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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!

Review First Posted: 4/18/2002




MSRP $799 US

 

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3.1-megapixel Super CCD interpolates to produce 2,832 x 2,128-pixel images.
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Improved CCD system with Pixel Coupling allows 1,600 ISO at 1.0-megapixel setting with low noise.
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Faster than average shutter response and shot to shot cycle times.
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6x telescoping zoom lens (35-210mm equivalent).
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Pixel Mixing Technology for high-quality, VGA digital resolution movies at a full 30 frames/second!


Manufacturer Overview
Fujifilm has become one of the major players in the digital camera field, and over the last two years (2000-2001) have made major strides in the marketplace. Their strengths heretofore have been in the categories of "stylish sub-compact" and "entry-level zoom" cameras, their very popular FinePix 6800 and FinePix 2600 models being exemplary of their offerings in these areas. They seem to be gaining ground in the "enthusiast" category as well though, as evidenced by their highly popular FinePix 6900, which sold far beyond Fuji's expectations in late 2001.

Now, after a bit of a gap following the sellout of the 6900, Fuji's back with a new offering for the enthusiast crowd, and it looks like a winner. The new FinePix S602 Zoom builds upon many of the popular features of the 6900 (like the 6x optical zoom lens), but offers improved color fidelity and reduced image noise as well as enhanced shooting speed. They've also listened to the market, switching to AA-cell battery power for greatly increased run times, improved the electronic viewfinder, adding support for both SmartMedia and CompactFlash memory cards (including IBM Microdrives), and significantly improving the camera's white balance when dealing with the incandescent lighting so common in the US.

The 602 also sports some genuinely unusual features, including an amazing 640x480, 30 frames/second motion capture mode, special high-ISO modes (to ISO 1600) that cleverly trade resolution for lower image noise, and a couple of exceptionally handy motor-drive modes that really help you capture fleeting moments.

All in all, Fuji's packed an incredible range of capabilities into the FinePix S602, but still managed to deliver it at a very aggressive price. This looks to me like a real winner, a camera that will find a broad following among those looking for a bargain in a high-end "prosumer" camera with rich features and great picture quality.


High Points


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.


Design
Looking a bit like a very compact film-based SLR, the FinePix S602 Zoom packs a lot of power into its fairly small size. Though the camera looks a little bulky in photos, it's actually quite small given its 6x zoom lens and panoply of features. Its body appears to be almost entirely composed of structural plastic, but it nonetheless has a very solid "feel" to it, much more what I'd normally associate with a metal-bodied camera. It's light enough to hold easily with one hand, but the weight of the lens and the number of controls on the left side of the lens body will make you want to hold it two-handed. Fuji switched to a 4-AA cell power source for the S602, vs the NP-80 LiIon battery of the 6900, with the result that the hand grip on the S602 is quite a bit larger. Personally, I like the larger grip, as it feels better suited to American-sized hands than the much smaller grip on the 6900. Despite its relatively light weight, its non-pocketable size means you'll almost certainly want to use the included neckstrap when walking around with it

The 6x f/2.8-3.1 zoom lens dominates the front view of the camera, leaving room only for the hefty handgrip. The lens telescopes out an additional 2.5 inches or so from the camera body whenever the camera is powered on, doing so reasonably quickly (especially considering the distance it has to travel). A ribbed focus ring surrounds the end of the lens barrel, adjusting focus when the camera is put into manual focus mode. Just above the lens is the passive AF sensor, which uses ambient infrared light to help gauge focus. The handgrip is large enough to provide a firm hold, with a leather-like texture that provides good traction for your fingers as they wrap around the camera. Hidden behind the lens and beneath the flash compartment (on the right side when looking from the front) are three small holes for the tiny microphone used to record audio.

The camera's top panel hosts a number of controls, as well as the pop-up flash compartment and external flash hot shoe. An Exposure Mode dial and Command wheel sit side-by-side on the far right, with the Drive, Flash, and Exposure Compensation buttons closer to the front. A Mode switch controls the main operating mode and encircles the solid black Shutter button.

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) is one of the neck strap attachments, as well as the memory card compartment. A locking plastic door protects the card compartment, which has one slot for SmartMedia cards and one for CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards (compatible with the IBM Microdrive).

The opposite side of the camera is more feature-laden, with a number of control buttons, the other neck strap attachment, speaker, and two connector compartments. Controls include Macro, Info, and Shift buttons, as well as a Focus switch and One-Touch AF button (nestled inside the focus switch). The DC In connector jack sits beneath a flexible, rubbery flap. The main connector compartment holds the USB and A/V Out jacks, protected by a plastic door that snaps shut securely. Also visible on this side of the camera is a tiny flash release button, just beneath the flash compartment.

