Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fuji FinePix HS10 Meets Bruce Cockburn

Tonight was a big test of my Fuji FinePix HS10; I took it to a concert.

Remember, I'm a retired newspaper shooter. I once used top of the line Canon EOS cameras. I often shot concerts with an f/1.8 200mm prime lens. I was never concerned about the light; With an f/1.8 there is always enough light. And with such a massive, large f/stop, I could use any shutter speed necessary to stop the action on stage. As for the ISO setting, I always went lightly, no big boosts here; I wanted to minimize noise.

Tonight I had none of that. I had a lens which when zoomed got progressively slower. I'd be lucky to shoot at f/5.6, I thought.

So, I gambled with the shutter speed; I picked 1/320 second. I gambled with the ISO; I set it to 6400. And, I truly threw the dice with the f/stop; I used Auto!

And I won my bets! Or at least I think I did. What's your opinion? Feel free to comment. (This was written quickly last night on returning from the concert. Read on to get the in-depth scoop.)

Everything I've read about the Fuji HS10 made worry about trying to capture a singer on stage with this camera. I read that the lens was incredibly slow when zoomed, the pictures were soft and smudged looking when shot at anything faster than ISO800 and the camera was impossible to use without a tripod when zoomed all the way to 720mm.

Now, one rule of photography is not to decide you cannot get a picture before pushing the shutter button. Photography is not about equipment; Photography is about photographers. Clearly there are limitations imposed by equipment. But more often the limitations are imposed by the shooter. You can't do much about the equipment problems but you control the photographer --- you.

Before leaving for the concert, I brushed up on my knowledge of the camera. The HS10 is one complex piece of equipment for a fellow who places the Canon SD10 in the Parthenon of point-and-shoot. I confess, I still have not truly mastered this hi-tech tool.

Getting to the concert early, I sat down close to the stage and began preparing the camera for the concert. First I set it to Sports Action figuring this would force the camera to make decision based on stopping action. I shot a few quick pictures of the audience and immediately learned that this would not work. The shutter speed chosen by the camera was simply too slow.

I set the camera to shutter priority. If you don't understand shutter priority read the entry posted on Digital Photography School. I set the shutter to 1/500th thinking that was a good starting point and I shot some more pictures. I assumed that the stage lighting would remain fairly constant. Not enough light.

I then started playing with the ISO setting. Remember all major full settings make changes of one full stop (to be technical step not stop but let's not be silly). So, change the ISO from 100 to 200 and it is similar to opening the lens another f/stop.

I moved the ISO from 100 to 6400: A change of 5 stops! And I shot some quick preliminary pix. They looked good exposure wise but they suffered from camera movement. I'd have to brace the HS10 somehow, I thought.

Lastly, I increased the dynamic range of the camera one increment. I'll confess I don't know exactly what this does but it sounds good. I had read the extreme setting resulted in increased noise and I didn't want that and the factory setting, I read, allowed highlights to burn out. I picked the in-between setting.

Immediately before the concert I walked to the front of the stage, squatted down and staked out my position --- not quite in front of the mic. I didn't want every picture marred by a mic blocking my view of Cockburn. The really fine thing about my "seat" was the wooden barrier. I could shoot under it while pushing the top of the camera firmly against the wood. This steadied the camera.

After Cockburn appeared I realized that I didn't need to shoot at 1/500th second. I moved the shutter speed setting down to 1/320th. The camera was picking f/stops in the f/5.0 range --- sometimes a little faster and sometimes a little slower. This looked good to me.

I pushed the high speed continuous shooting button and I was ready to rock.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

So, you want to be a better photograher. . .

Yes, this was taken with my simple Canon SD10. Cool, eh?
. . . and you've come here looking for information on the best camera. Forget it. Stop the search. Unless you are a pro or a truly advanced amateur, the camera is not the big deciding factor in whether or not you shoot good stuff. It's you!

I googled "photo club London Ontario." Found the local photo club and checked out the images. Wow! These shooters are good.

This does not come as a total surprise as years ago I wrote a photography column for the local paper. One column dealt with the The London Camera Club. I interviewed the then president and featured some of his work in my column.

Canon has released a new camera. This would hardly be worth mentioning except it has one feature that puts it apart from the crowd: An f/2.0 lens. I'm talking about the Canon SD4000 IS.

With my Canon SD10 I found pictures just outside my door.
For seven years I played with the first camera in the now long series of SD cameras, the SD10. It was laughably small --- I was used to big DSLRs with giant, heavy lenses as I worked at a newspaper. But I soon learned, or should I say rediscovered, that once one learns to work within the limits imposed by one's camera, the joy of photography is there to discover.

