fuji s5 proFujiFilm's Super CCD - heart of the S5 Pro

fuji S5 pro with super ccdFujiFilm's image sensor, the Super CCD, lies at the heart of the FinePix S5 Pro -- and earlier models like the S2 Pro and S3 Pro as well higher end FujiFilm point & shoot (P&S) cameras like the S 9600.

To me, this is the most compelling reason for choosing a camera such as the Fuji S5 Pro -- and paying a slight premium for it.

After all, the body of the Fuji S5 Pro is a Nikon D200 body. So why pay a few hundred dollars more for an S5 Pro instead of a Nikon D200. Or, if you don't mind paying more, why not get the newer, more advanced Nikon D300?

This second option was open to me. For by the time I bought the Fuji S5 Pro in mid-November 2007, the Nikon D300 had already begun shipping. Instead, I opted for "older" technology.


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What I in fact did was opt for superior technology -- in a vital part of the camera.

The image sensor, in this case the Super CCD, is the equivalent of the film in a film camera.

With film cameras, you can choose different types of negative films and slides to get the quality that you want. In a digital camera, the "film" or image sensor is fixed. Once you buy a digital camera, you are stuck with the same image sensor no matter how good or bad (or, at least, less than good) it is.

In digital cameras, three factors affect the quality of the image -- the lens, which can be changed in the case of a digital SLR, the image processing software, which is fixed, and the image sensor, which is also fixed.


Image processors

With regards the image processing software, different camera makes come with different software, each claiming to be superior to the rest.

For example, Canon has its DIGIC III processor, Nikon has its EXSPEED system, Sony has a Bionz engine, the Pentax K10D has PRIME (Pentax Real Image Engine) and so on. Fuji has one called RP Pro processing.

Franklly, I don't think anybody can make any kind of meaningful judgement as to which image processing system is superior. We just have to go by the claims of the manufacturers and judge by the fianl results -- which depend also on the lens and the image sensor.

Perhaps Fuji, with its long tradition of making high quality films, knows a bit more about images and colors and related matters to be able to develop a superior image processing software. But only perhaps. And perhaps not. One does not know for sure.


FujiFilm Super CCD...

With regards to the image sensor, most people know only of CCD vs CMOS. Here, the difference is very technical and I don't think the average photographer can say with any degree of certainty that one is better than the other.

Even the experts disagree on this and we now have major brands like Nikon using both types. But the trend seems to be heading towards CMOS, with brands like Nikon and Sony both switching from CCD to CMOS sensors for their latest models, the Nikon D300, D3 and Sony A700. Canon had been using CMOS all along.

super ccdFujiFilm's Super CCD may, at first, sound like marketing talk -- calling it "Super" just to make it sound better than the competition.

But no. This is truly something different. And, unlike the difference between CCD and CMOS, the special quality of Fuji's Super CCD is simple to understand 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.

Click here to read more about how the Super CCD produces a wide dynamic range.

Another benefit of the Super CCD (plus the RP Pro processing engine) is that it enables pictures taken in low light, at high ISO ratings of 1600 or even 3200 with very low noise. This is another important plus point for even with similarly priced cameras like the Nikon D200, noise is a problem at ISO ratings higher than 400.

It is only with digital cameras that use large image sensors (measuring 36 x 24 mm, vs regular sensors that measure 23.5 x 15.5 mm) that the noise problem is more or less tackled. But these cameras, like the Canon EOS 5D and the new Nikon D3, cost a great deal more money.

Yet another plus factor of the super CCD is that it incorporates a filter that reduces moiré patters -- the strange patterns that sometimes appear on digital photographs of cloths and fabrics.

These are all major plus points of the FujiFilm Super CCD which, as of end-2007, have not been matched by other camera models.

For example, several new high end cameras were announced towards the end of 2007, including the Nikon D3 and D300, Canon EOS 1D Mk III and 40D, Sony A-700 and Olympus E-3. While these all have exciting new features, none have yet mentioned anything about matching the dynamic range of the Fuji S5 Pro due to its Super CCD.

As far as some people are concerned, among them Steven of The Camera Hospital who introduced me to the Fuji S5 Pro, no other camera is as yet able to match the image quality of Fuji's Super CCD.

Downside of the Super CCD...

The main drawback of the Super CCD is that although it is rated as a 12.3 megapixels sensor, it is, in fact, a 2 x 6.17 megapixels sensor. This is because the sensors work in pairs -- one records a point of the image in normal light, another records only the bright lights (if iany) from the same point of the image.

It means that, when compared to an image taken with a "true" 12.3 megapixels camera, or even a 10 megapixels camera, the Fuji S5 pro image will not be as sharp or as high resolution.

The confusing part is that, because of the way the pixels are shaped and arranged on FujiFilm's Super CCD, the image will still be better than that of a regular 6.1 megapixels camera anyway.

So it's somewhere in between. Most reviewers -- those who scrutinise images very closely -- say the Fuji S5 Pro with Super CCD produces an image that is about as sharp as one produced by an 8 or 9 megapixels camera.

Is this important? Fuji does not think so. With its development of its Super CCD, it has always been putting across the message that the QUALITY of pixels is more important than the QUANTITY of pixels.

The difference between 8 or 9 and 12 megapixels may seem like a lot. But unless you need to blow images up real huge (say, bigger than 20 x 30 or 24 x 36 inches), that difference probably does not matter.

I had ever made enlargements up to 18 x 27 inches, using slides scanned to just 6.1 megapixels, and I found the result very acceptable.

One reviewer (I need to check out which) puts it this way -- it's like having a strand of hair defined by 10 or 11 pixels.

For some people, that bit of a difference matters. If it does matter to you, then you probably can afford the 21 megapixels Canon EOS I Mk III, or the 30 megapixels Hasselblad medium format digital.

If you know just a bit more than the bare basics about digital photography, you ought to know that the number of pixels don't really tell the whole story. So unless the numbers are really important to you, you might be better off thinking in terms of quality rather than quantity.