Fujifilm Frontier Scanners & Dynamic Range Priority

I received an email earlier this week from Anders Lindborg with an interesting discovery he made. You might remember that Anders is the creator of the Kodak Tri-X 400 film simulation recipe, as well as the Fujicolor Pro 160NS and Fujicolor Pro 400H recipes, which are actually much more than just recipes—they’re a new way to approach using recipes on your Fujifilm camera. Needless to say, I was intrigued!

“After reading the information on Fujifilm’s subsites about how they develop their film simulations for the 999th time,” Anders wrote, “I had a small revelation. The base for the simulations are professional photos scanned with their Frontier scanner with corrections applied, so apparently that scanner plays a major role in the final look. I googled around for a bit and found a PDF version of the software manual for the Frontier SP-3000. Here are the really interesting parts:
1) The image settings in Fuji’s cameras are more or less exactly the same as those found in the image correction settings in their Frontier scanner software;
2) There is a correction called Hypertone that turns out to be exactly the same thing as the dreaded D-Range Priority (DR-P) modes;
3) A bit of further research revealed that almost all Fujifilm associated photo labs used the Frontier scanner since the early 90’s and the recommended method was fully automatic mode which included both white balancing as well as Hypertone—both on auto.”

After reading this, I dug around the internet for articles on Fujifilm’s Frontier SP-3000 scanner. I immediately recognized Fujifilm’s “color science” in the photographs I found. There was a distinct similarity between the images that I was seeing, which were scanned negatives, and the pictures from my Fujifilm X cameras. Another tidbit I found was a remark that negatives scanned using the Frontier scanner have a similar aesthetic to negatives printed on Fujicolor paper, which makes sense, because you’d want the digital images to closely match the prints. All of this is to say that, based on these discoveries, I believe Fujifilm’s JPEG programming is heavily influenced by their scanner technology, which was heavily influenced by their photographic paper. This was a surprise to me, although it shouldn’t have been because it is very logical.

The similarities between Hypertone and D-Range Priority are interesting. I’ve written a couple articles that discuss D-Range Priority (here and here), but I’ve always thought of it as a “use only in extreme circumstances” kind of feature, and not a particularly useful tool for everyday photography. But if it was commonly used by photo labs around the world (as Hypertone), maybe it should be more commonly used now (as DR-P)?

It’s one thing to theorize about these things, and a whole other thing to put it into practice, so I created two different “recipes” that utilize D-Range Priority (which I will share in future articles). I wanted to see if this feature could be left on for extended shooting and produce good results, or would the results be flat and uninteresting? Here are a few pictures captured with each recipe:

Recipe 1

Tall Grass – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
Peach Tree – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
Summer Tree – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
Northstar – Orem, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
Arrow & Cones – Sandy, UT – Fujifilm X-E4

Recipe 2

Brownie on a Shelf – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
White Rose of Summer – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
Last Red Rose – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
Big Grass Leaves – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
Suburban Reeds – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4

D-Range Priority Weak is very similar to using DR400 with Highlight and Shadow both set to -2. When you compare the highlights and shadows of pictures captured with D-Range Priority Weak and those captured with DR400 with Highlight and Shadow both set to -2, you’ll notice that they’re nearly identical. What is a little different—subtly different—are the mid-tones. Anders observed, “I noticed that DR-P, just like its predecessor Hypertone, also applies a slight mid-contrast boost.” There is an advantage to using D-Range Priority Weak over DR400 with Highlight and Shadow reduced to their lowest option, but it is subtle. Another note is that D-Range Priority Weak requires a minimum ISO of 320 while DR400 requires a minimum ISO of 640.

If you use D-Range Priority Auto, the camera will almost always select DR-P Weak, and only DR-P Strong if there is a bright light source, such as the sun, in the frame (like Big Grass Leaves above). D-Range Priority Strong produces a very flat image, and it only looks good if there is a lot of contrast in the scene. Anders noted that both Hypertone and DR-P can produce “weird” results if applied too strongly, but the camera seems to do a good job of knowing when to use which DR-P option. D-Range Priority Strong requires a minimum ISO of 640.

“You have to be really careful with the exposure compensation when using it,” Anders advised. “A bit too much or too little can quickly kill the whole photo. I tried to keep it at 0 most of the time and only use Fujis recommendations for correct exposure.” I found this to be true, too, and rarely needed to go beyond +1/3 or -1/3 exposure compensation.

