Field Test: Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro UVIR

A specialized camera for seeing beyond human vision brings a whole new world to light.


I'm not a forensics photographer, nor do I play one on TV, but I've just gotten through my field investigations of one of the most interesting new cameras on the market. In truth, the Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro UVIR (street, $1,800, body only) isn't really a new camera at all, but a 2004 camera with one minor tweak. That one minor tweak has a major impact, though.

You see, the UVIR can detect a much broader range of illumination than most every other OEM camera on the market, well into the infrared and ultraviolet spectrum. By removing the IR/UV cutoff filter in front of the Super CCD SRII sensor, the UVIR is photosensitive to wavelengths from approximately 350nm-1000nm (The average human's visual sensitivity is approximately between 400nm-700nm, and most consumer digital cameras mirror this sensitivity range with cutoff filters. (A recent exception is the Leica M8 which, due to its rangefinder design and thin IR cutoff filter is, we feel, inadvertently oversensitive into the IR spectrum. For more on this, read our Special Report: Marooned Leica Lovers.)

Image Quality Gallery Preview: Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro UVIR

This increased spectral sensitivity in both the IR and UV spectrum is appealing primarily to two very different specialized photographers -- fine artists and forensics investigators. With specialized filters and/or alternate light sources, the photographer can isolate specific wavelengths beyond normal human vision for various purposes: different inks that appear identical under normal light may flouresce differently under UV ("Black Light"), proving a forgery. Likewise, bodily fluids and oils may be visible under UV in fabrics or on surfaces, despite being washed away in the visible spectrum. At the IR end of the spectrum, organic materials of the leafy variety appear much brighter, even to the point of glowing , and some clothing becomes semi-transparent.

The FujiFilm FinePix S3 Pro UVIR's mechanical heritage is based upon a Nikon chassis, and it accepts almost all Nikon F-Mount lenses.

My lens of choice for my field investigations was a Sigma 24mm f/1.8 EX DG Macro APSH, chosen for several key reasons. With the lens crop factor of 1.5x, it is very close to a "normal lens," but the very short focal range means that it will have great depth of field at hyperfocal when stopped down to the f/8-11 range. As an added bonus, its 77mm pro standard filter size integrated effortlessly into my existing filter and filter ring lineup.

I ran the UVIR through its paces, shooting in full color and black and white without filters, in color and black and white with an 89B IR filter (50% transmission at 720nm -- near IR), and with a consumer-model Philips A-type Black Light bulb, which transmits from roughly 300-600nm with its peak at 350-400nm testing, experimenting and learning all the while.

In full color, without filters, many objects in photos taken with the S3 Pro may appear very close to normal, with a bit more red tint showing in light reflected off building surfaces, for example. The big exception in this shooting style is organic material: leaves and grasses are a rich orange to red under daylight conditions. Autofocus will work, and it will find focus based upon the visible characteristics of the image, so those autumnal organic image elements reflecting back IR may have a soft, diffuse appearance in the final image. Certain fabrics may show a color shift as well. Full range shooting in black and white is similar, albeit in a monochromatic sort of way.

With the Cokin P 89B filter in place to limit light to near IR, through-the viewfinder framing is impossible. However, a thoughtful feature of this camera is a grayscale 30-second preview, which makes the IR world visible. This is helpful for framing a shot, and to gain an understanding of what the image elements reflect in IR. This is not very useful; however, when trying to shoot on the street in midtown Manhattan -- but a big feature for forensic photographers and forgery experts who can experiment with several filters in quick succession. Knowing that I was at near-normal perspective, I could "eyeball" my framing using my left eye as my rangefinder. I found that my best results were achieved by stopping the lens down to at least f/8 and focusing a little past visible hyperfocal to achieve maximum depth of field. In camera metering was not very effective, so experimenting and checking the playback histograms helped me dial in on exposures. In daylight, I discovered that 1/100 f/8 at ISO 200 was a good starting point for determining exposure based on the "shoot and chimp" method. Black and White capture works best when isolating wavelengths to IR, otherwise, in color, the image will have a marked red cast.

At the ultraviolet end, a simple commercially-available black light bulb in a cheap clamp spotlight from Home Depot will light up the darkness like a spotlight within a few feet of this alternative light source. Light falloff is dramatic as distance increases, but within a few feet of the lightsource, the UVIR picks it up like a floodlight. This UV sensitivity has potential uses in forensics and forgery documentation, and, for the casual user, is just kind of fun. Check out the shots of the jack-o'-lanterns in the photo gallery for an example of the UV spotlight effect.

All in all, this is a very important camera, as it will make forensics investigations much easier for crime scene analysis and forgery detection. For the fine artist, it also brings an interesting new worldview into light.

Would we suggest selling off your D200 for general purpose photography and replacing it with the UVIR as your primary camera? Absolutely not! But as a second camera body for specialized light capturing purposes, the UVIR presents a fascinating alternative to the normal way of looking at things.

Color mode. No filters. 1/90 f/9.5 ISO 200 - In Color mode, the FujiFilm FinePix S3 Pro UVIR recorded the grass in the field and all the leaves as a rich reddish orange. Notice the slight reddishness on the edges of the clouds as well.
1/45 f/4 ISO 800 - B/W mode 89B IR filter (50% transmission at 720nm) - Rockefeller center looks almost perfectly normal in this twilight shot, except for the frosted dreamy feel to the foliage.