the following video (during Who Are You I believe), this fellow gets fed up with Nick’s loud comments on how he needs “more beers” and screams “I’d like a cup of shut the fuck up!” at Nick.

You can actually the comment on the video and you can hear Jon echo it because Nick didn’t hear it. He turned and laughed at the guy. One wonders why old farts think rock concerts are for quiet contemplation :-)

Anyway, it was with surprise and delight (second time I used that word in a post today) that I saw this wonderful 50’s style poster on Facebook …

Best Bowl of Pho in the World?

I’ve posted images of many a bowl of Pho, one of my three favorite soups (along with Singapore Laksa and Hennezup) … my favorite Pho has always been Pho Chin (well done beef, where the beef is roasted and sliced razor thin) to the one I must eat locally, Pho Tai (rare beef, where you must leave it sit for a while to be done or eat it red, also razor thin) and to the one that introduced me to Pho and remains one of my favorites – the one my son had last night at the Phu Yen restaurant, Spicy Beef Noodle (#27 on their menu if you would like to try it.)

Fuji X100 straight from the camera.

I had a different favorite dish while he had the Pho and I have regretted it ever since Smile

Whenever I get together with my friends Sue and the Don, we always hit the Phu Yen for a bowl of #27 … it is legendary. And I must have it now that I have seen the video below.

So it was with great delight that I watched this video where Anthony Bourdain goes hyper-orgasmic for what looks to me like a spectacular bowl of Pho, this link sent to me by my friend Petra, who loves a good bowl of soup and who appears to have her work cut out for her to find a decent bowl of Pho.

He nails it … there is a restaurant downtown here that serves a broth that looks like that and tastes better than any I have ever had … the waitress told me that they boil the bones a minimum of 5 hours, which of course gets everything into the broth. I must say that it is awesome … the restaurant is called the Phnom Phen, and it bears no relation to the restaurant by the same name near my office from which I have posted many an image over the last few years. The one near my office serves a Cambodian version of Pho while the one downtown serves classic Pho.

So happy Pho hunting to those who have never tried it. My first bowl of Pho with a friend caused us to hang the moniker “sweat sox soup” on it … it’s pretty pungent if you get the spicy variety as your introduction. Yet I have had many hundred bowls in half a dozen different places since then and I can say without doubt that it is one of the best soups-as-a-meal that you will find.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fuji X100 – Business Names Matter

It never fails to amaze me when people are obtuse to something as simple as the pronunciation of a business name as a word. Just because you use your initials as the name, it does not mean that others will pronounce the letters separately …

I mean, seriously?

Straight from the X100 in JPEG through my car window and cropped.

Fuji X100 – Review Part 4 – D7000 comparison Round 3 – Exposure differences, why?

In the previous review part, I ran into some truly confusing exposure differences. It is clear that the Fuji’s sensor is sensitive up to 1600 ISO and no further. What this really means, I believe, is that Fuji has analog amplification of the photo count up to 1600 ISO and after that it is all digital tricks.

This becomes very apparent to RAW shooters, but is well hidden from JPEG shooters. So let’s start this more formal examination of the issue with this group of images that I shot and reshot until I got what I wanted, which is (in order of appearance here) three RAW images from the D7000 at 6400, 3200 and 1600 ISO, followed by three RAW images form the X100 and then three JPEGs from the X100.

image

What you see here is that the three D7000 RAW images and the three X100 JPEG images are all looking identical in exposure. That’s the first three and last three respectively.

