Month: October 2010

The best camera is the one you have with you

I have written before about the merits of keeping a junk camera in the car at all times, ready for making that elusive shot that you won’t see again. In my case, you might recall it’s a FujiFilm S6500fd, I bought for $20 at the local Salvation Army shop. For those that are keen readers of this blog, you will also remember that I have a $3 tripod in the boot, just in case. I didn’t need it today.

The reason I didn’t need a tripod is that the light was so bright that, as I was being a bit lazy, the P setting on the camera chose 1/1500 second @ f8, for 200 ASA for this scene.  The shot above is half of a frame from the Fuji, with intense contré-jour lighting making the image come alive.

I forgot 2 key things – how to set the ASA, and how to enable RAW image capture. I couldn’t remember the way to make this happen, so the image above is dragged from a JPEG. This brings up a cardinal rule that I manage to break, as I never bother to read the manuals as I’m too damn smart – yeah, right…

If I had been clever enough to remember how to set up the RAW capture in a hurry, this image might have been better, but never mind – I think it is – yet again – a testament to the engineering that Fuji packed into this small marvel.

Here’s the EXIF information:

I was pretty sure that I had the lens racked out a fair way – it seems that it was set at 25 mm, which is about 112mm in 35mm terms, so not really that far. It is pretty crisp and flare-free at this length, reinforcing my thoughts that it has the Fuji EBC coating applied.

Here’s another, to show how sharp the lens is:

And here is a section from this image of the boat on the right hand side magnified to 200%:

Pretty bloody good, I reckon, especially as this image’s EXIF shows it was shot at 66.7 mm – that’s 300mm equivalent in 35mm sizes, at the smallest stop on this camera – f8. I guess they limit the small f-stop sizes to limit diffraction ruining the pictures. Don’t forget, this camera has a 6 megapixel sensor sized at 1 /1.7 inches – that’s just 7.6 x 5.7 mm, or 43 square millimeters in area. My 5D by comparison is 864 sq mm, or 20 times bigger.  And, yet again, great contrast. It’s the sharpest $20 I’ve ever spent on cameras.

UPDATE – I have discovered that the S6500fd has an interesting cousin. Many people believe that the FujiFilm F30 was just about the best low-light capable P&S camera made, at least until the current crop of those equipped with a “backlit sensor” has emerged. I believe that the S6500fd and the F30 use exactly the same sensor – a 6.3 megapixel 1 / 1.7 inch, sixth-generation CCD device built by FujiFilm, with very low noise levels up until about 800 ASA. This sensor is famed as being one of the best small sensor chips ever produced, and critics have noted that Fuji dropped the ball when it obsoleted this device in favour of joining the megapixek race in 2007. This makes the S6500fd one of the best bridge cameras ever made, and the web’s forums are full of people bemoaning the fact that they took this path instead of remaining with IQ as the prime directive.

Wikipedia has the following entry about the sensor:

“Super CCD is a proprietary charge-coupled device that has been developed by Fujifilm since 1999. The Super CCD uses octagonal, rather than rectangular, pixels. This allows a higher horizontal and vertical resolution (at the expense of diagonal resolution) to be achieved than a traditional sensor of an equivalent pixel count.

In 2006, Fuji introduced the 6th generation of the Super CCD sensor (size 1/1.7″, 6.3 million effective pixels). This sensor allows for acceptable image quality even at ISO 800. It is built into the FinePix S6500fd (2006) bridge camera and the FinePix F-series F30, F20 (2006), F31fd and F40fd (2007) compact cameras, all of which are widely accredited for their class leading low-light capabilities.

In late 2007, the 7th generation was introduced (size 1/1.6″, 12 million effective pixels). Included in Fuijfilm FinePix F50d (2007). This sensor, although sharp, has significantly decreased ISO performance compared to earlier generations, dropping in quality to average level. When compared to the 6th generation sensor, the individual pixel area on the 7th generation sensor is approximately 1.7x lower, considerably reducing the amount of light reaching each pixel.”

DP Review also noted in 2007:

There are some compact camera brands we would currently absolutely avoid for regular high ISO photography, but in reality – aside from one or two 6MP Fujifilm Super CCD models – the only real difference between the best and worst models is the quality and quantity of noise reduction, and none really impress. Many decent compacts can produce almost SLR-like quality at their lowest ISO, but whatever the marketing departments of the camera manufacturers may like you to think, there is no way you can get acceptable results from a small sensor compact at high ISO settings – some struggle even at ISO 400. The only exceptions are the Fujifilm FinePix F30 and F31fd, which use a combination of large pixels (lower megapixel count), clever sensor design and clever noise reduction to produce decent results at ISO 800 and usable results at ISO 1600 (the ISO 3200 mode is, however, a step too far).

These images prove my theory about keeping a camera handy – I would not have this to present to you tonight without following this very simple maxim – the best camera is the one you have with you.

DIY strobe reflectors

I found and followed this link for instructions on making cheap and cheerful collapsible reflectors for my strobes: http://super.nova.org/DPR/DIY01/

The cost about $5 each and take about 10 minutes to make. In a word – recommended.

The word is that these produce nice soft lighting at very low cost, are quick to makeas they only involve minimal measuring and cutting, plus are stapled together (I made 2 in less than 30 minutes), and best of all are flat and flexible to put into a gear bag, occupying almost zero space.