I loved that little SD10. With only an f/2.8 prime lens, it taught me to see the picture in the overall scene. No zooming in to crop out unwanted stuff. Make a composition or move was the demand. I got a lot of exercise running about taking pictures with that camera. And it was worth it.

Go to my site Rockin' on: the Blog and scroll down while looking on the right side of the screen. You'll fine a little slide show of images almost 100% of which were shot with my ultra-compact SD10.

Don't get hung-up on equipment. Get hung-up on photography. Get hung-up on you. Go google "photo club" and add your own hometown. Find some like-minded keeners. Document your world and enjoy.

Once you can shoot successfully within the confines of a simple camera, you are a photographer ready to take advantage of the almost unlimited world of high-end DSLR photography.

My SD10 taught me the importance of composition and light.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My look at the Fuji FinePix HS10

Since posting my personal thoughts on the Fuji FinePix HS10 I have been directed by readers to a number of Internet sites carrying full reviews of this Fuji superzoom.

Many of these had serious reservations about the camera. Pictures of playing cards taken under poor lighting were shown to be grainy. Action shots, poorly composed and rather uninteresting, were shown to be poor. (I don't take pictures of playing cards in the dark. Not my thing. So, I really wasn't all that interested.)

One reads these reviews, looks at the pictures, and it is clear that these folk are shooting for fun. I am and I like the HS10. Straight from the box, set to the no-brainer Auto setting, I got some great pictures. Were they too noisy? Too soft? Oh, please . . .

Full post: Rockin' On: Photography.
The first thing that is important in any photograph is the photograph. A camera is nothing more than a tool for taking and making pictures. The HS10 is not only a good tool straight out of the box, it has features that allow it to grow with the photographer. Using the HS10 can be a challenge but that is not a bad thing if rising to the challenge delivers great images while making you a better shooter.

The HS10 is not for everyone. A newspaper photographer would be driven wild by its infuriatingly long shutter lag. And I can see some parents be ticked off when they miss a shot of their child because the camera is busy writing the last picture to disc and is not ready for more action. To these people I say, break down, spend the money, buy a DSLR. There really is no other answer.

But if you're like me and what you want is a serendipitous camera, one that you can have with you almost all the time --- I don't recommend taking the HS10 into the shower --- then this Fuji offering is worth considering.

Enlarge the image below. It was a chance moment. Driving along the Pacific Coastal Highway, I chanced to see some kite-surfers. I stopped and fired off some quick pictures. It was fun to do and it was even more fun to see the fine moments I captured.

For a more detailed look at the ultra-fast continuous shooting capabilities of the HS10 please check out my post discussing the Best Frame Capture mode.

Click on this image and examine the slightly cropped file. I'm impressed.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fuji HS10 Unretouched Image

This is an untouched, downloaded straight-from-the-camera, image. This Fuji HS10 image of a hare is not even cropped. I took this at the Hacienda at Fort Hunter Liggett in California while on holidays. The image is not perfect but it suffers from nothing that cannot be corrected in almost any image enhancement program: Photoshop, ACDSee, etc.

One reads a lot about the noise problems, etc., of the Fuji HS10. Double-click this image and take a close look at the quality. It is a perfectly fine image file in my book.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Serendipitous Cameras_Fuji HS10, Canon S90

Taken with a Canon SD10 Digital ELPH.
I call point-and-shoots "serendipitous cameras" compared to the professional DSLR cameras that I used while working for the local newspaper, The London Free Press. Truth be told, all photography has an element of the fortuitous, of chance, of luck.

It is this reliance on luck in photography that has many refusing to accept photographic images as art. This shows a lack of understanding of what many believe constitutes art. There is art and there is craft. Point-and-shoot photographers, especially those with their cameras permanently set to "Auto", are the purest of artists. These shooters keep the intrusion of craft into their art to a minimum.

I've always knows that there was a certain amount of chance involved in getting a fine photo. But it wasn't until my wife bought me a Canon SD10 Digital ELPH that I began to truly appreciate what removing the craft decisions from photography really meant.

The little Canon SD10 fit into the watch pocket of my jeans. It had no zoom lens, it could not be manually focused, nor could one change the f/stops or shutter speeds. On the plus side, it had an f/2.8 prime lens; This isn't fast but it isn't slow either.

Dinner: opportunity to make/capture art.
Always with me, because of its size, I began to see beauty worthy of a picture everywhere. I could fill a photo album with shots of my dinner plates alone. My wife's a good cook, and like all good cooks, she mixes the craft of cooking with the art of presentation.

My little SD10 lasted more than seven years and it taught me a lot. When I retired, read hit by a layoff at the newspaper, The London Free Press took "my" cameras. You see, "my" cameras were "their" cameras. I was left with three lenses: a Canon 200mm f/1.8 and two smaller prime lenses. I was also left a little short of money.

