fuji s5 proFuji S5Pro limitations and drawbacks

fuji s5 proNo camera is perfect. And so the Fuji S5Pro has its fair share of limitations and drawbacks. But to me at least, these are minor and unimportant.

It did not take me a lot of thinking to know that I can happily live with these drawbacks. Because these mostly concern functions and features that are good to have, but not necessary.

Reviewer Thom Hogan aptly compares this camera to the Madza Miata, a sexy sports car that, despite some severe limitations, does a few things really excellently.

Such a car obviously will not serve the needs of every owner. If you need a good all round performer like a Toyota Camry -- but one that does not excel in any particular area -- then he recommends a camera such as the Nikon D200 (or the new D300).


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The sports car analogy is ironical. Because many of the weak points of the Fuji S5Pro have to do with speed -- shooting speed, writing speed, automatic focusing speed...

This makes the camera obviously unsuitable for sports and action photographers -- and for those nature photographers who take cliched, salon-entry shots of humming birds feeding at flowers.

If you are in this category, the Fuji S5Pro is clearly out of the question.

Others may need to seriously re-consider the many advanced features of new digital cameras, such as the ability to shoot at up to 9 fps (frames per second).

It's great but will you ever need it? Should you pay good money for something that you don't need? Should you sacrifice image quality?

Commenting on another drawback of the Fuji S5Pro -- its lack of true high resolution -- Uwe Steinmueller @ Digital Outback Photo writes:

(The Fuji S5Pro) clearly may not have the absolute resolution of a Canon 5D but the higher dynamic range in the highlights pays off big time... Would we like to have more resolution with the S5? Of course! Would we want to lose the S5 dynamic range? No!!

Note the double exclamation mark after No !! It's not a typo error. Steinmueller wanted to emphasise his point.

Below is a discussion of the minus points of the Fuji S5. As with my discussion of the pros of the Fuji S5Pro, I've added my remarks to the listing and also introduced my subjective scoring system. More +++++ or - - - - - signs indicate greater importance, fewer + or - signs indicate minor issues. I hope these remarks / scoring will help you make a better choice in buying a digital SLR camera.

Drawbacks and limitations of the Fuji S5 Pro
The negatives Remarks

Speed: frames per second
- - - - - for sports / action photographers, not an issue for most others.

The maximum shooting speed of the Fuji S5Pro is 3 fps (frames per second) -- which is actually not too bad. But it goes down to 1.6 fps if you shoot a combination of raw + fine jpeg. That's when the camera is considered "very slow".

Unless you are a sports / action photographer this is probably a non-issue. Looking at my personal shooting habits, I NEVER shoot rapid bursts of the same scene.

Also, I would question the need to shoot raw + jpeg. The option is available, but, apart from convenience, I don't see any need to duplicate files.

if you occasionally need a higher shooting speed, just shoot jpeg. On the Fuji S5Pro, jpeg images will turn out great anyway.

Writing speed / buffer size
- - - - -
for sports / action photographers, not an issue for most others.
Because the Fuji raw files are large -- about 25 Mb each, compared to about 5 Mb files for other cameras -- the writing speed (from camera to memory card) is slow. And when you shoot at maximum, +400 percent dynamic range, the writing time takes even longer although the file size remains the same.

How long it takes to write actually does not really matter, because you can continue to shoot while the card is writing.

So the greater consideration is the buffer size -- 8 frames when you shoot raw + fine jpeg. Once the buffer is filled, you will need to wait till the writing is completed, about 30+ seconds, before you can shoot more frames.

In comparison, some other cameras even have a limitless buffer -- you can shoot non-stop until the entire memory card is filled!

Again, this might be a major limitation for sports / action photographers, and a non-issue for others. Never in my 30 years of photography have I ever taken 8 shots in rapid succession, usually just one shot each time, or at the very most 2 or 3 in succession.

When you simply shoot jpeg, the buffer doubles to about 16 frames, which should be more than adaquate for all except the most demanding sports and action photographers.

