Tuesday, January 23, 2007

First Official Sample Photos From FujiFilm S5 Pro Now Available

Well, the very first official sample photos from the soon to be released FujiFilm S5 Pro camera are available at

There are four sample images: a portrait of a little girl, a garden flower closeup, and two landscape photos. The photos are not what one would call stellar or sterling or knockout samples...instead the photos are very realistic examples of how the camera will do in the hands of casual amateur photogs. A perusal of the EXIF information leads me to believe we're talking about consumer-level lenses, and f/stops which would,well,let's say which might not be the absolute best choices, but which might well be considered typical of programmed light metering choices.

The portrait sample is from a zoom lens, and was done at f/18 at 1/60 second,and it's pretty obviously lighted by electronic flash. The skin tones are unremarkable, but pleasing enough. The flower shot is typical of the type of thing I see newbies posting all over the web and on pBase. The two landscapes are average. Overall, nothing special, but the files are "okay".

**Addendum, January 29,2007: There's a pre-production S5 Pro evaluation at http://www.letsgodigital.org/en/12429/fujifilm_finepix_s5pro_preview/
and the author's overall tone and final conclusions make me optimistic that the S5 Pro will deliver good pictures--when it's used with something other than a Coke bottle lens.

***Addendum January 23, 2007: The Chinese web site PC Online put up a number of full-sized 4256x JPEG files from the S5 Pro. Go to this URL and scroll down toward the bottom of the page to find a gallery's worth of thumbnails which is split into 4 sub-galleries with the large JPEG files.

My comments on the PC Online samples: most are shot with the 24-120VR Nikkor. Take a look at the red brick building sample's lower right corner to see what a wonky piece of crap their particular 24-120VR is. The lens is the limiting factor in the 24-120VR photos. I downloaded a number of the photos,and they're not that great when opened in Photoshop CS-2 and introduced to Sharpen, or Unsharp Mask, or Smart Sharpening, and there's not a lot of meat in the 24-120 files shown. The wedding sample photos were done with the Tamron 28-75, which is normally a decent lens, but the aperture is f/18,which I am sure is well beyond the diffraction limit for the sensor, and is also a sub-par performing aperture on that lens...f/18 is NOT showing off the sensor. These four wedding photos simply do not have much sharp,clear detail in them,and are pretty ho-hum in terms of detail. I've put them through my normal Photoshop post production, and I'm just not impressed with how the files sharpen up,and how much information they have.

Overall, the PC Online samples are the second batch of full-sized S5 Pro files I've downloaded and examined in PS. It's disappointing to see sub-standard technique and lenses used with a brand-new camera. The two Chinese sites have used the Sigma 18-125 DC,which I happen to own--a consumer-grade lens,all the way. The 24-120 VR...another consumer grade lens which has a lot of corner issues...and then the Tamron 28-75 at f/18...it's almost as if there's a campaign to show what the S5 Pro can do with popular economy all-in-one-solution lenses from one generation or two behind the current status of all-in-one lenses, which is what a lot of hobbyists will plan on using with their newest d-slr. I have no problems with walkabout lenses like the Sigma 18-125 DC or the Nikkor 24-120VR, but I'd really like to see some 85/1.4 and 105 DC shots with the S5 Pro, or perhaps some photos done with the current state of the art "new" Nikkor lenses like the 105 VR, the 200/2 VR, and the 300/4 AF-S or 300/2.8 AF-S models. I *own* a few walkabout lenses, and I *know* that what they make a camera look like is a pitiful second-rate performer compared with how any of the top-grade Nikkors make a camera look.

So far, I have not had the chance to examine a Fuji S5 Pro file that was shot with anything even close to a top-grade lens,which is a crying shame. I think the camera can do better than what I've seen using the 18-125 Sigma DC,Nikkor 24-120VR,or Tamron 28-75 shot at f/18.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

First Fuji S5 Pro Sample Photos Are On-line

Well,the very first sample photos from the FujiFilm FinePix S5 Pro are on-line at the PCHome web site at http://product.pchome.net/sample_pic_46192_1.html. Apparently, there's been an earthquake in Taiwan,and that has terribly slowed down the performance of the PCHome web servers.

