My experience with the HX300 (pic intensive)

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My experience with the HX300 (pic intensive)
5 months ago

I've had my HX300 for 2 months now, been using it a lot in the field, so I wanted to post some photos and write a little about the whole experience. Being a botanist, photography is one of my main accessory activities and one I take very seriously. I am, however, a bit limited by both the equipment and skills (but I'm getting there:-)). On average, I take 150 photos in 3-4 hours (on one field trip) and I do it every 2-3 days, from March to October. That's plenty of photos to process at the end of the year. When I took my first dozen of 20 MP photos with the HX300, I immediatelly noticed the overall graininess which is more pronounced in darker areas and at high ISO. I would expect the HX300 to have better image quality, or at least equal quality with more megapixels than my old cam...This photo looks like oil painting when viewed at 100%:

(20MP, but I cropped the margins)

Usually I've no need for 20 MP, instead I use just 10 MP so the noise is not that visible. Of course, with lots of practice and some noise correction, one can learn to get the most out of this camera. I use my HX300 on either P or A modes, 10 MP, RARELY higher than ISO80, all processing options are standard, except for contrast which I set to low (normal contrast gives me too dark browns and reds). For bird photography I use my memorized setting (MR) which is P mode, ISO80, 20 MP, autoWB, center focus. If the bird isn't about to fly away, I'll have enough time to modify WB, focus, metering mode, etc.

(Most photos presented here are hand-held shots with no post-processing, unless stated otherwise.)

HX300 does very nice landscape shots. I usually do manual panorama stitching of 2-4 photos because I don't like the built-in sweep mode. From what I've seen so far, it uses a bit high ISO setting for my taste.

Hunting lodge

4 photos stitched together. A lot of purpe fringing around the branches above.

I've never been much into bird photography, but with this amount of zoom, it's just calling for it. So, for bird photography, the following group of guidelines is what I've found to be optimal. As already mentioned, I always use 20 megapixels, ISO80 and pretty much 50x zoom all the time. In most cases, I shoot hand-held, but that's just my preference. Now, pictures viewed at 100% are really too grainy for my taste, even at the lowest ISO, so I compensate by shooting at 20 MP while trying to get as close to the subject as possible. This way, I can downsize to 50-70% (depending on the blur and noise), use a mild NR (Topaz NR is quite good) and still be left with a decent size photo.

I did some small-bird shots from very far away. Many times the 50x zoom helped me figure out the species of birds, but such photos are not much use for anything else. It's just too smudgy, especially on cloudy weather. With larger birds, it IS possibe to get a good end-result. The following photo was taken with a tripod, from at least 200 m away (trying to figure it out by looking on the map, so not sure), with ClearZoom on:

Common Crane (10 MP; looks like oil-painting at 100%)

Seems fine at about 50% and a bit of PP.

So even though you have 50x zoom at your disposal, the idea is really to get as close as possible, 50 m at most, preferably 20 m or less for small birds (like sparrows), and have plenty of light to minimize grain and give you enough shutter speed. As I do most of my shots hand-held, there is often the need to take plenty of shots and then a few of those would certainly come up acceptable. It is interesting that sometimes I get blurry photos with 1/600 and other times I make pretty good ones with as low as 1/100. This one was taken in a forest (at 1/100) on a cloudy day, so we're talking low-light, and because it was an opportunity shot I didn't have much time to do anything except turn the camera on, go into P mode and just take it:

Eurasian Nuthatch (cropped)

I guess it all depends on whether my hands are still enough and the bird isn't too nervous. Here are a few other shots. The first one is a complete 20 MP, on a cloudy day - just notice the amount of noise at 100%! Other pics are cropped, but no other modifications.

Eurasian Collared Dove

Great Tit

European Robin

?

?

And this one I took earlier today. Had the camera on the roof of my car, on 2 sec. delay, and used ClearZoom:

Great Cormorant (cropped and downsized, some NR and fringing removed)

Many times I stumbled upon different birds of prey, which are not only uncommon to see, but very alert and easily startled. Sometimes it's hard to get a clean shot so I would instead record a short clip and extract a few stills afterwards. Just na opportunistic idea...

No noise at 100%, but very soft in overall appearance.

A male Hen Harrier

Northern Goshawk

? (I like this specific moment in the video. It does look a bit plastic though.)

A couple of roe deer shots...

About 50 m away

(downsized - highres photo was very grainy)

Now onto some close-ups... These are hand-held as well and turned out very good I'd say.

?

A shrubby lichen, Evernia prunastri

Various lichen species

One at high ISO:

Additionally, I've noticed a few issues as well:

1) I get a lot of purple fringing, especially when the object is positioned against the sky. This is most noticable around birds and tree branches. I can fix this in Photoshop, but I wish it wasn't so obvious in the first place. Anyone else experienced this?

2) I noticed that the amount of noise, besides in low-light, increases with higher f values (very noticable at f/8) and with longer zoom (because of the longer focal length?). These were taken with a tripod in low-light. Notice how the margins of white letters lose their sharpness at f/8. Also the letters on the exhaust become softer. The same is with other fine details such as grass tufts, for example.

Speaking of noise, here's an experiment with the 3 different NR settings. This is a church about 5 km away.

NR- (too grainy)

NR standard (a fine compromise, I prefer this)

NR+ (too soft, less detail)

3) For some reason the direction of flashlight is different in M and P modes.

M mode

P mode

As you can see, on M mode it sort of fires downwards and creates a shadow of the lens. In P mode it doesn't create a shadow. Is it me or the camera?

Well, thanks for reading this, I'd appreciate any comments and tips to improve my skills. I hope I'm not obsessing too much over noise? I find photography to be very interesting and fun so I'm always open to learn more. Hopefully, I'll switch to larger sensors soon (thinking NEX7 or A6000)

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX300
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