The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (with apologies to Robert A, Heinlein.) It draws me out to try to capture yet another decent image far too often. But as can be seen on the many forums at http://dpreview.com, I am not alone in this addiction.
So … I spent last weekend in Toronto and brought the two cameras with me to see what I could capture. I got quite a few interesting images and you will see more articles roll out over the next few days and weeks. But meanwhile, this article shows my progression from mediocre to images that I am as pleased with as anything I have ever shot with a dSLR. And I can say unequivocally that this is the very first time I have achieved that with a tiny sensor.
I went outside one evening on the weekend and say that the moon was sitting there somewhat above the horizon, waiting to be shot. I asked my host if she had a tripod and she produced one in a few moments. I tried a few hand held shots while she was looking and they simply sucked. Even the ones braced on here fence.
I cannot stress the following advice enough … if you are shooting the moon, you should be shooting while the moon is high in the sky, the sky is dark, and on a tripod with release by timer, remote or wifi. If you are winging it, then your results will show that … sorry, but there is no free lunch when shooting the moon. Also, don’t forget that seeing sometimes makes things difficult, so you should hedge your bets and shoot several images. There is always one that is slightly better than all the others.
The images I got from the tripod were quite good, but they were not great. This because the moon was fairly low in the sky, which means more turbulence and hence a softening or blurring effect. But they don’t suck and I was somewhat pleased.
Starting with the S1, I think it did the best job. A little grainy, but I also underexposed somewhat, so that’s understandable. Still, a huge amount of clean details and the seas look smooth and mostly free of artifacts. (Far too many people on the forums these days publish moons filled with artifacts that are caused by trying to sharpen an image that is beyond sharpening. hence, my advice above.)
Next we look at the HS50EXR in M size DR400 … it looks soft and grainy by comparison. The details on the far right are extremely crisp in the S1 image and missing almost entirely in this one.
Another M sized image with a tad more detail … a reminder that images low in the sky will have a lot of variance.
And finally, the contestant we’ve been waiting for … the HS50EXR in L size DR100.
Well, that’s disappointing. It lost to the second M sized image. Note the tree branch encroaching at the very bottom … my session was truncated when the moon began to fall into the tree line.
And there is the rub … I just did not take enough L sized images to get a really sharp one. And the moon was so low that seeing was extremely variable.
The S1 stomped the HS50EXR anyway.
A few days ago, I got the sudden urge to pop over to an open field (we’re talking I Can See for Miles and Miles, with apologies to The Who) and shoot long distance targets. Unfortunately, it was too close to sunset and the images were not consistently lit, so comparing for sharpness was pointless. However, I did get a nice field of view comparison that will appear soon on this blog.
Meanwhile, I turned my attention to the moon after I was done with the distance shots. The moon was a little higher, but I was racing against clouds, so I took only a few from each camera. And I shot while the sky was varying shades of blue, which lowers contrast dramatically.
I found that I was unable to get a decent image in color because the blue of the sky really took over the moon when I tried to get it to darken a bit. So I went black and white with these to even out the colors. They actually turned out decently in my opinion.
The S1 again leads the parade …
The HS50EXR in M size DR400 follows, and this time it acquits itself admirably in my opinion.
And HS50EXR L sized, which looks terrific.
The moon is one of those subjects that has minimal contrast and benefits from the extra resolution of L size, so I would shoot the moon that way. But the M sized image is no slouch and if you can’t get a good image from an HS50EXR shot in M size then look to your technique before you blame the camera.
And then the Panasonic G6 with 100-300, which I brought along for fun and as a control. So this combination has exactly half the optical magnification of the S1, and it has the same resolution at the sensor. But the sensor is many times larger and when I crop to normalize the sizes, the G6 comes out the same at these sizes and better when you look at the originals.
I was very careful here to follow most of my advice … the only one being that I shot in blue skies … and the price for that was to process in black and white.
And just to be clear about how blue the sky was at the time, here is the S1 shot’s jpeg as a screen shot …
And now we get to this evening … or more accurately, this morning (as in after midnight.) The moon is very high in the sky and two days from being full (and a super moon.) The sky is very dark and I got the bug again … there was no resisting it …
But this time, I used my most stable tripod with the multi-body platform so that I could press the shutters simultaneously, and that worked perfectly.
This makes it pretty obvious how much smaller the S1 is. I like that a lot.
Note: The shots I am using are the very first pair of images and then one more for the S1. The exposures for these were very hot, in that the jpegs were totally destroyed. Yet the raw images were salvageable on both … albeit with a small compromise on the S1. Here is what the jpeg looks like:
No coming back from that.
Moving along … the HS50EXR L sized leads the charge …. I did not bother with M size for this round, as I know that I generally prefer L size for the moon. (Don’t read a general preference for all subjects into that please.)
Now that’s nice … look at all the clarity on the craters and the details in the seas. In fact, all the small white dots appear quite clearly. I think this is really clean for a small sensor.
By the way, please remember to click on the images to get the 1000px image in a new tab. Then click that image to expand it to full size. I think you will agree that the HS50EXR has outdone itself.
Next we get the brutally overexposed S1 image …
It looks very similar, although it is a bit larger (identical areas cropped in the frame, so this is the optical advantage of the S1 coming into play.) And all the details are just crisper and better defined. That is, in a nutshell, how the two always seem to perform.
Now, getting to the brutal overexposure: the one area that could not be fully recovered is the white area just to the right of 6 o’clock. There should be two distinct points and there are, but they are much larger than they should be. This indicates some level of blooming on the sensor, which would happen in a small sensor that is heavily overexposed.
But I shot other images at twice the shutter speed and found an image that was not only the sharpest of the bunch, but also extremely detailed across the image with perfect rendering of the bright white spots.
That one is incredible!
The level of detail is breathtaking for a small sensor camera. The white spots are perfectly differentiated and the craters are crystal clear without all the thick edges you get on lesser optics and sensors.
I’m not sure that a summary is needed … but what the heck.
I have one thought when I look at the preponderance of the images I have shot, many of which you the reader have yet to see: that the S1 seems to consistently outperform the HS50EXR in good light for pure detail.
The S1 has weaknesses, but for $399cad I cannot fault it too harshly on all of its limitations. The HS50EXR is an amazing camera and can deliver excellent images. But when I play with them together, the S1 always pleases me more.