But the three X100 RAW images who three different exposures approximately 1 stop apart. Note that I still have not gone onto Google to find out what is known about this issue … I want to explore it further before cheating :-)

So something is up inside that camera at ISOs above 1600. All three sets of images were shot at –0.33EV, a hold over from the previous test, but since they are identical, they mean nothing. Aperture priority mode is used with both as well. We continue …

Camera ISO Aperture Shutter
D7000 1600 f/5.6 1/400
X100 RAW 1600 f/5.6 1/180
X100 JPEG 1600 f/5.6 1/80
D7000 3200 f/5.6 1/800
X100 RAW 3200 f/5.6 1/340
X100 JPEG 3200 f/5.6 1/170
D7000 6400 f/5.6 1/1600
X100 RAW 6400 f/5.6 1/680
X100 JPEG 6400 f/5.6 1/340

Hmmm … forgive me, but those number look like nonsense to me. The two sets of RAW images were shot really close together with the JPEGs shot about 15 minutes later, so I’ll discount the jpegs as an issue when we looks at exposure differences. If the sun went behind clouds (as the images appear to show), it is easy to imagine a 1 stop difference from the X100 RAW images.

Yes, I should have shot RAW+JPEG to eliminate the difference in exposures, but the point towards which I am heading is perfectly well backed by these shots anyway.

But here we see the Fuji shooting at 1/180s when the Nikon shoots at 1/400s and the exposures are reversed from what you expect. Since the sensitivity and aperture are fixed, the shutter being slower by more than a stop should be showing us an exposure that is in fact brighter by one stop. What we see instead, is an exposure that is clearly badly underexposed … by one or more stops. Which means that, in total the X100 exposure is really off by two+ stops.

And since the sensitivity as measured at 1600 by DXOMark is essentially the same as it is for the D7000, what we see here makes no sense whatsoever.

Looking at 100% crops of the three JPEGs, we see that there is definitely a difference here in image quality, even if the exposures look absolutely identical when viewed together in CS5.

The shadows get progressively noisier and the details get progressively more smeared. So there is not much doubt that the X100 respects the exposures chosen.

But what about the RAWs? They look weird as thumbnails, so do they process as weird as they look? The answer is yes … they are very hard to get to a similar exposure with the 6400 ISO version already there and the 1600 ISO version way, way off. This is the reverse of what makes sense given what we know.

Well, the RAWs looks a little less processed, at least as far as the mottling is concerned. They are a tad cooler, and the shadows are not quite as open. But they are better in the noise / detail area and that is to be expected. However, I had to push the 1600 ISO image by 2 stops to make it match the 6400 ISO and the 3200 ISO image required about 1 stop of push. I cannot fathom why it seems to be reversed from what I would expect.

Perhaps it is time to have a peek at the D7000 RAW files. They turned out to require no special handling and the behaved perfectly well in ACR. The 6400 ISO image was pretty noisy, but I did what I did with all of the RAW files, I used the various sliders in the NR panel of ACR to get a balanced result. As little noise as I could achieve without smearing becoming too obvious.

The D7000 versions are much more open … I could have increased contrast quite a bit and the noise would have dropped considerably. Oh well … that’s what happens when each set of images is processed separately.

I’ll have to do a formal ISO ladder to try to untangle what the X100 is doing. I find these results again equivocal. So far I think I would be a confirmed RAW shooter with the X100 and I would probably be happy to shoot high ISOs above 1600 … ACR seems to handle them well enough. The noise is quite a bit higher, but that is true of the D7000 as well, and it is about as good as it gets these days.

So what does the DXOMark measurement mean? I suppose it means that the X100 performs a classic trick for 3200 and above such that it sets an exposure for 3200 or 6400 ISO, which obviously must underexpose the sensor since DXOMark measures no extra sensitivity at those settings. Clearly, Fuji then pulls up the data digitally. Which works well enough, just as it does with Nikon’s LOW and HI settings. The curious thing is that Fuji chooses to hide these peculiarities.

Anyway, I will do some more exploration of this phenomenon through ISO ladders later on. I would say that practically, the X100 is pretty good at high ISO and will shoot about as well as the D7000. Of course, the formal ISO ladders might say something else, but for now I have no data that says otherwise.

p.s. For those who are wondering what the subject of these images is, it is a bedsheet that covers a brand new window in my bedroom. The window was replaced when the window and patio door in the kitchen were replaced. And here I ripped out an old set of horizontal blinds and plan to replace them with curtains, once the renovation of the bottom floor has come to a conclusion. Of course, that only means that the top floor comes under scrutiny as there is new carpeting awaiting installation …

p.p.s. For those who obsessively want to pick a winner in this comparison, the Fuji can have the nod. I think I could create a tie for the D7000 with a reprocess of the RAWs, whereas the Fujis are definitely as good as they will get. But the Fujis are good enough that I won’t bother to steal their thunder. The camera continues to impress, even if its RAW files at high ISO are rather inscrutable.

