Sunday, September 24, 2006

Leaked FujiFilm Development Announcement Disappoints Many

Sept 24.Well, Steve's Digicams web site had a bit of a gun-jumping today with an early FujiFilm S5 development release. Steve has currently pulled the photos and the text, but in a very few minutes, it will be 3 AM EST,and Tallyn's and other dealers will soon e-mail the details to thousands of potential customers. Bottom line for the S5? The sensor will be called the Super CCD SR Pro,and will use FujiFilm technology that delivers good dynamic range, beautiful color,and very impressive,snappy photos even when shot in JPEG mode. The big disappointment (seven full pages and part of an eighth page at dPreview) is that the S5 is supposed to be a mere 6+6 MP Camera. (balance of blog entry of Sept 24 deleted,due to new information becoming available) See the S5 announcement here and read the official Fuji press release at this dPreview link

Sept 25. OKAY,the announcement has been OFFICIALLY made,and the S5 will be a 6.17+6.17 MP,dual-photodiode sensor,which is similar to what Fuji did with the S3's wide dynamic range sensor. Fuji has added additional Film Simulation modes,and has announced that the S5 pro will be (as was predicted by many) built upon a modified Nikon D200 body. Availability will apparently begin sometime around early 2007,with NO PRICE POINT mentioned in the development announcement. Fuji's announcement was a development announcement,not a product availability announcement. We probably will not be able to buy S5 cameras until February or March of 2007,at the absolute earliest. Read the development announcement press releaseand you see that FujiFilm is trying to make the point that the QUALITY OF INFORMATION is of greater importance than the size of the file or the size of the sensor. And they are claiming that they have good Noise Reduction, and better-than-competing-camera ISO 3200 capability. Some big claims.

There are a LOT of disappointed people who had hoped the Fuji S5 would have a higher MP sensor. A sensor capable of being accepted by most,if not all,stock photography houses,and capable of very LARGE prints in the style of high-MP d-slr models like the Canon Full Frame models and the Nikon D2x and D2Xs models. But no, Fuji went another way, with a dual-photosite style of sensor that will use 6.17 million S-sensors for the normal image data and as many as 6.17 million much,much smaller R-pixels for brighter light sources and the ability to offer expanded dynamic range over competing cameras. Also, FujiFilm has announced that they've worked hard on the AA filter array to cut down on moire and artifiacting problems. And c'mon,doggone it, let's be honest about it-moire and digital artifacting were the biggest knocks against the S1,S2,and S3 models. Fuji's unique sensors in the S1,S2,and S3 have all had a very real,very easily-seen problem with either artifacting like stair-stepping,or moire, on some subjects. I've made tens of thousands of images on the S1 and S2 cameras,and the Fuji's I've owned have all had the moire problem and the "jaggies" on diagonals and edges and on various types of subject matter. Not always a problem, but for some subject matter, it's best to have an camera that has a low incidence of digital artifacting visible in the images. Fuji d-slr's have had image artifacting problems,and Fuji is wise to address concerns about how they have tried to fix one of the S3's most serious image quality deficit areas--artifacting and moire.

No mention if FujiFilm has figured out how to remedy the S3's various white balance weaknesses, but I assume that stepping out from the Nikon N80 body slums and stepping up to the 21st Century D200 donor body will bring with it better white balance capability,as well as vastly better and faster autofocusing. The various white balance problems the S3 is plagued with have been detailed well by Mr. Stacey and Walter Matthews,and others, and it's weird how Fuji did so well with the S2's WB system,and how they did so poorly with the S3's WB system. Shot-to-shot drift,oddball flash+ambient color effects, and poor shade and incandescent WB on the S3 were some of the worst S3 White Balance issues which conscientious shooters acknowledged with the S3.

