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.

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