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Glen Pitt-Pladdy :: Blog

Venetian blinds from Fuji

After about 8 months of very light use, my Fuji FinePix E900 has given up with the apparently common Fuji "Venetian Blinds" (light horizontal lines across the image) problem.

The good stuff

The E900 is rather a unique camera in these days of ever increasing MegaPixels and ever decreasing cost and quality of those MegaPixels.

One of the key things that sets this camera apart from others is that it has a large sensor compared to similar cameras of this type. As the number of pixels on a given area goes up, the size of the photosites (the light sensing region) shrinks dramatically.  What this means is thatthe amount of light the sensor is able to pick up is greatly reduced, but the noise is not. Before someone comments - yes, I know about micro lenses, but they don't completely solve the problem, and do cause other problems.

Ok - so we just use noise reduction to fix the problem..... or not! Going back to fundamental signal processing theory, detail in the photo below the noise level can't be retrieved (ie. features burried in noise can't be told apart from noise). What this means is when we process the image to remove noise, we are also removing any details that are below the level of the noise - not good when we want a finely detailed photo. In terms of the picture, this generally means that fine textures tend to be smoothed out, or at best, turned into a very blotchy texture as the noise reduction algorithm changes it's mind about what is noise and what is texture.

The effect of noise reduction is often seen in pictures of people where hair (eyebrows particularly) get turned into a blotchy pattern of hairs and blury patches.

The big sensor in the E900 means much cleaner (and sharper) images as far less noise reduction is needed compared to a smaller sensor.  I have had very good 13x19" prints from this camera, and by that time people are stepping back to view the picture, so I could print it virtually any size and because we would view it from further away, it would still do a good print.

Fuji E900 Sample Picture

Another favourite of mine with the E900 is the RAW mode. This is commonly only found on professional cameras and instead of processing the data from the image sensor, applying noise reduction, sharpening, reducing it to 8-bit per channel, and then JPEG compressing it, RAW mode just stores everything that was captured. This means that when I get back to base, I have a complete untouched capture of the image. I can then choose how I want it processed, how much noise reduction I want, what colour balance I want, what exposure compensation I want, process it into several different layers (eg. digital grads for landscape photography, dodging and burning etc.), and store it in whatever colour depth I want. If I change my mind how I want the image processed at a later date, I just load up the RAW file and do it again. What is better - I don't have horrible noise andJPEG compression artefacts, just a nice clean image.

Fuji E900 Sample Image (stitched)

The E900 is not the most friendly camera around. To someone who is accustomed to handling SLRs in manual (or Av mode), the lack of rotary controls makes life a bit more awkward, but the functionality is there for the advanced user. Think of the E900 as the modern equivalent of the classic rangefinders that Pros would keep in their pocket as their walk-around camera.

The other trick: a wide lens (approx 32mm equivalent). For outdoors, a wide lens is a must, but wide lenses are increasingly rare on compact cameras. I suspect again it is due to costs: a smaller (cheaper) sensor means that the optics is pushed towards the telephoto end. The other thing with a wide lens, is that it means large high quality elements - another thing against making things cheap. Yes, I know it is possible to buy wide adaptors (often almost as much as the camera cost in the first place for a good quality one), but if I am going to carry around loads of extra accessories then I might as well just be carrying round an small entry level dSLR.

Fuji E900 Sample Image (stitched)

I have not found another small, cheap compact digital that has SLR like functionality, a large sensor, RAW mode and a reasonably wide lens, and that produces a good quality photo.

Venetian Blinds

This seems to be a common Fuji camera fault and is discussed in many places on the net in regard to many Fuji cameras:

What this looks like: a series of light coloured lines across the image. To demonstrate, I have scaled a sample image with no interpolation so it exaggerates the effect on a small image:

Example of Fuji "Venetian Blinds" (light horizontal lines) Fault

Looking close (1:1 scale):

Example of Fuji "Venetian Blinds" (light horizontal lines) Fault - 1:1 crop

What causes this? It occurs in all photo modes (video mode is fine), and although the extent of the fault appears less on some images and settings, the fault is remains in all image modes. I haven't managed to find a definite explanation anywhere, but talk is of a faulty processor board.

Close examination would suggest to me that a noise (sensor or amp grounding?) related fault is at work. Although the light line is approximately every 3rd line, it beats with the lines which to me would suggest periodic noise creeping in at an analogue level. If this was related to a specific sensor layout related piece of circuitry, then it would keep to a regular pattern. If it was a digital fault then I would expect to see far more abrupt artefacts in the image.

Going back....

It would appear from the forums that the camera will have to go back to Fuji for repairs. I never like sending things back for repair. In a number of cases I have had equipment back damaged in other ways when it has been sent in for servicing / repair.

I keep my equipment in pristine condition, and this camera is no different. No dust on the sensor or in the lens, lens in immaculate condition. The camera is overall in as-new condition with no real signs of use and is complete with all the original packaging and accessories. What will it be like when I get it back? Guess I'll have to wait and find out.

I am continuing to follow this on the blog. Next: The Fuji saga continued....


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