FujiFilm's S5 development announcement mentions their in-camera image processing technologies and ideas,which is sort of where they've been heading with their pocket digicams with their Real Photo technology; for the S5, FujiFilm has adopted the name Real Photo Processor Pro technology for its image processing engine.Canon has named its image processing engines the Digic and Digic II. Sony has decided to name its image processing component, which in Sony-talk is called the Bionz image processor. And of course, Fuji has decided it needs to play the same name game. Nikon so far has not dreamed up a clever name for its image processing engine, but once they do dream up a clever name for their image processing engine,I bet they name it!

I see an S5 from Fuji as being a very GOOD THING for the F-mount. It probably will NOT be bargain basement priced though. I expect a hefty original price point from FujiFilm,to rake in all the pent-up demand and early-adopter gold they can. Then one price reduction maybe six to eight months later. After the first price drop has been in effect six months or so, the price will probably erode somewhat. I hope I am wrong about this. I fully expect that the S5 will be another Fuji-badged camera which people will be expected to pay a premium price for,based on things like MP count,etc. In other words, don't expect that the S5 will be priced to compete against the Nikon D80 or the Nikon D200 or even the Canon EOS 30D. Nope...the Fuji S5 will not be in direct competition with any other camera models. Or price points. Buyers who understand what a Fuji sensor in the first truly respectable mid-priced Nikon D-SLR body means will pay for it. And they will not be numerous. But they will understand photography,and they will appreciate what Fuji brings to the table as compared with Nikon or Canon. I expect $2499 to $2700 as the initial price point. The fact that there has been NO INITIAL PRICE announced is of some interest, and I think it's good poker playing not to tip one's hand. I expect that Fuji is sitting back and monitoring discussions of its S5 and evaluating the mood of the public,right now,to help forecast demand and to just gauge how successful they have been in designing their S5 model.

The real question I think is ,"How well will a 6+6 MP d-slr fare in a marketplace featuring three,then maybe four or even five 10 MP d-slr's,all priced at under $1,000? 10MP has become the new ENTRY LEVEL for d-slr models in late 2006; if the S5 arrives in mid-2006,will it then be perceived as DOA,or as "hoplelessly behind the curve?" By the masses, yes,I expect the S5 to be perceived as behind the times,and probably overpriced and under-spec'd with its 6MP sensor. Somebody opinied that the S3 would have been a GREAT camera--two years ago! I don't think that's a fair statement. Sensor MegaPixel count is not the most important selling point for an S5,as I see it. The S5 will have decent D200 AF module,it will share the D200's decent viewfinder quality and brightness and usefulness, it will have a Standard and Wide-DR sensor with numerous Film Simulation modes, it will offer beautiful FujiFilm color and tonality,and "Wow!" type in-camera JPEG image processing options simply not available from Canon or Nikon bodies. So, how well will a 6 MP d-slr sell in the year 2007,under the new 10MP and Up market paradigm of 2007? Well, I doubt that annual sales figures for the new Fuji S5 will even come close to the number of units Canon sells on any one of its three lowest-tier d-slrs. l expect truly niche market sales of the S5. But I think now that Fuji has FINALLY PROCURED A DECENT BODY to build upon, that they have a chance to make a lot more people truly happy than they ever could with the N80-based S2 and S3 models. I do not think the S5 will hurt D200 sales much at all,nor will it siphon off many customers from Canon. If one believes that FujiFIlm sold only around 30,000 S2 models, and even fewer S3 models, I'd suspect that the S5 will out-sell either the S2 or S3 bodies,simply due to the quite-respectable D200 foundation the S5 will be built upon; the D200 is a HELL of a lot better camera body than the Nikon N80 aka S2, and also a hell of a lot better than the highly-modified N80/S3 body.

I do think the S5's improved autofocus, and the metering with Ai and AiS lenses will attract some longtime Nikon users, but that the majority of S5 buyers will be wedding/event shooters,and that they will be very,very happy with what FujiFilm brings to the table with what some folks have dubbed Fuji Goodness: a combination of file size/color/tonality/high acutance/JPEG-optimized workflow/"look". Total sales at introductory price will probably be very modest; if prices are reasonable,the S5 could easily out-sell what the S2 did,or what the S3 did.

