Fujifilm X10 'Orbs' Investigated. Does the Firmware Fix Work?

It didn't take long once samples of the Fujifilm X10 were out in the wild for reports to start surfacing of a strange and unwelcome phenomenon in images taken in certain conditions. Colloquially known as 'white orbs' or 'white discs' the problem describes the peculiar circular, hard-edged appearance of clipped specular highlights in images taken on the X10. The effect is unpredictable, but virtually unavoidable in some situations (low light cityscapes for example) and impossible to ignore once you notice it. The table below shows what we're talking about - this is the same scene, shot at identical settings. The Fujifilm X10 is on the left, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 (one of many examples we could have used here) is on the right. 

Fujifilm X10, ISO 100, f/5 0.8sec  Panasonic LX5, ISO 100, f/5 0.8sec  

We mentioned this issue when we included the X10 in our pre-Christmas roundup of high-end enthusiast compact cameras, and have since reported on Fujifilm's announcement of an upcoming firmware release to address the problem. In the meantime we had no option but to put our in-depth review of the X10 on hold until the new firmware was available in case it made a significant difference to image quality.

As soon as the new firmware (version 1.03) became available a couple of weeks ago we loaded it up on our test camera and started shooting. Here's what we found.

The Tests

In our shooting with the X10, we had already established that white orbs aren't a problem in every single exposure. Far from it. In fact, depending on the sort of photography that you do, you may encounter the problem rarely, if ever. This is important to bear in mind, especially since the images you're about to see were shot in conditions specifically designed to highlight the issue. As such, these samples should not be regarded as representative of the X10's image quality in day-to-day use.

For the purposes of this exercise - to see whether firmware version 1.03 reduces or solves the orbs issue - we set up a controlled studio test. 

Studio Scene: ISO Sensitivity

There are two light sources in this scene - a pen-light, to provide a point reflection on the metal frame and balls in the Newton's cradle on the left, and a low-intensity tungsten bulb on the right, for light relief. 

We used one camera, and shot one set of images using firmware version 1.02 and then updated to firmware 1.03 and took another set. The camera was tripod-mounted, and white balance was set manually to 2800K.

The first set of images is a simple run up the X10's ISO sensitivity settings, from ISO 100-3200, at its full resolution of 12MP. DR was set to 100%. Images taken with the older firmware version 1.02 are on the left, and the new firmware is on the right. All other settings are identical. 

ISO 100, 12MP, firmware v.1.02 ISO 100, 12MP, firmware v.1.03
ISO 200, 12MP, firmware v.1.02 ISO 200, 12MP, firmware v.1.03
ISO 400, 12MP, firmware v.1.02 ISO 400, 12MP, firmware v.1.03 
ISO 800, 12MP, firmware v.1.02 ISO 800, 12MP, firmware v.1.03
ISO 1600, 12MP, firmware v.1.02 ISO 1600, 12MP, firmware v.1.03
ISO 3200, 12MP, firmware v.1.02 ISO 3200, 12MP, firmware v.1.03

As you can see, white discs are very obvious around point highlights in images shot with both the new and old firmware at ISO 100 and 200. As we move higher up the ISO scale the effect is reduced until by ISO 800 we wouldn't really consider it to be problematic. Highlights are blown, but lack the unpleasant hard edge which looks so artificial in lower ISO images. The new firmware appears to have little or no material effect on the appearance of the 'orbs' in this scene. 


Click here to read page 2 of our investigation into 'white orbs' with the Fujifilm X10

Comments

Total comments: 572
1234
Zalllon
By Zalllon (Feb 25, 2012)

Funny :)

0 upvotes
raztec
By raztec (Feb 25, 2012)

This is precisely why I visit DP Review.

Excellent article guys and thank you for the balanced factual reporting.

Raz

15 upvotes
sgoldswo
By sgoldswo (Feb 25, 2012)

Or alternately, a lot of fuss about nothing...

1 upvote
Mark H
By Mark H (Feb 25, 2012)

As has been said earlier, the firmware update appears to affect the 'Auto-EXR' mode only, by raising ISO and/or DR values in 'Auto-EXR'.

This was confirmed and demonstrated two weeks ago in a forum message by 'mightycam', see the first two test images here... http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1012&message=40572378 ...where the X10 selects ISO-400 at 12MP before the firmware update, but then selects ISO-1250 at 6MP after the update.

As is often the case, DPR testers are rather late to the party, and also with an incomplete account.

2 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (Feb 25, 2012)

We can't consistently replicate any high ISO bias in the new firmware. It's possible that we need to adjust our test environment and as I said in the article - we're still working on this. I've just made an edit to make the point clearer.

2 upvotes
Mark H
By Mark H (Feb 25, 2012)

Thanks 'BB', for reading my message above, and updating your report.