Fuji X100 – Review Part 3 – D7000 comparison Round 2 – High ISO at 3200

Sorry for these complex titles, but I can’t really use subtitles on the blog and I don’t want to create separate pages for cameras etc.

This is again a fairly informal review as I am waiting for my Ikea kitchen cabinets to be delivered. I shot a few images this morning with the D7000 and X100. In fact, they shot each other, which I thought an amusing way to introduce them to each other. Both were shot at 3200 ISO (the Fuji in auto ISO and the Nikon explicitly chosen.) I also shot the pair of cams with the F550EXR for the first comparison round, an image you may already have seen.

Here it is again:

But what’s actually in there? After all, this is a fairly heavily processed image. So here is the image after ACR conversion but with nothing else done to it. The crops show you what is in the raw 16mp data.

There was really no reason to show you that, except to remind you that Fuji are making some pretty nice CMOS sensors these days. For a tiny 1/2” sensor at 3200 ISO, this is an excellent performance.

Now, on with the show. I first shot the D7000 with the X100. I used macro mode and again shot at f/2, using every advantage that the X100 can bring to bear. The result is a little ambiguous, to be honest.

As you can see, the 100% crop inset shows that the image’s edges are quite soft and the contrast is quite low. There is no movement showing, which means that this is not a case of camera shake softening the image, but rather it is very likely a case of this fast prime behaving like almost all fast primes – having a slightly soft and low contrast character when shot wide open.

It does clean up nicely, so I would not be too perturbed about how it looks. The grain is quite fine (click on the image to see it full sized at 800px, which bring the crop to full size as well.) And you could get away with calling it film-like.

The dynamic range is a bit weak from what I saw in ACR. The right side of the lens is quite bright, and I could not take it down with the ACR recovery slider. That would concern me were I wanting to shoot in contrasty conditions a lot …

I’ll examine the exposures of these camera a bit later, as they tell an interesting story.

Meanwhile, let’s see how the D7000 shot the X100.

I could not get as close to the X100 because I chose to shoot at about the same focal length, which of course handicapped the 18-200VR lens. It gets better magnification at 200mm, so I could have shot it there and got a much nicer image. But I did not …

Still a very nice shot with really excellent contrast and details for a simple kit lens. I did shoot it in live view mode, as I thought it would be nice to use each with contrast AF. The detail in the inset crop is clear and contrasty and has excellent 3-dimensionality. I like it a lot. The kit lens was shot wide open, in case anyone wonders. Again, the discussion of the actual exposures will come at the end.

When I crop the image to get a bit closer (I have 33% more pixels in the D7000 so some cropping does not cost me much image quality), I see a really nice image of the X100 with excellent tone and contrast and very nice acuity.

Remember … this is an 11x kit lens against a special purpose fixed prime lens. Ponder that one while we move on to exposures and a discovery that really surprised me.

First off, let me be clear that I have not followed the X100 at all since it came out. It has sold very well for Fuji and once you play with one you can easily see why. It is fun to shoot an old school interface and it does make really nice images. F/2 is terrific for subject isolation, even at 35mm EFL. So there is no mystery as to why it is a big seller.

But … there is definitely a mystery contained in these images. Why are the exposures do different?

To examine these as accurately as possible, let’s look at the exposures and try to normalize them to one reference point … the F550EXR was shot a few minutes later, but the light seemed to be the same so I will use the F550’s exposure as the prime reference.