I expect that a LOT of S2 users who skipped the S3 will buy the S5. I expect that wedding/event/portrait people will love the S5,since they'll finally be able to use a really modern,up-to-date body with Fuji digital goodness inside. I'm not sure, but some people think that Fuji might try and really BROADEN its appeal,by selling these things at a lower than expected price, like $1499, but I don't anticipate that. I'd love to be proven wrong however, and maybe Fuji learned something from its past mistakes. In five,six,or seven months, we ought to see how this all shakes out when the rubber meets the road. Currently, there's a LOT of complaining about the inability to advance the sensor over the past three years, not enough MP,not acceptable for large stock image submission,and numerous complainints that, "The S5 Pro is the camera the S3 should have been", etc,etc. Yeah, I can agree, the S5 is very UNDERWHELMING,at least in terms of on-paper specifications,and the very slow frame per second speeds in Wide DR modes are distressing,and so is the apparent lack of RAW file compression; however, I have an overall feeling that the S5 will be the best 6MP camera ever made in terms of image quality and image beauty. I really think that a new AA filter pack might help the S5's sensor perform quite wonderfully; my complaint with the S2 was never the lack of resolution,but the tendedncy toward jaggies,and the coarse exposure and coarse ISO setting adjustments and the cheap AF system and SLOW mechanicals of the N80 part of the camera.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Entry-Level D-SLR's Hit the 10 Megapixel Mark

Leica's first M-mount digital rangefinder, with two sweet new lenses and a fascinating multi-lens Leica viewfinder!

Canon's Rebel XTi,a new 10.1 MP d-slr! Nikon's new D80,a 10.2 MP D-slr priced at $999 body-only! Probably a Fuji S3 follow-up model called the S5,and based upon the Nikon D200! All in all the next few weeks promises to be a very exciting time in the higher end of the consumer digital photography segment. Bang for buck factor seems to be getting ever higher and higher among Canon and Nikon. I'm impressed with the early comments surrounding the Rebel XTi and the D80,and am encouraged to read today on dPreview that Thom Hogan is predicting the Nikon D200 body will be modified by FujiFilm to form the basis of FujiFilm's next d-slr model. Sony seems to be doing quite well in sales in Japan's d-slr market; Sony's at home sales performance in the d-slr market is quite surprisingly good to me,and to basically all those who felt Sony couldn't do "anything in d-slr sales" have been proven wrong (at least in the Japanese market). FujiFilm's next announcement is expected to be a "development announcement" about its upcoming S3 replacement camera,and not a new model unveiling in the terms of Canon and Nikon where products are announced and then available for sale shortly afterwards; I think being a smaller market or niche player, FujiFilm's development announcement is designed to put Fujista's in a state of deep-freeze,or on hold,to preserve whatever market share they can. I'm anxious to see what FujiFilm has planned.

Canon's two pre-Photokina lens announcements are interesting, with a 50mm f/1.2 USM which is a nifty offering, and a 70-200 f/4 L with Canon's newest generation of Image Stabilizer technology. Both new lenses have the new SuperSpectra anti-reflection coating Canon's just begun touting,and Canon is also promoting these two lenses as having perfectly round aperture openings...which is a nice thing in my book. I decidely do prefer ROUND aperture openings for the way they render point sources of light in the background. Nikon's pre-Photokina announcements of the 18-135 kit lens for the D80 and its 70-300 slowpoke zoom with VR are also welcome lens announcements; Nikon's finally caught up to Canon by offering a slow,variable aperture 70-300 with stabilizer built in. Nikon still has NOTHING in the 70-200 f/4 category,while Canon will soon have two models of 70-200mm f/4 zooms of professional-grade design and optics (ie in Canon-speak 'L-series').