The writing speed depends, however, also on the memory card. If you need fast writing, get a fast card like the SanDisk Extreme III.

Lexar just recently introduced a super fast memory card called the Professional UDMA 300X.

Autofocus speed
- -
The automatic focusing system of the Fuji S5Pro is fast -- just that it not super fast like the newest cameras from Nikon, Canon, Olympus... especially those launched around end-2007.

Do you need fast or super fast? Thom Hogan assures that the autofocus speed is fast enough to keep track of a bird in flight. Isn't that fast enough?

To me, it is already very good. After all, I had been living for the past 20 years with my Nikon 801, one of the first autofocus SLRs, which is slow compared to what's available today.

I was surprised recently to encounter one modern and somewhat costly digital SLR with autofocus speed to match my Nikon 801. I won't mention names here but to give a clue, it is also, like the Fuji S5Pro, supposed to offer excellent image quality.

Meanwhile, there are still photographers don't even need autofocus. They happily work with old, manual lenses for the image quality that some of these old lenses offer.

Menu system
The menu system of the Nikon D200 is said to be the best of any camera system - logical, well-organized, user-friendly and intuitive. Since the Fuji S5Pro is based on a Nikon D200 body, many reviewers expect its menu system to be similar and have complained that it is, instead, illogical and confusing.

I take their word for it. As I have not previously used a Nikon D200, I cannot comment here. But this is obviously an issue only if you previously used a Nikon D200.

In my case, I very quickly got used to Fuji's menu system. The main settings -- aperture, shutter speed, ISO, image quality, white blance, exposure metering, autofocus system, etc -- are all accessible via knobs and dials. What's the problem?

Well, maybe it's because I have not yet learned to use some of the more obscure functions and settings.

You might have difficulty if you need to do that and cannot remember where it is located on the menu. How often might this happen? If it happens often enough, you will remember and it becomes no longer an issue.

- -
The Fuji S5Pro is rated as a 12 megapixels camera, which is about the highest available, not counting the Canon EOS 1D Mk III with 21.1 Mps, or medium format cameras like the Hasselblad with 39 Mps.

Unfortunately, the Fuji is not a "true 12 megapixels" camera because those 12 million pixels are group in 6 million pairs of 2 pixels each, with one large pixel recording the normal image and other small pixel recording the highlight. This is the unique feature of the Fuji Super CCD.

So the downside is the images from the S5 Pro are not as sharp and detailed as images from other 12 Mps, or even 10 Mps, cameras. Even the budget Nikon D40 has sharper images.

The complication is that, due to the way the pixels are shaped and arranged -- in a honeycomb structure -- the Fuji images are still sharper than those of regular 6 Mps cameras.

So what you get is something in between -- images comparable to those of 8 Mps or 9 Mps cameras. It is not state-of-the-art, but not bad. Until about a year ago, the state-of-the-art was only 8 Mps to 10 Mps anyway.

How important is resolution?

Well, you may not see as much detail in, say, human hair or animal fur. But overall, you still get a pretty sharp, crisp image.

I must admit that I was initially concerned about this. But after reading several reviews, I was assured that the resolution of the S5 Pro is more than adequate.

One reviewer made a point that hit me: High resolution becomes critical only when you make very big enlargements, say, bigger than 20 x 30 or 24 x 36 inches. But image quality is clearly evident even in postcard-sized prints.

Non Nikon battery
Another complaint of some reviewers is that the Nikon battery cannot be used on the Fuji S5Pro, even though the Fuji is based on a Nikon body.

To me, this is a petty complaint -- as if the reviewer needs to have an additional negative point just to make the review seem more balanced.

Not a Nikon D200 companion
Again, this seems to me like another negative point mentioned by reviewers just to make the review seem more balanced. It is valid only if you already own a Nikon D200 and would like to use the Fuji S5Pro as a "companion" camera.

