SN Versus P Mode.
One of the major points of difference the Fuji HS20 has over its sibling the HS10 is the ability to shoot low light images well without the traditional noise associated with small sensor cameras. To do this Fuji uses it EXR technology to combine the 16mp sensor photo-sites into a smaller megapixel array (by effectively doubling the size of each of the sensors photo-sites).See Fuji's website for more on how this works. http://www.fujifilm.co.nz/products/digital_feature.asp?id=2&sid=1&pid=1021&fid=1225
This is all well and good but does it actually work? Yes it does, within certain parameters.
In HR (EXR Resolution Priority mode) you are limited to maximum ISO of 800, either in selected or Auto ISO mode. You also only have available DR100% in any ISO setting. This is not a major issue in bright light or well lit areas, or even in moderately low light areas, but at night that could present a problem.
This is where the SN Auto or manual mode is supposed to take over. Again DR100% is all that's available in this mode but ISO ranges from 100 to 3200. It should also be noted that maximum file size is limited to 8mp at the 4:3 size and smaller as you reduce the image size. So what can you achieve by using this mode?
For these tests I used a highly reflective A4 print containing two different areas ( giving us both light and dark portions). The only light source was a small amount of light coming through the office window, from a dull and foggy morning. A reasonably typical lower lit environment, with black table top and black computer case as the background. I used spot metering and metered the camera on the small white strip that divides the two photos.
The reason for using the P mode ( DR400%) settings is that it provides an image using the full 16mp on the sensor. I shot both modes in 16:9 which effectively gives images of 12mp and 6mp after the camera has automatically cropped the shot.
P mode is on the left with SN Auto mode right hand side, Exif data is embedded in all but the last photos.
You can see that even at ISO 3200 the camera is always trying to shoot at the minimum ISO for any given occasion. The general quietness of the image is apparent with the SN images. Noise is being reduced without too much reduction of image quality. For this series I set the NR (noise reduction) in the setup menu to low. In fact its always operating in the low position as I want to maintain maximum detail when taking a shot. For all but the full size image at bottom right I used an Ev setting of 0.00. It was only when I switched to the bigger file format 4:3 at 8mp that the increase in light necessitated a small reduction in Ev.
I set all other settings identical to my preferred HR settings as shown HERE.
So while there is a general improvement in the amount of noise reduction from the camera, to date I haven't had too many occasions to use this mode as I find HR or manual mode offers more flexibility, and if greater Dynamic range is required switching to P mode with the file size set to 8mp can be a good option.
The HS20 is a good lowlight shooter without having to resort to to many settings to get the shot.
This last shot ( sorry the lounge wasnt a little tidier) was taken with the camera set to SN @ Auto ISO 3200. Because the white chair cover in the foreground was brighter than the rest of the area I used spot metering and metered off the chair. This calmed the image substantially and the camera choose the appropriate ISO setting for the scene.
The subject was the sleeping cat as it was located in a low light area.Again only natural light from a window for this image. As you can see from the Exif data the camera was still able to take the shot, and rather amazingly decided that ISO 100 was sufficient.
It is therefore a good idea for HS20 owners to perform similar tests so as to ascertain exactly how well the camera works for differing situations.
What we can take from this is that if its at all possible the camera will default to the lowest ISO that it can in order to take the shot and preserve IQ. Its not a world beater but is a mode that could prove very valuable if you find yourself in a situation where time is of the essence and fiddling with controls just isn't going to work. No matter what happens dont forget to have fun doing photography.