Camera Compensation Aperture Shutter Speed ISO Off by
F550EXR 0 f/4 1/13s 3200 0
X100 0 f/2 1/25s 3200 A:+2EV S: –1EV T: +1EV
D7000 +.33 f/3.8 1/40s 3200 A: 0EV S: –1.6EV T: –1.6EV

How peculiar. The D7000 is clearly biased down by a couple of stops on its Matrix meter since I told it to bias up by 1/3 stops and it still chose an exposure 1 and 2/3 stops lower. But that’s ok, because the D7000 is known to have most of its extended dynamic range in the shadows, and the quality of the black areas of the body of the X100 shown above certainly do not conflict with that account.

The X100, on the other hand, over exposed by 1 full stop (even though the histogram was not showing over exposure on the default ACR settings) and that would account for the difficulty in holding the lettering on the lens.

But I still feel that this variation makes little sense, so I went investigating on the best source I know of on sensor performance – DXOMark.com.

And I found an answer that clears it all up. Starting with a comparison of ISO sensitivity between these two …

Whoa … the X100 does not get any more sensitive after 1600 ISO. That explains why the shutter had to stay open longer … the sensor remains one stop less sensitive than that on the D7000 and so the shutter cannot go faster.

Mystery solved. Although the mystery now shifts to Fuji with a HUH? Yes, jpegs do come out well exposed and the noise is tolerable at 3200 (although it sure peeks through on the images on my earlier tests), but the shutter speed advantage is simply not there. So this is just a feel good setting. I can shoot at higher ISO, but it does not help my real problem … fast shutter speeds. It’s nonsense, to be honest.

The bottom line as far as I can tell is that the X100 has a useful range of 200 to 1600 ISO. Period. Shutter speeds can be managed manually by over or under exposing, but do not expect help from raising ISO.

Moving on to the DR issue I noticed.

It’s not much of a surprise that the X100 gives up almost two stop of DR at base ISO. Of course, it has good dynamic range at 1600 ISO, which is higher than that of the D7000 at 3200 ISO, so despite my setting the X100 to 3200 ISO, it should have come out with better DR than the D7000 by virtue of really being shot at 1600 ISO.

Weird logic, I know. And if the aperture and shutter were equal, it would not hold water, since the Fuji would be a further stop under exposed, and that would fatally increase noise. But it held the shutter longer than the D7000, receiving more light. So all things are close to equal and the problem it had with the light being reflected off the lens is real. I think there is an issue with DR at higher ISO.

Still, it won’t affect that many images, so nothing to get too twisted over.

For completeness, I looked at the SNR comparison, and the X100 comes out very well indeed.

0.2dB better at every ISO (of the four it handles) … which of course is meaningless since 1 dB is a 1/3 stop difference. 0.2dB is within error tolerances at all levels (being about 1/15 stops.)

The real issue is what happens to the noise as ISO goes up. Well, nothing. Because ISO never goes up LOL.

Well, that’s actually not true, because when you change ISO, the camera definitely reports different shutter speeds, so I think another test is in order. This one has ambiguous results, but did manage to show that the Fuji has nice grain, more or less matching the D7000, although it gives up some resolution in the process whit shifts the advantage to the D7000. Still, a nice performance. We’ll take a further look at this weird difference in exposures with a more rigorous test in the next part ….

Fuji X100 – Review Part 2 – D7000 comparison Round 1

I think it’s obvious that I would find this comparison interesting. Some of you might also. The X100 is a relatively compact camera (similar in size to my memory of the Olympus Trip 35 that I owned in my mid-teens) and therefore makes a pretty good street camera and might make a good vacation camera.

The D7000 is also relatively compact (for a dSLR) and makes a wonderful vacation camera when paired with the 18-200VR for a very useful 27-300mm effective focal range.

Obviously, these two will likely appeal to different people for the simple reason that there are very significant differences between them. The kind of differences that are not subtle. So here I will start with the two differences that may override all others: size, and reach.

Having a very fast 35mm (effective) lens on an APS-C sensor is pretty awesome. You can shoot nice images with excellent subject isolation, exactly as I described in part 1 of this review series. You can use the macro feature to move right in on a subject, and you can zoom with your feet it you need to get closer in order to fill your frame. Of course, there are limitations to all these things, but they can be done and many will be satisfied with that.

