Fuji S3

Discuss non-DSLR models (e.g. Coolpix cameras), other camera brands, your latest cool photography gadget, computer stuff and other photography related issues that don't fit in the Vintage Kodak and Nikon DSLR forums.
Post Reply
Ashley_Pomeroy
Posts: 119
Joined: Fri Aug 08, 2008 10:04 pm
antispam: No
Location: England
Contact:

Fuji S3

Post by Ashley_Pomeroy » Fri Jul 01, 2011 9:30 pm

Doesn't really belong in the Nikon section, although it uses a Nikon body, and it's a bit too modern anyway, but I recently bought a Fuji S3. It's based on a Nikon F80 - with a portrait grip, and Fuji's bulky back and orange control screen - but unlike most of all the digital SLRs that have been released over the past ten years it has a fundamentally novel sensor, a kind of high-dynamic-range chip that preserves highlight detail. It came out in 2004; a lot of contemporary forum posts and news articles mention it, and Fuji's SuperCCD technology in general, in the same sentence as the Sigma SD9, which used the other fundamentally novel sensor design, and I get the impression that a lot of people thought that the S3 and the SD9 were the future, or at least harbingers of a new age. Both cameras sadly turned out to be dead ends, and modern digital SLR sensors are conceptually just the same as the unit that Kodak stuck in the DCS 1, albeit much more advanced.

The S3's sensor uses two layers of pixels; big ones that record the image as per usual, and a second set that the camera uses to fill in highlight detail. DCRaw can split the two files apart, thus:
Image

At the top is the usual exposure, which is vastly overexposed because I was shooting with a lens that doesn't meter on the S3, and I had to guess; at the bottom is the "safety shot" which is much better. You can see the plane. You know, if I swapped those two exposures around I could use them to make up a story about how I was killed by a nuclear bomb dropped by a light aircraft, and the brighter shot was taken just as the bomb went off. And it's not just useful for fixing incompetence, the sensor is also good for e.g. specular highlights (and shiny skin):
Image

And also high-key portraiture, because you can whack the histogram to the right edge of the box without worrying about blow-out or noisy shadows:
Image

And here's a shot of a derelict housing estate (the NOW and HERE were blown-out, because they're lit directly by the sun):
Image

It's addictive and refreshing to swish Photoshop's "recover" slider and watch the overexposed areas pop back into tonality. In fact my 5D MkII has been sitting on a shelf (it tends to blow out highlights) and I really like the S3. Here's a bloody leaf, which was also blown-out, but only in the green channel:
Image

In general it's an excellent sensor for the period - decent low noise at ISO 1600, sort of Nikon-like grain, and of course the magic exposure correction - attached to a just decent camera. The RAW files are huge, 25mb each, and the camera takes an age to write them to the card, and won't play anything back until it has. It doesn't meter with the old Nikon lenses I amassed when I had a Nikon F90-based DCS 460 - which did meter with them - and it has a few odd bugs (when the camera goes to sleep, you have to press the top-mounted shutter button to turn it back on - and only the top-mounted shutter button). On the other hand it seems to run for ages on a set of decent AAs, and it only requires one set of four AAs rather than a bunch of AAs and CR123s, as per the earlier cameras. The XD card slot is uneconomical but far more useful than the SmartMedia slot in the S1 and S2. Albeit that the camera doesn't swap to the other card when one is full up, it just says CARD FULL and shrugs its shoulders. Six megapixels, although it's noticeably less sharp than my old DCS 560 with the same lenses.

The S3's sensor also appeared in the S5 Pro, which wasn't particularly successful, and then it seemed to die a death. As far as I can tell Fuji never used it again and are transitioning away from SuperCCD entirely, which is a shame. A Leica M9/f with an eighteen megapixel full-frame Fuji SuperCCD HD sensor would be lovely. It seems that the trend nowadays is to use the conventional "underexpose and bring up the shadows" method of preserving highlight details.

It does have a bit of a "solution looking for a problem" air to it though. I get the impression that wedding photographers would have quickly become frustrated with the slowness, and got rid of it notwithstanding the extra dynamic range; the reviews all go on about how it was a magic solution to the problem of shooting a white wedding dress and a black tuxedo in the same scene, but on the other hand plenty of wedding photographers seem to have done just fine with other cameras. Studio photographers have access to controlled lighting, landscape photographers absolutely love bracketing and using graduated filters, it gives them purpose, Leica types would not be impressed by the camera's bulk and the large FINEPIX logo on the prism etc. The in-camera JPG files definitely have more highlight range but it's subtle, and some photographers might prefer the high-contrast, blown-out look. Still, I love it.

