Featuring exactly the same body as the Nikon D200, the Fuji S5 Pro offers a specific choice for those wanting a top quality DSLR but is the hocus pocus 12Mp resolution process a work of genius, or the tool of the devil?
- CCD resolution: 6.1Mp-S, 6.1Mp-R
- Output: L: 4256x2848, M: 3024x2016, S: 2304x1536 pixels
- Sensitivity: ISO100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600, 2000, 2500, 3200
- Shutter speed: 30sec - 1/8000sec. Bulb.
- Metering system: Three-mode through-the-lens (TTL) exposure metering.
- 3D Color Matrix Metering II, centre-weighted, spot
- Exposure compensation: +/-5EV from 1/3, 1/2, 1EV step.
- White balance: Automatic, Incandescent light, Fluorescent lamp (1-5), Fine, Flash, Shade, Preset Custom (1-5)
- Film Simulation: F1, F1a, F1b, F1c, F2
- Lens mount: Nikon F-mount with AF coupling and contacts
- Colour space: sRGB, Adobe RGB1998
- LCD monitor: 2.5in. approx. 230k pixels TFT colour LCD
- Built-in flash: Manual pop-up with button release. Guide No. 12. i-TTL balanced fill-flash or standard i-TTL flash.
- Flash sync: up to 1/250 sec.
- Flash terminals: hotshoe and X-type PC-sync
- Power source: Rechargeable Li-ion battery (included) or AC Power Adapter AC-135VN (optional)
- Dimensions: 147x113x74mm
- Weight: Approx. 830g
- Full specs see here
There’s no two ways about this. It has the same kind of street price as the D200, around a grand, it uses exactly the same magnesium-alloy body with exactly the same controls as the D200, and it can use all the Nikon-fit lenses that the D200 has access to. This area of the market is empty of Canon products – the 30D and 400D are £400 cheaper, while the full-frame 5D is £500 more expensive. The Sigma SD14 is around the same price point, but really, if you’ve decided to splurge a grand on a semi-pro camera, then it’s a fairly simple choice: Nikon D200 or Fuji S5 Pro.
Modes and features
Let's start with the top right where the shooting information LCD meets the on/off and fire button above the hand grip. The exposure compensation button is here along with the Mode button, which sets the P, A, S, M modes – there are no beginner scene modes here. For a camera with a vast array of ISO settings, it's a missed opportunity to not have an ISO mode like the Pentax K10D, although this can actually be set by going into the Setup menu, where the maximum ISO used with it can be configured as well. On the top of the camera is the hotshoe and pop-up flash, while on the side is the X-terminal for PC-sync cables. Finally on the top left side, is the quality, WB and ISO buttons, over the top of a selection dial that allows access to custom setups, timed exposures and a mirro-up function for vibration-free long exposures. The quality settings are either RAW or JPG or a combination of both. What's possibly more interesting are the ISO settings and the WB options.
range goes from 100 to 3200, but has many intermediate steps allowing quite precise adjustments to get just enough shutter speed for the situation in front of the camera. The white balance options have a range of types as standard, but also five types of fluorescent and the colour temperature can be set directly according to the Kelvin scale, from 2500K up to 10,000K.
On the front of the camera is a depth of field preview button and the flash control button. By holding this down and moving the front wheel, flash exposure compensation which runs from -3EV to +1EV can be used. This is very handy to be able to control to use varying levels of fill flash. The other wheel changes the flash mode between normal, red eye reduction and rear sync mode for combined exposures with the background.
For those interested in knocking out HDR-type images, the bracketing button will hold no little interest. Hold this down and the front wheel sets the bracketing step between each image from 0.3EV to 1EV. The rear control wheel then sets over how frames this will be applied, from three, up to nine. This means that with the settings on 1EV at nine frames, the image exposed will then be bracketed by frames at 4EV over and under exposed, covering an 8EV range. The D200 also has image bracketing, and throws in white balance bracketing as well, which is one of the few features that the S5 doesn't have.
Around the back of the S5, next to the eye level viewfinder with a dioptre adjustment, is the metering
type selector with an exposure and focus lock button in the middle. The standard zone, spot and centre-weighted metering options are available. The spot metering isn't fixed to the centre, as the range of available spots is determined by another switch on the back which sets what kind of focus point grid is being used. There are a maximum of 11 points on the focus grid and these can be used as a whole, individually as set by the user, or in groups. A joypad on the back of the camera moves the point around, and this can also be locked to prevent it being inadvertently moved.
