Apr 24 2007

Nikon D200 vs. Fuji S5 review

Since the Fuji S5 pro hit the shelves, the Internet forums have been flooded with questions and endless comparisons between the new Fuji and the Nikon D200. The comparisons are quite legitimate, since the Fuji S5 pro is clearly based on the Nikon D200 body.

There are three main point to compare between the two cameras: speed, resolution, image quality (color rendering, dynamic range, noise).

This Nikon D200 vs. Fuji S5 pro review will take some time to complete, so I will offer you a hint to the conclusion: having both the Nikon D200 and the Fuji S5 pro, my main camera is now the Fuji S5 because for my style of shooting and my clients’ needs it represents the best compromise between speed, ease of use and image quality.

In the first part of this review I am going to address the speed issue.

Speed comparison between the Nikon D200 and Fuji S5 pro

The “speed of a digital camera has four main components:

Shutter lag – the time between pressing the shutter release and actual taking of the image.

Fps – how many frames per second the camera can achieve.

Buffer size – how many images the camera can take before slowing down due to card writing.

Writing speed – how fast the camera can flush the files to the card, to empty the buffer.

All the following tests were done only in RAW or JPEGs Large, Fine, not in RAW + jpeg, this is how I use the cameras.

The RAW files from those cameras are called NEFs for the Nikon D200 and RAFs for the Fuji S5 pro.

Nikon 50/1.4 on a Fuji S5 Pro, same size as a Nikon D200

Fuji S5 Pro and Nikon MB-D200 grip with a Nikon 50/1.4 AF-D

Also, it should be noted that the Nikon D200 has two NEF settings: uncompressed and compressed (visually looseless as Nikon calls them), I tested both.

The Fuji S5 was tested with the dynamic range (DR) at 100% (aprox.12.75 MB RAFs) and at 400% (aprox. 25 MB RAFs), since both the buffer size and the time needed to write to the card are very different.

The Fuji S5 pro jpeg file size is from my tests (depends on the image taken) not from the manual. In my tests, the average jpeg file was 5.63 MB, vs. 5.3 in the manual.

The Nikon D200 jpegs were set for Optimal Quality, not Size Priority.

Shutter lag

Nikon D200 and Fuji S5 pro are built on the same body, so the shutter lag and mirror black-out time are the same, very fast, they are bested only by top of the line cameras as the Nikon D2H(s) and Nikon D2x(s).

Fps – frames per second

Here there is no dispute, the Nikon D200 can shoot 5 fps and the Fuji S5 pro can do a max. of 3 fps, in 100% DR (normal dynamic range) and 1.6 fps in wide DR (any other setting than 100%, including Auto).

Since over ISO 1000 the Fuji S5 pro does not use the R sensors, the shooting speed increase to 3 fps even in wide DR.

Buffer size

Fuji S5 pro buffer size:

This is where the things get tricky, the Fuji S5 pro has different values from those quoted in the owner’s manual, see below.

DR
Quality
File Size
Buffer
manual
Buffer
test 1
Buffer
test 2
100%
RAF
12.75 MB
24
19
21
100%
jpeg
5.63 MB
29
16
19
400%
RAF
25 MB
10
8
9
400%
jpeg
5.63 MB
19
7
8

Test 1 is with image display ON, Test 2 is with image display OFF.

The Fuji S5 has inherited (to a lesser extent) a nasty behavior from the Fuji S3 pro – taking space from the buffer to display images on the LCD just after they were taken.

Quote from the manual: “The number of images that can be stored in the memory buffer at current settings is shown in the exposure-count displays in the viewfinder and control panel while the shutter button is pressed.”

This is a great feature, sorely missing from the Fuji S3 but present on all Nikon DSLRs.

I find the difference between the manual and the actual camera most disturbing especially in wide DR jpeg, 19 vs. 7 is really huge.

Also, the Fuji S5 manual states a larger buffer for the jpeg setting than the RAF and the camera shows the smallest buffer when shot in jpeg.

It seems that the Fuji S5 pro uses part of the buffer as RAM for internal file processing, this could explain the differences.

I presume this is a hardware limitation so do not hold your breath for a firmware update to correct this problem.