The rest of the camera controls are on the back panel, sharing the space with the optical viewfinder eyepiece and LCD monitor. A small diopter adjustment dial adjusts the optical viewfinder for eyeglass wearers, and a firm rubber eyecup surrounds the viewfinder eyepiece. Zoom controls, a Four Way Arrow pad, and a handful of other control buttons dot the back panel. A small LED lamp next to the memory compartment door (on the right side) lights whenever the camera is accessing the memory card, indicating that you shouldn't open the compartment door. (This LED also lights when the flash is charging, or there's a problem with the camera.)

The S602 Zoom's bottom panel is nice and flat, with a metal tripod mount centered beneath the lens. While the tripod mount is centered on the axis of the lens, it's quite a ways back from the lens' optical center, so you'll still need a special tripod head for seamless panoramic shots. While becoming more common on prosumer digicams, I still applaud Fuji for their use of a metal tripod socket, rather than the cheaper but less rugged plastic. Also on the bottom panel is the battery compartment, with a plastic door that slides out before opening.

Viewfinder
The S602 Zoom offers an "electronic" optical viewfinder, essentially a smaller version of the 1.8-inch LCD monitor that's viewed through the camera's eyepiece. The 0.44-inch optical viewfinder display has the same detailed information display as the larger LCD monitor, complete with exposure information such as aperture and shutter speed. In a nice upgrade from the previous 6900, the micro-LCD used in the 602's EVF offers more resolution than usual, with 180,000 pixels. This makes it much more useful for focusing, particularly in conjunction with the 2x focus-assist magnification feature. The added resolution is also welcome when it comes to reading menu items. A firm but resilient eyecup surrounds the viewfinder eyepiece, and shouldn't cause any problems for eyeglass wearers, given the S602 Zoom's fairly high eyepoint. A diopter adjustment dial on the left side of the eyepiece adjusts the focus of the display across a fairly wide range, so most eyeglass wearers should be well accommodated. (By way of reference, my own vision is a myopic 20/180 or so, and the dioptric adjustment just manages to accommodate my unaided eyes at the "nearsighted" end of its range.) An EVF/LCD button on the back panel switches the display between the viewfinder eyepiece and the larger LCD monitor.

I'm generally not a big fan of EVFs because they're of little use in low light conditions: There generally just isn't enough light available for the viewfinder to form a usable image when running at the high refresh rate it needs. The S602 is helped somewhat in this respect by the availability of very high ISO ratings when it's operating at its one megapixel resolution. - I found I could (barely) manage to frame photos at light levels as low as about 1/8 foot-candles (about 1.4 lux) when the camera was operating at 1600 ISO. - While somewhat convoluted, you could conceivably frame your image (with the camera on a tripod) at ISO 1600, then switch back to a lower level for your actual exposure. At ISO 400 though, I could only frame photos down to about 1 foot-candle (11 lux). As it happens though, 1 foot-candle also marks the approximate bottom end of the camera's autofocus operation.

The 1.8-inch, low temperature TFT LCD monitor comes on automatically when the camera is turned on, but goes to sleep quickly if the camera remains inactive. A display button just below the EVF/LCD button controls the level of information displayed on both viewfinders. The first press enables the information display, while the second pulls up an alignment grid that divides the image area into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. A third press of the button cancels both the information display and alignment grid, providing a full view of the subject area.

In Playback mode, the Info button on the left side of the camera shows a histogram of a captured image, and reports exposure information as well. Also in Playback mode, the Display button enables the nine-image index display mode.

Activated through the Setup menu, an Image Review function automatically displays the last captured image on the LCD monitor as it's being recorded to the memory card. You can choose between Preview and Postview options. Postview displays the image for two seconds after capture, then automatically records the file to the memory card. Preview gives you the option to delete the image before it's saved. An interesting feature here is that Preview mode lets you enlarge the captured image and double-check framing or exposure details (using the zoom control to enlarge and the arrow keys to move the view). If you're not happy with the shot, simply erase it and start again. Preview mode also lets you select specific images from a series to record, such as those from one of the Continuous Shooting modes. You can thus save memory card space by keeping only the frames you want. - Pretty slick, one of the most flexible "preview" features I've seen to date.

Another useful feature on the S602 Zoom is the Focus Check button (just to the right of the LCD monitor), which enlarges the central portion of the image on the LCD display. This makes manual focusing quite a bit easier, as you can clearly see the finer details as they sharpen. Given the detailed information display, enhanced preview modes, and the Focus Check capability, I'd say the S602 Zoom's LCD display is one of the most effective and useful I've seen.