Of course, all these are all good and well, but where the S5 and the Nikon D200 move off in radically different directions is in the CCD
and processing options. The D200 has a genuine 10Mp chip and it's very good for landscape photography, and portraits where there isn't a great contrast. The Fuji S1 first became popular with wedding photographers for its rendition of skin tones, and this was built upon with the introduction of the SuperCCD SR sensor. This features two diodes at each photo-site location, one for the general exposure, the other for the highlights. This still means that it's an effective 6Mp resolution chip that is interpolating up to 12Mp images, albeit, with more data to interpolate from because of the sensor shape and design. The real benefit of having that extra diode at each photo-site is in using it for extra dynamic range. Using the menu system this can be set to what is referred to as 130%, 170%, 230% (W1 setting), 300% or 400% (W2 setting). Now this is somewhat misleading because at 400% you might think that you'd get four times the dynamic range, whereas in practice it's an extra two stops with the highlights. The area of photography that most benefits from this is of course weddings, especially when the sun is shining on white dresses. It does make a telling difference – see further down under performance.
One of the other options is to use a film emulation mode that recreates the look of classic film stocks. These can have the colour, tone and sharpness fine tuned as well. On top of this, there are options to shoot in sRGB or the wider colour gamut of AdobeRGB. There are also lots of other clever options to tweak and fine tune the camera, like changing the centre-weighted spot from 8mm to 6mm, 10mm or 13mm.
Build and handling
Obviously, this is virtually identical to the D200 in that the body is the same, so it handles the same. It's noticeably bigger and heavier than something like a Canon EOS 400D or a Nikon D40x, but that extra cost also means that the build quality is considerably better. It's moderately heavy in the hand, but has a very good grip and well spaced buttons and dials, though I've always found the focus switch – single, continuous and manual, to be too small and flimsy. That said, I've never had this break. The upshot here is that the build quality is very good, though it isn't a press camera and isn't going to take being relentlessly bashed. The handling and operation is very good though, with the dual selection wheels working well. The menu systems are very easy to navigate, and putting the photographic stuff onto Menu and the more arcane camera maintenance and tinkering settings onto Setup works well.
All the options you could want whether it's the hotshoe, the PC-sync terminal or the built in flash. The built in unit has a guide number
of 12, which is okay, good for portrait groups, but isn't going to fill a room with light. Compared to a compact of course, which generally have a guide number of around 5, it's a lot more powerful. The PC-sync terminal will synchronise with studio flash up to 1/250sec. Of most practical interest is that the S5 can use the Nikon SB600 and SB800 wireless flashguns with i-TTL balanced fill-flash or standard i-TTL flash. It, like the D200, is also compatible with some other Nikon flashguns, but not using TTL flash control, which, really, limits their usefulness.
Startup time is almost instantaneous and you can turn it on and shoot in under half a second. That's as fast as you can physically turn the dial and hold the fire button down. Shooting speed is a maximum of 3fps, but only when shooting in normal dynamic range, otherwise it drops to 1.5fps for the wide range stuff. This is good and what you might expect from a camera in this class, but the D200 is faster offering up to 5fps. Also, I've certainly never been able to fill up the buffer on real-life photo shoots. Perhaps if you were shooting a huge series of action or wildlife pics you might be able to, but for standard portrait shots, it keeps on shooting. It can then take some time to playback the image you want as it's still saving, but this is hardly a problem.
The fastest shutter speed of 1/8000sec is pretty fast and handy for very bright environments where a wider aperture is required. Exposure compensation
is plus or minus 5EV, and that's a handsome amount of compensation to be able to use to make a picture brighter or darker in challenging circumstances.
The auto-focus is perhaps the weakest element of the S5, as it isn't super-quick, but only wildlife photographers are going to find it a problem. A related features is the Live view on the LCD - this is something few DSLRs offer. Unfortunately, while it works in colour, it only operates with the camera in manual focus mode. And then it only stays on for 30secs while you are busy fiddling with the focus.
The key advantage of the S5 is using the wide dynamic range when the sun is shining. I tool along a Nikon D200 and the Fuji S5 to a wedding at a castle where there was bright sunlight outside. In the areas of normal light, with streaks of very bright light through the windows caused the D200 to lose the highlights on every shot, whereas the S5 lost some on a few pictures, but performed far better in the conditions. Outside, where the light was bright and reflecting off white dresses, the S5 coped with this without fault, capturing every shot.