Over ISO 1000 the Fuji S5 pro does not use the R sensors and the shooting speed increase to 3 fps, but oddly, the buffer size does not increase to the standard DR values, maybe for a good reason:

If you keep the wide DR setting, the camera will act as if all the sensors are working:

1. in RAF with FinePix studio you will have access to the Dynamic Range slider which works, and the image shows the DR changes impact between 100% and 400% with all the steps within.

2. in jpegs you will clearly see the difference between the 100% setting and 400% setting.

Don’t ask me how is done, probably with some very clever curves, but the effect looks as all the S + R sensors are still working.

Nikon D200 buffer size:

The Nikon D200 has 21 frames buffer in NEF and 25 in jpegs and the value does not change with the image preview settings.

But if you enable Long Exposure Noise Reduction, the Nikon D200 will have only an 11 shot buffer both in NEF and jpegs.

Writing speed

Testing procedure:

Both cameras were shot at ISO 100, Auto white balance, Program mode, on a fairly detailed outside scene to generate as typical as possible jpeg and compressed NEFs sizes.

The lens used on both cameras was the Nikon 18-70/3.5-4.5 lens, also pretty common.

For jpegs, both cameras were shot in Large, Fine, the Nikon D200 in Optimal quality. On the Fuji S5 the Large setting generates a 4256×2848 pixels, equiv. of 12 MP (megapixels) file.

For the RAW files, the Nikon D200 was tested in both compressed and uncompressed NEF.

The Fuji S5 was tested in both 100% DR (standard DR) and 400% DR (widest DR). In fact, any other setting than 100%, including Auto is considered wide DR and would give similar results to the 400% setting regarding the file sizes and writing times, but I wanted to be pretty thorough.

CF cards used:

There were three current SanDisk cards used: 1 GB Ultra II, 2 GB Extreme III and 8 GB Ultra II.

Actually, in the Fuji S5 manual the maximum capacity CF card “tested and approved” is 4 GB (SanDisk, both Ultra II and Extreme III), which is somewhat in line with the Sandisk Fuji S5 compatibility page, although the Fuji S5 is FAT 32 compatible and the 8 GB card works fine.

You will see that the 8 GB Ultra II was the slowest on both cameras, not by much but measurable. I think that is because it needs a different formatting (FAT 32). Also, the time needed to format the card in the camera is much longer, about 5.5 sec. as opposed to about 1 sec. for the other cards which are FAT 16.

The timing is between pressing the shutter release and the green CF card access lamp on the back of the camera going off and it includes the internal processing time.

The values were averaged from 3 to six measurements and the numbers were rounded.

I tested both cameras with Image Display ON (it’s how I use the cameras), but since there is a visible difference with the Image Display OFF, I redone the tests using only the fastest card, the 2 GB SanDisk Extreme III.

The “Images” column shows how many images the card will hold – camera approximation.

The “MB / sec.” column shows the “perceived” writing speed, which is not the actual writing speed of the camera since it includes the time needed for internal file processing.

This is why the jpegs show the shortest time but the slowest “speed” as compared to RAW files.

In real life this value has no importance at all, but I included it only to help you better compare the “slow” Fuji S5 with the “fast” Nikon D200.

What is really important in the data below is the time needed to flush the image from the buffer to the card.

Now, to the data:

Fuji S5 pro writing speed:

Jpegs, DR 100%, Image Display ON, average file size 5.63 MB, buffer 16 images.

Card type
Images
Time
MB / sec.
1 GB Ultra II
189
2.9
1.95
2 GB Extreme III
378
2.9
1.95
8 GB Ultra II
1.5 k
3.0
1.88

Image Display OFF, buffer 19 images, same settings as above.

Card type
Images
Time
MB / sec.
2 GB Extreme III
378
2.3
2.45

Jpegs, DR 400%, Image Display ON, average file size 5.63 MB, buffer 7 images.

Card type
Images
Time
MB / sec.
1 GB Ultra II
189
3.8
1.48
2 GB Extreme III
378
3.7
1.52
8 GB Ultra II
1.5 k
4.0
1.40

Image Display OFF, buffer 8 images, same settings as above.