I spent over an hour tediously downloading the roughly 5.3 to 5.6 megabyte JPEG sample photos. How do they look? Well, I'm not that impressed by the number of jaggies I see along strong,high-contrast edges in city scenes; this has been a problem with the S1 Pro I owned, and was a problem with the S2 Pro I still own,and it was a problem with the S3 Pro. The SuperCCD concept is prone to edge jaggies on strong,high-contrast edges. Strong,high-contrast edges or lines often show a noticeable stair-stepping from the 45 degree rotated Bayer array Fuji has used in all its d-slrs, and this problem is real, and it must be said this issue is not merely one of my own, personal prejudices against the Fuji SuperCCD arrangement, as some people have alleged. If you have not gotten jaggies along strong,high-contrast edges,then you've not shot many frames with a Fuji d-slr. Architecture photos are the easiest place to spot this one type of Digital Weirdness. Check my web-reduction photos out at this URL http://www.pbase.com/derrel/s5_pro_sample_images1

My Photoshop CS-2 web reductions of the sample photos are done for educational purposes and for the purpose of discussion and analysis and as such represent Fair Use under United States copyright laws. I processed these as I myself would to make 1000-pixel tall or 1200-pixel wide images intended for computer-screen proofing or evaluation, at 200 ppi,and sharpened up using relatively moderate Smart Sharpening or Unsharp Masking.

As for the sensor's resolution abilities--it's difficult to gauge how much rez it offers,since all the sample photos were shot with what might be the Sigma 18-125 DC lens,and the lens used is clearly a CONSUMER-grade performer. The city where the photos were made was also very,very smoggy or foggy,with impaired visibility easily visible in several photos, with things only a few blocks distant showing greatly reduced detail due to the intense urban smog or fog. Most of the shots are at ISO 100 or 200. And again, the LENS these people used is so crappy that the pictures were hampered by the lens's abilities. Most of the PCHome samples were shot January 6,2007,around the 22:00 hour;the woman was photgraphed on January 10. These samples are very narrow in scope and time. I myself own a copy of the Sigma 18-125 DC in Canon EF mount,and it is a mediocre lens indeed. My software could not ascertain the actual lens used, but there have been some other Chinese photos leaked and they WERE made with the Sigma 18-125....perusal of the EXIF reveals shots made from 18 to 125mm,and so I do suspect the guilty lens was the 18-125 Sigma DC.

I can see from the photo of the three red fire hydrants that the S5 Pro has the ability to record small,very bright highlights, and not blow them out,while yielding a very flat,low-contrast JPEG that can easily be bumped up in contrast with just a tweak or two in Photoshop yielding a really NICE,lovely rendition.Kudos to Fuji! I took the liberty of processing a number of the out of camera original files,using my standard post processing approaches,and some Smart Sharpening and some Unsharp Masking makes the images look MUCH better than what they show on the PCHome web site. Overall though,it's a really disappointing set of sample photos,made with a crap lens. It's difficult to see much,except the SuperCCD sensor's typical jaggies along strong edges and in hair...It's a crying shame a really GREAT Nikkor lens like the 17-35 or 85 1.4 AF-D or 105 DC or 300/f.4 AF-S was not used in any of these test photos. I honestly think these samples are only marginally useful for analysis. The tendency to show bad jaggies along strong edges is something Fuji S1,S2,and S3 users have gotten along with, but it looks to me like the tendency toward false color moire problems has been rectified pretty well in the S5 Pro. But let's make one thing clear--the PCHome samples are all shot with a CRAP LENS,so the resolution and acuity the sensor delivers is clearly hampered by the Coke-bottle optic they had mounted.