The D7000 kit, on the other hand, cannot quite get as close at the same 35mm EFL (effective focal length), but has more pixels for cropping, and so can still do a creditable job of exposing fine details on a subject. And it gets pretty good magnification at 200mm, which does a nice job of throwing backgrounds out of focus as well.

But there is no countering the sheer size difference. To see that, we need to look at the two of them together, as shot by the F550EXR in low light at 3200ISO, f/4 and 1/13s. That’s very low light! Needless to say, the image suffers somewhat, but there are enough crisp details to show us exactly what we want to see … the two cameras and their relative sizes.

Now, before I get any smug comments on the massive difference in size, most of this difference comes down to the lens, which of course gives me 27-300mm EFR (effective focal range), which compares pretty favorably against 35mm FFL (fixed focal length.)

So with such a large difference in flexibility, one must pay a price. Imagine instead that I had simply mounted a 35mm 1.8G (an AFS lens) on the D7000 or even more accurately, a 24mm 2.8 (1.8 were I rich.) They’d be a lot closer together in size and function, although the Fuji would clearly remain smaller.

I wish that I had access to one of those small primes for this test as it would make things more interesting. Perhaps at some point I will shoot the 50mm 1.8D against the Fuji, but that will require shooting the two at much different distances to equalize the angle of view.

So … the Fuji can be said to take round one of the comparison if size is everything. Or if shooting a very small and very fast prime matters most. If flexibility is more important, then the D7000 wins running away.

Fuji X100 – Review Part 1 – A night on the town …

I took the X100 with me this evening as I dropped Nick off at a friend’s (party to celebrate his departure for Afghanistan) and then took Jon out for a late dinner. Before I walked out the door, I switched on my Kitchen lights (two of the four zones) and shot an image from the north eastern corner facing south. The dining room lights are not on, so that area is fairly dark.

I am shooting exclusively jpeg this evening, but I do process every image in ACR and CS5, so these are not OOC jpegs, except in one instance where I show both to compare them. I am also shooting wide open, since I think a lot of people would want to do that quite often. I’ll be shooting other review parts, so no worries on trying other scenarios. Tonight was “wide open” night.

The image above looks pretty nice for 3200 ISO (where I started off) and it gave me the benefit of an excellent 1/160s at 0EV. There is a tiny bit of flare on the light close to the top of the frame, and this reminds me a bit of the F550’s objectionable flare. More on that later on.

Anyway, off we go to our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, which also happens to be 5 minutes from our house. I feel quite lucky in that.

As we were waiting for our orders, I felt compelled to get the obligatory coke glass image with blurred background. Shot in macro mode, you have to admit that the bokeh is pretty decent. The highlights are a tad distorted in parts of the frame, but all in all they are not busy and they are well filled. No nasty donuts. Pretty decent lens so far.

There is a fair bit of grain in the shadows here, and although I try to eliminate it in later images, it is always present. Note that I was shooting with NR at the lowest setting. So don’t freak out about the noise. I’ll shoot an NR ladder at some point.

Jon was his usual reticent self, so I spend a lot of time looking at this:

The restaurant is not very crowded at this time of night, but there are certainly enough people here for near 9pm.

Ok, what follows is the one and only out of camera JPEG that you will get to see. This is what I shot when the spring rolls arrived. These are just about the best Vietnamese crispy spring tolls in the city. A lot of restaurants use a much greasier recipe and that kind of sucks. Another with superb spring rolls is the Phu Yen.

Now the processed version:

Which of course accentuates the noise that is there. You can’t have it all.

And the main event. My Pho Tai and his curried chicken arrive. Jon continues to demonstrate his displeasure at having his soul stolen …

This image has less noise and quite nice bokeh. The camera can definitely perform in low light, even in JPEG.

A rare moment when Jon was not protesting the taking of his image. However, when I asked him why he was leaving a single piece of chicken on his plate, he opined that it was his proletariat protestation against bourgeois excesses. Ok … (Note that he is in 3rd year English literature with a Philosophy minor, so he’s read the Communist Manifesto.)

