Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The HS20EXR Vs HS10 Vs Pentax SLR

A look at three different cameras and how they performed.

The Pentax MZ50  35mm SLR

There are certain shooting environments that make small sensored cameras cringe.
This was certainly the case with the HS10. Until recently I hadn't had the chance to directly compare images from three cameras, The HS20EXR, HS10 & Pentax 35 mm-SLR.

Generally film shot in these conditions should perform well, but I had only a roll of ASA400 Fujifilm on board. Things would have been better with ASA100, as the slower film would have helped with the highlight retention. Such is life.
The environments were fairly similar, involved water and a low westerly sun angle providing a large degree of reflected light between the subject and camera. Just about the hardest shooting setup you encounter.

So, three different cameras, how do they compare. We start with the film (analogue) camera to set a benchmark. In each series of images I will use unprocessed & Processed images to give you an idea of just what was happening.The Pentax images are processed. I had the SLR on aperture priority, with autofocus off as it wasnt focusing quickly enough, coupled to this was my Sigma 70-210 lens. At f4-5.6 it matches up well against the HS cameras when using the Fuji's at the mid - long end. The scans of the film were quite poor, but I haven't bothered having them re-scanned at higher resolution.
Even the Pentax loaded with ASA400 film
 was struggling to get a balance under these conditions
 and the camera was automatically stopping down very low.

The film cameras was having its own problems using the AE settings and I really should have been using manual settings here, but wanted to see what a 10 year-old Autofocus film SLR would do against a modern Hybrid camera.
While the image quality doesn't appear all that great in the SLR, a lot of that has to do with the extremely poor scans, which I refused to pay for  as they are substandard.(Thats another story).
The image at right was shot looking west into the sun, which was partly obscured by cloud , so that at least was helping somewhat. As I only had a 24 frame roll in the camera I didn't take too many photos in this direction as I knew it would be a waste of film.

Looking north the biggest problem was counteracting the
horrendous sky glare. I only had the UV filter with me.
A polarizing filter would have helped a lot here.
In this next image the camera is coping better but was over exposing by about one full F-stop. Post processing won back some of the detail and highlight but the sky is completely lost. Most of the exposure problems I encountered with the Pentax were of my own making. I hadn't taken the time after buying it to run a couple of test rolls through it to check how exposure was being managed. Like a modern DSLR or compact the MZ50 has a 3+ - 3- EV range and I found it to be overexposing by at least 2.0 Ev. Stupid mistake really as I should have checked that right at the start. Even with all these problems with some careful PP work I was able to rescue some of the images and they print out at 5 x 7 quite nicely. Sometimes what we see on our monitors is not always what we get from the printer, so even if you think you have a totally ruined image it may be worth the effort to try and salvage it.

Enter the Fuji HS10

Looking west into the sun with the HS10
After having filled the roll of film, I switched to the HS10 and started snapping off shots. It too was having a difficult time with the conditions, especially when the sun came out, sun-ward shots were very difficult to obtain. Shooting at negative value Ev does not always help. As you can see from the foreground in this image there is little detail to be seen or color, and the mid area is in silhouette. 

Manual Mode - HS10

The most successful images I took with the HS10 were using manual mode and setting shutter and aperture to suit the moment. I was far more successful shooting this way than by using the more automated modes of the camera. Note that the foreground now has color and detail (seagull at bottom right).

HS10.. Looking north.
Shot using my preferred P mode settings.

Getting towards the end of the day the glare from the sky when looking north had reduced somewhat and I was able to start getting a bit more detail in the images. Still not as good as I would have liked but the HS10 was being pushed fairly hard at times when the full glare of the sun came out from cloud cover. All in all the HS10 acquitted itself well enough but left me with the feeling I would liked to have had more flexibility in my shooting arsenal. As this is a small sensor camera it did remarkably well, considering the limited Dynamic Range available to the camera.

Enter the Fuji HS20EXR

It wasnt until very recently that I found myself in a position take some shots that would be comparable to what I had previously taken with the Pentax and the HS10. Purely by chance, two weeks ago I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Raglan, a small west coast town has always been known in the surfing world for its famous left hand break, but is now becoming even more famous  as a mecca for the Kite Surfing set. The westerly wind at the mouth of the harbour is extremely reliable. There are few days of the year when there is little to no wind here, and because of this the traditional surfing area is also home to the Kite Surfers.
Conditions were very similar to those of the images above taken at Tauranga in the earlier part of the year.
HS20EXR, HR (Resolution Priority)
Dr100% @ 16mp & Ev 0.00
Again I was shooting sun-ward, and on a brighter day too, just to make things that little bit more difficult. 
We will start with a shot from the HS20 in Resolution Priority mode and of course DR100%. This image is a very good indicator of what conditions were like. They did change quickly though as the cloud cover was moving rapidly. At 0.00Ev the overall balance of the image is good and requires little to "spruce" it up.
Ten minutes before this image was taken the following image was taken. Apart from light and time the only difference in the two images is that this image was taken using Ev-0.33.
HS20EXR, HR (Resolution Priority)
Dr100% @ 16mp & Ev -0.33, and slightly under exposed

Edited version of the original shown above
In the second edited version we now see, even at 100% Dr just how much detail there is available in the Jpeg from the HS20. You will note that the edited version hasn't lost detail but rather has gained vibrancy and definition, particularly in the darker areas of the image. This type of image was almost unobtainable with the HS10, by comparison this was just a matter of setting the camera to suit the conditions. So that's the wider side of the lens, what of the telephoto function?