Conclusion? Well, it's difficult to draw much of a conclusion. A 20-minute stroll around a city block with a borrowed camera and one crap lens,in the hands of some unknown shooter isn't much to go on. However, there are a few bright spots trying to shine through the clouds,and I think that with Nikon's best optics, the S5 Pro will deliver nice pictures with still a few small Digital Weirdness artifacts on some types of subject matter (like architectural subjects for example), but that on people pictures, there will be few issues. I wanna' see an S5 Pro shot by somebody with 1)skill and 2) decent lenses and 3)more than a hour to make the pictures in.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Welcome to 2007

Welcome to January of 2007. What lies ahead this year in d-slr photography? Well, a few things are for certain,but many things are simply unknown. Speculating on what's in store is sometimes fun, sometimes not. Sometimes one faces a hard reality that he/she's gonna have to switch systems to fulfill a particular need, or to have access to a particular lens or two. This is going to be one of those years; the past few months have seen an ever-lengthening list of people switching to Canon gear,and among the switchers have been many formerly almost fanatical Nikon shooters. Oh,yes,I've seen the stalwart Nikon guys, the Phil Flashes and others,switching to Canon.At other times one has to accept that he must simply bide his time and must wait for the camera he wants,which is where a lot of people will be in 2007. Right now, one of the few things actually known about 2007 is that FujiFilm is about to premier the S5 Pro, and there has been one really good beta tester report of the S5 Pro,and I have to say the buffer depth and write speed of the camera have finally been brought up close to standards for this era. There's still no raw compression,and the Wide DR .RAF file is 25 megabytes in storage space. But the S5's buffer and write time performances are finally what I would call "decent". I think this camera will have much,much more success than the S3 Pro had,both sales-wise and adoption-wise.

Pick up the February, 2007 issue of Popular Photography & Imaging magazine,and you'll see their cover story is a five-camera shoot-out of 10 megapixel d-slr's on the market right now. Overall, the Nikon D80 and Rebel XTi win most of the categories, but the Pentax and Samsung and Sony models also have a few real "advantages",in select aspects,and overall there's never been so MUCH image quality and so MANY features available in the $720 to $999 price range, and now there are five very solid 10 MP competitors.

If you're new to d-slr's, the Pentax Limited Edition series of amazing autofocus prime lenses of great light gathering power and high level build quality is something to consider as leverage in favor of a Pentax or Samsung-branded model. Pentax's announced, upcoming series of high-grade, digitally-optimized lenses with focal lengths ideally appropriate to 1.5x cropped sensor cameras is a great idea and shows that Pentax has at least SOME inkling of what people want and need in a camera that has a 1.5x FOV sized sensor. Pentax's idea of a roughly 4x ratio,constant aperture, pro-grade or L-series-like zoom is a nice idea. I think it's a roughly 60mm-250mm. For events and sports photography, I've been calling for lenses which bring back the older angles of view, which so far most makers have done mostly at the wide-angle end, with 10-20 and 12-24mm lenses,for example, or 17-50 or 17-55,and so on: Pentax is addressing the issue of 1.5x and lens angle of view by bringing out three pro-grade lenses designed to help shoot better on 1.5x bodies. Stop by The Luminous Landscape web site and see what site owner Michael Reichman had to say after a week or so of using not another in a line of Canon d-slrs, but the 10-megapixel Pentax K10D. And be sure to read his comments on what a rededicated Pentax company might mean to the future of the d-slr market--I think you might be surprised at how impressed Reichman is with the degree of innovation Pentax has shown, and I think you'll also be surprised at how utterly unimpressed Reichman is with Canon, as he writes about his perception of Canons as a Canon company that is kind of lagging behind Nikon in terms of photographic innovation. (My anology might be Nikon as creating Mac OX X 10.4 and Canon creating Windows Vista--one being innovative, the other not being innovative.)
Again, Reichman's comments are very interesting WRT to Nikon,Canon,and Pentax.


