EXR ..Debunking the Mystery .. Pt 1

Even though EXR technology has been around for a while now there is still a large amount of confusion as to what it is and how it works. Those who follow the discussions at Dpreview in the past couple of years will have seen large amounts of discussion about this process, some of it quite heated. If nothing Fuji owners sure like to know what makes EXR “tick”.

The fault for all of this confusion can be laid firmly at the door of Fuji themselves. They have put out a fair amount of information about EXR and how it works, but its generally incomplete or as is often the case intentionally short on detail. Not too unexpected as I’m sure Fuji wants to protect its innovative technologies against the competition.

It doesn’t however help the average user who’s just trying to figure what does which and when to use the different processes. To that end I’m going to break this subject down into a more compartmentalised format to help folks get the best from their cameras.

EXR how it works.

As I previously mentioned Fuji is at fault as to how the consumer understands the technology they are trying to use.

Take a look at this site that Fuji has had running for some time now although in a typical Fuji fashion its never advertised, even on their global website!!

http://finepix.com/exr_cmos/en/

Now have a look at this site, which is the current HS30 page from Fuji’s global website.

http://www.fujifilm.com/products/digital_cameras/s/finepix_hs30exr/features/page_02.html

Both are trying to describe the same thing but the promotional page for the HS30 has a modified version of the EXR technology. In essence this has been “dumbed down” by the sales and marketing department which are most likely convinced that the average person doesn really need too much info. I mean, afterall, who really needs to know how your TV or washing machine works right?

Any way, back to the websites in our discussion. Which is right or wrong. Neither are, however one is considerably more accurate in its interpretation of EXR technology. And that one is of course the first of the two mentioned above. The second website is considerably more vague as too how it works.

To illustrate what I am referring to as to confusion, heres an excerpt from a discussion on another forum, of which I am a member.

The question from the user was this:

“I have posted 5 images taken today, 1st time out with the camera, i used various settings but they all seem to look painted, no feather detail ot fur detail,. compaired to my HS 10 its very disappointing, i know its early days and this camera is more technical but i did expect 1 sharp one.. i will be deleting these in approx 2 hrs any helpful comments would be useful. thank you. “

The poster had acquired a ( new to them) HS20 and was having trouble getting good images. The poster discovered that the image size was set to L rather than M thus the increased DR was being over looked. Now that’s not a whole lot of info to go on, but its a start.

The poster then received this reply:

Shots I looked at were in EXR HR mode which is L size (16MP) – need to be in M size A priority – definitely not ‘auto’ anything, EXR DR at 400% works well for me. Also sharpness is set to ‘hard’ – this is not a HS10 which needed this setting. Set to normal or low and noise rejection to low.

I think that you are too used to the HS10 which needed hard sharpness to defeat the ‘smearing’ from the noise rejection processor. Treat HS20 as a 8MP camera – never come out of M size. 

I concur with staying away from auto modes, the results can be horrendous. The respondent is clearly on the right track as regards the method for obtaining the increased Dr% functionality.

The poster thanks the respondent and then asks this question(s):

Hi (name blanked), i have woke up feeling a bit more positive this morning about my camera. A Q, do i have to stay in 8MPs for all settings, i understand that in EXR and P but is it the same for A and M, i know its up to me to experiment but is 8MPs ok for a stater to get used to my camera, i really am greatful for your comments, just one more Q, remote shutter release, cant get RR80 anywhere but there are some on Ebay which are compatible, 3 types, cable, wireless and infra red, which one ??, Kind regards June. 

And this is where the wheels start to fall off:

For clarity I will comment under each paragraph.

This is where the confusion arises and where Fuji have done a very poor job of educating users. 
In M size (8MP) and in any of PASM modes you can go into EXR DR in the menu and choose 100, 200 or 400% even at an ISO as low as 100 since DR is done in hardware on the sensor – this is the best mode – I always use A priority on the dial and set EV compensation to -2/3 or -1 because I have done this for 20 years.

This is correct to a point. Manual mode does not let you use anything other than DR100 even when set to M (medium 8mp). It is ISO limited, so if you have ISO 100 then all you can have is DR%100. Below is a small table that shows how it works. Remember this as it also works this way when using other settings,

Addendum to my above comment.

Dr4% is indeed available in M mode even at ISO 100%.

It appears I got a bad copy of the version 1.03 firmware update and it didn’t do a full update, leaving me with Dr100% only unless I dialled up the ISO.

As I dont shoot in P mode or manual (rarely) this had obviously gone un-noticed, for if you are updating your firmware a very detailed checking of all the settings could well be a worthwhile activity.

You cannot adjust EXR DR for PASM modes by using the EXR settings!

You have to either use and stay in EXR modes or adjust your settings if using one of the PASM modes.

See how easy it is to get it turned around. In an effort to help the original poster the respondent has added to the confusion by stating that you can do something that is in fact not correct.

Only if you need DR of 800 or 1600% need you go into EXR mode on the dial when the camera does the extra DR above 400% in software (just as the HS10 and all other cameras) by boosting the shadow areas. The camera will then adjust ISO (comes up yellow) to achieve the DR it is aiming for . In this mode at 1600% DR I have found that setting the exposure compensation down to even -2EV and exposing for the highlights sometimes gives better results – varies with subject.

None of this is in the manual or even on Ralph’s blog which I personally found helpful in some ways but confusing in others.

And I apologise profusely for creating more confusion. Hence the subject of this series of articles.

If you switch between A priority and EXR (as I do) you will find the camera flips the ISO settings automatically for each mode – so if youre back in A priority then ISO is back to 100. 

As it does with my settings as well.

See how easy it can be to get turned around and we haven’t really even started to discover what the EXR Technology is all about. Its not my intention here to belittle the person offering the replies but rather to illustrate just how confusing this sort of technology can be. And once again I will say “Shame on you Fuji” a very poor effort in general!

In the next part we will look at exactly what it is the Cmos BSI EXR sensor does.