I sold my lenses and replaced all my newspaper gear with what I hoped would do the job on a shoestring: a Canon S90, a Fuji HS10 and a Dell Studio XPS notebook. Of course, I also added a big helping of serendipity to my camera bag. These are cameras that thrive on luck.

One big drawback of almost all point-and-shoots is shutter lag. The little SD10 prepared me for this nonsense. I now anticipate and for this I am rewarded. Check out the kite-surfer pictures captured on vacation in California.

The Fuji HS10 has a sophisticated "Best Frame Capture" setting, but at the time I shot the surfers I wasn't as sophisticated as the camera. I simply set it to point-and-shoot and shot. And was pleasantly surprised.

Action is good but an overall shot is a must --- must show a surfer and a kite.
So, why two cameras? They serve two different purposes, that's why.

The Canon P90 is a small camera, the expected point-and-shoot shape and size, making it is easy to carry at all times. But, where the P90 shines is when used for available light photography.

It actually has a specific low light setting that changes the way the camera treats the scene and the picture file it creates. First, the S90 has an f/2.0 lens which lets in twice the light of an f/2.8 lens.

Available light makes this shot work in a way a flash would not.
Next, when shooting on the low light setting the Canon marries adjacent pixels, treating two smallish pixels as one large pixel. This, of course, ups the sensitivity of the chip while cutting the noise. The f/2.0 lens allows shooting in low light without pushing the chip into the realm of the ridiculously high ISO numbers. Although, that said, I believe the Canon is more than willing to shoot at speeds as high as ISO 12,500 if pressed! I'm not sure I'd be willing to accept the resulting pictures.

In a pinch, the Fuji will also shoot in low light. In fact, it has a trick or two up its menu-sleeve but I still prefer the Canon. In a future post I'll discuss the Fuji solution.
Without a flash, there's context. Don't you hate a black background in flash pictures.
Where the Fuji HS10 shines is . . . uh, everywhere else. The 24mm wide angle lens with the zoom retracted is very handy as this is a true wide angle and not a wimpy 35mm setting as is so common. But the real mind-blower of the HS10 is its 720mm telephoto with zoom extended to its fullest.

Tweaking the endpoints of the Crazy Horse bust would improve image.
On vacation in South Dakota, I climbed the Crazy Horse Memorial. This is only possible one weekend a year. I thought I'd like to post a news report in the Digital Journal on the event and for that I needed some good art. The Fuji HS10 came through in spades.

The two biggest disappoints I have with both the Canon S90 and the Fuji HS10 are:

1. I just don't think either consistently delivers the bright, rich colours that my old Canon SD10 produced. Neither camera has the latitude that I expected. But, if you have Photoshop, or a program like ACDSee, this problem is easily corrected. Also, the Fuji has a DR (dynamic range) setting. This may help solve this problem. We'll see in a future post.

2. Both cameras suffer from shutter lag but in the case of the Fuji it can be exceedingly frustrating. The Fuji promises a shooting speed of ten frames per second and delivers - but that is it. You don't line up shooting bursts, one after another as one does with a highend DSLR. One lives with a blank monitor a lot of the time.

I have taken some action shots with the HS10, the kite-surfing pictures for instance, but I found that I had to choose my moments carefully. Grab a shot and then wait for the image to be processed.

I talked with another owner of an HS10 and was told that I should be shooting with an SD card with a speed rating of 10. My card, a Lexus 32GB Platinum II card, is only rated a four. But folk on many photography forums say the HS10 itself does not take advantage of the faster speed cards. These "experts" are quite certain that my card is more than adequate.

A fine car, my Morgan took us to California and returned us home.
As for the many complaints I have read in online reviews of this camera about image noise, etc., I can't complain. On my holiday when push came to shove, both cameras delivered the goods. Neither the light-gathering abilities of the Canon nor the incredible zoom of the Fuji ever let me down. I filed pictures and a story from my almost six week adventure across North America in a 42-year-old Morgan roadster to the Digital Journal almost daily. Only the lack of an Internet connection stopped me. For instance, there is no Internet in Yellowstone National Park at the moment.

I'm going to try and have some of the work from my Morgan trip published and that will be the kicker. How will these images look on a printed page after setting the tonal endpoints and colour values in Photoshop?

My money says that they will look stupendous.

For a very good and very complete look at the Fuji Finepix HS10 check out the review on "imaging resource." The review gives a good overall view of the camera plus some indepth technical stuff. The article is very nicely done.

The same site has a review of the Canon S90. The reviewer writes, ". . . the good news is that the Canon S90 does deliver better performance in low light, and its optical quality is impressive relative to the camera's size." Personally, I found myself more in agreement with the review in the New York Times by David Pogue. If you have the time, read both.

The compact Canon S90 is always handy and it gives great results in available light.