Fujifilm's 12.5-megapixel S5 Pro digital SLR combines the extended dynamic range capabilities of Fujifilm's Super CCD SR sensor with a solid body and functions closely related to the Nikon D200.
Increasing Quality Not Pixels
This is arguably what all DSLR manufacturers should now be concentrating on – maybe holding back on cramming ever increasing numbers of ever-smaller pixels into the same surface area, in order to pursue expanded dynamic range and improved sharpness and resolution instead. But is Fujifilm really taking us into a ‘brave new world’ of image-making with the S5 Pro? Or is the company simply trying to re-invent an already established wheel?
In terms of its features, the S5 Pro is an entirely different beast from the S3 Pro. Numerous differences separate the two, some of which have been driven by Nikon (unsurprisingly, given the S5’s D200 origins), but many technology-based enhancements come from the Fuji side of the fence
Redeisgned Sensor, New Engine
Perhaps the most fundamental difference is in terms of the light-recording technology, with a redesigned sensor and new processing engine clearly differentiating the new model from the old. No longer described as ‘Super CCD SR II’, the S5 Pro uses the latest 23 x 15.5mm Super CCD SR Pro imaging chip, with 6.17 million ‘S’ pixels and 6.17 million ‘R’ pixels delivering a combined resolution of 12.34mp – or images measuring up to 4256 x 2848 pixels in size.
‘S’ and ‘R’ Pixels Explained
As with previous incarnations of the SR sensor, the larger, octagonal ‘S’ pixels are the primary light-gathering source, and once they have reached their full charge capacity (‘pure white’ in image terms) the smaller ‘R’ pixels act as an ‘overflow’, continuing to record detail in the highlights that would otherwise be lost. In this way the S5 Pro’s dynamic range can be increased by up to two stops (a 100-400% range) with six manually selectable levels available or a camera-based automatic option.
The sensor also has a new low pass filter array that Fuji claims will reduce moiré and noise, and to further combat image noise the S5 Pro houses a new processing engine, dubbed ‘Real Photo (RP) Processor Pro’. One of the key features of the RP Processor Pro is its use of a two-stage noise-reduction process, which is adapted to each colour channel. One stage tackles low-frequency noise and the other targets high-frequency noise to deliver the finest possible results. This has enabled Fuji to boost the S5 Pro’s maximum ISO to 3200.
Nikon D200 Features
However, not all of the S5’s improvements are solely down to Fuji’s R&D department. As the camera is based on the Nikon D200, the S5 inherits a similar set of ‘photographic’ features, including an 11-point AF system (up from a 5-point system on the S3) offering single or group selection of the AF points. The Nikon base also means that – like all Fuji’s previous ‘S’ models – the S5 Pro uses a Nikon F lens mount, with the sub-35mm sensor giving a 1.5x focal length magnification.
As for shooting modes, the S5 Pro is aimed at the more experienced or professional user, so program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual are on hand, with Raw, JPEG and simultaneous Raw/JPEG capture possible. Helping you achieve the correct exposure – whichever mode or format you’re using – comes down to metering patterns comprising Nikon’s 3D Colour Matrix Metering II, a variable-sized centre-weighted pattern and spot metering, with ±5EV exposure compensation available if the metered exposure doesn’t match your expectations.
The S5 Pro’s white balance system is equally comprehensive, with the expected automatic option joined by nine presets (including five for different types of fluorescent lighting) and a manual colour temperature option that lets you set the white point from 2500-10000K. There’s also the option to fine-tune the white balance.
Further control over the colour comes from a choice of Adobe RGB and sRGB colour spaces, as well as an expanded choice of ‘film simulation’ modes including four subtle ‘F1’ variations for natural, colour negative style skin tones, plus a saturated, Velvia slide film-esque ‘F2’ setting. These are in addition to a ‘standard’ colour mode and all can be further customised in terms of colour, tone and sharpness, rounding off a particularly comprehensive feature set.
Design And Performance
Nikon in Fujifilm Clothes?
It would be easy to say that the S5 Pro is simply a Nikon D200 in Fujifilm clothing, but there’s no other way of describing it. But this is no bad thing – after all, the D200 was WDC’s ‘£1000+ DSLR of the Year 2006’, scoring an impressive 90% overall, including 18/20 for its design. From the rugged magnesium alloy body to the weatherproof seals, the camera (be it a D200 or S5 Pro) is clearly made to a ‘pro’ specification.
In terms of its overall handling it’s essentially the same as the Nikon D200 the S5 Pro is significantly smaller and lighter than the S3 Pro as it loses the built-in grip (which not everyone wants or needs). It also gains a Lithium-Ion battery, which is great given that the S3 Pro relied on AA cells that always seemed to expire at the worst possible time.
In addition to sharing the same physical size and shape, the S5 Pro retains much of the D200’s control layout, with front and rear control wheels for setting the shutter speed/aperture and changing settings. We like this arrangement and the fact that the S5 Pro has the same two-button format option where pressing the ‘delete’ and ‘mode’ buttons simultaneously, releasing them and then pressing again formats your card. It sounds convoluted when written, but it’s far quicker and easier than remembering which page of which menu the format option hides under.