Card type
Images
Time
MB / sec.
2 GB Extreme III
378
2.7
2.08

RAFs, DR 100%, Image Display ON, average file size 12.75 MB, buffer 19 images.

Card type
Images
Time
MB / sec.
1 GB Ultra II
78
3.3
3.86
2 GB Extreme III
155
3.2
3.98
8 GB Ultra II
623
4
3.18

Image Display OFF, buffer 21 images, same settings as above.

Card type
Images
Time
MB / sec.
2 GB Extreme III
378
2.8
4.55

RAFs, DR 400%, Image Display ON, average file size 25 MB, buffer 8 images.

Card type
Images
Time
MB / sec.
1 GB Ultra II
39
5.8
4.31
2 GB Extreme III
79
5.5
4.54
8 GB Ultra II
318
6.5
3.84

Image Display OFF, buffer 9 images, same settings as above.

Card type
Images
Time
MB / sec.
2 GB Extreme III
79
4.6
5.43

Nikon D200 writing speed:

Jpegs, Image Display ON, average file size 6.48 MB, buffer 25 images.

Card type
Images
Time
MB / sec.
1 GB Ultra II
112
2.5
2.59
2 GB Extreme III
224
2.3
2.81
8 GB Ultra II
899
2.8
2.31

Image Display OFF, buffer 25 images, same settings as above.

Card type
Images
Time
MB / sec.
2 GB Extreme III
224
2.0
3.24

Compressed NEFs, Image Display ON, average file size 9.7 MB, buffer 21 images.

Card type
Images*
Time
MB / sec.
1 GB Ultra II
60
3
3.23
2 GB Extreme III
120
2.8
3.46
8 GB Ultra II
480
3.5
2.27

Image Display OFF, buffer 21 images, same settings as above.

Card type
Images*
Time
MB / sec.
2 GB Extreme III
120
2.2
4.41

Uncompressed NEFs, Image Display ON, average file size 16.3 MB, buffer 21 images.

Card type
Images
Time
MB / sec.
1 GB Ultra II
60
4
4.07
2 GB Extreme III
120
3.4
4.79
8 GB Ultra II
480
4.4
3.70

Image Display OFF, buffer 21 images, same settings as above.

Card type
Images
Time
MB / sec.
2 GB Extreme III
120
3
5.43

* The Nikon D200 does not show on the image counter the real number of compressed NEFs which can be saved on the card, but the number of uncompressed NEFs. I understand that a similar behavior was present on the Nikon D70 and was corrected with a firmware update. You can approximate the number of images remaining to be saved on the card by multiplying the counter with a factor of about 1.6 – 1.7, because the compressed NEFs have a behavior similar to jpeg files, their size depending on the complexity of the subject.

Conclusion

Most Fuji S5 pro owners will use it in a wide DR setting, so they will have to live with 1.6 fps which is about what one can “pump” the shutter release in Single advance mode. This is enough for most applications which do not require “motor drive” speeds.

But if one is after speed for a particular assignment the Fuji S5 can be set to 100% DR and with a SanDisk Extreme III the figures become:

Jpegs, Image Display OFF:

Camera
fps
Buffer
Time
Nikon D200
5
25
2.0
Fuji S5 pro
3
19
2.3

Jpegs, Image Display ON:

Camera
fps
Buffer
Time
Nikon D200
5
25
2.3
Fuji S5 pro
3
16
2.9

RAW, Image Display OFF:

Camera
fps
Buffer
Time
Nikon D200 standard
5
21
3.0
Nikon D200 compressed
5
21
2.2
Fuji S5 pro
3
21
2.8

RAW, Image Display ON:

Camera
fps
Buffer
Time
Nikon D200 standard
5
21
3.4
Nikon D200 compressed
5
21
2.8
Fuji S5 pro
3
19
3.2

You can easily notice that apart from the fps difference which is 5:3 in Nikon’s favor, the buffer size and flush times are quite similar, with the Fuji even having better flush times in RAW compared to the Nikon in uncompressed RAW.

So the Fuji S5 pro is not such a slow camera, after all.


One Response to “Nikon D200 vs. Fuji S5 review”

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