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Fuji Fujifilm S5
Fujifilm S5 Pro
The Fuji S5 is the best camera I've ever used for people photography; get one today for people. Get something else for other kinds of photography.
Most of the time the Fuji S5 has the look of wedding and portrait negative film, while my other digital cameras look more like slide film.
Best skin tones I've ever seen (with pink people). If you're photographing people and prefer this color rendition as I do, read no further: get an S5. The photos just look better than anything I can get repeatedly with my Nikons or Canons.
Strong noise smudging (noise reduction or softening) gives great results at ISO 3,200 for people photos. Color rendition remains the same regardless of ISO setting, compared to my D200, which has poorer color at ISO 3,200 than at ISO 100.
Extraordinary highlight overload handling. This is critical if you shoot into the sun because it eliminates the weird rings around sunsets, but its benefits are almost invisible otherwise. If you're a really bad photographer, this extended dynamic range is helpful for recovering lost highlights, or even entire images, a few stops overexposed, even from JPGs.
Very slow: only 1.5 FPS with a shallow 7 frame buffer.
Same resolution as a 6MP camera like my Nikon D40 or D50. Large JPGs are interpolated, which means they have the same quality and resolution as Medium JPGs, but take up 50% more file space (3 MB vs 1.9MB).
Clumsier operation than my Nikons; ignores menu commands while writing slowly to the memory card, etc.
Bloated JPG file sizes, no BASIC or smart JPG size settings.
F2 slide film simulation mode looks bad. It clips highlights and shadows, wasting the great performance of the Fuji S5 and looking more like a bad scan of slide film than slide film itself.
In addition to this review page, I now have eight more pages about the Fuji S5, each much larger than this, loaded with explicit examples, details and comparisons. You'll see the links as you read the rest of this page, so there's no need to skip to them now. For reference, these pages are: Specifications with Commentary, Performance (general), Color Rendition, Dynamic Range, Film Simulation Modes, High ISO Performance (General), High ISO Color Rendition and High ISO Definition.
The Fuji S5 excels at skin tones. It has the best out-of-the-box skin tones I've ever seen, over a broad range of conditions. It just looks good regardless of the lighting conditions. People look great, and that's what matters in people photography. The Fuji S5 excels for wedding and portrait photographers.
Caveat A: Skin comes every color. My subject, my baby Ryan, has pink skin like most folks of Northern European descent, and he's spent less than 60 seconds in direct sun and consumed nothing but milk his entire life. I don't know anyone else who would put up with my endless experiments, so for other skin colors you'll need to try for yourself.
Caveat B: Every camera has image tweaks. I sometimes can tweak my other cameras to look close to the Fuji for skin, but I have to tweak the other cameras differently under different lighting conditions each time. The Fuji S5 simply looks great at its default settings, including Auto WB, no matter what conditions I threw at it. My Nikons and Canons run too yellow for pink people, even in portrait modes.
The Fujifilm S5 Pro excels for shooting directly into the sun. Every other digital camera I've used creates weird circular discs around the sun, while images from the S5 look natural.
Caveat: I had to work long and hard to concoct example photos to show this. I never saw it in real shooting.
The Fuji S5 at ISO 3,200 is cleaner than a D200 or other small sensor cameras, but the Fuji S5 also smudges over fine details more than other cameras. This is great for indoor people portraits, but the Canon 5D does much better if you're trying to preserve texture and detail at high ISOs.
The Fujifilm S5 Pro is the same thing as the Fuji S5. I'm lazy, so I usually only type "Fuji" instead of the more proper "Fujifilm," and I skip the "Pro" suffix entirely. There is only one camera model, so please don't be confused.
The Fujifilm S5 Pro is a Nikon D200 with Fuji's own CCD sensor and internal hardware and firmware.
The mechanics, many menu items and half the outer controls are similar, but that's where the similarity ends.
The menu look and organization are completely different, as are the functions of many buttons. Many D200 features, like custom setting banks, many JPG options, cloudy white balance and recent menu items recall are missing, and new ones related to high dynamic range operation and film simulations are added.
Because it's born as a Nikon, the Fuji S5 is compatible with all the Nikon lenses, grips, releases, flash and accessories. The S5 is just another body to put behind my Nikon lenses and use with my SB-400, SB-600 and the SB-800.
