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Fuji S5 Pro Review

Written by a geek for geeks, so expect it to be pretty technical in nature.

I upgraded my broken Fujifilm S2 Pro to an S5 Pro. I've shot a significant amount of pictures using both the S2 and the S5, so I think i have a fair insight. I also have some knowledge about the Nikon D200, because I know several people who have that one. I also have a large pile of S3 images taken by a good friend. And I have a friend who has the Canon 5D. So this review is written while mentally comparing the camera to those other cameras.

Advantages

  • Lots of settings. Yay! Endless whitebalance possibilities with lots of combinations of manual and automatic settings. Brilliant.
  • Better colors than the Nikon D200 and Fuji S3 as far as I can tell.
  • Camera is easy to use for the most part. The things you use often have their own buttons.
  • Amazingly high dynamic range - and "Wide Dynamic Range" looks great and leaves no artifacts even at "400%".
  • Low noise. Iso 800 is excellent and even iso 1600 and 3200 are quite useful depending on what resolution output you need.
  • The kind of noise it makes at high iso is "filmish", and is more pretty than the rather digital looking noise produced by the S2.
  • Unlike with the S2, Fuji seems to have realized that it's good to release firmware upgrades if they find bugs or limitations. Because of this we might see some of the problems i found go away.
  • LCD screen is much better than the S2.
  • Histogram im postview can be enabled and remembered by switching mode while in the postview mode.
  • Jpeg quality is so good I wonder if I'll even need RAW very much.
  • Uses Nikon compatible lenses. No proprietary sillyness there.
  • The horrible two-battery-types concept of the S2 is gone. You only need one kind of battery now.
  • RAW format is not encrypted. If it was encrypted, I would have thought twice before buying.
  • You can change iso easily. The S2 was cumbersome.
  • Two-axis fine-tuning of any selected white-balance.
  • Adobe RGB support.

Disadvantages

  • 1.5x crop. Full-size cameras are an advantage is most cases for several reasons (larger viewfinder, better per-subpixel noise levels etc.) I know there are also advantages having a cropped camera (e.g. smaller physical size of camera/lenses, bird/airplane photography), but in most other cases, a fullframe version of the S5 would have been desirable.
  • Zooming doesn't go to 1:1 pixel, which is the most important zoom range for checking focus.
  • The camera does not work as a standard mass storage USB device, but rather uses the inferior PTP solution. This is dissapointing considering the somewhat high price, and also considering the fact that the predecessors S2 and S3 Pro could do this, just like so many other (and even cheaper) cameras at the time.
  • This forces you to either get a card reader, or install the Fuji software which, unfortunately is a huuuuuuge package of stuff (that only works sometimes btw.). This is especially problematic because...
  • Fuji unfortunately uses the horrible InstallShield for their software, which often causes loads of install trouble. It did on both computers I installed it on.
  • The "FinePix Studio" application is unstable and will often say "Out of memory" even if you have lots of free memory. It also crashes often. Because there are no acceptable 3rd Party loaders available, this is really a problem.
  • No focusing prism. The tiny viewfinders in cropped cameras make the focusing prism even more important, and yet it is missing from all DSLR cameras including this one.
  • It cannot share batteries with anything else - not even the Nikon D200 despite using the same camera house. It almost seems like they changed the electronic ID just to piss off the users.
  • Maximum exposure time is still 30 seconds. Why? It would have been a no-brainer to add "60", "90", "120" and "180" to the list of choices. Of course you can still use "Bulb" to get longer exposures.
  • Raw files are a painful 25 MB large unless you disable the Wide Dynamic Range feature. Then they're half size.
  • Minor details: The S2 had firewire, but the S5 does not. So copying isn't exactly blazingly fast. Thank god I'm a patient guy. Also the S2 did both CompactFlash and SD cards. This one only does C.F.
  • Live Preview is very noisy, unzoomable and thus quite useless.

Loading RAW Images

You cannot use Adobe RAW with this camera. If you do, you will get a noticeably lower resolution and more noise than what Fuji's software can achieve. Same goes for dcraw which mis-interprets the sub-pixel positioning of the octogonal pattern. This was also the case with the Fuji S2.

12 megapixel fuji raw

12 megapixel Fuji raw

This method gives the highest possible resolution while maintaining the lowest noise level. The algorithms used in the Fuji FinePixStudio seems to be slightly more accurate than the in-camera raw to jpeg conversion. It is also much slower. Quality costs. The drawback is that raw files take up 25 megabytes.

This image is a small crop out of the original, at 1:1 pixel.
12 megapixel adobe raw

12 megapixel Adobe raw

Adobe's RAW 3.7 seems to misinterpret the sub-pixel positioning of the peculiar SuperCCD array, thus obtaining a lower resolution than the 6 megapixel jpeg. In detailed high contrast areas (like highlights) you see even miscolorations. Notice how the "M" and "O" in the word "Modulation" are melting together. Also this image has more noise despite being blurry.
12 megapixel jpeg

12 megapixel jpeg fine

This is the next-best mode, producing jpeg files of appx. 5-6 megabytes. Some reviews state that this is just 6 megapixels upsampled, but as far as I can tell, this is not quite true. Because of the unusual SuperCCD sensor layout, downsampling to 6 megapixels actually means loosing a litle bit of resolution. This is why Fuji offers the 12 megapixel mode.
6 megapixel jpeg

6 megapixel jpeg fine

Here i have used the normal 6 megapixel jpeg mode, then scaled the result up to exactly the same resolution as above, to compare quality. The result is slightly less detailed, despite using the best scaling algorithm in Photoshop. Sharpening will not get you the same quality as above.
HDR off

High Dynamic Range

Wide Dynamic Range: OFF

This image is over exposed on purpose, to show how the camera handles that, and to show what dynamic range means in real life.

Notice how this image obviously got too much light from the flash. Large portions of the face are the same color, because there was too much light for the camera to handle. This is the kind of image most digital cameras would produce. The white areas are completely white, and cannot be rescued in any way.
HDR on

Wide Dynamic Range: ON

With the S5 "Wide Dynamic Range" enabled (built-in real-time HDR), the blown-out image looks more natural, despite being obviously being too bright. A lot of detail is preserved in the bright areas.

Conclusion

Generally the software could be improved a lot, but the general image quality is stunning. I definately recommend this camera to people who are searching for excellent image quality, especially when it comes to colors and dynamic range. If you think analog film is the only right thing, this might be the digital camera that would make you accept digital. If you need a fast camera, go somewhere else.


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