And he springs right back into action after that shot. A nice clear image … and people think bird photography is difficult.

On the way to the car, I decide to capture the area and my car. This because, just like Hollywood, I think roads look terrific when wet.

I did have to process out a lot of noise in the sky, which eventually required me to drop the sky’s tonal values to near black. Looks good, but the whole image is more contrasty than I like …

And there’s that flare again. This definitely reminds me of the strange flare on the F550, although this is not quite kaleidoscopic. Still … what up wit dat?

My next image was unfortunately affected by motion blur, however I liked it enough to crop this image out and blast it with Topaz Adjust to create something a little more like a 50’s diner image in tone.

Super noisy, but that is Topaz pulling out everything to get an HDR like effect.

We arrive home and I get a shot of the Mazda next to the POD. These guys are great … if you need temporary storage (by the month) on your own property, it does not get a lot better than this.

By this point I am wishing I had shot in RAW. These jpegs are quite nice, but there is enough grain to make me wish for more control. This slightly contrasty image is pretty good, but I prefer the more open look of some of my other work. I’m sure that I’ll get there with the camera …

I knocked the ISO down to 800 at this point, as I decided to see how it would shoot at lower shutter speeds. Here is the kitchen shot from the dining room and facing north.

Don’s done some amazing work in this kitchen in two weeks. I’ really impressed with this. Cabinets are being delivered tomorrow, so the whole thing should start to come together in a few days …

Again, I shoot towards the southeast corner of the dining room from the northwest corner of the kitchen. This shows the pattern of lights down the center of the kitchen with four corner lights in the dining room. The effect of 400 watts of Halogen light is surface of the sun heat and light.

Something that keeps nagging me is the edges of the lights and when I finally look closer, this is what I see.

So it is a Fuji lens after all Smile

And finally, the fridge build-in and the exit to the hallway and entrance.

All in all, the X100 is definitely a lot of fun to shoot. It makes nice images, although I will want to explore things a bit further later. I am not enamored with the grain at 3200 ISO, but I will experiment a bit with NR settings and with RAW to see what I like to shoot best.

Of course, I can’t wait to pit the D7000 against the X100 … that should be a hoot.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fuji X100 Arrives!

Yes, I got my hands on one … thanks to Celine (thank you!)

So … what are my first thoughts:

It’s cute.

I don’t like the 4-way controller on the back as I always get “down” when I hit “ok” … it’s really annoying to have to slow down each time to try to hit the center button only (which is about the size of an LED in a penlight flashlight.

Anyway … the above shot is full frame in macro mode at 3200 ISO and f/2 at 1/900s … not bad at all for a shot in a bathroom into a mirror. I reversed it for you to see the writing …

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rogers Cable Download Speeds quickly heading into the Toilet – *FIXED!*

Update: My speeds have sort of fixed themselves. This is, I just finished deploying a new Apple Airport Extreme and suddenly I am seeing speeds that are, if not exactly what I am supposed to be getting, certainly close enough that I will probably have to accept them.

So it looks like I was bitten by yet another overheated and worn out router. The boxes these things come in should have a 2 year expiry date to have any “truth in advertising” credibility …

Another update … several weeks down the road: This morning I happened to be up early for a conference call so I checked the speed and got very nice performance, especially when considering that my client is on wireless and I have yet to reboot this new router … what a great purchase.

39gbps_speedtest

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Since I was moved up to the Ultimate Internet package, which sports a magnificent 50Mbps download speed and 2Mbps upload speed (magnificent for cable where uploads are concerned, other technologies are much better), I have noted a precipitous fall in my download speeds. Uploads have been decent, but downloads continue to get worse and worse …

36 hours ago I got the worst speed test that I’ve seen in a year or more …

1288_speedtest

Then, a few moments ago, I got a speed test as slow as I have seen in half a decade …

466_speedtest

This to a server that is a 15 minute drive away …

Something really smells in the Rogers network. I cannot imagine staying on this service if it does not get better. Bell Fiber to the home is listed as 25Mbps down and 7Mbps up, which for me is a much better balance. If only Rogers could come somewhere into the vicinity of their alleged speeds …

Update: It turns out that this has been reported by a few people all over Ontario. While there are many unsatisfied customers with both Bell and Rogers (we pay the highest fees in the world and have some of the poorest service, especially when compared with Europe), in fact this specific phenomenon is the one that makes the least sense. By upgrading one’s service, one sends one’s performance into a downward spiral and Rogers will apparently *never* admit that it is their fault.

