Thursday, December 29, 2011

X100 Low Light Tests

In my last blog entry I used my new Fujifilm X100 to shoot a series of photographs with strong silhouettes and reflections.  I also used the camera to extend my dawn light extended project.  In both of these cases the available light was quite strong and most of the photographs were made between ISO200 and 400, ISO200 being the lowest "normal" ISO setting for the camera.  As expected the image quality was good and noise non existent.

A good start, but fairly benign testing conditions. Last night I tried a few shots in far more testing conditions, shooting after sun set and in completely artificial street lighting.  My goal was to understand the image quality in low light and how well I could hand hold the camera in these conditions.  I set the ISO to Auto with a minimum shutter speed of 1/60s.  In these conditions the camera will set the ISO to the lowest possible level, but maintain a minimum shutter speed.  As the lens is a 35mm equivalent, 1/60s gives a good level of security to minimize hand shake.  The upper limit is set to ISO3200 at which point the camera will permit a shutter speed longer than 1/60s.  I commonly adopt a similar strategy on the 5D2 as I can trust the higher ISO image quality, floating the ISO permits concentration on composition, not technical issues.

My first example is a straightforward test of the noise at high ISO.  I shot the following in dusk light at f/5.6, ISO3200 and 1/10s, so at the extreme end of handheld capabilities.  As a reduced size JPG (with no processing), the image looks fine if a little flat due to the lighting.

However, what really impressed me was the following 100% enlargement.  Clearly this shows some noise, but very tolerable and well within the processing capabilities that Lightroom could provide for noise reduction.

Following are a sequence taken within 30 minutes of each other walking into the city, with differing low lighting.  All have been processed for colour with noise reduction applied as needed.

 f/5.6, 1/105s, ISO200

 f/2, 1/60s, ISO200

 f/2, 1/60s, ISO1600

 f/2, 1/60s, ISO1000

f/2, 1/60s, ISO800

From this exercise my confidence in the cameras capabilities is increasing, high ISO is relatively noise free and colour management is good.  The 35mm viewpoint is still growing on me, I have long enjoyed using a 35mm equivalent prime, I have a 30mm for my Samsung NX100 and a 35mm for my Canon 5D2.  Another aspect of the camera that has surprised me is the hand hold capability.  The camera has no image stabilization (something I think would have been an enhancement), however, the camera is very solid in the hand, plus the shooting poise of bringing the camera to the eye provides stability.  The lower weight versus the 5D2 also reduces camera shake, but is not so low.

I now have full confidence that this little throwback of a camera can deliver results in line with far larger DSLRs and be a serious part of my photographic tool kit.  In particular walking long distances without the weight of a full size DSLR is a great boon.

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