2002 has been a very exciting year for dSLR cameras, first the Canon D60 and then the Nikon D100 and now the FinePix S2 Pro. All of these cameras are excellent performers and create professional quality six-megapixel images, the S2 can also create up to twelve-megapixel images in the camera. Deciding which one to buy will be difficult and only made a little easier if you already own Canon or Nikon lenses. If you own Canon lenses then the choice will be the D60, no question. If you have Nikon lenses then you have to decide between the D100 or the S2, each offers a few features the other doesn't have.
The Fuji S2 is built on Nikon's N80 film camera chassis. Nikon basically built a whole new camera based around the N80 design for the D100. Nikon offers the MB-D100 battery pack / portrait grip option, the S2 has no capability for adding a portrait grip. This may be enough to push you towards the D100 if you use the camera in portrait mode often enough. And while I'm on the subject of grips, the D100 has a textured hand grip, the S2's is smooth plastic except for the little red strip on the front. The S2 has built-in support for both USB 1.1 and the much faster IEEE 1394 FireWire for data I/O and camera control. The D100 has only USB 1.1 connectivity and believe me, those six (and twelve) megapixel files can get really big. Battery power on the D100 is a single (and excellent) lithium rechargeable battery pack. The S2 is a hybrid camera, it's half digital and half N80 film camera. The digital portion is powered by four AA type batteries and the rest of the camera is powered by two non-rechargeable CR123 type batteries. Fuji says the S2 can be used (in an emergency) without these batteries but the internal flash won't fire and shutter function and focusing "could be affected." We shot some 1200 to 1300 frames and the CR123's were still going strong. Using 1800mAh NiMH AA batteries we were getting well over 400 shots with a good amount of LCD previewing and menu access. The S2 has a PC sync terminal for easy connection to external flash units, the D100 requires the Nikon AS-15 or another type of hot shoe to PC adapter. Exposure compensation adjustments are rather "coarse" on the S2, being limited to 1/2 EV steps, the D100 has 1/3 EV steps. One thing unique to the S2 is the rear data display and its four "soft" function buttons. This makes it very easy and quick to see and change the white balance, AF mode, image size, image quality, color, tone and sharpness settings, even in the dark thanks to a bright orange backlight.
OK, now that we have gotten the basic feature differences of the S2 and D100 out of the way lets move on to the real meat of any digicam review, image quality. The S2's new Fuji SuperCCD is a very good performer, so much so that it actually surpasses the D100 and D60 for overall resolution. There has always been a lot of pro and con discussions about Fuji SuperCCD imagers and the way they interpolate the final image data. In six-megapixel mode the S2 has no problem keeping up with the competition but in twelve-megapixel mode the results can be awesome with some post-processing by Photoshop. The real trick is to do all of your sharpening in software, I use a combination of Camera Bits' Quantum Mechanic filter and Photoshop's unsharp mask before making 13 x 19-inch prints. The S2 will make a terrific studio camera as it has the same capability as the S1 Pro at rendering very accurate and pleasing skin tones. In fact, the S2 does a wonderful job of rendering true and accurate colors in a wide variety of shooting conditions. Just remember that if you're making the switch from film to digital, the exposure range is much tighter in digital. Where film has a good five to seven stop range of exposure latitude, digital is limited to about three to four stops and only one of those stops is in the "plus" range. It is very easy to blowout the detail in a digital image with over-exposure, especially in studio multi-light portrait shots.
All three of the top contenders (D60, D100, S2) are fully capable of taking thirty- second time exposures with little to no visible noise. The S2 follows the D60's lead by no longer using a dark frame process to remove image noise but rather doing it "on the fly." The S2 is ready to take another shot within seconds after capturing a long time exposure. Older generation cameras employed various types of dark frame subtraction which usually adds as much time to the processing as the exposure time. If you're standing out in the freezing cold or fighting off a hoard of blood-thirsty mosquitoes you will certainly appreciate the faster shot to shot times.
The S2's performance is about average for this class (mid-range, semi-pro digital SLR) of camera. Power up is practically instantaneous, OK so it's more like a second if you're using a stopwatch. For the rest of these "unofficial" timing tests we used a high performance 20x speed 512MB CF card. Using a slower card in this camera would be like sticking a JC Penney lens on it--why buy the best and then use sub-standard accessories? The S2, like the D60 and D100, is a "shooting priority" camera. This means that whenever you are reviewing images or accessing the menu all you need do is tap the shutter button to go back into capture mode. The S2 does this very quickly, as fast as you can tap the shutter button. Going the other way, from capture to review mode took about two and a half seconds to bring up a 6mp JPEG, about four seconds for a 12mp JPEG and a very short, one second to display the embedded thumbnail in a raw image.