One thing people are speculating on is that Canon will soon refresh or replace the EOS 5D full-frame d-slr. I think it's possible that in late 2007, there will be a replacement camera for the 5D. Another thing people are speculating on is how Canon will try to address the idea of expanded dynamic range; Fuji's S3 Pro addresses expanded DR through a unique sensor design,while Sony's Alpha d-slr has an in-camera JPEG processing option that offers better highlight detail than most other d-slr's would preserve using "normal" JPEG processing routines,and it also expands shadow detail in a process I'd liken to Photoshops Highlight/Shadow command. I can easily envision a way to apply a highlight-preserving tone curve to a raw sensor capture so that it will "hold the highlights longer",and which will produce many wonderful,differentiated,delicate shades of highlight values,and which would make some very beautiful images. Sony's done just that in the Alpha 100, but only at one ISO value. Not that that's a problem, but it's interesting how specific and narrow this first incarnation of it is from Sony, and I truly think that Canon has the technical leadership and engineering excellence to figure out,and bring to market fairly soon,one or two Wide Dynamic Range-optimized "canned" in-camera JPEG processing routines, as part of the Canon Picture Styles concept.

Nikon needs to produce an updated news/sports camera IMO. The D2Hs is probably the next professional Nikon body that truly NEEDS an update or a refresh,and I expect the refeshed or new model to be available in mid- to late 2007. I myself understand the value of smaller-sized files for sports/event shooting,but I also like the idea of being able to shoot and then feeling secure in knowing that I can crop a SMALL amount too. Nikon's professional-grade,professionally-capable news/sports/event camera with pro-grade autofocus,weather-saling,and high FPS rates and deep buffer needs to have a better-than 4.1 Megapixel sensor. What is needed is a reliable,fast-handling,fast-shooting camera with a comprehensive set of features, custom-talioring ability,and a reliable flash metering system. With good autofocusing. And a good viewfinder. In shorts, what is needed is a pro-grade body and body features. Megapixels alone are not enough. A refresh of the D2Hs might involve a 6.2 or 8.2 MP sensor, not a 4.1 MP sensor.However, I expect a better effort at a D2Hs upgrade in 2007 from Nikon,really I do: I expect a D3h to have something like a 10.2 MP sensor, 8 fps body with multiple choices on image widths (full, 75%,50%) and maybe even two different FOV factors, like 1.52x and 2.0x for example, like the D2x series. But in 2007 I really,really do think Nikon must update the D2Hs from 4.1 MP to something comparable with what Canon's 8.2MP 1D Mark II-N offers--ie at least 8 megapixel resolution,a 2.5" LCD, great finder,8 fps,big buffer,configurability,and awesome in-camera sharpeing, and this is critical-VOICE ANNOTATION for captioning in the superb Nikon D2x-style, with the same basic user-configurable way of doing your voice comments. For sports and events, the voice recording in the D2x implementation is outstanding,and extremely useful for getting names and faces together,in a 50-100k WAV sound file that plays with the image with most modern sorting apps. A 6.2 to 8.2 MP refresh of the D2Hs,called the D2i would be welcome, as would a full replacement or new model called perhaps the D3h for D3 as in 3rd Generation, high-speed firing,high-speed-mirror capable,etc,etc, as a 10 to 12 MP sports/event/High-ISO machine geared to shooting in the nitty gritty world of PJ/event/sports/wildlife. This includes brilliant wireless triggering of shutter and or flash AND, and this is a big Generation 3 feature, put in a really good built-in flash system. Yes, put in a pop-up flash,for Pete's sake. Please Nikon,give the D3 generation model(s) a good pop-up flash. It's time. It's really,really,really time.

For macro and non-coupled lens setups,like using an extension tube, or when using weird combos of filters,or using separate flash units,or whenever there are lighting ratio comments or comments on technical data, in-camera voice annotation is an outstanding tool for keeping track of a whole list of technical data that can,sometimes, be important. For sports, caption information, comments about positioning,order of batters, which play was the double play,etc,etc are all well-handled by the D2x's voice annotation system and option set. I hope to see voice annotation become more common.

In-camera image editing of RAW captures,like the system in the Nikon D40 and D80 is nifty! It's nice to be able to create "edited" versions of one's captures without the absolute need for a computer. Applying after the fact filtering and color and tint effects,using the camera as one's computer, is a great feature. I'm all for it,myelf, I really am.This feature had better be in the D3h body. The original RAW file is not harmed,and the camera ALWAYS creates a brand-new JPEG file when doing this editing,so it's safe and non-desructive of one's original captures.