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Fuji FinePix S602 Zoom

Fuji's latest electronic SLR offers improved image quality, fast response, high ISOs, and 30 fps movies at full VGA resolution!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 4/18/2002

Executive Overview
An upgraded version of the highly popular FinePix 6900 digicam, the Fuji FinePix S602 Zoom digital camera has a bulkier, more traditional 35mm shape than the rest of the FinePix line. If you're an "enthusiast" photographer though, the wide range of enhanced features is more than worth the added size. Despite its being larger than other Fuji digicams, the S602 Zoom isn't nearly as big as it appears to be in photographs. In fact, considering its large 6x zoom lens and exceptional range of features, it's surprisingly compact. The body appears to be almost entirely composed of structural plastic, but the camera nevertheless has a very solid "feel" to it, much more the sort of aesthetic I'd normally associate with a metal-bodied camera. Despite its relatively light weight though, you'll definitely want to attach the neck strap to keep it securely around your neck when walking around.

The S602 Zoom sports a third-generation Super CCD, which produces high-quality, interpolated images at as large as 2,832 x 2,1,28 pixels. This latest generation of Fuji's Super CCD technology finally seems to be realizing the promise the technology has held for lower image noise, as well as for high-speed data readout for movie-mode capture: The new Pixel-Mixing Technology produces high-quality VGA-resolution movies at an astonishing 30 frame/second frame rate, while Fuji's new Pixel Data Coupling Technology enables light sensitivity of ISO 800 and 1,600 with lower noise, trading off resolution for better noise performance. (The 800 and 1600 ISO options are only available in the camera's one-megapixel resolution mode.) The S602 Zoom has a true 3.1-megapixel CCD, but the interpolation that the Super CCD technology uses to extract the maximum information from the image results in final file sizes of 6.0-megapixels. Fuji's taken some heat for their routine use of image interpolation, but comparison images pitting 3.1 megapixel Super CCD chips against 3.1-3.4 megapixel CCDs of conventional design consistently show that the Super CCD technology has a slight edge in the amount of detail it manages to extract from a given scene.

The S602 Zoom features a well designed, retractable lens with a removable, plastic lens cap that attaches to the camera body and protects the lens surface. The same threads that hold the lens cap in place also accept an accessory lens adapter, allowing a variety of front-element add-on lenses to be used with the camera. Most camera control is accomplished via external controls, so there's less reliance on the LCD menu system than would be the case otherwise. Because the 602 uses an electronic viewfinder (EVF) system though, you can't conserve battery power by turning off the LCD screen. (Although the eyelevel EVF does consume less power than the rear-panel LCD.) Though the control layout may seem daunting to the uninitiated, I actually found it quite intuitive after shooting with the camera for a while. - I found I could access commonly-used shooting controls very quickly, thanks to an interface design that let me avoid the LCD menu system most of the time.

As just mentioned, the S602 Zoom has both an "electronic" optical viewfinder and a larger rear-panel LCD monitor for framing shots. The electronic optical viewfinder is actually a miniaturized (0.44 inches) version of the larger LCD, and shows the same information displays. An EVF / LCD button switches the viewfinder display between the two monitors, so that only one is active at a time. As an eyeglass wearer, I appreciated both the inclusion of a dioptric adjustment on the EVF, and its relatively high eyepoint, which made it easy to use with my glasses on. With 180K pixels, the EVF on the 602 Zoom is also much higher resolution than that on the earlier 6900, a feature that the Fuji engineers told me was at least partly the result of suggestions I'd made. (I'm flattered that Fuji's engineering staff reads and pays as much attention to these reviews as they seem to. :-) The 1.8-inch color LCD monitor also has a very sharp display, with some useful focus enlargement options in record mode, and a histogram display in Playback mode.

The Super EBC Fujinon 6x zoom lens (35-210mm equivalent) offers an aperture range from f/2.8-f/11, manually and automatically adjustable in 13 steps. Focus ranges from 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) to infinity in normal AF mode, and from 3.9 inches to 2.6 feet (10 to 80 centimeters) in Macro mode. A Super Macro mode focuses from 0.4 to 7.9 inches, or 1 to 20 centimeters, about the closest macro range I've seen on a digicam, matched by only a small handful of models. The camera's autofocus system operates in either AF or AF Area mode, the latter of which offers a very slick adjustable AF area. (See my later discussion of the 602's autofocus under the Optics section of this review.) A One-Touch AF button quickly snaps the image into focus, regardless of the focus mode, while a Focus Check button enlarges the center of the frame to help with manual focusing. A focus switch on the left side of the camera goes between auto and manual focus modes, and the focus ring around the end of the lens barrel adjusts the manual focus. (Overall, the S602 has some of the best focusing options I've yet seen in a prosumer-level digicam, although I do wish it had a numerical distance readout.) In addition to the impressive 6x optical zoom, the S602 Zoom also offers as much as 4.4x digital zoom, though as always, image quality decreases with digital enlargement.