The S2's buffer is specified at seven frames with a continuous capture rate of 2 frames per second. We were never able to exceed 2fps in our tests so that number will stand as being confirmed. The buffer "depth" of seven frames is usually exceeded by one as the camera is processing at the same time it is capturing. It takes about 2 - 2.5 seconds to process a 6mp or 12mp Fine JPEG so before the end of a 7-shot burst it has already processed the first image. The differences in processing time between 6mp and 12mp size images becomes very noticeable when you time the total write time of the entire buffer. In 6mp mode it takes about fifteen seconds to "flush" the buffer (until the card write LED goes out), in 12mp mode that time is almost doubled to twenty-eight seconds. Shooting in raw mode slows things down with a per image processing time of eight seconds and a full minute to flush the buffer. Now if you really want to slow things to a creep, switch into TIFF mode. It takes the S2 a little over twenty seconds to process those gigantic (35.5MB) images and during this time you can do nothing but wait.
Good friend Mike Chaney, author of Qimage Pro and Profile Prism is now an S2 owner and has added support into Qimage Pro for handling raw files. Qimage Pro v2.3 now offers direct decoding of S2 raw (RAF) files. Mike has also put together an S2 mini-review where he covers the S2's image and color quality, it's very good reading, check it out.
Also check out the Fuji S2 RAW files converted with Qimage article over at Digital Outback Photo. There's some great tips on how-to get the most out of those RAF files.
Another important issue in the semi-pro dSLR comparisons is auto focus speed and sensitivity. I would have to rate the D100 as the fastest with the D60 and S2 a very close second. Remember that AF speed is as much dependant on the lens being used as the camera, the newer AF-S type lenses will yield the most robust AF performance. The S2, like the D60 and D100, has a very good low-light focus assist illuminator and when use a Nikon Speedlight like the SB-80DX, SB-50DX or SB-28DX, it will use the more powerful onboard AF illuminator. The S2's popup flash is adequate for some fill-in purposes but for most other tasks it is a very poor choice. Do yourself a favor and buy an external flash unit if you're planning on taking "serious" flash pictures. Any pro or semi-pro will tell you that you need to get the flash "up and away" from the lens to eliminate red-eye and shadowing problems. Another problem with the builtin flash is that it isn't located high enough to be used with a wide angle zoom lens without causing a shadowed area from the lens itself.
The bottom line - the S2 Pro is a very capable digital SLR that can use about 90% of
the Nikon F-mount lenses out there. When used in the 12-Megapixel mode to generate
raw files it produces images with more resolution than the competing dSLRs. And I
don't mean that it simply creates larger files, the 12mp images when properly post-
processed in Photoshop yield more, real image resolution. The S2 is based on the
popular Nikon N80 body and brings it into the digital world in a very good way. The
S2 is fairly compact and lightweight with a good ergonomic design. The only thing it
lacks physically is an optional portrait mode grip and vertical shutter release. As of
August 2002 the Fuji S2 Pro, Nikon D100 and Canon D60 are all available for purchase.
I would advise you to see and handle them in person before buying one over the other.
They all offer pretty much the same in the way of image resolution and performance so
make sure that you like the way it "feels" in your hand, it's going to be spending a
lot of time there.
Fuji S2 Pro Problem Identified
(ELMSFORD, NY, December 9, 2002) -- Fuji Photo Film U.S.A, Inc., announced that certain FinePix S2 Pro cameras with specific serial numbers may be subject to an intermittent electronic malfunction that could render the camera inoperable. "Err" messages will appear on the top display panel and LCD monitor of the camera when the AA or lithium batteries are replaced, and the camera will not operate.
Fujifilm noted that the chance for a camera to fail while in use is very remote.
Fujifilm is notifying its dealers of the steps the company is taking to address customer inquiries related to this subject. The company is asking FinePix S2 Pro owners to visit its corporate Web site to determine if their camera may be affected. To view a list of serial numbers, please visit this Fujifilm web page.
If the malfunction occurs or if the owner's serial number is listed, Fujifilm advises that the customer send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 1-800-659-3854, option #1, to receive instructions on receiving free evaluation and service. Customers can also send their camera directly to Fujifilm at the following address:
Fuji Photo Film, U.S.A., Inc.
UK visitors FinePix S2000HD Digital Camera (10MP, 15x Opt, SDHC Card Slot)
Want a second opinion?
Imaging-Resource's S2 Pro Review
DP Review's S2 Pro Review
LetsGoDigital's S2 Pro Review
Outback Digital's S2 Pro Experience
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