Pros and cons of the Fuji S5 Pro
Overall image quality: colors, tonality, dynamic range, etc
Image quality should be of the utmost importance to anyone who enjoys and loves photography. Exceptions would include sports and action photographers, for whom shooting speed (frames per second) takes higher priority.
And image quality is something you can obviously see no matter how you view your pictures -- on the computer screen or as a printout.
It is true that image quality depends a lot on the skill of the photographer and not just the camera. Lenses play a big part too.
But all things being equal, the Fuji S5 Pro will produce better quality images in almost all situations. This has been demonstrated time and again by reviewers who take the same image, under the same lighting conditions, and where possible using exactly the same lens... Click here to view one such example by Jonathan Ryan, comparing the Fuji S5 Pro with the 3x more costly Nikon D2X.
|It has been said that Fujifilm knows color more than any other camera maker -- with the possible, arguable exception of Kodak, which does not produce a professional digital SLR.
The colors produced by the Fuji S5 Pro has been described as "gorgeous" -- and compared with Fuji's much loved Velvia slides.
Fuji's colors are sometimes described as being more "pleasing" than "accurate". But they are overall quite accurate anyway. In any case, I have not come across any other review that says another camera produces more accurate colors than the Fuji.
if you shoot mostly people
if you seldom shoot people
|This is the toughest challenge in photography -- to produce accurate and pleasing skin tones. And this is the one area where Fuji excels.
Some reviewers, such as Ken Rockwell, suggest that one should buy a Fuji S5 Pro for shooting people and the Nikon 200D or 300D for shooting "everything else".
Maybe you are one of those very rare photographers who absolutely do not shoot people? Or you can afford to have different cameras for different situations?
I don't. And I much rather have people than teddy bears looking good.
|The ability to capture a wider dynamic range -- from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights -- is another area where the Fuji excels with its Super CCD sensor. The Fuji S5 Pro gives an extra two f-stops in the highlights, the area where other cameras simply cannot deliver.
How important is this? It is obviously critical in weddings, where you shoot black grooms with white brides. And the S5 Pro is often described as a "wedding photographers' camera".
What if you, like me, don't shoot weddings? Well, I can think of many many other situations where an extended dynamic range would greatly improve image quality -- landscapes and street scenes, white flowers, white sandy beaches, shooting at mid-day, lighted interiors, dark interiors with light from a small window, candle light, night scenes....
It is worth noting that other camera brands, as well as some image processing / raw conversion software, often have features to bring out details in the highlights and shadows. This is not the same as having an extended dynamic range.
The details can be brought out only when they are there to begin with. With software, only small adjustments are possible. Big adjustments will inevitably introduce noise, shift the color balance and otherwise make the image look worse!
|Automatic white balance (AWB)
|A few reviewers have commented that the Fuji S5 Pro has very accurate automatic white balance or AWB -- especially in artificial light. For normal daylight, most cameras get the AWB right anyway, so this is not an issue. But artificial lighting is where the Fuji really shines.
This may or may not be important to you, depending on how often you take pictures indoors without flash, or outdoor night scenes.
For me, the Fuji S5 Pro has opened up a whole new world of night photography. Previously, when I shot film / slides using a Nikon 801, I never shot at night.
Partly it was because I would have needed to use a tripod and I dislike using tripods. Mainly it was because the few night scenes I ever took all did not come out looking good.
|Low noise at high ISO
|Until about a year ago, most digital cameras could not effectively shoot at ISO ratings higher than 800. Some offered the facility. But the images were not very good, with very high noise levels. In fact, few cameras offered useable ISO ratings of higher than ISO 200. Beyond that, noise became an issue.
The Fuji S5 Pro lets you shoot at up to ISO 800 with virtually no noise.
Some noise starts to appear at ISO 1600 but the images are still very good. Even at ISO 3200, the images are good -- much better than some of the images from older cameras at ISO 400.
One reviewer (sorry I cannot remember who) even decribed the noise as "good noise", pointing out that it appears more like film grain than digital artefacts!
For me, the low noise and ability to shoot at high ISO is a big boon because I often shoot with a long lens and in low light -- and both conditions are greatly helped by high ISO (or by a tripod, which I dislike to use). In fact, I have been shooting quite often at ISO 3200 and I find the pictures very acceptable.
But some photographers hardly shoot beyond ISO 200 anyway, either because they always shoot in bright light, or with a tripod. For them, ISO 3200 is probably "useless".
As is often the case, one drawback is a slight loss in resolution and detail. This is very slight. It's not an issue for me, maybe it is for you.
Noise control, however, is one area of technology where all camera brands are fast catching up. Practically all the new cameras introduced at end-2007 -- Nikon D3 / D300, Canon EOS 1D MkIII / 40D, Sony alpha 700, Olympus E-3 and others -- feature improved noise control and high ISO -- as high as ISO 6400 in the case of the new Nikons.
|Out-of-camera jpeg images
|Serious digital photographers who care about image quality usually shoot raw, which gives much more room for adjustments using software like Photoshop, or specialised raw conversion softwares.
When you shoot with the Fuji S5 Pro, you will find that further image enhancements are very often not needed -- because the out-of-camera jpeg images are usually excellent. In fact, my experience with the camera so far is that any adjustments I make tend to worsen rather than improve the original image.
How important this is depends on you. Some reviewers have argued that the superior image quality of the Fuji S5 Pro is not that major a plus factor because with other cameras, you can get (roughly) similar results with Photoshop / raw conversion post-processing. But that requires time and effort -- not to mention skill and experience.
And if you enjoy post-processing, using the Fuji either takes away the fun (because it is no longer needed) or increases the challenge (because it becomes harder to do better than the camera's built-in processor).
If you are a professional photographer who needs to show the images to clients very soon after you've shot them, this becomes a major plus. I know of professionals who buy the S5 Pro mainly for this reason.
+++ / - - - - -
|If you need or want to do raw conversion, then the Fuji S5 Pro is both a fairly big plus and big minus.
The plus is that the raw files are great, with plenty of details and plenty of room for adjustments.
But this comes with some very major minuses.
One is that the raw files are huge -- about 25MB each -- and they take up a lot of space in your memory card. It means you cannot shoot that many images on one card , only about 78 raw or 65 raw + fine jpeg files on a 2GB card, vs 374 fine jpegs or 680 normal jpegs.
The other major disadvantage is that Fuji's raw conversion software is slow and not easy to use.
With the Fuji Finepix Studio, the image first appears blur when you open it and takes several seconds to become clear. Then with every adjustment you make, it goes blur again for many seconds before you see the results. And if the results are not to your satisfaction, you adjust again, see the blur image again, wait again.... ARGH!
I am now wondering if I should buy the Fuji High Utility Software, HS-V3, at about S$190 (USD 130 approx). It is supposed to be better (faster and easier to work with) except that opinions are divided over how much better it is.
Jan 2008 Update: I have got the Fuji Hyper Utility Software and yes, it is faster. Meanwhile, a friend has advised that I should upgrade my RAM to 4GB to have the software work faster. Fortunately, RAM prices have gone down and I can do the upgrade for less than US$100.
Yet another major minus is that raw processing does not work as well on non-Fuji software, such as Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) that comes with Photoshop / Lightroom.
Some raw processing software developers claim they have updates that specially cater to Fuji files. So far I briefly tried Bibble (version 4.9.8e) and I don't like the results at all.
More about Fuji raw conversion in another article later...
Ah! This article has turned out much longer than expected. The page already runs pretty deep and we still have not touched on the negative points. Click here to read Part II of this article, about the drawbacks of the Fuji S5 pro.