In my tests, the S602 Zoom's electronic optical viewfinder proved just a little tight, showing a frame accuracy of approximately 94 percent at wide-angle and approximately 96 percent at telephoto. This is much better than average for optical viewfinders, about where I'd like to see eyelevel viewfinders perform routinely. The LCD monitor was slightly more accurate, measuring about 99 percent at wide-angle and about 100 percent at telephoto, which meets my expectations admirably.

Optics
The S602 Zoom is equipped with a high quality, Super EBC Fujinon 6x zoom lens, with a 35mm equivalent range of 35-210mm. (A moderate wide angle to a pretty decent telephoto.) Aperture ranges from f/2.8 (f/3.1 with the lens at its telephoto position) to f/11, and is 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 (1 to 20 centimeters), one of the closest macro ranges I've seen on a digicam. In Super Macro mode, the S602 captures an area of only 1.49 x 1.12 inches (38 x 28 millimeters). Both macro modes are accessed via the Macro button on the left side of the camera.

The S602's autofocus system operates in either AF or AF Area mode, selectable through the Setup menu. Normal AF mode ties the focus to the center of the frame. AF Area mode lets you change the autofocus area simply by holding down the One Touch AF button (in the center of the focus switch on the side of the camera) and using the arrow keys to move the focus target on the LCD screen. I've seen digicams that let you select a focusing point from one of several predefined AF areas before, but this is the first camera I've run across that lets you more or less arbitrarily control the AF area location.

In situations where you need to adjust focus quickly, the One Touch AF button speedily adjusts the focus, regardless of the focus mode.

The Focus switch on the left side of the camera alternates between auto and manual focus control. When the camera is switched over to manual, you can adjust focus by turning the ribbed focus ring at the end of the lens barrel. A pair of arrows appears on the LCD display, indicating the direction of adjustment needed, with a solid circle in the middle indicating sharp focus. (The animated screen shot at right shows that this looks like. Note the left and right green arrows that appear at the bottom of the screen when the image isn't in focus, and the green dot that appears in the final frame when it is.) You can also use the Focus Check button to enlarge the center of the frame and determine when focus is sharp. (Note that Focus Check will not work with VGA or "1M" quality settings, nor will it work when digital zoom is active or when a specific AF Area has been set.) A nice touch on S602 is that you can use the camera's AF system to set an approximate focus even when you're focusing manually, simply by pressing the One Touch AF button in the center of the manual/auto focus selector switch. This lets you get a quick approximation of your final focus, then make fine adjustments manually.

Something that I didn't see on the S602's manual focus option was any sort of distance readout. Particularly given the low light limitations of the 602's EVF, it would be nice to be able to set the focus based on an approximate distance to the subject, rather than being restricted to what you can discern from the viewfinder. I don't know whether it would be possible for Fuji's engineers to extract distance information from the combination of focus position and lens zoom setting, but it would be very handy to have an option for numerical distance readout.

One of the areas Fuji worked on for the S602 was autofocus technology. Most digicams use a pure contrast-detect autofocus approach, relying exclusively on data clocked out of the CCD to determine when the lens is focused. On the S602, Fuji uses a passive infrared system for rough focus, switching to contrast detection for fine focusing. The idea was to reduce the amount of time required for focusing, by using the faster IR system for coarse focus, and the CCD only for fine-tuning. Based on my shutter-lag tests, it appears that this approach was pretty successful, as the S602 tested faster than pretty much any other prosumer-level autofocus digicam I've examined to date. In my tests, AF time averaged only 0.80 seconds with the lens at its telephoto position, and only 0.56 seconds at wide angle. The telephoto lag time is about equal to the best AF time I've seen from most cameras with the lens in wide angle position, and the wide angle lag time is a standout compared to any camera. (These times are still a good bit slower than most film cameras, but it's a big step in the right direction.)

What the S602's hybrid AF system doesn't seem to do though, is improve low light focusing. It's an entirely passive system, in that no IR focus-assist illuminator is included, so the camera's autofocus cuts out at light levels just under 1 foot-candle (11 lux). This is about the amount of light you'll find in a typical city night scene under normal street lighting, but the camera itself can capture good-looking images under much darker conditions. (As mentioned earlier though, the EVF also has a lower light limit of around one foot-candle when the ISO is set to anything below 1600.) The S602 is a great camera, with very good low light capture ability, but it's hampered in that area by the combination of its autofocus system and the limitations of its EVF. You can work around the EVF limits somewhat (albeit with some inconvenience) by switching to ISO 1600 and then back again, but the AF limit is fairly absolute. - And would have been relatively easy to extend if an IR emitter had been included.

