Autumn 2012 ..March/Apr/May

During Autumn this year I was still working for the roadside mowing people.

One of the really nice things about this job is the huge amount of countryside you get to see. Especially the back roads, that are off the normal day to day routes most folk use. I have been editing and compiling a large number of images to put together as a rural sector collection. These are more typical of what you see when you move away from the main travelling routes, which tend to be a little tidier in appearance than some of the more hidden sectors.

Some of these areas have had farming of some sort since the earliest days of the pioneers that first came to New Zealand in the late 1700’s and further back a lot of these areas were farmed by the local Maori tribes. Today most of the bush and forestry that would have been evident is long gone and the land a lot more tame than it originally was. Even so there is still some very hard country in amongst these back roads, and there very definitely a sense of time about the region.

As its Autumn I have included a few “Fall color” shots plus a few others from the collection. A lot of which still needs to be processed.

Click each image for a larger view  size. All taken with the HS20EXR, Exif is embedded.

Rural New Zealand .. Autumn 2012

Hidden Bees
Golden Poplar
The road less traveled
Further along the road less traveled















Which camera is best & The battle for your dollar … Pt 2

The search continues…

So far we have decided on three possibilities for a replacement for my ailing HS20.

By reason of price, the FZ200 has to be ruled out. That leaves the X-5 from Pentax and the HS30 from Fuji. As I have decided to disqualify other manufactures due to their excessive zoom/sensor sizing that now leaves just two possibilities.

The Fuji HS30 isn’t a large update on the HS20, uses the same sized sensor and same lens as the HS20, has upgraded AF, ISO noise reduction improvements at high ISO, and has a better EVF (which I don’t normally use) as well as intelligent zoom, which I do like and was a feature I missed from the HS10.

Moving on to the second alternative the Pentax X-5, this camera by comparison is a step down from the Fuji in terms of functionality, and here my biggest concern is not that its a motorised AF camera but that the fastest shutter speed is only 1/1500th of a second, which when compared to the average for this class of camera of 1/4000th second is a major concern. On bright sunny days this could be problematic as I often shoot in extremes of light that require shutter speeds well above this level. While this camera has a slower lens than most of the opposition, I feel it should have at least been capable of 1/2500 sec shutter speed. This would then give the user a better range of option. For me this one feature is enough for me to say no to the Pentax even though I’m a Pentax fan.

It appears we have now gone full circle and have come back to the Fuji as the only real option that suits our purposes and budget. Which is annoying as I would prefer to have an X-S1 style camera, but at almost twice the price of the HS30 thats not an option either.

Are there other alternatives in this price bracket?

You will have noticed that I haven’t mentioned any of the compact superzooms like Fuji’s F800EXR, for very good reason. These cameras don’t have the best optics are are just too small for me to hold comfortably, big hands equals big camera.

So what then do we have as an alternative.

The main alternative is a DSLR or perhaps one of the 4/3 sensored cameras currently available. Currently Noel Leeming has the Canon 1100d for sale with lens for a remarkable $559.00NZD. This is by far a better camera all round than any of the bridge cameras we have looked at. Better AF speed,better viewfinder, not to mention vastly better image quality. Of course this camera has been around a while now and newer updated models are coming to market, but as a cheap all purpose shooter with the ability to have extra lenses its a very enticing option. If you want to do macro photography with this type of camera Canon make a range of Macro lenses and filter based macro lenses to suit just about every ones needs. Thats a hell of a lot of camera for less than the upper limit of our budget.

Would I buy one as a replacement for my HS20? Short answer yes. The amount of camera you are getting for your dollar is just not comparable to the new range of superzoom cameras. The only true advantage that the superzooms have is the All in One style package. For those of us who appreciate image quality, fine manual zoom lenses , not to mention excellent image quality, then something like the DSLR is going to be an very good alternative in our budgetary requirements.

The other option if you want to spend even less is to look at the likes of eBay & Trade Me for used equipment. There are some very nice cameras for sale in the used market, but watch your prices. I’ve recently seen a Canon 1100D for sale used and the price was $50.00 higher than buying new and getting a warranty to boot. Shop around folks, you will be amazed at what you can buy for $700.00 new or used.

For me for now though, I’m going to wait a couple of months more and see if we cant get something of a hint from Fuji as to what the future may bring us after Xmas.

Which camera is best & The battle for your dollar.

What do you want to spend on your next camera? What sort of camera will it be?

If like me you are in the market for a new or replacement camera, and like me you would prefer the extra versatility you get from a bridge style camera, then what would be your choice?

I wont go into the details of each camera as that would take to long. Instead we will focus on two or three units.

We have a number of things to consider, but the best way as far as I’m concerned is to decide on a budget. Do a preferred budget cost and a “maybe I can stretch to this” budget as well. Why do I say this? Simply that I have often found that the camera that truly suits my needs at the time may in fact be a few dollars more than I had planned for. For this discussion I will set the upper limit budget at $700.00 NZD. And a preferred budget at $625.00NZD

Now lets look at what’s on offer. To make it easy for those that don’t live here in New Zealand, I generally use pricespy as my starting point for looking at costs of equipment.