What makes a good photo is art. It has nothing to do with resolution or high ISO noise. Art can't be tested in a lab. It's like getting a new kind of film: you may love it or hate it, and everyone will have a different opinion. Go take some art classes: color and tone are 99% of everything in a color image. Gesture and composition are your issues; not the camera's.
The easiest things to test, like resolution and noise, are the least important. Because these unimportant items are so easy to compare, the internet is always abuzz about them and many innocent people pay way too much attention to them. Critical things like color rendition and interpretation, which are not related to color accuracy, is paramount to image quality, and rarely addressed.
The Fuji's strength is people pictures, and I'm not a people photographer. The world needs a people photographer to get all these cameras and a bunch of subjects together to do a better shoot-out.
If I was a people photographer, the Fuji S5 would be my favorite camera, but I'm an urban dilapidation photographer who prefers crazy color. I love my Canon 5D mostly because the saturation control goes to plus 4, while my Nikons only go to plus one or plus two. Thank goodness few people shoot as I do; I'd get a headache if everyone else did.
Sadly the S5 sucks at other issues, like operational speed (usually 1.5 FPS with a shallow 7-shot buffer and the Fuji S5 ignores menu inputs while writing to the card, etc.), so it paints itself into a box as a special-purpose camera for people whose work needs the Fuji S5's special talents. For sports and landscapes and most other things, it's worse than my Nikon D200, or even my Nikon D40.
I got an S5 hoping it was an improvement over my D200 for the junk (literally) I photograph, with better colors, dynamics and resolution. For my stuff the Fuji S5 turns out to be worse: lower resolution, less crazy color (the S5 is optimized for sane colors for people, not junkyards at midnight) and the S5's superb dynamics are invisible in real shooting. For me, I prefer my D200 and even my D40.
Fujifilm S5. Note the very different bottom three left buttons.
(a separate page)
Performance (all separate pages)
General Performance (Resolution, Speed, Features, AF, Power, Usability, etc.)
The Fujifilm S5 is a specialized camera for photographing people or shooting directly into the sun.
Color is subjective. I prefer my Canons and Nikons for photos of brightly colored junk, while I prefer the Fuji S5 for people photos.
Color is the most important aspect of any color photograph. The reason to pay more for the Fujifilm S5 is if you prefer its color. If you don't prefer the color, other cameras are better for less.
Get an S5 if you do people photography. I love the Fuji S5's skin tones, with the caveat that you may or may not prefer it depending on your tastes and your subjects. Mine were all pink-skinned babies.
Sports and Landscapes
For most other things where speed or resolution are critical, get something else.
The Fuji S5 only has the spatial resolution of a 6 Megapixel, not a 12 MP, camera. The Fuji's extra pixels are used for controlling highlights, which make very little visible difference. The S5's largest JPG image size is a interpolated (fake) mode.
My Canon 5D cost me about the same as a Fuji S5 after Canon's recent rebate, and my 5D completely smokes the Fuji S5 for image quality for inanimate subjects.
If speed is important, get the 5FPS Nikon D200 for sports. Even the Nikon D40 runs almost twice as fast as the Fuji S5's 1.5 FPS, and the D40 is much, much faster in practice because the D40 has a bottomless shooting buffer and doesn't hang up as images are being recorded.
If you want to shoot resolution targets, get the D200 or the Canon 5D.
If you already own a D200, get another, since the S5 works quite differently and I would go crazy with both around my neck at the same time. The colors will not match between them - pick one and stick with it.
For shots with the sun in the sky, get the S5. It excels at natural renditions of the sky around the sun, while other digital cameras create bizarre rings around the sun.
Other Fujifilm Digital SLRs
I've never tried the earlier Fuji S cameras. They were always too silly, needing too many batteries or other gotchas. I read that this S5 has the same sensor as the Fuji S3. The reason to prefer the Fujifilm S5 over the Fujifilm S3 is the much improved flash exposure system. The S3 is a Nikon D100, which had Nikon's primitive d-TTL flash exposure control, Nikon's first failed attempt at digital camera flash control.
I hope Fuji doesn't get skunked as it did with the S3, which was based on the Nikon D100. The S3 came out at the same trade show at which Nikon replaced the D100 with a much better camera, so hopefully the S5 doesn't get swept under the rug when the D3X or D300 come out later this summer (I'm of course guessing about the new Nikons).
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