Tuesday, May 8, 2012

HS25 Review – Part 7A – A walk in the woods with the F770EXR and the D7000 with 18-200VR

Last Saturday, I popped over to the Beaver Trail, which is one of the trail systems in the Stony Swamp area in and around Ottawa. Since there was a SNAFU with the F770EXR pickup, I cracked the case (call me Clouseau) and took it along for comparison purposes. I also took a fairly standard consumer grade dSLR walkabout combo – the D7000 with the first generation 18-200VR. The D5100 (same image quality) and the first gen can probably be bought used these days for about 300 more than the HS25. That makes this image comparison reasonable by any standards.

Before I left the yard, the European Starlings that live in my neighborhood (and favored my vents until I had then caged) were wandering about the lawn eating grubs. I caught an image from about 40 feet of one of them and cropped it for an example of what the HS25 can do in JPEG. I am still impressed by its image quality.

Warning: Unless I say otherwise, the images in this article are processed through CS6 Beta and ACR 7. I do not subscribe to showing everyone what a camera can do if left to its own devices. I subscribe to using settings that get a great capture and the processing the image for a final result that is more than the camera could do alone. Call me quirky.

HS25  100iso  f/5.6  1/450  77.7mm (423mm equivalence)

So why is it so dark? The reason is that dark shadows on very dark subjects tend to block. If I try to open the shadows, these sections do not move and end up standing out as a huge flaw. So you do your best and drop the overall tone to mask this issue. Tiny sensors have a price, and this is one of the issues with which you pay.

Still, the feather detail is quite excellent on a cropped image like this.

I arrive at the Beaver Trail and grab a parking spot in the fairly ample lot. As I get into the woods, I note that the sun is starting down towards setting and that affords an opportunity to get a nice shot of the woods with the sun in it. The question to be answered here is whether there is any flare with this lens.

Well …

HS25  100iso  f/5.6  1/450  -2/3ev

The flare is pretty dramatic. I did not receive a lens hood with this camera and it desperately needs one. The lens bulges out and catches everystay ray of light.

The upside here is that the corners are not too soft and the distant branches show excellent detail. The lens is good aside from flare issues.

Now let’s compare the F770EXR, with its lens descended from the flare monster himself – the F550EXR.

F770EXR  100iso  f/3.5 (should have tried higher)  1/950

Yeah, it can definitely get worse. Not a terrible image though, and in some ways I prefer this flare pattern. YMMV of course. The details on this are very good of course because it is processed from raw.

And how about that D7000 and megazoom, a lens people vilify all the time because they have no idea how to shoot it and process it.

D7000 + 18-200VR  100iso  f/11  1/100  -1/3ev

Do I even need to say it? No flare and much better tones. But then, I like some detail in shadows. Not everything is meant to be a silhouette, as so many small sensor shooters come to believe.

As I pass the wild bird center, a chipmunk is in the middle of the path and takes off at a pace. But then he stops to eye me out of the corner of his, well, eye. The incredible reach of the HS25 makes short work of him, and this is a bit of a crop IIRC.

HS25  400iso  f/5.6  1/250  -2/3ev

A couple of points to note about that image. 400 ISO. Why? Two reasons. 1) Because it’s the woods. If you have not wandered in the woods lately, you are in for a shock. The sun dapples in there, but rarely to you get its full force. 2) The camera tries very hard to maintain a fairly high shutter speed. 1/250 seems to be the floor at which it will raise ISO. This makes sense, because the IS is not as good as it should be in my opinion. The F770EXR seems much more reliable in that respect. This is anecdotal, not tested for those who will trey to bust my chops for saying that.

So how about that detail from a long way off? I think it’s really quite good for 400iso. And so I will treat you to a rare full-sized image. That one is still processed, not SOOC. Sorry.

I am always trying to capture a nice image of the path through the woods. I don’t really know what I am looking for, but the offs of finding it in full sunlight are slim to none. Still, ya gotta try.

HS25  100iso  f/5.6  1/120  -2/3ev

Another point to ponder. The aperture seems remarkably stable in this set of images. And that is because I shot this like a dSLR, with aperture priority. I was specifically trying to hit what should be the sweet spot around 5.6. Again, the details are nice, and I managed to open the shadows and make it an airy shot. I like it for the most part.

The F770EXR rendered the scene with more contrast. This is, of course, how I felt while processing the scene with this camera. There is no real difference between the two when it comes to tones. It’s down to the capture, and I find the F770 more flexible because of its RAW.

F770EXR  100iso  f/5.2  1/180  -2/3ev

Darker shadows, but I still like it. Both cameras show great acuity in the fine branches. I love that.

I have no equivalent shot with the D7000 so we move on.

I spot what is either a big crow or a small hawk in a very tall tree a hundred or more feet from me. This is shooting from a long way away. So I bust out the 2x intelligent zoom and capture a pretty decent image of the scene.

HS25  100iso  f/5.6  1/850  -23ev

There is some detail on the bird, but it is tough to open such dark shadows and see anything but noise. The branches and buds look pretty good, though, ya gotta say.

The F770 image was not great, but I did get a D7000 image.

D7000 + 18-200VR  640iso  f/10  1/2000  -1/3ev

There is an obvious difference between 300mm and 1400mm … yes? So what happens if I crop the images to match? This is a classic debate between bridge enthusiasts and dSLR shooters. And remember, this is not a great long reach lens. The 70-300VR is at home this day.

Click to expand, and click again in most browsers for 100%

In fact, there is a bit better edge integrity on the Fuji, but the actual texture and surface detail goes to the Nikon in my opinion. This does not really surprise me. The F770EXR is overmatched by both in this fight.

After a while, I come to the swamp area, where a stream passes from one area to the next. The grass is pretty lush at this time of year, and I am not shy about ansuring a nice bright presentation.

HS25  100iso  f/5.6  1/240  -2/3ev

The F770EXR again ends up contrasty by comparison. I suspect that the malleability of the RAW captures is leading me down this path. I am necessarily more conservative with the JPEGs from the HS25.

F770EXR  100iso  f/3.5  1/550  -2/3ev

Note that the distance branches are finer with the F770EXR. Such is life when shooting RAW versus JPEG.

The D7000 is also contrasty, again reflecting the ease with which I could get where I wanted to. And of course the details are pretty remarkable.

D7000 + 18-200VR  640iso  f/10  1/1000  -2/3ev

I think I am shooting too high an ISO, but I need some boost because of the high aperture I need to shoot with this lens.

Here we arrive at the Beaver Lodge. I will continue from here in Part 7B.

Conclusion for part 7a

So far, the subject matter has been stills and the light has been manageable. All in all, I find all three to be good at this sort of shooting. The reach of the HS25 gives it a natural advantage when small animals are a long way away. In bright sunlight, the HS25 and D7000 beat the F770 for ease of use, since they have view finders. But the HS25’s EVF is inferior to the D7000’s OVF by a long margin. More on this topic in part 7B.