Best Example of Fuji X-Trans "False Detail" I've Found Yet

Take a look at this image or click the link below and take a look at the studio comparison tool from dpreview for yourself. Try to ignore DPReview's tool's stitching errors, they are not relevant to this comparison.

Allow me to explain. This is a full resolution comparison of four different cameras shot at base ISO. These are out of camera JPEGs to give the best possible results for the Fuji X-E2. We have the 36mp A7r, 24mp A7, 16mp Pentax K-500 and 16mp Fuji X-E2. The selection of the image shown is a monochromatic resolution demonstration sheet, a part of the varied studio comparison scene from DPReview. What it is isn't all that important, what matters is that it is A) not colored green and B) depicts fine straight lines set at an angle in the frame.

The reason "A" matters is that finely detailed green materials look terrible on the X-Trans sensor in just about every situation (don't believe me? Select the green tufts of fake fur on the studio scene and just have look for yourself. Awful.) So here we have the best chance for the X-E2 to show more detail due to eliminating the OLPF (AA filter). The reason "B" is important is that the nature of digital images makes angled lines hard to draw sharply, you get "steps" from aliasing. The only way to avoid steps is to blur edges.

So what do we see? Well we can see very clear straight lines on the higher resolution, standard bayer array cameras. That's a big bonus of higher resolution sensors, even with blurred edges in the digital image, there is quite a lot of contrast between the lines. But, even when we look at the 16mp Pentax camera image, you still see rather straight lines though they are all gray-ish (we're looking at the finest lines here) due to the anti-aliasing effect. So the result here is more of a texture at normal viewing sizes, but, it's more accurate than the Fuji. Just look at that awful mess. At first, you might think, "Hey, look at that crisp detail on the fuji!" but, then you realize it hasn't rendered the actual detail at all. Instead, it's created an angled checkerboard that, even at smaller viewing sizes, produces an entirely different texture in the image, and of course, at full pixel resolution, is just obviously wrong.

This is a fantastic example of what happens when you take a 16mp sensor and chop it up in 3x3 sections instead of the usual 2x2, then try to cover up that massive reduction in resolution with overzealous interpolation.

The fact is, the X-trans sensor design utterly fails at its implied capability: It does not produce better details than a 16mp sensor with an anti-aliasing filter. It just produces wrong details. And this is best case. If you were to take this same image except use green lines, it would just be a blurry smudgefest due to the blocks of 2x2 green pixels on the X-Trans "semi-random" color filter array. And to add insult to injury, this sensor design does not entirely prevent moiré, which was the entire impetus behind a 3x3 semi-random color filter array.

The one benefit the X-trans sensor does seem to have is a higher base ISO. Even though the base ISO is fudged pretty hard (it's not really a full stop better than its peers, more like 2/3rds), it does give it best-in-class noise performance at high ISOs. Though there is one additional little evil detail regarding that. The process for dealing with the semi-random color filter array on the X-trans sensor forces noise reduction above the norm. However, in practice, this isn't really important. You've already lost the fine detail you might recover by using lower NR strengths anyway. And, in fact, at higher ISOs the practical impact of the detail loss is far less relevant when comparing to the technology's peers. This is why some early reviewers noted that the Fuji sensor seemed to improve as ISO's rose, but, only in comparison to peers.

Of course, this explains the demonstration that Fuji's lowest end X series mirrorless camera actually produces much better detail than the higher end models as it doesn't have an X-trans sensor. It would also explain why Fuji will produce a full frame mirrorless camera. Just look at the Soy Alpha 7 image here, see how much more vastly detailed it is. Pump up the ISO and you'll see it's on par or improved over the X-E2 despite the X-E2's NR and base ISO advantages. And remember that Fuji's "high end" X-Pro1 sold for $1700 when it launched, which is the US MSRP of the Sony Alpha 7.

Basically, Fuji has no choice if they want to maintain their position as a competitive high end mirrorless camera manufacturer. X-Trans just isn't going to cut it like this. Fuji could consider something like a 36mp sensor with X-trans to compete with 24mp full frame cameras. It would have similar effective resolution (especially if they ditch the overzealous interpolation in the JPEG engine) and possibly cleaner high ISO results.

Either way, X-trans has proven to be less than fantastic at anything but very high ISO images and really, that capability is nowhere nearly as important as so many photo blogs would have you think, especially if you can get some proper fast glass in front of the sensor.
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