P.S. It's also worth noting Fujifilm's own wording re the update... "Blooming (White disk) phenomena, which can be observed in EXR AUTO mode, is reduced" ...it's not very clear, but I 'interpret' their statement as implying that they have only altered things in 'EXR-AUTO' mode, and not having altered any other mode.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (Feb 25, 2012)

We had the same thought, and as other commenters have said, it has been reported elsewhere on the web. I'm just not 100% confident yet, because we can't consistently replicate an ISO bias so far.

3 upvotes
Joe11
By Joe11 (Feb 25, 2012)

Thank you for your investigations.

But can contaminated raw-material from the Fukushima disaster really be excluded ? These are my only fears. And if Fuji does not know the reason for white orbs itself, this should be checked urgently!

If it is due to no AA-filter or weak AA-filter, then everything is fine and I will buy this camera the next days. But what is it really ?
If there is no AA-filter or just weak AA-filter, then I'm looking forward for overall picture quality tests, especially sharpness and details! For this reason I would not care much about white orbs, if everything is ok according to specification.
But again: Hopefully it has nothing to do with contaminated raw-material from the Fukushima disaster. Can Fuji confirm ?

0 upvotes
dstate1
By dstate1 (Feb 25, 2012)

The Internet has given idiots a wonderful outlet.

17 upvotes
evogt500
By evogt500 (Feb 25, 2012)

6 months after the disaster, I was in fukushima for 2 weeks. I did not grow any more arms or legs or ORBS. In fact most people in Fukushima and Japan(other than the people who were displaced) live a normal life just as before the disaster.

Comment edited 49 seconds after posting
5 upvotes
GaryJP
By GaryJP (Feb 25, 2012)

You mean my camera might be RADIOACTIVE as well as orby?

Then I think Fuji better replace it stat!

2 upvotes
Dohmnuill
By Dohmnuill (Feb 25, 2012)

Omg. Does scientific illiteracy reach into these pages, too?

4 upvotes
GaryJP
By GaryJP (Feb 25, 2012)

(My comment was irony by the way)

Blaming Fukushima for Fuji's massive blunder is a bit much.

Comment edited 44 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
Wellington100
By Wellington100 (Feb 25, 2012)

The X10 is turning into Fujishima

0 upvotes
Digitall
By Digitall (Feb 25, 2012)

I am glad that the DPR has put this comparison to be able to help some users to be clarified what type of problem is.

Anyway, I think the firmware v.1.03 just came to give an even more detailed Orbs. So it is far from the desired effect.

5 upvotes
Edmond Leung
By Edmond Leung (Feb 25, 2012)

Yeah. Thanks DPR. Otherwise lot of people will loss their money.

3 upvotes
stuntmonkey
By stuntmonkey (Feb 25, 2012)

Such a shame. I really like the the design of this camera, it's a like an amped up LX-5, which is already a really capable camera. The current sensor situation looks like a lost cause, but I hope they persist with this form factor with an improved sensor in the future.

4 upvotes
sgoldswo
By sgoldswo (Feb 25, 2012)

This is genuinely funny.

0 upvotes
Raist3d
By Raist3d (Feb 25, 2012)

Ah dpreview, you crack me up with that Big Orb + X10 logo :-)

3 upvotes
Danielepaolo
By Danielepaolo (Feb 25, 2012)

Barney, thanks for the article.

The Sigma SD9 (disc with hard edge) and SD10 (blob with hard edge) both orbed. Look at your reviews.

If that is not modern enough then there is a Nokia camera phone that produces orbs as well.

4 upvotes
Edmond Leung
By Edmond Leung (Feb 25, 2012)

Sure, like my Nokia phone camera also has such problem.

0 upvotes
evogt500
By evogt500 (Feb 25, 2012)

The firmware fix was in EXR AUTO only. They "fixed" it by raising the ISO more than normal. Since you can manipulate ISO yourself in other setting like P,A,S,M, firmware 1.03 does nothing. Face it, there is no fix. Get a different camera.

Comment edited 53 seconds after posting
8 upvotes
locke_fc
By locke_fc (Feb 25, 2012)

What I still don't understand is how Fuji could say with a straight face that the new firmware does not solve but mitigate the orbs problem. They look identical and it must have been obvious to them!!!
Have you guys asked Fuji about this?

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
4 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (Feb 25, 2012)

Of course, and I await a response.

Comment edited 12 seconds after posting
10 upvotes
locke_fc
By locke_fc (Feb 25, 2012)

Ok, thanks. Because they must have found some sort of scene (sunlit, maybe?) where the new firmware did in fact make a difference. Otherwise...