D-Range Priority is only found in Fujifilm X-Trans IV cameras. Using D-Range Priority Weak or Auto seems to be an effective strategy; DR-P Strong is more useful in extreme circumstances. Those who created this feature (and the other JPEG options) were influenced by Frontier scanners, and the programmers likely intended D-Range Priority and White Balance to be set to Auto. Of course, there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to do anything, and I’m certainly not afraid of doing things outside-the-box (as you know). D-Range Priority is something that I shouldn’t have ignored so much, because it is more useful than I originally thought. I’ve created two film simulation recipes to take advantage of DR-P (and I’ll probably create more down the road), which I’ll publish very soon.

Thank you, Anders Lindborg, for making this discovery and sharing it with us!

Let me know in the comments which recipe—1 or 2—above you are most excited for.

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DR-Auto Film Simulation Recipes

I thought it might be interesting to separate my film simulation recipes by Dynamic Range setting. There are a ton of different ways that one could organize these, so I thought it might be helpful to somebody to see them in various arrangements. Maybe you’ll see a recipe that you haven’t considered using before, or maybe a certain setting will stand out to you that never crossed your mind before. I don’t really know, but you never know, so I’m just going to do it. For this post I’m separating the film simulation recipes by DR setting. Below are all of my recipes that use DR-Auto:

Kodak Ektar 100

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Dramatic Classic Chrome

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Vintage Agfacolor

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Classic Chrome

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Velvia

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Monochrome

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See also:
DR400 Film Simulation Recipes
DR200 Film Simulation Recipes
DR100 Film Simulation Recipes

DR100 Film Simulation Recipes

I thought it might be interesting to separate my film simulation recipes by Dynamic Range setting. There are a ton of different ways that one could organize these, so I thought it might be helpful to somebody to see them in various arrangements. Maybe you’ll see a recipe that you haven’t considered using before, or maybe a certain setting will stand out to you that never crossed your mind before. I don’t really know, but you never know, so I’m just going to do it. For this post I’m separating the film simulation recipes by DR setting. Below are all of my recipes that use DR100:

Eterna

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Expired Eterna

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Faded Color

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Agfa Optima

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Agfa Scala

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Ilford HP5 Plus Push-Process

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Faded Monochrome

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See also:
DR400 Film Simulation Recipes
DR200 Film Simulation Recipes
DR-Auto Film Simulation Recipes

DR200 Film Simulation Recipes

I thought it might be interesting to separate my film simulation recipes by Dynamic Range setting. There are a ton of different ways that one could organize these, so I thought it might be helpful to somebody to see them in various arrangements. Maybe you’ll see a recipe that you haven’t considered using before, or maybe a certain setting will stand out to you that never crossed your mind before. I don’t really know, but you never know, so I’m just going to do it. For this post I’m separating the film simulation recipes by DR setting. Below are all of my recipes that use DR200:

Eterna Low-Contrast

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Elite Chrome 200 Color Fade

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“Warm Contrast”

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Urban Vintage Chrome

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Redscale

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Velvia

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Astia

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Classic Chrome

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Vintage Kodachrome

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PRO Neg. Hi

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Fujicolor Superia 800

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CineStill 800T

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Cross Process

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Kodachrome II

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Kodak Ektachrome 100SW

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Fujicolor Pro 400H

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Acros

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Acros Push-Process

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Ilford HP5 Plus

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Tri-X Push-Process

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See also:
DR400 Film Simulation Recipes
DR100 Film Simulation Recipes
DR-Auto Film Simulation Recipes

Fujifilm X-T30 – New Feature: D-Range Priority

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Since my Fujifilm X-T30 arrived last week, I have been trying out all of the different new features, and over the coming days I will be sharing with you my findings. Today I will discuss D-Range Priority. This new feature first appeared on the X-H1, then the X-T3, and now the X-T30. I’m sure it will be included in all future X-Trans cameras, such as the X-Pro3 and X100V, which might be released before the end of the year. I wasn’t sure exactly what D-Range Priority is, how it works, or how to best use it, so I was eager to try it out. And I made some interesting discoveries.

The manual doesn’t give a lot of information on what exactly D-Range Priority is, except that it reduces contrast when activated. When you select D-Range Priority, you no longer have control of the Dynamic Range (DR) setting, Highlight and Shadow. You get what you get, which is a lower-contrast image. There are three D-Range Priority options: Weak, Strong and Auto (as well as Off). I’m not sure exactly how this might effect RAW, as (thanks to Fujifilm’s excellent camera-made JPEGs) I haven’t post-processed a RAW file in over a year (with the exception of using the in-camera RAW conversion to reprocess some images). For the JPEG shooter, D-Range Priority applies a flat curve to help control blown highlights and blocked shadows in high-contrast scenes.

