Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro: Extended Dynamic Range and Tethered Capture
By Stan Sholik
The Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro is packed with features to improve image quality as well as make life easier for professional photographers. Two of these features, Extended Dynamic Range and Tethered Capture, deserve more attention than could be given in the magazine review (June 2007).
Extended Dynamic Range
The unique double-photodiode matrix in the Fujifilm S-series digital SLR cameras allows the dynamic range of the capture to be varied, either automatically by the camera, or manually by the photographer. In the FinePix S3 there were three settings plus Auto. The S5 includes six settings plus Auto, with three of them identical to those found in the S3.
The settings are given as percentages, from 100% with the lowest dynamic range to 400% giving the greatest dynamic range. Darin Peeple of Fujifilm explains that these percentages are a way of measuring the total availabile ability of the pixels to record information. At the 100% setting, only the larger S-pixels are used and the dynamic range is 100% of their ability. As the dynamic range is extended by choosing other settings, the smaller R-pixels come into play. In combination with the S-pixels, the R-pixels can extend the dynamic range by as much as a factor of 4, thus the 400% maximum setting.
Caption (click image for large view): With the D-Range set to Auto, the Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro did an excellent job controlling the highlights around the sun’s reflection without sacrificing shadow information. In this instance, the Auto setting produced the same result as the 400% setting. ©Stan Sholik
J.Romero of Don Romero Photography, Laguna Beach, Calif., wouldn’t shoot with any digital camera other than a Fujifilm S3 or S5 Pro because of the extended dynamic range feature. “Our studio does a lot of portraiture on the beach near sunset. Holding detail in everything from the shadows in the rocks to the foam in the breaking surf is important to us. I tested another brand of digital camera when we decided to upgrade our Fujifilm S3s, and it couldn’t hold the dynamic range the way we needed. We’re using S5s now at a D-Range setting of W1, the same setting we used on the S3s, and the results are just what we want.”
Laguna Beach, Calif., photographer J.Romero set the dynamic range on his Fujifilm S5 to W1 (230%) for his beach portraits. In his testing he has found it is the only camera brand that doesn’t burn out the highlights in the surf. Photo by J.Romero, Romero Photography
For wedding photographers, the extended dynamic range settings virtually guarantee that, even in bright sunshine under a cloudless sky, it is possible to hold detail in the bride’s white dress as well as the groom’s black tuxedo with both JPEG and RAW captures.
The D-Range settings are a boon to commercial photographers also. The accompanying photos show the sun reflecting off of the stainless steel façade of an office building, a very high contrast situation. I made images with all six D-Range settings plus the Auto setting. The exposure was identical for each: ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/16. At the 100% setting giving the lowest dynamic range, where only the larger S-pixels are used, a large area around the sun reflection is lost to overexposure. As the settings are changed to increase dynamic range, the area lost to overexposure decreases dramatically. In this case, the Auto setting produced the same resulting image as the highest (400%) manual setting.
Displaying these two captures side-by-side in the Hyper-Utility software with the overexposure warning active for both shows the effectiveness of the D-Range in extending dynamic range. The left image was made at a setting of 100% and the right image at the Auto setting. (click image for large view) ©Stan Sholik
Fujifilm claims a 2-stop increase in dynamic range. My testing confirmed that this is likely true, with all of the gain in the highlights. When exposing with most digital SLRs, it is best to think of them as loaded with transparency film, exposing for your brightest non-specular highlights to fall just shy of overexposure. The Fujifilm S5 with D-Range set to Auto acts more like a camera loaded with negative film, allowing you to bias the exposure slightly to the shadows without losing highlight information.
Also worthy of note is the D-Range setting's effect on burst rate. At the low dynamic range setting of 100%, with only the S-pixels contributing data, the S5 delivered 3 frames per second (fps). This decreases to about 1.5 frames per second at settings other than 100% because of the increased amount of data contributed by the R-pixels. These capture rates are both within the published specification.
The maximum number of captures per burst is dependent on file size. For RAW + JPEG captures, the manual specifies 20 possible captures at the 100% setting and 8 captures at other settings before the buffer is full. I was unable to achieve more than 16 at 100% and 7 at wider dynamic range settings.
