Jonathan Fleming's Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘dynamic range

Fuji X100: Crazy Dynamic Range

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Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/600 sec, f/11, ISO 200

One of the things that frustrates me most about compact cameras is that their dynamic range is so limited compared to DSLRs. Not so with the Fuji X100. It  sports a larger, APS-C sized sensor for dynamic range no small-sensor compact or even m4/3 camera can touch. In addition, when you set the camera to auto-dynamic range and let the it control your ISO, the X100 works some serious magic, expertly juggling highlights and shadows in extreme lighting conditions with surprisingly natural results.

This weekend I threw some tough, contrasty scenes at the X100 to see what it could do. The image above is a good example. There’s some really hard sunlight hitting the side of the building, and the side facing away from the sun was in shadow. Notice, however, that there’s detail all over the frame, from the brightest portions of the sun-facing windows to the insides of those dark balconies. I think a couple of the windows at the top of the building are clipped, but it still looks very natural.


Fuji X100 – 23mm,1/680 sec, f/2, ISO 800

I purposefully looked for hard light next to dark shadows this weekend. I know for sure that my EPL2 would  have clipped highlights like crazy in the image above, but again, detail everywhere with the X100.


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/80 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200

Even though light from the ground is illuminating the underside of this palm, the leaves were still much darker than the sky. Great balance here straight from the camera.


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/900 sec, f/2.8, ISO 400

The pavement here is really hot in contrast to the dark tones on the train, yet there’s still detail on both areas of the frame.


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/450 sec, f/11, ISO 800

How’s this for contrasty? If you look really close, you can see that the hard shadow on the right of the frame is not clipped, there’s some detail from the blue window frame in there. Wow.


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/2,200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 800

This one was taken in mid-day sunlight. You might notice the seemly odd ISO choice of 800, however. The camera is automatically underexposing to protect the highlights  (sky and and sidewalk) and using the high ISO setting to bring out shadow detail. It works extremely well. Nikon and Canon DSLRs do something similar with their Active D-Lighting and Highlight Tone Priority systems, respectively.


Fuji X100 – 23mm, Program AE, 1/640 sec, f/9, ISO 400


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/800 sec, f/8, ISO 800


Fuji X100 – 23mm,  1/1,800 sec, f/8, ISO 800


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/1,100 sec, f/11, ISO 800


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/640 sec, f/2, ISO 400

You know, I don’t typically seek out contrasts in tone like this. Doing so was a fun exercise.


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/500 sec, f/2, ISO 400 -2/3EV


Fuji X100 – 23mm,  1/450 sec, f/6.4, ISO 400


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/480 sec, f/4, ISO 400 -1EV


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/400 sec, f/2, ISO 400 -1/3EV


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/60 sec, f/5.6, ISO 640


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/250 sec, f/2, ISO 400

Just some random portraits from the weekend. Skin tones look absolutely dead on with the X100, even using Auto White Balance.


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/70 sec, f/8, ISO 200


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/450 sec, f/8, ISO 200

Still tweaking the camera’s image settings to get the JPEGs looking the way I want them. I think I’m almost there.

More random shooting from the weekend:


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/170 sec, f/2, ISO 400 -2/3EV


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/110 sec, f/2.8, ISO 400


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/950 sec, f/2.8, ISO 800 -1.3EV


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/600 sec, f/2, ISO 200


Fuji X100 – 23mm, 1/320 sec, f/2, ISO 400 -2/3EV

That’s it! Just another quick note: I’ve heard lots of bad things about the camera’s firmware and menu interface. To be sure, it does seem quirky at times, but I can’t say I’m all that bothered by it. Somehow I just have a blast with the camera every time I pick it up. I do get the sense that this is not a camera for everyone, however. I think its really a matter of knowing thyself before you buy.

One thing kinda bugs me though:

The camera has film simulation modes. Provia is supposed to be a standard mode, Astia is supposed to reproduce softer tones with less contrast and saturation. Strange thing is, pictures I take in Astia are definitely more contrasty and saturated than images taken in Provia. What gives? Did a switcheroo happen when the firmware was written? Is Provia supposed to be Astia and Astia Provia? Wierd.

Written by Jonathan

June 13, 2011 at 1:00 pm

HDR with Photomatix Pro

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Alright, I finally did it. I broke down and gave HDR a try (click image above for large version). Creating a HDR or high dynamic range image involves blending multiple exposures together in order to display detail in the final image that would otherwise be lost in a single exposure. Our eyes are capable of looking at a scene with bright highlights and dark shadows and still see an immense amount of detail. Cameras simply don’t have that kind of ability, which is why blending exposures is useful when a scene contains very bright and very dark elements at the same time.