The models I am interested in as a HS20 replacement are,

  • Fuji HS30EXR
  • Panasonic FZ200
  • Pentax X-5.

There are obviously other models out there but I have narrowed it down to these three for now. The prices for these units are as follows

  • Fuji = $514.00
  • Panasonic = $782.00
  • Pentax = $580.00

On price alone the Fuji wins this round, however do I really want a camera which is only marginally better than the HS20 I already own, and the answer to that is no.

Do I want a motorised or manual zoom? I prefer manual zoom, its greater degree of control and flexibility is excellent, however I do own and use motorised focussing Fuji cameras as well. My grab and go camera is still the Fuji s5700, a excellent all-round snapper, that has the added quality of being able to have an aperture range that includes f13 for a bit of extra sharpness. So at a pinch  and providing its fast enough I could perhaps settle for a motorised focus unit, but in reality I really wouldn’t wont to.

The alternative super, superzooms.

Just in case you thought I hadn’t thought about other brands, lets briefly look at three more alternatives, Sony’s HX200v , Nikon’s P510 and the SX50 from Canon are all we priced for our budget. All offer some amazing zoom, coupled with motorised auto focus.

All offer significantly more zoom than the three camera above, and that’s part of the problem. Huge zoom is all well and good, but no matter how good the lens and tiny sensor these cameras sport the image quality for larger images and prints isn’t going to be there. The main reason for this is that at extreme telephoto lengths you really do need to be tripod mounted and that’s the problem with these cameras. Not to many of us are able to stand still enough even with image stabilisation to truly get a crisp image at these sorts of focal length. Is there such a thing as too much zoom. I would have to say that there is and not for the reason you may think.

With my HS20 I have taken images of the wind-farm that is visible from our home area. The distance in a straight line is approx 15kms. I have also taken images of the areas between us and the wind-farm  In all but about 5% of these shots I wasn’t able to obtain critical focus. This is in part due to the nature of telephoto lenses getting softer with longer focal lengths. The most important inhibitor to this process is atmospheric distortion, worse in summer than winter as the heating of the ground makes a huge difference to visual acuity. I would contend that at about 200 yards on any given day this is likely to be the maximum distance you would expect to get clean shots and even then that’s rarer than you may think. At 600mm plus focal length my HS20 almost never returns a truly clean image at this sort of distance and nor will any of the other cameras listed above. What you will get is reasonably usable images at these sorts of distances but don’t try to crop or blow up these images too much as you will quickly lose resolution and detail.

Continued in part 2.

EXR ..Debunking the Mystery .. Pt 4

The EXR Sensor .. SN mode

SN mode is the last “special mode” that you find in the EXR menu. You will note that I haven’t mentioned the EXR Auto mode. This is for good reason, as auto modes tend to be highly variable in their output, and this is true of EXR cameras as well. Many folks report that EXR Auto does a great job and just as many others consider it rubbish. My advice, use it at your peril.

So what exactly is SN mode? 

SN stands for signal to noise ratio. Its main purpose it to provide an enhanced method of low noise and high sensitivity shooting in lowlight condition. Think dawn, dusk twilight, that sort of environment where the light is very fickle and changes quickly.

And how does it work? In essence it turns the sensor into a 8Mp sensor. It does this by combing the pixels of the sensor into larger pairs. Larger pixels equal less noise and a much greater sensitivity to light. That is of course only part of the equation. The information from the combined pixels is then processed through the EXR CPU. The processing decides what the aperture is, what the ISO and shutter speeds are as well as noise reduction to give the most detailed and uniform image from the sensor’s input. Once this has been processed it only remains for the user to press the shutter button.

As you move the camera about and refocus the camera constantly updates the data ensuring optimal shooting conditions for the subject at hand. For most work, if I am in SN mode I tend to like to have a bit more control on this process, and of course you can. I tend to set the camera to Auto ISO 400 and vary the EV as necessary. There are times when I may manually select an ISO that’s permanently set rather using the auto mode and this can be done up to ISO 1600. Anything above ISO1600 is likely to have a good deal of noise as will ISO 1600 if there isn’t sufficient light, so good noise reduction software will be a great help in this situation. Does it really work? Yes within reason. There still needs to be an amount of available light to get the best from the camera. As with all things you will need to do some trial and error shooting to see where the optimal settings lie for your use, suffice to say that for a lot of lowlight conditions SN mode is a handy option.

Some time ago Fuji put up a EXR demonstration site, using the Super CCD used in the F200EXR , this isn’t the same as the BSI CMOS sensor now being used in the newer cameras ( F200EXR is only 12Mp), whereas current EXR sensors are 16Mp for the F & HS series cameras.

Below is an image taken from the Fuji website. Click the image to go directly to the EXR site.

Click on the image to go to the EXR website.