Tethered shooting with the FinePix S5 Pro is possible with the optional HS-V3 Hyper-Utility software. It is a little difficult to find at the retail level presently, as Fujifilm seems to be upgrading it for Windows Vista and perhaps the next Mac OS before distributing it. It is worth the wait if you shoot RAW files with the S5. The FinePix Viewer software supplied with the camera offers only minimal controls for RAW conversions and other applications that can perform the conversions lack some of the controls found in Fujifilm’s HS-V3 software.
Installing the HS-V3 Hyper-Utility software was straightforward on both my Windows 2000 Pro desktop computer and my Windows XP Pro laptop. The software CD that I was sent was not a shipping copy, but I was assured that it was identical. There was no manual included, but the built-in Help utility was all I needed to understand the array of icons in the interface. As long as you load the software before connecting the camera so that the S5 driver is available when the camera is attached, there should not be a problem.
For tethered shooting, the S5 connects to the computer via USB 2.0 port. You will need a longer cable than the short one supplied with the camera. Once connected, clicking on the S5 camera icon in the Hyper-Utility software opens up the Studio Utility module. The software supports the FinePix S20, S2 and S3 cameras in the same way. Clicking the camera icon in the top right column of the Studio Utility registers the camera and opens the camera settings column. Here you will find all of the camera control settings found in the camera menus, including D-Range. The software displays your current settings and allows you to make changes from the keyboard or with the mouse. When you are satisfied with the settings, clicking on the round button in the lower part of the right column releases the shutter.
This screen capture shows the interface of the Studio Utility used for tethered capture. The left column contains the histogram and image information, the center column the captured image and the right column contains the camera controls. Clicking the round button in the right column releases the shutter from the computer. (click image for large view) ©Stan Sholik
Transfer time for a 24.5MB RAW is 35 seconds. The image opens in the central column, with image information displayed to the left. The histogram is too small for my liking and displays mean, standard deviation and median values for luminosity and RGB in a table underneath that has no real meaning to me. Perhaps the missing manual explains the relevancy of these numbers. However, RGB readouts for the point under the cursor are there, and that’s what counts.
Live Preview mode locks up the mirror, stops down the lens to the working aperture and opens the shutter. On the computer a window opens displaying the live image. (click image for large view) ©Stan Sholik
Shooting from the computer is fine for commercial photographers with a tripod-mounted camera, but others will end up using the camera’s release. Even when tethered to the computer, the S5 displays the image on the camera LCD. Commercial photographers will also appreciate the Live Preview function that can also be controlled in the HS-V3 Hyper-Utility software. When activated, the shutter releases and the mirror flips up. An inset screen with a zoomable image shows the subject in real time. With only the modeling lights for lighting, I needed to crank the brightness all the way up to see the image. Once this is done it is possible to check focus and depth of field, even though the image is somewhat noisy.
Once the tethered image is available on the monitor, it is possible to pan around the capture immediately at 100% by selecting the “hand” icon with the mouse. There are keyboard shortcuts for zooming in and out, but I did miss the ability to use the spacebar and mouse to scroll around the image. Magnification is available up to 1,600%.
Zooming the Live Preview allows you to check focus and depth of field. (click image for large view) ©Stan Sholik
The main Hyper-Utility window is logically laid out with a file tree, histogram and image information to the left, a preview image in the center and thumbnails of images in the current folder at the bottom. For vertical images, one click reorients the thumbnails to the right side to allow the main image more real estate on the screen. Images can also be displayed side-by-side. (click image for large view) ©Stan Sholik
The RAW File Converter Utility in the Hyper-Utility software provides a full range of controls including a Film Simulation option. (click image for large view) ©Stan Sholik
Much more could be said regarding the HS-V3 Hyper-Utility software and most of it very favorable. The RAW file conversion module is far less complex and far easier to master than Adobe Camera Raw. Its only serious shortcomings are the lack of a window displaying RGB values for points under the cursor and the same small histogram.
All of the camera image adjustment controls are available in the RAW Converter, including D-Range adjustment. As long as you have captured an image with the D-Range set at anything but 100%, the RAW Converter D-Range adjustment can be changed within its full 100% to 400% range.
The latest release of the software supports Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Vista as well as Mac OS 10.3.9 and better. Pricing directly from Fujifilm is $119.95.