Despite its size, the lens on the S602 Zoom telescopes into position pretty quickly whenever the camera is turned on. A removable plastic lens cap protects the lens surface when not in use, and comes with a small strap to attach it to the camera body and prevent it from being lost. Fuji also provides a lens cap holder, which attaches to the neck strap. Two zoom buttons in the upper right corner of the rear panel control both optical and digital zoom. The 4.4x digital zoom feature increases the S602 Zoom's capabilities up to 26.4x, and is accessed by zooming past the optical zoom range with the telephoto zoom button. The amount of digital enlargement is reported in the LCD display. As with any "digital zoom" function, remember that image quality suffers from the enlargement, with sharpness decreasing in direct proportion to the degree of digital zoom. Also keep in mind that in an effort to preserve quality, the amount of digital zoom available on the S602 varies with the resolution setting. For example, no digital zoom is available at the 6.0-megapixel resolution. At 3.0-megapixels, maximum digital enlargement is 1.4x, while at 1.0-megapixels, 2.2x zoom is available. The full 4.4x digital zoom is only available for VGA resolution images.

The S602 Zoom's lens barrel has a set of 55mm filter threads, which accommodate Fuji's accessory lens kits. Both 1.5x telephoto and 0.79x wide-angle converters are available. In order for it to focus correctly, you need to tell the camera when you're using accessory optics, by selecting the Set Adapter Ring option on the Setup menu. Fuji also offers an adapter ring that accommodates a series of lens filters.

In one of the few downsides to the S602's performance, I found optical distortion on the S602 to be quite high at the wide-angle end, with approximately 1.13 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto setting fared a little better, showing approximately 0.51 percent pincushion distortion. Both numbers are higher than I'm accustomed to seeing in prosumer digicam lenses, although some excuse can be made for the 6x zoom range of the 602's lens. (Still, I'd really like to see less geometric distortion.) On a more positive note though, chromatic aberration was very low, showing only two or three lightly-colored pixels on either side of the target lines. Like that of the 6900 before it, the S602's lens also shows a fair bit of curvature of field when focusing on nearby objects. This shows up as a noticeable corner softness in the studio shots that is largely absent from the outdoor tests shot at greater distances.

Confused by Apertures and Depth of Field? - Do you know how to use "Front Focus" or "Back Focus" to get *all* your subject in focus? Visit our free Photo Lessons area and click on the lessons "Focusing Up Close" and "Selective Focusing Outside!"

  Exposure
Confused by White Balance? Visit our free Photo Lessons area and click on the lessons "White Balance Indoors" and "White Balance Outdoors!"
Exposure control on the S602 Zoom can seem a little complicated at first, given the number of external controls and their spread-out layout. Once you get the hang of it though, camera operation becomes very common-sense. The large number of external controls is actually a great time-saver, helping you avoid fishing through LCD menu screens for common settings changes.

To further speed access to key controls, Fuji included a Shift button, which provides shortcuts to several menu options, including resolution and quality settings, ISO, metering mode, white balance, self-timer and LCD brightness. (The available shortcut controls are shown in the screen shot at right.) You can control these functions by pressing Shift along with another button, sometimes rotating the command wheel to make a particular selection. As a memory aid, pressing and holding the Shift button brings up a display showing which combinations control what. In normal operation though, you don't have to wait for that display to appear, just press the appropriate combination, make your selection, and continue with your shooting. It'll take a little memory work to learn which buttons control what in this "shortcut mode," but it'll be time well spent, as the shortcuts do let you navigate these key camera options much more quickly.

A Power / Mode switch on top of the camera puts the S602 Zoom into either Record or Playback modes, with an Off setting that completely powers down the camera. Once in Record mode, the main exposure modes are all accessed via the Exposure Mode dial, with options of Set, Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program AE, Auto, Scene Program, and Movie. The Set position displays a camera settings menu, which I'll detail further on. In full Auto exposure mode, the camera controls all aspects of the exposure, leaving you in charge of zoom, flash mode, and any special drive settings. Scene Program mode offers a handful of preset shooting modes, set up for specific situations. Turning the Command wheel next to the Exposure Mode dial cycles through Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Scene, and Black and White Monochrome modes.