To keep close to how I was shooting with the Pentax I set the HS20 at approx 270mm equivalent (48.0mm on the lens gauge). I switched to EXR mode - Dynamic range Priority, Auto ISO 400 and manually selected Dr 800%.

HS20 EXR - Dr Mode
Dr 800%
As we can see in the image at left, the overall balance isn't too bad. The image is a little flat but that changes with a small amount of PP work. The sky has detail which in the HS10 would have been completely washed out and the highlights in the water aren't blown.

For this image I have included two quick edits, one from Photoscape and one from Lightroom 3.4. I prefer the Photoscape version as I think it has more punch, others may like the softer feel of the Lightroom edit.

Photoscape Edit.
Lightroom Edit.

It should be noted that when the Exif data is looked at using ExifTool GUI it shows under the heading "exposure warning" Bad Exposure.
This is evident in the DR mode images more so than in the HR mode. The higher ISO seems to be the cause of this. While the exposure is okay, it definitively needs some PP work as it appears that using the DR mode in this way can cause over exposure warnings.

For a final test I set the camera to Dr1600% with Auto ISO 400. One of the things that needs to be remembered when using the DR range is that the higher the Dr% the higher the camera will & can push up the ISO. This next image the camera took at ISO 400. I also had the exposure compensation (Ev) set at -0.67. As you can see from the original this still caused the camera to overexpose by a small amount, resulting in a somewhat washed out look to the image.
DR mode @ 1600% - ISO 400 with
Ev @ -0.67.
Original image.
Edited with Lightroom 3.
I think I slightly overcooked this edit,
but it still yields a nice print at 5 x 7.

Even with the overexposure a small amount of PP work certainly can draw it back to a better balanced image.

So what does it all mean?

I think its fair to say that the EXR sensor in the HS20 is a far better beast than the standard BSI-Cmos sensor used in the HS10 when it comes to this type of shooting environment. While I did experience exposure issues, both over and under, suffice to say that most of that was a product of my being in too much of a hurry. All the HS20 shots above, I took using my Mono-pod, with it firmly resting against a handy fence post. This was necessary to offset a very brisk 15-20 knot breeze blowing into my face.

HS20 EXR - HR mode @100%Dr
@ISO 100 - Ev 0.00
Straight from the camera.
I also feel that this is a good demonstration of just how good the EXR sensors really are, with or without altering the DR. This is borne out in the first of the HS20 images shot at Dr100%. It really wasnt necessary to go above 800% but I did some  for the purposes of this comparison. While not particularly scientific in nature, this comparison does reflect the type of issues one has to deal with with different Fuji cameras. It is my expectation that the next generation EXR that are now coming onto the market will perform to an even higher standard.

The other area that this comparison shows is that you really dont need to shoot RAW with the HS20. There may be extreme cases where RAW is necessary, but the average user will most likely shy away from the RAW format as it requires more PP work, and many find this a added chore that they would rather not deal with.

For a look at the larger image go to the album HERE


  1. I used Adobe Raw 6.5 in CS5 to manage RAW photos of Fuji HS 20, and it makes L size photos with almoust no noise with little pp. The new noise pp in Adobe raw 6.5 is impressive. Try it. My english is not the best, sorry
    Steven from Montenegro

  2. Hi Steven
    I use ACR 6.5 in Lightroom 3 and it is impressive at noise reduction. I also use it with Photoshop CS5.
    The good thing about the new EXR technology is the lack of noise in the HS20 right up to ISO 1600. Pretty good for what is regarded as a small sensor camera.
    I hope the XS-1 is a good follow on from the HS20. Less processing means a happy photographer. Of course there are certain images that just beg for a little PP to really make them shine.

  3. Ahoj Ralfe, jmenuji se martin hošek,je mi padesát let,a jsem z české republiky.Od léta jsem přemýšlel o fuji hs20,a tvoje stránky které čtu skoro pravidelně, jsou ty, které mi pomohly v rozhodování.Dnes je 16.12.2011 , mám ho čtyři dny ,a díky tomu že jsem jako začátečník, tak jsem šťastný že ho mám. Díky Tvým stránkám se budu učit fotografovat.Martin

  4. As I dont speak Czech it took the liberty of using Google Translate to share with our readers the comments from martin.
    Thanks for joining us Martin. I happy you have been able to find the site useful.


    Hi Ralf, my name is Martin Hosek, I'm fifty years, and I am from Czech republiky.Od years I've been thinking about fuji HS20, and I read your site almost regularly are the ones that helped me in rozhodování.Dnes is December 16, 2011, I have it four days, and because I'm a beginner, so I'm happy that I have it. Thanks Your site will I learn photography.

  5. Reposting because this comment seems appropriate here also:

    Ralph, did you see my ISO 1600 images and full crops? :) The IQ is better than my DSLR's! :-P


  6. Alex
    Reply is in other topic.

  7. Ralph, how accurate is the live histogram with the HS20 in Manual mode?