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D-Range Priority Strong

The best way to think about D-Range Priority is an extension of the Dynamic Range settings. You have DR100, DR200, DR400, and now D-Range Priority Weak and D-Range Priority Strong. D-Range Priority Auto selects either Weak, Strong or Off, whatever the camera thinks it should be. I haven’t tried Auto, so I can’t comment on how well it does or doesn’t work. The only times that you’d want to use D-Range Priority are those rare circumstances when DR400 isn’t enough, and you need to squeeze a little more dynamic range out of the camera (again, this is for JPEGs, as you could make these same adjustments yourself from an underexposed RAW file in software).

The first D-Range Priority test that I conducted can be seen below. I captured a scene with a little bit of contrast in it and applied the two D-Range Priority options. As you can see, the DR100 version could use a little boost in the shadows, but D-Range Priority Weak is slightly too flat and D-Range Priority Strong is much too flat. This is a case where using DR200, or simply adjusting Shadow down a notch, probably would have been sufficient.

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DR100

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D-Range Priority Weak

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D-Range Priority Strong

I did another test, this time with a higher contrast scene. This is a case where you might actually benefit from D-Range Priority. The first image shows what DR400 looks like (Pro NEG Hi, with Highlight and Shadow at 0), the second shows DR400 with Shadow and Highlight at -2, the third shows D-Range Priority Weak, and the last image shows D-Range Priority Strong. You might notice that D-Range Priority Weak has only subtly less contrast than DR400 with Shadow and Highlight set to -2. There’s a clear difference between using DR400 and D-Range Priority Strong, but you can almost achieve D-Range Priority Weak by using DR400 and setting Shadow and Highlight to -2. I can’t imagine you’ll encounter all that many situations where DR400 isn’t enough, but you might and Fujifilm has given you the option to go beyond it when you need to.

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DR400

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DR400 with -2 Shadow & -2 Highlight

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D-Range Priority Weak

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D-Range Priority Strong

I wondered what exactly the camera is doing when I select D-Range Priority. As I said, the DR setting, Shadow and Highlight are no longer adjustable when D-Range Priority has been activated. I didn’t find the answer, but I do have a theory. I believe that Fujifilm programmed a very flat tone curve that it applies to D-Range Priority images. It’s the same curve whether you use the Weak or Strong option. For D-Range Priority Weak I believe that it is applying this flat curve to a DR200 setting, and for D-Range Priority Strong it is applying the same curve to a DR400 setting. There’s no option to adjust Shadow or Highlight because the curve has already been set. That’s what I think is going on, but I have no proof. It’s just a theory.

Whatever the technical mumbo-jumbo might be, the practical aspect of D-Range Priority is that in very high contrast scenes, this setting might help you achieve the look that you want in-camera. I did one final test, where I used some very normal settings and made an image that’s not particularly good, and I also used D-Range Priority to create a more usable (but perhaps still not very good) image of the same high contrast scene. This is the type of situation where this new option is beneficial. It’s not something that I suspect anyone will use every day, but it’s good to know that it’s there when you need it, however infrequent that might be.

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“Normal Settings”

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D-Range Priority Weak

Click here to buy the Fujifilm X-T30 at Amazon.

See also:
Fujifilm X-T30 – New Feature: Eterna Film Simulation
Fujifilm X-T30 – New Feature: B&W Toning
Fujifilm X-T30 – New Feature: Color Chrome Effect

Fujifilm X100F Dynamic Range Settings

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Autumn At Mill Creek – Bountiful, UT – FujiFilm X100F Astia @ DR200 – captured on a sunny afternoon with strong highlights and deep shadows.

Fujifilm X cameras, including the X100F that I own, have three Dynamic Range settings: DR100, DR200 and DR400. Let’s explore what these setting are and what it means for your pictures.

To begin with, it’s important to understand that the X-Trans sensors found inside Fujifilm cameras are actually made by Sony. Once upon a time digital camera sensors would increase the energy pumped into them to make the photosites more sensitive to light in order to increase ISO. At some point Sony figured out that doing so was unnecessary, that the camera, even in very dark areas, was recording a lot of information. Thus, the “ISO-less” sensor was born.

An ISO-less sensor, which modern Sony-made sensors are, increases ISO by simply increasing the luminosity levels with software. You can try this at home by capturing an exposure at ISO 6400 and a RAW exposure at ISO 200 underexposed by five stops, then brighten the underexposed file in software to the correct exposure. You’ll notice that the the two files now look the same.