That brings us to the metering which is very good. Zone metering is fine for general scenes, but is the mode most easily fooled with higher contrast scenes or reflective surfaces. Centre-weighted is the ideal metering mode as the user can pick up the points to weight it towards. Certainly it coped the real-life conditions of outdoor landscapes and shooting a wedding with acres of white fabric, with ease.
There are a variety of colour modes and options for optimising the image so that you can get the look and feel suited to a particular setup. On top of that the colour strength, tone and sharpness can all be manipulated to change the overall effect. Shooting the test chart on all neutral settings shows a fairly good result with reds being particularly under control. The primary blue colour is also nice and dark while the green colour is actually a little darker than the chart. The colour mixes then are surprisingly brighter, apart from orange which is quite flat but then this goes with the red and brown shades. The upshot from these colour balances is that skin tones and greens will be fairly neutral and accurate, but that blue skies will progress from pleasingly deep to bright. But, as has been mentioned you can completely change how colours are rendered.
What is impressive is the way the camera uses the ISO settings and controls the noise at higher ISO levels. Although you wouldn't want to use ISO1600 or 3200 for landscape photos because the noise is readily apparent, it's perfectly acceptable for low light situations like concerts. Compared to the DS200 though, it's a little cruder in the steps available.
The colours are good for the portrait test – neutral without being cold. There is a lack of fine detail, but this is no bad thing on a portrait.
The primary colours are very good being quite muted but the blue-green combo is more cyan. Only the lighter blues are brighter than normal.
There are artefacts visible on the water surface on close examination, and there is a lack of detail in the grassy area, but the exposure is fine and there is no colour fringing. The colours are natural looking.
Tricky shot with bright, glaring light. Some fringing around the top of the plant, but the centre-weighted metering – aimed at the room rather than the window, has given a good exposure.
Shots like this would normally be problematic, with a combination of dark shadow and sunlight falling on a white wedding dress, but this has been captured perfectly.
The ISO2500 allows an intermediate setting under ISO3200, slightly limiting the noise in comparison. Still, at this setting it's very noticeable, if just about usable.
It's interesting to see that even at ISO100 while there is no noise evident, the artefacts produced by the SuperCCD interpolation process can still be seen, and not just in the shadow areas either. There's no real change at ISO160 and ISO200 which is good. At ISO320 the artefacts are slightly more pronounced, possibly due to noise making the edges sharper. At ISO400 the noise starts to mix in with the artefacts, but this only really shows on areas of solid colour – it can't be seen through textures. At ISO640 patches of darker noise become evident in the shadows and the solid colours are now rougher. Pushing up to ISO800 there is noise in the shadow areas of the white portions of the test card, but the flower image isn't appreciably worse. The noise and artefacts start to form heavier, solid elements at ISO1600 in both clear areas and shadows looking very bitty. Also the textures start to be affected by noise. The intermediate settings between 1600 and 3200 limit the image deterioration because at ISO3200 the images are very noisy as might be expected, with textures having uneven detail. What is admirable is that there is very little colour shift as the ISO increases.
Using the same body as the Nikon D200, the Fuji S5 obviously has to differentiate itself in other ways, and the fact that the CCD and processing engine are completely different means that the cameras do head down very different paths. The headline resolution of the S5 may seem to outstrip the D200, at 12Mp to 10Mp, but this is generated from the SuperCCD SR chip, with its fancy honeycomb design and twin-photo receptors at each photo-site of which there are only 6M. The result is that landscape photos are not as impressive with detail tending to disappear in the distance because it wasn't there in the original image. Also, artefacts from the SuperCCD process are evident right from the start at ISO100, though noise is then well controlled.
This then is the key point between the two cameras – if you are shooting predominantly landscape photos then the D200 is a better camera, but for portraits and use in more challenging light, the S5 is more capable. If you are looking at breaking into the wedding market though, then there really is no choice – the wide dynamic range of the S5 makes it far superior and it's the only choice anywhere near this price point.
Wide dynamic range
Excellent build quality
ISO up to 3200
Film emulation modes
Compatible with Nikon lenses and flash
Auto-focus not super-quick
12Mp pictures are interpolated
SuperCCD interpolation artefacts
The Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro has a street price of around £999 and is available from the ePHOTOzine shop here.
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