Fuji HS20 – Experimenting with lowlight.

Fuji HS20 — Experimenting with low light modes.

Sitting watching a movie at home last night, was interrupted by a power cut of about a half hour duration. Out came the candles and I thought. “Photo Op”


Up till now I haven’t done too much low light shooting other than astro photos. I had heard from other photographers that shooting a candle in a dark area was not as easy as one may think. I guess it depends on the camera used but by and large that comment is pretty much on the money. Not having a DSLR to compare things to I could only go by previous experience with the HS10 as a guide.

Edit of the above photo using
Photoscape 3.5

The first choice was to dial in SN mode as this is touted as being the mode best suited for low-light work with the HS20. This proved to be a mistake. While SN mode took an adequate shot its use of high ISO’s became a problem in introducing an unacceptable amount of noise.It turned out that the two modes that were more successful was the good old manual mode, and the camera set in Resolution Priority with picture size being M @ 16 x 9 rather than the standard 4 x 3 mode. Detail and contrast was better preserved and it shows when processing the shots in Black & White. ISO used @ 400 with spot metering.
Later I was to discover a nice surprise.

Shot in color & edited as B&W

I decided to do all the editing for these images in Lightroom as the USM and noise control is more refined than in Photoscape and I wanted to remove as much luminance noise as possible without seriously reducing the sharpness of the images.

The next in the series is an image shot in Res Pri, 16 x 9 @ M size and Auto ISO 8oo.
You can see from the original that the shot was quite dark and at ISO 400 and 1/40 shot time the camera missed the shot a little. EV was -0.03 which didn’t help either, but this was typical of the type of shot this mode was giving.


Lightroom edit.

Again all the editing is done via Lightroom3. Interestingly using white-balance set to auto was giving a slightly redder image than reality , which was a paler yellow/white light. I opted to leave the white balance alone as PP’ing would be easy enough to correct this. Again I did a B & W version by way of comparison for tonal variation and contrast. I opted not to change what Lightroom did when converting to B & W as the results were satisfactory as they were.
One of the biggest surprises was how well Pro Low light worked. Initially at ISO 3200 the images looked terrible but after a bit of processing the result is quite acceptable. One thing that was however more noticeable was the amount of lens flare that this mode shows.

Original shot using
Pro Low Light mode
@ 0.00 EV
Original after PP in Lightroom
Color is now much more
accurate and noise reduced.



Again in this second set of images we can see  a lot of lens flare, not really surprising given how the camera evaluated the scene. Focus is also a little soft as the camera continually tried to focus on the flame, so when shooting at or near bright light sources in this mode, it pays to be careful when it comes to what area you decide as the point of focus. This image proved to be quite difficult to process, ordinarily I wouldn’t keep such an image, however it does serve to show what can happen using Pro Low Light if you dont get it quite right.

Lightroom 3 edit.

The last set of images is taken using manual mode with picture size @ Large and white balance set to auto and ISO 400. This time the object of the exercise was to have only the top of the candle in focus and all else blacked out in the background. To do this I used the camera in Macro mode to help isolate only the part of the image I wanted. Lightroom again was used, for color correction and other small amounts of PP work. I also choose to crop this image to a more pleasing visual aspect as it original sits centre frame and isn’t particularly good displayed this way.

Post processed crop of original at left.


Processed as Black & white in Lightroom 3.

So what did we learn from this exercise? Basically that depending on circumstances all modes have there uses, but I still prefer manual mode for all the trickier conditions. Being able to vary the full spectrum of the HS20’s controls helps in achieving a good outcome where other modes may fail.

There’s a saying that comes from my film days and its still applicable today for digital cameras. When stuck, shoot ISO 400 in manual and you will always get a result.



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