And of course the irony is that Richard Hell intended for "blank" to be literally that - an empty space, no label. He does sing "I belong to the (pause) generation", after all. But ultimately "blank generation" became the kind of label he was trying to avoid. Or perhaps it was deliberate, perhaps he was trying to force society into subverting his message, and thus partaking of subversion. You'd have to ask him; and he'd probably be evasive and shifty.

Stan Disbrow
Posts: 577
Joined: Fri May 20, 2005 7:33 pm
Location: Raleigh, NC USA

Re: Fuji S3

Post by Stan Disbrow » Sat Jul 02, 2011 3:42 pm

Hi,

Nice. I had forgotten about that sensor design. When it came out, I wanted one but didn't want to pay the price tag. What, with the constant upgrading and swapping I was doing on two systems (D1, D1h, D1x, 660, 620x on Nikon and 1D, 560, 1Ds on Canon) I put this into the 'buy it used later' category. And, then I forgot about it!

The sensor became a dead-end mostly because it is slow. A CCD is slower to read than CMOS to begin with, then this one is *two* CCDs rolled into one, and that makes it twice as slow. At the time, the development was mostly towards CMOS for increased speed and resolution, and the CCD slowly wound down. Except for Kodak turning the crank on their CCD (for the Leicas) and Sony finally getting the ganged-pixel D1 series CCD un-ganged in the end, that is.

Still, if one wanted to shoot high dynamic range shots that weren't in a hurry, this might be a good addition to the kit. In the old days, we carried different films for different conditions. With digital, we have to carry different cameras! :P

I have the Kodak 560, 760c and 720x in my kit right now. I could easily add one of these Fujis to it. The bad part, as I see it, has already been pointed out - the S3 doesn't like most of my lenses (AI'd, AI and AIS Nikkors), unlike the F5 based 700 series Kodaks. I'd have to use the S3 as I do the 560 with the Nikkor adapter ring - fully manual.

I'd also like to add a Leica R9/DMR to my kit, as that has the 10 MP, 16-bit Kodak imager in it - the other way to increase dynamic range: Use more bits! Problem is, Leica glass is always so costly that I can't really consider it. :(

Later!

Stan
Amateur Photographer
Professional Electronics Development Engineer

Ashley_Pomeroy
Posts: 119
Joined: Fri Aug 08, 2008 10:04 pm
antispam: No
Location: England
Contact:

Re: Fuji S3

Post by Ashley_Pomeroy » Sun Jul 03, 2011 9:20 pm

Stan Disbrow wrote:Nice. I had forgotten about that sensor design. When it came out, I wanted one but didn't want to pay the price tag. What, with the constant upgrading and swapping I was doing on two systems (D1, D1h, D1x, 660, 620x on Nikon and 1D, 560, 1Ds on Canon) I put this into the 'buy it used later' category. And, then I forgot about it!
That was pretty much why I bought it - the camera has come down in price on the used market, although it's still relatively expensive. It was far too expensive when it was new for what it was. The S5, on the other hand, has held its value well.

As far as I know the S3 was the first widely-available digital SLR with a 14-bit d/a converter, although whether this made any difference to the image quality I have no idea. But I have to admire Fuji for trying something different, instead of just adding six more megapixels. Which would have probably made the raw files 40mb each, so perhaps they just couldn't.

The X100 is very nice, but it's not really a revolution in sensor design. Having said that, in the film era all the effort went into camera bodies and lenses; by and large Nikon, Pentax etc left Kodak's film alone, so perhaps we're just reverting to the status quo.

Webmaster
Site Admin
Posts: 1005
Joined: Fri May 20, 2005 4:12 pm
antispam: No
Location: Norway
Contact:

Re: Fuji S3

Post by Webmaster » Tue Jul 05, 2011 8:01 am

Congratulations. I wouldn't mind having one of these myself. At the time, I was told by a major Nikon dealer that many professional portrait photographers preferred the Fujifilm models over Nikon bodies, because they felt that the colors were more "Fujifilm like", better dynamic range, etc. Makes sense, I guess. Kind of sad to see that many Fujifilm bodies sold on eBay and elsewhere have the Fujifilm logo removed/painted over - as if the owner was ashamed to use a Fujifilm rather than a real Nikon camera.

Myself, I just bought a X100. Great camera. I haven't had so much fun since I played with the Leica M9 a few years ago: http://www.nikonweb.com/x100/

Jarle

Post Reply