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:
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):
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:
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):
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:
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.