Read all about it here: http://www.moneyville.ca/article/1073972--roseman-what-s-up-with-rogers-high-speed-internet

Update 2: Banner day today. I achieved a breath-taking 40% of the speed for which I pay.

Bottom line … as the update at the top shows, I now know that a lot of my recent issues are down to a bad router. Shame on you Linksys … the 400N had so much promise.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Harper’s Crime Bill C-10 rejected by Texas conservatives … wow …

I must admit that I think spending billions on prisons is probably the most f-cked up waste of money imaginable. Rich people get richer and poor people end up in jail for smoking pot, when they were only looking for a place to sleep and a bag of Doritos :-)

Instead, we could spend that money to …. oh I don’t know …. perhaps ensure that our regulatory environment was less screwed up so we don’t get repeats of Listeria outbreaks and clinics where sterilization is considered optional.

Sheesh, spend the money where it will really counts instead of where certain cronies will get rich on construction contracts or wherever it is that the money is getting funneled (and I think it would be monumentally na├»ve to assume that the money is not being put to good use securing fat contracts for some post-political careers …)

Anyway … have a look.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2011/10/17/pol-vp-milewski-texas-crime.html?cmp=rss

Sunday, October 16, 2011

D70s and some bees – reaching back five years into my archives to find some macro shots that surprised me …

I bought the D70s way back in 2006, early in the year. I loved it from the first moment I shot it until I sold it to one of my son’s friends, who at the time needed a dSLR for his journalism class. He still shoots the D70s and Sigma 18-200 and is happy with it as far as I know.

I was wandering through my archives, looking for images of my old kitchen (as my new one nears completion) and I stumble don a walk in the woods that took place more than five years ago. This was at the height of my macro phase and I shot some extreme close ups of everything imaginable … flies, beetles, bees, buds … etc.

I even found three images that I had not noticed back. I like these quite a lot so I decided to process them now. It gave me a chance to see how far the newer cameras have come, and I must say that I was quite surprised.

The D70s has always been considered an extremely sharp camera because of a weak anti-aliasing filter. But what I had never noticed before was that pulling up the exposures creates a spectacular amount of nasty artifacts in the images that, were it not taken care of, would most certainly make the images look harsh in that “digital” sort of way. Gritty is another term I often use …

But it turns out that it really possible to fix this problem … Topaz Denoise 5 is the weapon of choice. Just be careful to dial it back just to the point where the edges are properly reconstructed and the flat surfaces are smoothed, but before the fine details are smeared completely. I’m pretty pleased with the results.

Here is a shot of a bee on a flower, and this one does retain some of that edge I was talking about. But it is immensely detailed and sharp and so is worth seeing in my opinion.

Next, we have a lovely flower bud with a very subtle strand of spider web on it. I had to do some layer masking to get the contrast and background right while preserving the strand, but that’s just the price of alleviating one’s dependence on a camera’s or converter’s limited abilities.

And finally … the image that originally caught my eye and frankly blew me away … this is about 1/4 of a bee full frame and showing pollen almost as clearly as if seen through a microscope. Wow …

I love this image and have no idea how I originally missed it (other than that it was more than a stop underexposed.)

Some lessons learned:

  • Keep your originals! Don’t cull so hard that you throw away images that might be beyond your skills today. Assume that you will visit your archives now and again and find a few gems.
  • Make backups! I’ve had three or four rebuilds and disk crashes since shooting these images. A thorough backup procedure ensured that these would still be here when I discovered them.
  • Modern cameras really have improved the pixel level quality of imagery. By quite a lot to be honest. But these older bodies still take a great image …