Other benefits of using an existing, ‘winning’ design are the bright viewfinder, with its easy-to-read green LCD readout and 95% coverage and a 230,000 pixel, 2.5in rear LCD. If there was one thing (other than the batteries) we disliked about the S3 Pro it was the secondary rear LCD that accessed various features – much like the Canon EOS 300D and 350D. With the single 2.5in screen this is no longer necessary and the handling is all the more streamlined for it.
One noticeable difference between the Nikon D200 and the S5 Pro in terms of their designs – the ‘face zoom in’ button on the S5 that replaces the conventional zoom option for enlarging images. How useful this will be to you largely depends on the type of photography you do, but if you’re a ‘people person’ a quick press of this button on playback zooms the image to someone’s face so you can check their eyes are open or they’re in focus, say. If you have multiple faces in a frame then a second press of the face zoom button takes you to the next person’s visage, and so on. A maximum of 10 faces can be put under the magnifier in this way – handy for small groups, but less so for extravagant wedding parties – and, provided that your subject is looking straight on at the camera, it does the job.
However, it’s not always going to be as easy as taking a shot, pressing the ‘face zoom’ button and getting the image on screen in an instant, because the S5 Pro isn’t the quickest of cameras when it comes to tidying away files on the memory card – especially if you shoot uncompressed (approx. 25Mb) Raw images. Despite a more powerful processor that’s claimed to deliver faster processing and playback shooting, Raw does tie up the S5 Pro somewhat. Though you can carry on taking shots (at up to 3fps at standard dynamic range and up to 1.5fps at 130%+ D-range), the S5 Pro locks you out of the menu system and prevents playback until the buffer is clear, so if you want to quickly check a shot you have to wait a little while.
The AF, too, isn’t one of its strong points but this is not really Fuji’s fault as the system has been inherited rather than developed in-house. It’s accurate and there aren’t many occasions when it will struggle to lock on to the subject, but it isn’t quite as ‘instant’ as I’d like, even with a fast lens.
For studio photographers, the S5 Pro does have another trick up its sleeve to help you achieve ‘perfect’ focus – a live view LCD. Once activated, the mirror flips out of the way and you can use the rear 2.5in screen to compose and focus your image, in colour or black and white. This is a great aid if you focus manually, though if you rely on the AF system it isn’t quite as useful. Nor will it help if you’re shooting subjects that are more mobile as you have to reset the mirror to shoot, so you lose the benefit of the live view. However, for studio still-life it could definitely help.
Image Quality And Value For Money
Exposure and White Balance
In terms of white balance and exposure accuracy there’s little to complain about, although when left to its own devices the automatic WB tends to err on the slightly cold side of things in overcast conditions. The 3D Colour Matrix Metering deals consistently with most scenes, although Fuji seems to have kept Nikon’s metering algorithms because it appears to be calibrated to underexpose ever so slightly – maybe by 1/3 of a stop. This is not a bad thing though, as it helps prevent highlights from blowing out.
However, when you crank up the D-range from ‘standard’ (100%) to 400% things get more interesting. At this point the highlights in the image rarely meet the end of the histogram – even with high-contrast scenes – showing that every single pixel contains image-forming information. A quick levels tweak in Photoshop and you have a full tonal range in each and every image, with no ‘lost’ detail.
It’s not all positive though, and Fuji’s claim that 6.17 million ‘S’ pixels plus 6.17 million ‘R’ pixels equals 12.34 million effective pixels is perhaps – how shall I put this – a little optimistic. I’m not suggesting that Fuji is wrong, but the final interpolated images – in terms of detail and clarity of the picture – are no better than most ten-million-pixel DSLRs, with a slight overall softness and ‘mushy’ detail areas.
Yet when it comes to the perennial question of noise there’s a marked improvement, and starting with the worst-case scenario – ISO 3200 – it’s clear to see that Fuji’s new two-stage noise-reduction processing works. At the maximum ISO setting there’s very little chroma (colour) noise, leaving slight luminosity texture that only appears in A3 prints – at an A4 print size it’s negligible.
As this suggests, reducing the ISO setting makes for very pleasing image enlargements, with fine A3 prints achievable at ISO 800 and anything below that better still.
Value For Money
If the S5 Pro was priced around £1000 it would undoubtedly appeal as a D200 alternative, but at the time of writing there’s around a £250 difference. This largely comes down to one thing – the Super CCD SR Pro sensor. If you really want (or need) the extended dynamic range then that’s the price you’l have to pay.
With four portrait-orientated colour modes Fujifilm is clearly targeting the wedding and social photographer, and the S5 Pro?s extended dynamic range will certainly help tackle the common ?black suit/white dress? exposure nightmare. But is the S5 Pro fast enough? Any delay in shooting is unwelcome and after a while having to wait for the buffer to clear before you can review the image and check that eyes are open etc, is not only time consuming, but also a little embarrassing.
Accept that and the Fujifilm S5 Pro is an otherwise fine camera, with its low noise levels and extended dynamic range producing smooth, clean images with the minimum of fuss, even if we’re not convinced that they?re ?true? 12 million pixel ones?