Update – Having now tested them, they produce nice soft light, far better than from using a plastic diffuser on the flash head. Much cheaper too – do my international readers know that a Stofen OmniBounce costs 40 bucks in the Land of Oz – and that’s with dollar parity with the USA…

So, I am changing my rating to ABSOLUTELY RECOMMENDED.

I now need to make 2 more – I have the velcro and interfacing stiffener, plus two more white foam sheets, but the local craft shop has no black foam for another 10 days, sigh.  I now need to sort out my stand heads…

For Alex

This is what keeping a cheap camera in the car is all about – see my previous post.

I was moved today by the sad news of the death of a young guy at my work. I felt a  need to express myself in some way about this awful news. This was shot on the way home from work.

This image is for him. I hope it conveys a sense of sadness, of quiet desperation.

This is a 7 shot HDR, toned sepia, from a Fujifilm Finepix f6500fd.

Fujifilm Finepix S6500fd – a review

What would you say to an 11x f2.8 zoom lens that has few optical issues? How about one with a quality camera body attached? All for $20…

Enter the Fujifilm S6500fd camera, found at my favourite camera store, complete with power supply (not even supplied with the original camera!), original USB and video cables, unopened instructions, original software CD, strap, cap and lenshood. Oh, and a couple of 2 gb XD cards… And also 4 re-chargeable Sanyo Eneloop NiMh AA cells, that are worth $25 where I live… They’ve gone into my flash unit already.

This late 2006 camera introduced face detection that was built into the hardware to the world. It is a so-called bridge camera, looking like a regular but small SLR, but with a few differences:

  • a small 1 1/7 inch CCD sensor;
  • no optical viewfinder, but in its place a reflex eye-level electronic viewfinder, as well as a conventional LCD on the back of the camera;
  • uses 4 x AA batteries instead of an expensive proprietary unit;
  • no possibility for interchangeable lenses – instead it has a monster 28-300mm (35mm equivalent) f2.8 zoom, that offers a manual zoom ring – absolutely wonderful – and manual focussing, both via conventional rubber rings on the lens barrel; and
  • no sensor dust.

It’s relatively petite, and very lightweight, especially compared with my regular Canon 5D and lens combo.

So far, I have found that it shoots RAW images that can be opened in ACR (Photoshop’s Camera Raw software), and that it offers simple +/- 1 stop exposure bracketing.

I have tried using a polariser (58mm just like Canon, thanks!) and I can’t see if it makes any difference to the sky through the EVF, but the conditions today were poor for this.

You may wonder why I picked up a 6 megapixel, 4 year old bridge camera when I already have some nice kit? The reason is that I want to leave a cheap camera capable of reasonable image making in my car at all times as I never seem to have one with me when I want one. It all fits into a tiny case that will protect it, and only needs a light (read cheap) tripod for low light work as it is so lightweight and balanced. And yes, I have also got one of those from my favourite camera outfitter, complete with a bag and even its original removable top plate too, which is a rare find for junkshop tripods.

Downsides? In theory plenty, but not enough to really warrant a moan for $20. Here are my thoughts for the record:

  • uses XD cards (at least I have a few gb I got with it, so no purchase needed);
  • 1 1/7 inch sensor (but all P&S cameras have these);
  • 6 megapixels (but this is 50% more than on my venerable Lumix DMC-LC5 that can make big prints);
  • limited to only a max. of +/- 1 stop exposure bracketing (but manual control is there);
  • no threaded cable release (but it does have a self timer)
  • no hot shoe or PC socket, (but it does have a popup flash – not even my 5D has this)
  • plastic (ugh)

All in all, actually nothing to complain about.

On to the image quality.

Bridge cameras are named thus as they bridge the gap in the market (size, cost and utility) between P&S cameras and SLRs. This camera started out in life priced at $629 in October 2006 when it was introduced. One would expect that this sort of money would buy pretty reasonable image quality just 4 years ago, and It did. Like just about every other Fujifilm camera I have used, this one is capable of brilliant IQ, even considering its sensor size. Fujifilm just seems to do something special with sensors – I am guessing this is because of the pedigree and experience it has from being a maker of fantastic film emulsions for the past 70-odd years.

A concentration camp in Canberra? No, the Yarralumla Brickworks

The lens is a Fujinon 6.2-66.7mm f2.8 ~ f4.9 beauty, and from the look of the coating colours, it has Fuji’s famed EBC coating on it. It shows almost no barrel distortion, and very little chromatic aberration, and is flare free when shot against the light.

The Govenor-General’s driveway, Yarralumla, Canberra. HDR 3 shot, handheld, sepia via Topaz

As long as you don’t mind limited bokeh as a direct result of the physics arising from small sensor sizes (and a judicious choice of a long focal length when shooting faces will provide quite a bit of this), it is brilliant. Of course it’s not up to 5D capabilities, but for 20 bucks, dollar for dollar, it is just about the best quality camera I have ever used.  It is slower to use that my DSLR, the controls are not as intuitive, and the viewfinder is, well, crap compared to an optical reflex finder, but as a camera for those moments when you need to have one available, it can’t be beaten.

If you can find a better camera for $20, let me know.