Dynamic range of the Fuji S5 Pro
Dynamic Range -- the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of an image -- is not something that is often talked about in digital photography. Except when reviewers and enthusiasts talk about the Fuji S5 Pro and then the D-range becomes a major topic.
Because for all other cameras, there is not much to talk about. All give about the same D-range.
The Fuji S5 Pro, however, gives up to an additional two f-stops of dynamic range over most other digital cameras, up to a possible maximum range of 12EVs,
That's a significant difference. And it shows.
More significantly, the two additional f-stops are in the highlights, the area where all other digital cameras -- including the most costly -- are not able to handle.
It is only now (end-2007) that the newest cameras like the Nikon D3 -- which costs about 3x as much as the Fuji S5 pro -- are able to offer a dynamic range that comes close to that of the Fuji.
How important is this extended dynamic range?
If you read the many Fuji S5 Pro reviews, a lot of them say it is important for wedding photography -- for taking photographs of brides dressed in white and grooms dressed in black.
Some reviewers, in fact, call the Fuji S5 Pro a specialist wedding and studio portrait photographers' camera, as if other photographers (like me) have no use for a wider dynamic range. Or, for that matter, for natural skin tones and overall good, pleasing colours.
If you shoot landscape (which is not my favourite subject either) the reviewers are divided.
Some feel that landscape photographers need the higher resolution and greater detail of a true 10 or 12 megapixels camera, rather than a Fuji S5 Pro, which offers effectively 2 x 6.17 megapixels. Read about the Super CCD for a fuller discussion on this.Other reviewers point out correctly that landscapes often present situations whereby some parts of the image are brightly lit while other parts are in the shadows -- and the wider dynamic range will make a difference here.
Ken Rockwell presents another scenario whereby the Fuji S5 Pro excels with its wide dynamic range -- shooting into the sun. At first, I thought he was being sacarstic when he writes: For shots with the sun in the sky, get the S5.
Because Rockwell does not seem all that enthusiastic about the Fuji S5 Pro. He says that, apart from shooting into the sun, the benefits of its extended dynamic range are almost invisible otherwise. Rockwell adds: If you're a really bad photographer, this extended dynamic range is helpful for recovering lost highlights, or even entire images...
I find this recommendation both strange and unhelpful. Are there photographers who shoot ONLY people, without anything else, not even in the background? And are there photographers who shoot only teddy bears and other inanimate objects, but not people?
A closer reading of Rockwell's review, however, uncovers a very pertinent point: Film and the S5 avoid making weird colored circles around the sun, or weird colored bands around other washed-out sections, because each color overloads gradually...
To our eyes and film and the S5, colors lose saturation as they overload. They don't change hue. Red should turn pink before it goes white. Other digital cameras turn reds to yellow just before it turns white. This looks awful on overexposed foreheads.
And, he demonstrates this very graphically by specially setting up a situation to shoot a band of red colour such that it gradually over exposes from left to right. With the Fuji S5 Pro, the red turns slightly yellow, then pink and white. With the Nikon D200, the red turns yellow all the way as it over exposes.
This is saying -- and showing -- a lot: that the Fuji S5 Pro produces images that are much closer to film and to how our eyes see.
Personally, I can think of many situations -- not just shooting into the sun or photographing white brides with black grooms -- that call for an extended dynamic range... fair skinned girls wearing black, dark skinned people wearing white, people wearing reflective jewellery, bright interiors with lights switched on, dark interiors with lights from a window, almost all outdoor scenes...
My first dicovery about the Fuji S5 Pro is that it is excellent for night photography. I had not planned to shoot night scenes, but in the two weeks since I bought the camera, the weather during the day has been mainly awful -- either raining or dull overcast -- and so the few opportunities for me to test the camera were mostly at night. I was pleasantly surprised with the results.
The picture at the top of this page was taken on my first night out with the Fuji S5 Pro. It is not a particularly artistic picture but it does illustrate how the camera handles strong over-exposure -- without "weird colored bands". It's a jpeg image straight off the camera, without having to make any Photoshop adjustments.
This picture above, of the new Cathay Building in Singapore, was taken on my second night out with the Fuji S5 Pro. It is minimally adjusted to bring out a bit more details in the lower half shadows.
Interestingly, this photograph illustrates Ken Rockwell's point about the dynamic range of the S5 Pro not changing red into other colors when over-exposed.
The actual colors of the three lights in the foreground are (from left) orange-red, white and pink. The over-exposed pink (far right) appears slightly white (with a tinge of pink at the bottom). It did not turn yellow or into any other weird color. The violet at the top of the building is accurate.
Reviewer Ryan Berenizer presents yet another situation where an extended dynamic range is really helpful -- shooting people making slide presentations. Here, the person is usually in the dark while the background slide is bright. When you get the person bright enough, the slide gets totally burned out and you cannot see anything, just bright white.
So there are actually many, many situations that calls for a wide dynamic range. But most photographers just accept what is given, because they have no better options -- unless they use a Fuji S5 Pro.
As I do not own more than one digital camera system, I am not able to show you my own examples of pictures taken by the Fuji S5 Pro compared to other, roughly equivalent brands. But you can find several examples on the Internet.
Jonathan Ryan @ ThinkCamera.com presents a very convincing "first impressions" comparison of an image -- a tabletop setting with candle light -- taken with the S5 Pro versus a much more costly Nikon D2X.
Another comparison, this time between the Fuji S5 Pro and the Nikon D200, is presented here by Shadow Photography. Apart from obvious major differences in the two pictures, what's even more telling are the histograms that accompany each photograph. The photo taken with the S5 Pro has a histogram that show lots, lots more pixels in the highlights area, towards the extreme right.
Finally, there is very detailed review by Simon Joinson at dpreviews, which includes one full page devoted to discussions, sample images as well as graphs and charts illustrating the amazing dynamic range of this camera.
Update: 10 December 2007
I realised that I can, in fact, illustrate the difference in the dynamic range -- by shooting raw at maximum D-range (+400 percent) and then using Fuji's Finepix Studio software to show what the same picture might look like if I had shot it as standard D-range.
The following picture was shot at the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist charity organisation, at Smith Street in Singapore's Chinatown. When I saw the bright halogen lamps, I knew it was a good candidate to show the dynamic capabilities of the Fuji S5 Pro.
First, here is what it could have been if I had shot at normal D-range, which would probably be what you get with any other camera:
And here is the picture as it was captured on the Fuji S5 Pro, with the dynamic ragne set at +400 percent, showing the highlights much more controlled and less burnt out.