Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Fuji X10 – Review Part 17 – Sharpness and detail comparison between M size and L size … i.e. DR Mode versus HR Mode

This one is a classic. Fuji have made the feature interactions so complex on the EXR cameras that it is not clear at all which mode one should be using. You have EXR DR, EXR SN, EXR AUTO, EXR HR, P, A, S, M, Advanced, and many more.

You also have L size and M size in PASM just to add some extra spice to the equation. In fact, there are probably between 15 and 20 legitimately different basic settings, some or all of which can be combined with film modes and tuning of sharpness and tone and so one to make for dozens of possible looks.

Couple that with constant rumors that L mode does not sharpen well and ISO must be equal to or greater than DR level in L mode and you have a gong show.

Of course, I have written up my favorite EXR settings, and you could do far worse than simply adopting them. I certainly have had my eyes opened by the following images and crops … and I think you will be surprised at what I’ve found for low ISO shooting.

Remember that part 15 went over in great depth the differences in detail and sharpness at 3200 ISO in low light … this one covers the other end of the scale and completes the picture …

This is the Monaghan Forest near my town … nice little trails, although today was one of those days where I did not shoot much as my hands were freezing before I left the car. Somewhere around –15C.

The trail head is kind of pretty, with lots of small trunks fading on down two trails. There are some branches growing from the ground as new trees try to take root.

The crops on this image show that there are a lot of sharpening halos in jpeg even in M size. Disappointing, as I have been having trouble getting a sense of sharpness from the X10.

Obviously, you will need to click through to see anything useful. And remember to expand the image in your browser.

What I see here is a clear clear detail advantage to the RAW images. The M size image is the best of the lot without doubt, except for a strange case of strong Moire / CA … it’s hard to tell what mechanism is at play here.



This is actually quite visible at 100% … and it is not invisible at smaller sizes. It only appears in M size RAW conversions and may very well be an ACR thing. I don’t know. But is is something that needs addressing, as I would otherwise much prefer to shoot DR400 at M size …

The L size is very detailed (M was upsized for all crops in this test) but has too much grain, a gift from the forced 400 ISO for DR400.

The L sized JPEG suffers the usual rot of the Fuji noise reduction engine. It is very subtle on this sensor, as it should be, but trunks and branches are smoother in this image than in any of the others. There is obvious a loss of very fine texture.

The M size JPEG is quite good, but the size of the details is clumsier than the more refined details in the M sized RAW. Upsizing is no favor, yet the detail seems to be a match for the L size and that is a bit scary. Makes you wonder what the point is of L size …

Standing at the same location, I zoom in to 112mm and focus on the cute little snowman in the distance.

A similar shot to the previous one, just used to confirm the handling of fine branches and trunk details at a distance.

I thought this one would be a repeat of crop 1 .. but no, it has its own charms. The JPEG M is again very coarse looking. The M RAW looks really nice and clean. The L RAW looks grainy. It’s fraction of a smidgen of extra detail does not make up for the grain. The L JPEG is just nasty. The background forest just looks painterly. And this is only 400 ISO.

I’ve written this many times for every EXR sensor … watch out for JPEG L size. NR will kill your textures and fine, low-contrast details. Painterly mush is what you can get.

So that’s two wins for RAW M size. Let’s continue on to the knob.

At least, that’s what I call it. This one has lots of close detail, which takes most of the NR effects out of the picture. The background is supposed to be smooth, and it is. Admirably so.

The much larger scale of the fine details has allowed the JPEGs to compete. The M JPEG might be the best of this series, although the RAW is so close as to be tied. Just like in Part 5.

There is enough very subtle smoothing in the bark for the JPEG L size image that it loses outright again. The L size RAW looks good for detail, but the grain is too heavy. And this was the one image where I went to bat for the L size RAW and added some NR to try to tame the grain. Didn’t work that well …

And finally, a canopy of branches. I would have preferred a bright blue sky, but you take what you get when testing …

This one has tons of fine detail and should make for an interesting contest.

Again, the RAWs dominate fairly easily. Heavy halos on the JPEG images are a problem. I’ve been wondering about these halos … the HS10 has them too. Is this Fuji’s new thing or is ACR at fault here?

Well, in zooming in really close, I began to see what might be going on … the AA filter may be a tad too conservative, leaving a lot of weird artifacts in the conversion. I know that there are moiré / CA interactions, as shown here and in crop 1. They are especially severe in M size RAW. In crop 1, they were quite large and visible. Here, in crop 4, they appear more like weird alternating CA … like the blending / binning software managed to get confused. And all this CA does seem to affect sharpness of images.

At 500%, some pretty strange stuff becomes apparent …


The grain is not obnoxious on the RAW L image, but the CA is definitely bad near the bottom of the crop. The Moiré is somewhat visible at 100%, which means that a huge enlargement is probably going to require some work on saturation etc to tame it. All in all, these are the four closest crops. You could use any of them, but Moiré might interfere.


I don’t see any real issue with L sized RAW and sharpness, but I definitely see grain issues if you want the protection of DR400. and some strange Moiré in the M sized RAWs .. enough so that you would watch it if you plan on enlarging images significantly.

I think I will be shooting JPEG+RAW M size again … same settings as I settled on oh so long ago. Turns out that, overall, these settings continue to come up roses …

If only Fuji would allow me to shoot M size in RAW without adding JPEG. I never use the JPEG when I have the RAW …