In other words, the camera is actually capturing every shot at base ISO and increasing the brightness after the exposure for whatever ISO was selected. You are completely unaware, and it is automatically done, even to RAW files. That’s why they call it ISO-less.

What this means is that there are a lot of details that can be pulled out of the shadows of your RAW files. The highlights can clip rather sharply and there isn’t a lot of room for error, but you have tons of room in the shadows. It’s best to underexpose to protect the highlights and increase the luminosity in post.

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Vibrant Forest – Bountiful, UT – Fujifilm X100F Velvia @ DR200 – contrast from back-lit trees are handled well, with shadows that are strong but not devoid of details.

 

That’s great for RAW shooters, but what about those who prefer JPEG? Fujifilm built into their cameras the Dynamic Range settings, which allows the benefits of the ISO-less sensor to be applied to JPEGs.

Have you ever wondered why base ISO on Fujifilm X cameras is ISO 200? It’s actually a software trick. The real base ISO on the sensor is ISO 100 (which is available as an “extended ISO”), but the camera applies a curve in software to pull more details out of the shadows, essentially underexposing the scene and then increasing the luminosity of everything (except the highlights) to maximize the dynamic range. This is also why some people claim that Fujifilm “cheats” with their ISOs.

The Dynamic Range settings don’t mean anything to RAW files, but they have a big effect on JPEGs. They allow you to retain shadow details and prevent clipped highlights.

The default setting is Dynamic Range 100 (DR100). This is the standard Dynamic Range option and it cannot be turned off (except by selected extended ISO 100). Dynamic Range 200 (DR200) is next, and if it is selected the minimum ISO is 400 (instead of ISO 200). The third option is Dynamic Range 400 (DR400), and if it is selected the minimum ISO is 800. There is also an option to let the camera auto-decide which Dynamic Range setting to use.

The reason that the minimum ISO increases is because the camera is increasing the luminosity in the files (except for the highlights) to an equivalent of that ISO. The good news is that there really isn’t an image quality difference between ISO 200 and ISO 800, so there should be no hesitation using ISO 800 if you want a larger dynamic range.

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Autumn Forest Light – Bountiful, UT – Fujifilm X100F Astia @ DR200 – sunlight created deep shadows, but they are handled quite well by the camera.

A lot of people keep the Dynamic Range set at the default DR100, and that’s fine for them. I think it works well in low contrast situations. For normal everyday use I prefer DR200 because it does a great job of capturing the dynamic range of most scenes while not looking flat. DR400 is a good option for scenes with a large dynamic range (it seems nearly impossible to clip highlights), but if there isn’t enough contrast in the scene your images will look flat (but contrast could be added in post-processing).

Which Dynamic Range setting is best and which you should choose depends on the situation. I don’t think DR100 is strong enough, and you are more likely to experience clipped highlights and deep black shadows with it selected. DR400 seems too strong, but if you plan to post-process the JPEG this gives you the most latitude for editing (then again, if you are going to post-process, why not shoot RAW?). DR200 seems to be the “just right” option that delivers results similar to what I’d achieve if I had edited a RAW exposure.

That’s putting it simply because there’s a lot more to it than that. Each scene has to be judged individually. If the light is even and there’s little contrast in the scene perhaps DR100 gives you the best look. Each Film Simulation has different amounts of contrast, so maybe DR200 works good for one and DR100 or DR400 works best for another. And it also depends on what exactly you’ve got highlights and shadows set to within your Film Simulation.

There are a lot of moving parts and things to consider when determining which Dynamic Range setting to select. There are many variables that might make you adjust it. I find myself using DR200 most of the time, and occasionally adjusting it up or down if I need to.

In conclusion, the Fujifilm Dynamic Range settings are a great way for JPEG users to take advantage of the large dynamic range capabilities of the X-Trans sensor. It has no effect on RAW, you will have to apply your own curves to pull out the shadow details if you are a RAW shooter. It’s a neat trick that Fuji uses to elevate their out-of-camera JPEGs to a level beyond that of other camera brands. It’s just a matter of figuring out which settings are best for each situation.

Update:

A reader contacted me to explain how I got this wrong, that the Dynamic Range settings only protect highlights and don’t effect shadows. That’s true, but because highlights are protected, I’m exposing a little more than I would otherwise, making the image a little brighter, including shadows. My exposure compensation is typically dialed between +2/3 and +1-1/3, situation specific, which would give me blown highlights without DR. So while the Dynamic Range options don’t directly increase the dynamic range within the shadows, they indirectly do.