0 upvotes
GaryJP
By GaryJP (Feb 25, 2012)

From what some people have said they DO mitigate it in EXR Auto (which I don't use), but they basically do this by cheating: simply forcing the camera to use the higher ISOs at which the orbs are less apparent. And that of course, negates the fast lens and gives you extra noise.

That seems to be why they were careful to talk ONLY about EXR Auto mode in their firmware release notes. For me, this amounts to a deliberate attempt to mislead. Not an accident.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
4 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (Feb 25, 2012)

We have checked this, because we suspected it, but we can't replicate a bias for higher ISOs. It's one of the things that we're still working on.

1 upvote
GaryJP
By GaryJP (Feb 25, 2012)

Could you maybe try EXR auto in the same shot on the two firmwares and see what ISO you get? Or doesn't that work? Thanks again for the tests. I own this camera and have been very depressed with it ... as some may have noticed.

1 upvote
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (Feb 25, 2012)

I'm looking at it again right now, I'll update the review shortly if I come up with anything new.

0 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (Feb 25, 2012)

I Just ran through another quick test and I'm getting what we've got multiple times before - no clear evidence of a higher ISO bias in EXR Auto mode with the new firmware. It's not impossible, but I can't replicate it in our test environment. There's more work to be done ;)

3 upvotes
Edmond Leung
By Edmond Leung (Feb 25, 2012)

Gary, that's a bad experience!
Next time when you buy a new camera, check the reviews from different sources before you made the decision.
Even though in the film era, people would not buy the camera when the model was just released; people would wait for a while until the hidden problems were unveiled and fixed.

Comment edited 33 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Geekapoo
By Geekapoo (Feb 25, 2012)

Stick a fork in the Fuji x10.....all this bad press is going to make it a big loss leader. X10 owners who do not get a full refund have a great case for a class action lawsuit IMHO.

4 upvotes
GaryJP
By GaryJP (Feb 25, 2012)

And Fuji maintains silence.

1 upvote
harley13
By harley13 (Feb 25, 2012)

I am orbbed out

2 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (Feb 25, 2012)

Imagine how we feel ;)

2 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer
By AbrasiveReducer (Feb 27, 2012)

But we do appreciate it, Barney. My X10 seems to be fine but then, I don't have shiny balls. At least, I don't think so.

1 upvote
Naaruk
By Naaruk (Feb 25, 2012)

I think it's a different image sensors.The X10 uses the CMOS, LX5 (including the ZX1) using CCD. Why do not you use the camera's image sensor as well. The result will be sure.

1 upvote
cactusgeorge
By cactusgeorge (Feb 25, 2012)

>the white discs decrease in size as you go up the DR scale, but they retain their artificial-looking, hard-edged appearance.

'nuff said

6 upvotes
Totomo Yap
By Totomo Yap (Feb 25, 2012)

Suck X10!!!!

1 upvote
GaryJP
By GaryJP (Feb 25, 2012)

Thanks so much for this.

And the most interesting thing that you have added to the debate is that there's an apparent inconsistency in camera manufacturing that makes it a bit of a crap shoot how bad the problem will be for you.

1 upvote
Hrvoje Crvelin
By Hrvoje Crvelin (Feb 25, 2012)

The fact that camera A and B give inconsistent results may indicate firmware update might not be solution at all or that there is at least camera C for which 1.03 fw works, but obviously not for A and B. Tough one for Fuji.

0 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (Feb 25, 2012)

We updated the firmware on both Camera A and B and in both cases the update had no noticeable effect in before/after update comparisons.

1 upvote
Danielepaolo
By Danielepaolo (Feb 25, 2012)

Hrvoje: Firmware workes for neither camera and won't work for camera C. All firmware did was change the EXR mode. The camera selects a higher ISO than previously. No other modes are changed.

Comment edited 43 seconds after posting
1 upvote
88SAL
By 88SAL (Feb 25, 2012)

What an odd issue... Thanks for looking into it DPR

1 upvote
guy_incognito
By guy_incognito (Feb 25, 2012)

Don't you mean "What an orb issue..." .....sorry.

2 upvotes
sgnirts
By sgnirts (Feb 25, 2012)

Thank you for covering this issue and sorting out objective facts.

Here is another fact, Fuji owes people who purchased X10s refunds or new cameras with the defect corrected....FACT!

5 upvotes
mikegoat
By mikegoat (Feb 25, 2012)

Odd, but mine has never had orbs that I could find.

0 upvotes
Dan Victory
By Dan Victory (Feb 25, 2012)

The issue for me is the response from Fuji.
X = better or pro performance. X100 users are also miffed at lack of Marketing/ Technical response to their manual focus issues. The whole X deal may flop if they do not do what is right.

5 upvotes
Total comments: 572
1234