The Nikon and Fuji are two different cameras even though they happen to share the same body. When you use two different cameras, it is not reasonable to expect them to function so similarly that you can automatically switch from one to the other without having to think.

That said, the two still make better companions than, say, Nikon with Canon, Pentax, Sony or some other brand. You can still share lenses, which is a big plus. And while some functions might be different, the overall look and feel are still the same.

Seems to me that reviewers don't really have much negative things to say about the Fuji.

Raw conversion
+++ / - - - - -

UPDATE with Lightroom 2.0

For now, my pet peeve is this:
If you want to do raw conversion, Fuji's raw conversion software is extremely 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!

(Apparently, the Finepix Studio is exceptionally slow on MacIntosh computers, such as my iMac with Intel 2GHz Core 2 duo processor -- which is fast for most applications.)

The Fuji Hyper Unility Software (HS-V3), which costs about USD 140, is supposed to be better, meaning faster and more user-friendly. But I have not yet tried it and cannot comment. (See UPDATE below)

What I read from user forums and heard from S5 Pro users so far is mixed. Some say it works fine, just a tad slower than Adobe Lightroom -- which sounds very acceptable. Others say it is just marginally better than the "useless" Finepix Studio.

One forum post even commented that Fuji should be "ashamed" for giving its customers the Finepix Studio.

The software is lousy -- except that it produces great images, much better than 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...

UPDATE I: Yes, the Fuji HyperUtility software is significantly better but still on the slow side. It's functional, not exactly a joy to use. And it got faster when I upgraded my RAM from 1 GB to 4 GB.

UPDATE II: I bought Adobe Lightroom 2.0 in September 2008 and have since stopped using Fuji HyperUtility. In fact, I also more or less stopped using my Photoshop CS2.

Lightroom 2.0 works wonderfully and I highly recommend this software, not just for Fuji users but for ALL digital photographers.

Previously, I could not use ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) with my Photoshop CS2 to process Fuji raw files. In theory, it was possible. In practice, most images appeared very dark and I needed to increase the exposure drastically, which usually produced bad results.

Also, when I converted to jpeg or tiff files, I only got an image of approximately 6 megapixels, not 12.

All these issues have been resolved with Lightroom 2.0. And it is a great software to use. Quality is excellent. So is the interface.

Only thing is that Lightroom, and other non-Fuji software, do not feature film simuation during raw conversion. But I don't really feel a strong need for it. Maybe some other, more discerning photographers do.

- / ++++
At the time most reviews of the Fuji S5Pro were written -- early to mid-2007, price might be an issue. Then, the Fuji was somewhat more costly than "equivalent" models from Nikon, Canon and others.

By end-2007, Nikon, Canon, Olympus and Sony have all introduced new models that cost more than the Fuji. Yet these new models still do not match up to the Fuji in image quality.

If image quality is important to you, as it is to me, there is actually no "equivalent model". Despite the rash of new models, the Fuji S5Pro is still alone up there.

UPDATE: In October 2008, the Fuji S5Pro has become a "steal" - at S$1,450 (just over USD 1,000) for the body only.

Yesterday October 11, one major Fuji retailer in Singapore. Audio House, advertised the S5 Pro with a Nikkor 28 - 200 lens for a mere S$1,699. That is just a few (hundred) dollars more than the cost of the lens alone.

It's even cheaper than the new Nikon D90. And I can bet you, the image quality will be far superior. My friend tested the Fuji S5Pro against the much costlier Nikon D300 and he still prefers the Fuji.

Go grab one!

Despite having bought it at a much higher price - I paid S$ 2,280 in November 2007 - I have no regrets.

The bottom line? Reviewer Ken Rockwell recommends to buy a Fuji S5Pro for shooting people, and to get "something else" for other types of photography.

To me, the Fuji has much wider applications. I would put it the other way around -- get a Nikon or Canon for sports / action photography, a Fuji S5Pro for shooting everything else!