Saturday, November 13, 2010

Shooting indoors with a Fujifilm HS10

This post is the result of a query I received some time back. If you are an owner of the Fujifilm HS10, you might have noticed very poor indoor performance. In the query I received, from a fellow user of the the HS10, an image shot in ISO 800 was shown to have very poor performance from a sharpness and color point of view. In most cases, if one is 'SRAUTO' mode indoors, the default ISO setting used is 800. This is something I had noticed. And trust me, the HS10 is not really a stellar performer in this ISO range.

The HS10 is a tough camera to master; I am still learning how to get at least 80% of my pictures near perfect or at the most workable. I have been regularly shooting outdoors and have not tried my hand indoors too often and whenever I have I have found that my pictures could not be classified as 'good'. Which is why the query piqued my interest. Is there some way to tame the HS10 for indoor use?

Now if you are indoors, there are the following challenges to overcome:
  1. Low light
  2. Moving subjects which are generally very close to you - running kids, dancers etc.
  3. Your camera itself
I did not have the pleasure of a party going on where I could experiment with motion and decided to have a subject that was stationary - a bottle of floor mop solution to be precise. Which means that whatever I say / describe in this post will be applicable to still photography indoors.

Now my favorite setting on the HS10 is manual mode (where I control the aperture and shutter speed) with ISO 100. generally shoot outdoors where I am at leisure to compose, set the camera and shoot pictures. I to shoot in RAW as I am keen to learn how to use GIMP as well. For my experiment, I shot both RAW and JPEG images and cropped them on Picasa. No other processing was done. All pictures were saved in JPEG format and there would be an element of quality loss because of this.

I shot pictures in two rounds. In the first round I kept the light source (a CFL lamp) at an angle of 90 degrees to my line of view. In the second round I kept the light source behind me and illuminating the subject directly and also used the flash. Except for the flash, both of the light sources were about 5 feet above the subject. The experiment was carried out at about 1330 hours and I blocked the sunlight by drawing very heavy curtains across the windows.

Round 1: Illumination from an overhead CFL lamp at 90 degrees to the line of sight

Using SRAuto, no flash

Link to bigger picture -> Image shot in SR Auto mode. Camera selected 800 ISO by default.
The camera selected night mode and 800 ISO to capture the image. I saved the image in RAW format. This is the setting that causes the most heart-burn I guess.

Using Manual mode, 100 ISO, no flash

The following shots were taken in Manual mode with the camera placed on the table and at 100 ISO. I just fiddled with the shutter speed. The format used for recording on the camera was RAW.

Link to bigger picture -> Manual mode selected. ISO 100 with different shutter speeds.

Using Aperture priority mode

As the next step, I wanted to see the performance of the camera at various ISO settings while keeping one of the factors constant. In this case I decided to keep the Aperture Priority setting constant at f/8.0. I varied the ISO settings from 6400 down to 800. The reason I did not go beyond that is that I reckoned that performance 400 and below will be good, which in a way was proved right later. 800 is the ISO setting from whence the poor performance is noticeable according to reviews.

Link to bigger picture -> Image comparison, 6400 and 3200 ISO
Link to bigger picture -> Image comparison, 1600 and 800 ISO
As can be seen, ISO 6400 is awful. 800 does not look so bad. But do keep in mind that the crops are not 100% crops. The picture with the 800 ISO setting has a little bit of camera shake. Which is why I took a crop from the 800 ISO picture shown right at the start. I have compared it to a crop of a similar size of a picture at 100 ISO.

Link to bigger picture -> Two way comparison
100 ISO looks much better. However will one always have the luxury of having a stationary object and the resultant time to set the camera? Which is why I tried to change the way the subject was illuminated.


Round 2: Light directly illuminating the subject / Flash

Using the flash

If you are a heavy user of the SRAuto mode, then I think the flash is a good option when indoors. This is what I got:

Link to bigger picture -> Image shot in SR Auto using the flash
And a quick comparison the previous photos shows that the 400 ISO picture really came out well once the flash is used. Remember however, that there would be a difference in the focal length, shutter speeds for each of the pictures. which means that this may not be an apple to apple comparison. Also, do remember that I oriented the scene in such a manner that there was a tube light behind me illuminating the subject head on.

Link to bigger picture -> 3 way comparison of different settings showing the advantage of using the flash in SR Auto mode

Note: The middle caption wrongly mentions that flash was used. It was not.

Conclusion

For me the test was inconclusive. I have still not played around with camera settings that look at tone, saturation etc. All today's experiment served to illustrate was that the most important factor in overcoming the three challenges listed above is light. The HS10 performs really well in good light. So let there be light. Flash or otherwise.

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