We're always looking for the perfect camera. It's human nature. We all want big, luscious image files with super-wide dynamic range. We want resolution that goes on forever and a frame rate that competes with an Arriflex movie camera. And we want this camera to retail for less than the price of a car.
The sad reality is that every digital camera in the marketplace is a collage of compromises. The secret of investing in photography equipment is to buy a camera that provides the stuff you need to make money. All the other bells and whistles are icing on the cake-to mix two metaphors.
If you shoot sports, you'll need a camera that auto focuses with accuracy and speed, writes files with dispatch, and has a massive frame buffer. If you're a still-life photographer, you'll want a solution with a staggering number of megapixels. Auto focus doesn't matter and the buffer size is pretty meaningless if you shoot tethered.
When it comes to photographing people, photographers want a camera that will handle a wide range of tonalities without loosing detail in the shadows. And a camera that won't easily burn out highlights to bald white. Portrait and wedding photographers, especially, live in fear of the "blinking highlight" indicator-those nasty, little blinking lines that mean you've blown out all the detail in anything close to white that may have been in your frame. Things like heirloom wedding dresses with hand-sewn pearls, the fine blond hair of the flower girl, the highlight tones of the CEO's face-especially the CEO who thinks makeup is not necessary-and pretty much anything with diffuse highlights.
I've always wanted a digital camera that produced film-like images, you know, long tonal range with a nice "roll off" in the shadows and highlights.
I thought I found it when I started using the Kodak DCS760 back in 2001. It was a great camera if I only used ISO 80, shot tethered so I could see what I got on a real screen, and was willing to shoot only RAW. But my desire for all the creature comforts kept winning out.
When Fuji came out with the Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro, I bought one and used it, but never warmed up to the consumer-class Nikon body and baby-sized buffer.
Now we have the Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro and I am impressed. I won't give you any charts, graphs, or test photos. There is an exhaustive technical review available at DPReview.com. I will give you my somewhat quixotic review, based on owning the camera for six months and using it on a wide range of assignments.
But first, the executive summary: If your business entails photographing people, and you use Nikkor lenses, you need to buy this camera.
What the FUJI S5 PRO does well:
O.K., here are the major ways the camera excels:
- Beautiful, long tonal range images of people with a great, almost unreal, resistance to "blown out" highlights.
- Built in "film emulation" settings that mimic the feel of films such as Fuji NPS 160-many a pro's favorite "face" film.
- Gorgeous flesh tones, even from directly "out of the camera" JPEGs. RAW files can be even better.
- Nearly all the great handling characteristics of the Nikon D200 (caveats to follow).
- Relatively clean high ISO files. Very usable right up to 1600 ISO, with careful exposure.
Where the FUJI S5 PRO stumbles:
As for the camera's weaknesses:
- The processing is very slow and the buffer fills up quickly. Don't even think of buying this camera if you are a sports shooter. You will not be happy!
- The frame rate hovers around one and one-half fps, so you won't be shooting any fast sequences. You'll need to wait for that "decisive moment."
- To squeeze the absolute quality out of this camera, you'll need to shoot RAW and you'll want to use Fuji's Hyper Utility RAW conversion software. That's actually a misstatement. I should have said that you'll have to use the Hyper Utility software because the quality of the files is unmatched, but you'll hate every minute of the process because the program is as slow as rush hour in Austin. And the interface is not intuitive.
- If you're already shooting with the Nikon D80 and D200, you'll be seriously miffed that the batteries have been chipped so they are not interchangeable.
- If you're coming from a Nikon D2x, you'll be annoyed that the file view on the rear LCD can't be zoomed up to 100% for careful evaluation of focus. The face recognition feature works, but that's like saying my car doesn't have air bags, but the radio is really good. Sometimes you really need to be able to check details.
That's it in a nutshell so if you're still interested let's get on with the guts of the review.
Nuts and bolts. Fuji got the physical handling of this camera just right. They used a Nikon D200 body as their starting point and that was smart, because even people who aren't fond of the Sony sensor chip used in the D200 still have high praise for the ergonomics of this particular body. Holding the Fuji S5 Pro, with a 50mm lens attached feels just about perfect. The camera is dense enough so that its inertia helps dampen vibration, yet it is small enough to carry around all the time.
The viewfinder is bright and clean, with very good magnification. If you take the time to adjust the diopter carefully you'll find that most fast lenses (50mm and longer) can be focused manually without a problem. The well designed finder is a welcome step backwards in the evolution of cameras and it's one of many almost intangible aspects of the D200 body that all add up to a happy user experience.
While the file size and buffer limitations won't allow the S5 to shoot as fast as the D200, the shutter response time and general auto focus characteristics are nearly identical. You will enjoy the feel of the shutter release and the solid feel of the mechanical processes "under the hood" no matter what systems you've used in the past.