Why I bought the Fuji Finepix S5 Pro?
Steven, who runs Camera Hospital, first introduced me to the FujiFilm Finepix S5 Pro.
Before that, I did not even know that such a camera existed, for it is not widely advertised, unliked the Canon, Nikon, Oylmpus. Sony and other brands. Even the Pentax K10D, which I seriously considered, was not widely advertised.
And I suspect that many digital camera users, or potential users, are either equally unaware. Or even if they had heard about the Fuji S5 Pro, they did not pay much attention. For the digital camera market is strongly ruled by Canon and Nikon.
I had been talking with Steven about the possibility of me buying the Pentax K10D, but he was less than enthusiastic. "It's a good camera,” he assured, but he warned that it would be difficult for me to find good (meaning excellent) lenses to go with it.
Steven, like my photography buddy Joe, is also a connisseur of lenses. And Joe, too, had questioned the wisdom of me buying a Pentax for he pointed out that the Pentax lenses were good but not great (like the Carl Zeiss on his Sony R-1).
However, I cannot afford to spend a lot of money on great lenses. So I did not pay too much attention to their advice.
Until one day, Steven showed me the FujiFilm Finepix S5 Pro.
“This camera is really good,” he said as he took a shot and showed to me. He added that he was using a really cheap but excellent lens (Nikkor 28-80 zoom) that cost only S$160 (a little more than US$110) used.
Yes, the image on the LCD display at the back of the camera looked good. It was sharp but most strikingly, the colors were excellent - vibrant yet natural. As mntioned, I never knew about the FujiFilm Finepix S5 Pro before.
"How much?" I asked Steven.
“S$2380 for the body,” he replied.
“For a lot less than that, I can get the Pentax K10D with two lenses,” I pointed out.
"This is in a different class,” he countered.
There was another customer in his shop that day, with a Nikon D80. "My camera can't touch that,” he said.
I was intrigued...
Fuji's Super CCD
Thus began my research into this camera that previously I knew absolutely nothing about -- the Fujifilm Finepix S5 Pro.
And one of the first things I learned was about its special sensor, called the Super CCD.
At first, this might sound like marketing talk -- Fuji calling the sensor of its Finepix S5 Pro "Super" just to make it sound better than the competition.
But no. This was truly something different. And, unlike the difference between CCD and CMOS, which is rather technical and which none of my photography friends could explain to me, the unique thing about Fuji's Super CCD is simple and easy to appreciate.
Each location actually has two sensors -- a large 'S' sensor that records normal light, and a small 'R' sensor that records only bright lights.
The effect is that the FujiFilm Finepix S5 Pro offers a wider dynamic range, meaning it records more details in the very dark areas as well as in the very bright areas. This overcomes a very major limitation that still plagues all other digital cameras today, including the very expensive models from Canon and Nikon -- they are all unable to capture details in the very bright areas, which show up as pure white.
Another benefit of the Super CCD is that cameras such as the Finepix S5 Pro are able to produce pictures taken in low light, at high ISO ratings of 800, 1600 or even 3200 with very low noise. This was exactly what I needed. I tend to take pictures in low light, or using long lenses, where a high ISO rating would come in really useful.
Again, I think not many digital camera users know or bother to find out more about Fuji's Super CCD. One of my friends, who had been closely following digital camera technology, had simply assumed that "all the good brands would use a good sensor anyway".
Not true. The Super CCD used in the Finepix S5 Pro is different -- and superior. More suprisingly, I found out that it is actually "old" and therefore matured and proven technology. Fuji developed the Super CCD in 1999 and the version in the Finepix S5 Pro is the Super CCD SR Pro, which is the 6th or 7th generation of Super CCDs.
I also disovered that there is another type of sensor called the Foveon, in which each sensor consists of three layers to capture Red, Green and Blue, whereas other sensors capture just one of these colors and the camera has to somehow combine them to produce a color image. But I found the Sigma SD14, which uses this sensor, to be disappointing. So I became more set on the FujiFilm Finepix S5 Pro.
Finepix S5 Pro reviews
The many reviews that I read of the FujiFilm Finepix S5 Pro confirmed what I had seen briefly when Steven first showed me the camera -- that its image quality is superior to others.
The first review I read was by Jonathan Ryan at ThinkCamera.com. I did not fully understand and appreciate what the reviewer was talking about at first, but three words he wrote hit me in the head: The pictures rock.
The part I did not understand at first was the introduction, where Ryan talked about the dynamic range. He showed six (unexciting) photographs of bluebell flowers arranged in two rows. The top row consisted of three photos with normal exposure. The bottom row consisted of one very very bright, almost completely white picture, one normal picture, and one very very dark, almost completely black picture.
I had to read three times (because at first I was reading in the middle of the night and not too closely) to realise that the three normal looking photos in the top row were derived from the three pictures in the second row, including those pictures that were very badly over-exposed and under-exposed. Wow! I was really impressed by what the FujiFilm Finepix S5 Pro could do!
I read all the S5 Pro reviews I could find on the Internet, plus quite a few users' comments in photography forums and they all said pretty much the same things -- the S5 Pro wins hands down in terms of image quality, but loses out to other brands and models in terms of features -- such as the number of frames per second, or the number of pictures that can be taken in quick succession before the buffer fills up (and you have to wait maybe a minute before you can shoot again).
Practically all reviews also mentioned that the Finepix S5 Pro is a niche camera ideally suited for wedding photography -- because its wide dynamic range is exactly what is needed for photographing (in color) brides dressed in white and grooms dressed in black. And because it captures skin tones accurately and beautifully.
Well, I am not a wedding photographer. But I sure can do with excellent image quality and nice skin tones...
No camera is perfect, of course. And the Fuji Finepix S5 Pro has its share of limitations and drawbacks. For example, its 12.3 megapixels is "not true 12.3 megapixels" -- because the pixels come in pairs and there are only 6.15 locations. So the pictures will not be as sharp and detailed as one with true 10 or 12 megapixels.
Plus, this is not a good camera for sports / action / wildlife photography where you might need to shoot a burst of as many frames per second (fps) as possible. Depending on the image size and quality, the S5 Pro manages only 1.5 to 3 fps, whereas the latest digital cameras from other brands might offer 5 to 9 fps.
But I asked myself: Do I need these features? Should I accept lower standards of color and image quality for these features? And my answer was NO.
In the end, I figured out one thing -- the sensor of a digigal camera is equivalent to the film of a film camera. With film cameras, you can buy differernt types of film, including different brands of negatives and slides, to get the quality that you want. With digital cameras, the sensor is fixed (unless you buy another camera body).
Thus, it made sense to invest in the best "film" or sensor that is available -- provided, of course, that the rest of the camera performs well for my needs.
After a while, all the reviews sounded too familiar. They all said the same things, to the point that they became boring. My reviews summary, however, leaves out the repetitions and hightlights only the interesting bits - like this comment that I like to share. In comparing the S5 Pro to the Nikon D200, Thom Hogan at bythom.com wrote:
My mind was made up. The choice became clear to me -- it was a choice between features and image quality. I chose image quality. I chose the FujiFilm Finepix S5 Pro.