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.

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