Conclusion - Pros
- Huge step up in body quality and performance thanks to Nikon D200 platform
- Class-leading dynamic range with up to 12 EV in a single exposure
- Superb out-of-camera JPEG with subtle color, tone, DR (though poor sharpness)
- Visible improvement in image quality over the S3 Pro
- Excellent resolution for a 6MP camera (not so hot for a 12MP camera)
- Surprisingly good results at ISO 800 and over; far better than S3 Pro
- Reliable metering, white balance (in daylight / mixed lighting)
- Instant power on, very responsive, very short black-out time
- Improved continuous shooting / buffering over S3 Pro
- Eleven point AF system, fast and accurate
- Supplied raw converter produces excellent results (though see cons, below)
- Important controls can be locked to avoid accidental adjustment
- Easy to use playback / delete combination and fast face detection zoom
- Lots of white balance presets (but no way to use a reference image, unfortunately)
- Very flexible control system, lots of options for control and programmable buttons
- Huge range of custom settings
- Large, bright and detailed LCD monitor
- Important information such as ISO sensitivity is shown on the LCD status bar
- Bright clear viewfinder, doesn't feel small like some cropped cameras
- Unique in-camera features: Film modes, Multiple exposures,
- GPS data recording feature (requires optional cable, NMEA compatible)
- Battery design provides detailed information to camera
- In-menu help pages
- USB 2.0 Hi-speed interface
- Compact and lightweight considering 'pro' build and weather sealing
Conclusion - Cons
- Default settings produce very soft results (over-strong AA filter?)
- 12MP mode doesn't produce 12MP of detail, is very soft, shows artefacts and doesn't sharpen that well
- High ISO noise reduction works well but again it is at the expense of fine detail
- Raw mode is uncompressed and if dynamic range is used they are huge (25MB)
- Image parameter adjustments don't offer a wide enough range of settings
- Disappointing automatic white balance performance under artificial light
- Supplied raw conversion software clunky, slow and with limited feature set - Hyper Utility should be in the box
- Third party developers such as ACR don't get much resolution out of the raw files, restricting workflow options
- Mediocre continuous shooting performance (frame rate and number of frames per burst)
- Buffering limitations; up to 40 second wait whilst files are written to the card
- Some S5 Pro features (including Wi-Fi compatibility) removed
- Expensive compared to direct competitors such as the D200
Let's start with a little history. In the earliest days of digital photography the DSLR market was a free-for-all of alliances between camera companies such as Nikon and Canon and those like Kodak and Fuji who supplied the electronics and image processing expertise. By the late 1990's the relationship between Nikon and Fuji had led to the co-development of arguably the first totally integrated digital SLR range (co-branded as Fujix/Nikon).
Of course it could never last, and by the time the 1990's drew to a close Nikon no longer needed anyone to help them make a digital SLR. The day Nikon announced the D1 - developed entirely in-house - was the day that Fujifilm, unwilling (with good reason) to risk investing in a totally new lens mount of its own, looked likely to be forever banished to the sidelines of the DSLR market.
The first Fujifilm DSLR - based on a cheap Nikon film SLR body (because no way was Nikon going to let its erstwhile partner get too serious a toe-hold on the all-important pro market) was a revelation; what it lacked in build quality and performance it more than made up for by offering high resolution output at a remarkably low price. The S1 Pro - and successor the S2 Pro - may not have sold in the quantities Canon and Nikon were getting, but they proved that Fuji wasn't going to give up without a fight.
By the time the S3 Pro arrived in late 2004 the digital SLR market had been transformed, and - despite impressive dynamic range it simply couldn't compete with the flood of affordable new pro and semi-pro models from the big players. The S3 Pro settled into a niche (wedding photography mainly) where the dynamic range offered tangible benefits and the users didn't need the speed or tank-like build of a true professional body.
And so, eventually, we arrive at the S5 Pro. I'm sure I wasn't the only person who was surprised when it slipped out that the new Fuji SLR would be based on the superb (and at that time very new) Nikon D200; a true compact professional body that had been almost universally acclaimed by reviewers and users alike.
The S5 Pro is an excellent camera because the D200 is an excellent camera. In fact there's little to add to what's already been said about the D200; the build is superb, handling excellent and feature set comprehensive.
Putting aside the S5 Pro's price, how does it compare to the D200 - and to the wider DSLR market as a whole?
The answer is far from simple, but as I've mentioned throughout this review it will depend entirely on what's important to you and the kind of pictures you take. The amazing dynamic range and superb skin tones alone are enough reason for wedding and portrait photographers to consider it seriously. But it's not only about dynamic range; Fujifilm really can do color well (guess all those decades making Fujichrome help there), high ISO performance is better than the D200 (though don't expect miracles) and the out of camera JPEGs are probably the best you'll see from any digital SLR at this level. You have to be prepared to do some work if you shoot at high D-range settings because the output can look flat and dull, but that's simply because these JPEGs give you more headroom to play with levels, curves and color than just about any I've ever seen.
On the other hand there are some 'issues'; continuous shooting / buffering when taking advantage of the expanded dynamic range is pretty limiting and the raw files are huge (and don't play well with non-Fuji raw converter). The resolution / detail - whilst good for a 6MP camera - is nowhere near 12 megapixel's worth, and if you need really crisp results for big enlargements this isn't the best choice. As mentioned earlier this is a camera for those who value tonality and color over biting sharpness or speed.
One thing is certain: the S5 Pro is a huge improvement on its predecessor - it's a far, far better camera and it produces better, cleaner output with fewer artefacts and slightly better detail. Everything from metering to focus to noise reduction to the interface and speed of operation has improved significantly. Sure, most of this is Nikon's work, but Fuji should get some recognition for continuing to improve Super CCD output with every generation of its professional camera - even if there are still areas we're still not totally happy with.
Ultimately it's hard to wholeheartedly recommend a 6MP camera that costs $1900 when you can get exactly the same model with 10 megapixels (and better continuous shooting) for quite a lot less. Of course no one is going to buy the S5 Pro for its resolution, nor are they likely to be swayed by a few hundred dollars. And you need to be producing serious enlargements to see the D200's sharpness advantage, whereas you can see the S5 Pro's DR advantage and great color even in a postcard print. It's not for everyone, but for studio work, portraits and demanding dynamic range work (such as weddings) it fits a sizeable niche perfectly.
The qualities that many users find so attractive in the S5 Pro's output might not all be as immediate, tangible - or quantifiable - as the dynamic range graphs, and you need to be prepared to tailor the settings and put some work into post processing to get the most out of the results, but Fujifilm should be applauded for offering Nikon users a very different approach to image quality.
Rating (out of 10)
|Ergonomics & handling||9.0|