by Charles Hood
About 12 months ago Fujifilm announced it's 4th generation CCD (charge coupled device) known as the Super CCD SR. Why is this significant for underwater photographers?
Fuji claim that this new array of image sensors has four times the dynamic range (the camera's ability to distinguish between light and dark) than conventional CCDs. Underwater this dynamic range is frequently particularly large, especially in sunlight, due to the high absorption of light in water compared with that of air. Thus any technology that can help the camera capture highlights, shadows and the low light of the depths simultaneously is welcome.
So how does it work? In simple terms the Super CCD SR is designed to copy the sensitivity of negative film. Standard negative film has both low-sensitivity and high sensitivity layers for each primary colour (Red, Green, Blue). The Super CCD SR mimics this by using a combination of low-sensitivity R-pixels and high sensitivity S-pixels. In effect it has two CCDs doing two different jobs.
To make an analogy this can be compared to a base driver (for medium to low frequencies) and tweeter (for medium to high frequencies) in a HiFi speaker. This two CCD system explains why the camera is marketed (somewhat confusingly) as a 6.2 million pixel camera. In fact it has two 3.1 million pixel sensors capturing different aspects of the same image.
All this wizardry certainly proved difficult for Fuji to implement, as it wasn't until the autumn that the first camera appeared. It then took a few months for Fuji to manufacture a housing.
Similar in style to its predecessor casing for the FinePix F410 it is built from high impact polycarbonate and rated to a depth of 40 metres. All controls are accessible via either a push button or rotating knob. These are quite chunky and could still be used by me while wearing 5mm neoprene gloves.
Using the system underwater was quite intuitive. The two knobs on the top turn the camera on or off and select the camera mode. There is a choice of manual, shutter priority, aperture priority, automatic, or programmed. The programmed mode is a little confusing. You have to select it with the top dial then use the buttons to choose which subset you require even though this subset is marked on the dial.
In practice for the majority of occasions underwater I would stick to using the auto mode. I used it in auto and it generally got the exposure spot on. The only time I preferred to change to manual was when the light was low (eg. in a swimming pool) so I could get some background light into the shot.
The 'shutter' release in on the front of the housing and has a strong spring preventing accidental release.
Other controls include, 3 x zoom, ISO, white balance, flash mode, close-up option, bracketing, sharpness, exposure compensation and exposure lock.
Quality wise I set the camera on what Fuji call 3M (2048 x 1536 effective pixels) this gave me 19 images on the 16Mb card supplied. What were the results like? It has to be said that they were pretty similar to other top end 3 mega pixel cameras I have tested. The image didn't particularly leap out and shout huge dynamic range. I suspect this perception was probably due to the fact that I had hyped myself up on Fuji's market blurb to expect a quantum leap in technology that gave rise to this disappointment. However, that doesn't mean the F700 produces poor results. There is more than enough quality for a home print up to A4 size. I'm sure if one was to use this camera without the expectation of its new CCD it would appear at or near the top of any comparative test.
In the studio we played around using the RAW and the 6M settings. There was a slight increase in quality between the 3M and 6M but no appreciable change between the 6M and RAW. Thus unless you particularly need more pixels that take up valuable space on the memory card I would recommend the 3M setting.
All said I liked this system. The housing is well made fairly indestructible, compact enough to fit into most BC pockets and easy to use. The camera is stylish, idiot proof but sophisticated enough for the enthusiast.
Connecting to my iMAC was simply plug and play although I did require the software provided to use the propriety RAW setting.
The Fuji Finepix F700 puts up a respectable challenge to the similar offerings from Olympus and Pentax.
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