The S602 Zoom offers a wide range of exposure control, from full Auto to full Manual modes. A Power / Mode dial sets the camera to either Record or Playback modes, while the Exposure Mode dial on top of the camera features Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program AE, Auto, Scene Program, and Movie exposure modes. Scene Program offers a handful of preset shooting modes, including Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Scene, and Black and White Monochrome. Shutter speeds range from 1/10,000 to 15 seconds in full Manual mode, but the range decreases to 1/2,000 to three seconds in Auto and Scene Program modes, and 1/1,000 to three seconds in Shutter Priority mode.

In all exposure modes except for Auto, Scene Program, and Manual, Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. By default, the S602 Zoom uses a 64-zone, multisegment metering system, but Average and Spot metering modes are available through the settings menu. An AE Lock button locks the exposure reading independently of focus. Through the Drive menu, an Auto Exposure Bracketing function snaps a series of three images at different exposure settings, which can vary by 1/3, 1/2, or one full EV step. In any of the manual exposure modes, the camera's ISO sensitivity setting offers 160, 200, 400, 800 and 1,600 ISO equivalents (though the 800 and 1,600 settings automatically limit the resolution to one megapixel). White Balance choices include Auto, Daylight, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, Incandescent, and two Custom (manual) settings. You can also adjust image sharpness, and a Self-Timer mode offers two- and 10-second countdowns. The camera's built-in, pop-up flash operates in Auto, Forced On, Forced Off, Red-Eye Reduction, Slow-Synchro, and Red-Eye Reduction Slow-Synchro modes. An external flash hot shoe with a single contact accommodates a more powerful flash unit, but the S602 Zoom also features an adjustment to increase the flexibility of its onboard flash.

Three Continuous Shooting modes are available through the Drive menu: Top-5 Frame, Final-5 Frame, and Long-Period Continuous Shooting. The Long-Period Continuous Shooting mode is only available in Auto exposure mode, and forces the resolution to 1.0-megapixel, but allows very long sequences of images to be captured. (Up to 40 images, at a rate of about 1.8 frames/second.) The Final-5 frame continuous mode is unusual, in that the camera begins acquiring images continuously when you press the shutter button, and then saves the last five it shot before you released the shutter. - This is great for capturing fleeting moments in sports and other fast-moving situations. Just hold down the shutter button, then release it as soon as the event occurs.

In Auto and Scene Program modes (also in Playback mode), a Voice Memo option records as much as 30 seconds of sound to accompany still images. The S602 Zoom's Movie mode offers 640 x 480- and 320 x 240-pixel resolutions, and records for as long as the memory card has available space, at a full 30 frames/second. For more creative shooting, the S602 Zoom's Multi-Exposure mode overlaps as many exposures as you like, producing a double-exposure effect.

Images are stored on either SmartMedia or CompactFlash type I or II memory cards (a 16MB SmartMedia card comes with the camera), as the S602 Zoom has dual memory card slots. The camera also accommodates the IBM Microdrive, which is currently available in capacities as high as1GB. (Even higher capacities are expected in the near future.) Quality choices include three JPEG compression levels, and an uncompressed TIFF option.

An included A/V cable lets you connect to a television set for image playback and composition, and a USB cable provides high speed connection to a computer (The included Windows-only PictureHello software, makes the S602 Zoom into a webcam). A software CD comes with the camera, loaded with Fuji's FinePix Viewer software for image downloading. Also on the CD is VideoImpression, for viewing and editing movies, Adobe PhotoDeluxe HE, and ActiveShare, most of which are compatible with both Windows and Macintosh operating systems.

Power for the S602 Zoom is provided by four AA-type alkaline or NiMH batteries, and a set of alkaline batteries comes with the camera. As always, I strongly recommend picking up a couple of sets of high-capacity rechargeable batteries and charger.

There's no question that Fuji put a lot of thought into the S602 Zoom, giving it features that place it ahead of many digicams in the marketplace. The special interpolation supported by Fuji's Super CCD's technology captures more detail than is common with three megapixel sensors, and produces great quality images, with good color and detail. (Fuji's handling of skin tones is particularly appealing, which accounted for the huge popularity of their S1 Pro SLR among portrait photographers.) The flexible exposure control provides a lot of options for novices and advanced photographers alike, suiting the camera to a wide range of shooting situations. With 6x optical zoom, full manual exposure control, and a high-resolution CCD, all at a relatively bargain price, the S602 Zoom should find a huge following.


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