I set my D300s to automatically bracket a series of photos for me at 1 stop increments, and here’s what I got out of the camera:

Notice that if the sky looks good, the beach looks too dark. Conversely, if the sand looks detailed, the sky is blown out. There’s simply too much range for the camera to pick up detail in all areas of the frame. Yes, I suppose I could have used a split neutral density filter to even things out, but the purpose of this shoot was to experiment with HDR.

Exposure blending used to be extremely difficult, requiring the use of multiple layers, masks, and a whole lot of brush strokes to manually bring out detail in the HDR image. Nowadays, it’s dead simple. Photoshop has a “merge to HDR” feature built-in, but it’s not quite as good as standalone software like Photomatix Pro, which I used to merge this HDR image. All I had to do was drag the four bracketed images above straight from Lightroom 3 Beta 2 into Photomatix Pro, specify a few parameters, and POOF! It spit out an HDR image. Of course, what you see at the top of this post is not what you get right after the merge in Photomatix. I still had to tone map the HDR, then export it as a standard image file back into Lightroom for post-processing before it looked satisfactory.

I’m pretty excited about how easy the process was. My goal was to try to convey the scene the way my own eyes saw it, and I have to say that the final result looks very close to what I experienced that evening. Overall, I’m glad that I decided to give HDR a try, and I look forward using this photographic tool again.

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Camera Specs: Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at f/13 ISO200, various shutter speeds.

The “Desktop Image” – Shooting RAW with the Canon S90

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The Canon S90 has exceeded my expectations as a great compact camera for landscape photography. Due to its small size, it’s incredibly easy to slip into a pocket carry with you at all times, just in case. Take this image you see above, for instance. Driving down a freeway back to my office in San Francisco after visiting some of my company’s customers on the east side of the San Francisco bay, I spotted these beautiful clouds hovering over lush green hills.

As the exit ramp off the freeway quickly approached, I debated with myself as to whether or not I should take a few minutes and try to capture an image of this beautiful scene. With only seconds to decide, I chose to not let this opportunity pass me by. I was so glad I had the S90 with me!

Getting the shot

After posting this image on flickr, I got quite a few questions about how I got the image to look this way, and if there was a lot of post-processing involved, so I thought I’d write a little “how I did it” on the image. The short answer is that there isn’t very much to the post processing here. The entire strategy for achieving the look I wanted, however, started at the camera and ended in Lightroom 3 beta.

I typically record JPEGs with the S90 since it’s more of a casual-use camera for me (I always shoot RAW with my DSLR). This was actually the first time since I starting using the S90 that I chose to record in RAW and post process the image myself. Shooting RAW allowed me to plan ahead in achieving the look I wanted in my editing software.

In this scene, the sky was brighter than the hill, not by a huge amount (the entire scene is front-lit), but enough to make it very difficult to get a nice even exposure across the frame. With no filters at my disposal, I had to improvise.

This is what the image looked like coming off the camera into Lightroom. Notice that the sky is over-exposed. Not to worry! I intentionally over-exposed the scene to get a good exposure on the foreground, while being careful not to blow out any highlights. In digital photography, this technique is often referred to as “exposing to the right [of your histogram].” The idea is that to get the most out of the dynamic range of a RAW file, it’s OK to over-expose the image and bring the exposure back down later, as long as you don’t over-expose so much that you clip highlights and lose detail.

In this case, my intention was to overexpose the entire scene at the camera and then selectively darken certain areas of the frame in post. The S90′s live histogram made this really easy. I simply added +EV at the camera until my histogram indicated that I was about to start clipping highlights, and then took the picture. I ended up adding +2/3EV at the camera.

Now, all that’s left to do is darken that sky in Lightroom to even the exposure out:

Here’s the final image. Darkened the sky with Lightroom’s adjustment brush and graduated filter. Notice how much detail was retained in the clouds despite the over-exposure at capture. Removed a couple distracting elements, added some contrast, and there you have it!

It’s important to keep in mind that in order for this method to work, you have to stay within the limits of your camera’s dynamic range. If this scene was back-lit and/or had a dynamic range that was higher than the camera could record without losing detail, achieving a balanced exposure might require exposure blending, HDR, or the use of a graduated neutral density filter over the lens.

Ok, so multiple people have told me that this image reminds them of a default desktop on Windows 9x/xp. I suppose it does…but hey, why use it on Windows???

That’s more like it!

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Shot Specs: Canon Powershot S90 at 9.64mm f/5.6 ISO80 1/400 Second