Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro

Fuji has upgraded the S3 - skipping a generation to launch the S5

Despite being a leader in the professional film business - and also the photo printing, and if latest claims are to be believed, the digital compact market - Fuji appears to have purposefully held itself back when it comes to 'prosumer' (professional/consumer) DSLRs, only having one such camera on the shelves at one time.

Thus we have the new S5, replacing the two-year old S3. There was no S4, Fuji having seemingly skipped a generation. Fuji's reluctance to flood the DSLR market with own branded kit undoubtedly has a great deal to do with the fact that its camera bodies are based on existing Nikon bodies. Thus the S5's close relative is Nikon's accclaimed D200, and it shares the same lens mount and so compatibility with a wide range of Nikon optics - a definate advantage. It also has a moisture resistant and dust proof metal alloy body.

So why should anyone buy Fuji rather than Nikon?

The short answer is that not everyone will. Fuji is targeting the S5, like the prior S-series cameras, at a specialist market - namely wedding photographers (the S5 is able to pick up on subtle highlight details such as intricate embroidery on a bride's dress for example) and landcsape photographers (the camera makes use of Fuji's film heritage by including three 'negative film' modes that replicate the acclaimed likes of Velvia roll film).

So how does it do this and provide a point of difference? Though the outer body of the S5 may recall the D200, more than ever it's what's on the inside that counts - namely Fuji's Super CCD SR Pro sensor that uniquely pairs two sets of photo diodes - six million 'S' diodes and six million 'R' diodes - to generate an output equivalent to that from a 12 million pixel DSLR. There has been much debate as to whether this stated equivalent is truely the case, with most suggestions being that it falls slightly short.

Still, the Fuji S5's images are detailed and colourful enough to satisfy its chosen target market, who won't in fairness typically be printing images larger than a maximum A3 poster size anyway, for which its output - real or not - is more than enough. As you'd expect, RAW, JPEG or RAW + JPEG images can be captured.

The two sets of photo diodes also serve different purposes. The larger 'S' photo diodes collect the majority of the light, while the smaller 'R' photo diodes collect the bright area information - such as the highlight detail on a white bridal dress that on other models would simply 'burn out'. Fuji claims its performance in the latter area is beyond the power of conventional pixels.

The Fuji S5 Pro's other selling points include light sensitivity up to IS03200 with a new low pass filter to keep any aberrations including image noise to a minimum. It appears to have done the job as it's difficult to find fault with images captured up to ISO1600, even under close inspection. This is a real boon also, as most of us would rather utilise natural light when shooting portraits and avoid the bleaching effects of flash that we'd otherwise have to use to get a decent, noise free, exposure.

You also get an 11-point auto focus system to ensure whichever part of the frame you want to direct the viewer to is sharply in focus (providing of course you've paired the camera with a decent Nikon system optic) and a new, rather grandly named Real Photo Processor Pro to deliver life-like colours that mirror the perception of the human eye.

As there's no lens supplied with the Fuji S5 Pro - Fuji doesn't 'do' optics - we were using a borrowed Nikon AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G IF ED for the duration of the test. A 'standard' kit lens, it doesn't wholly do the camera justice. Though the results are acceptable there is some barrel distortion (fish eye lens type effects) at maximum wideangle setting, while they could also be sharper at maximum telephoto. Still these are minor grumbles, and as a catch all optic it's perfectly usable.

Luckily the S5 Pro has a built in mirror lock up sensor cleaning option to shake the chip free of any undesirables such as dust that will blight your shots. Rather more interestingly, within the myriad menus is the option to activate an Olympus Live View-like function, whereby you can use the camera's LCD to frame and compose shots in manual mode, with the choice of either a black and white or colour view while you do so. As Fuji realise the S5 will be used for portraiture there's also a 'face zoom in button' provided that detects a human face in the frame and zooms in so you can check focus and exposure before taking the shot.

Other options worth a mention on the S5 are the ability to adjust dynamic range, colour, tone, sharpness and colour space (Adobe RGB or SRGB) or you can simply rely on the adequate default settings and point and shoot.

Despite the fairly comprehensive controls and optons available to the photographer, the S5 Pro is actually fairly easy to use from the off, creatively flexible and, while not being a camera especially suited to sports or reportage photographers, is quick to respond to what you ask of it. The shots it delivers contain plenty of detail, are colourful - though, as ever, benefit from a quick boost in Photoshop Levels afterwards - metering is spot on and generally there's very little to grumble about here.

Fujifilm currently has one and only one digital SLR on the market - and thus it has been so since 2002. The S5 is a respectable addition to its cannon, Fuji having listened to the wants of previous generations of photographers, and generally ramped up performance further. Sure it's a specialist tool for a specialist market, namely that of the social or landscape photographer. But, in truth, who doesn't enjoy taking pictures of beautiful people or beautiful vistas?