The remaining exposure modes on the dial offer a range of manual control options. Program AE lets the camera control shutter speed and aperture, but gives you control over all other exposure variables. A nice feature here is that rotating the Command wheel cycles through a range of equivalent exposure settings, letting you choose between wider apertures and faster shutter speeds or the opposite. (A nice touch, since this is often what you're trying to accomplish when you'd otherwise drop into Aperture or Shutter Priority mode.) Aperture and Shutter Priority modes both offer limited control, letting you adjust either the lens aperture or shutter speed while the camera picks the best value of the other variable. In both modes, turning the Command wheel adjusts the setting you're controlling. An exposure readout on the LCD reports whether the resulting shot will be under- or overexposed, giving you a chance to change the setting. Finally, Manual exposure mode offers total exposure control, letting you select both aperture and shutter speed together. In all exposure modes other than Auto, Scene Program, and Manual, the Exposure Compensation adjustment lightens or darkens the overall image from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments.

Exposure times range from 1/2,000 to three seconds in Auto and Scene Modes, while Programmed AE, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes restrict the upper limit to 1/1,000. Conversely, Manual mode increases the range to include exposure times from 1/10,000 to 15 seconds. Turning the Command wheel alone in Manual mode sets shutter speed, while holding down the Exposure Compensation button and turning the wheel adjusts the aperture setting.

By default, the S602 Zoom uses a multisegment metering system, which bases the exposure on readings taken from 64 zones throughout the frame. The camera also offers Average and Spot metering modes, accessible through the settings menu. Average metering reads the entire scene and bases the overall exposure on the average value. Alternatively, Spot metering bases the exposure on a reading from the very center of the frame (good for off-center or high contrast subjects). The AE Lock button lets you lock the exposure for a specific part of your subject, by aiming the camera to center the area you want to base exposure on in the viewfinder, and then pressing the button until the AE Lock icon appears on the LCD display. The exposure will remain locked until the AE Lock button is pressed again or the Shutter button is fully pressed and released. While you can achieve much the same effect with most cameras by half-pressing and holding the shutter button prior to the exposure, that approach has the sometimes undesired side effect of also locking focus. You may not need it often, but when you do, a separate AE Lock control is invaluable.

If you're not sure of the exact exposure to use, an Auto Exposure Bracketing function snaps a series of three images at different exposure settings, making it easier to get a good exposure in critical shooting conditions. You can set the exposure step size for these series through the Record menu. The camera captures one image at the normal exposure, one slightly underexposed, and one slightly overexposed.

In any of the nonautomatic exposure modes, the camera's ISO sensitivity setting can be adjusted to 160, 200, or 400, regardless of the resolution setting. Selecting the 800 or 1600 ISO equivalents forces the camera's resolution to 1.0 megapixels because these ISO values rely upon Fuji's Pixel Data Coupling, which combines data from groups of four pixels at a time. (Image quality is automatically set to Normal at both high sensitivity settings.)

The S602 Zoom has a full range of color balance settings, adjusted through the White Balance option. Choices include Auto, Custom 1, Custom 2, Daylight, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, and Incandescent settings. The two Custom settings are manual adjustments, and base the white balance on a white card placed in front of the camera. These settings are saved in the camera's memory, allowing you to recall either the Custom 1 or Custom 2 setting at any time. (Having two separate custom white balance settings can be very handy if you're shooting in an environment with mixed lighting.) In addition to white balance, a Sharpness adjustment lets you control the in-camera sharpening, offering Hard, Normal, and Soft adjustment settings.

For delayed exposures, the S602 Zoom's Self-Timer mode offers two- and 10-second countdowns between the time the Shutter button is fully pressed and when the shutter actually fires. The 10-second option gives you time to compose the shot, then run around in front of the camera to get into your own pictures. The 2-second self-timer option is very handy when you have the camera propped on a tripod or other support for a long exposure, and don't want the pressure of your finger on the shutter button to jostle it. With the short self-timer option, you can prop the camera, trip the timer, and the shutter will release a couple of seconds later, after any vibrations have died down. A useful feature!


Flash
The built-in, pop-up flash on the S602 Zoom operates in one of five modes, all accessed by turning the Command wheel while pressing the Flash button on top of the camera. Modes include Auto (lightning bolt icon with an "A"), Red-Eye Reduction (eyeball icon), Forced On (lightning bolt), Forced Off (lightning bolt with a slash), Slow-Synchro (lightning bolt with an "S"), and Slow-synchro with Red-Eye Reduction (eyeball with "Slow" beneath it). Auto, Forced On, and Forced Off are pretty self-explanatory. Red-eye Reduction means that the camera fires a small pre-flash before the full flash, to reduce the occurrence of the Red-eye Effect. The Slow-Synchro modes combine the flash with a slow shutter speed and are good for night subjects because they allow more ambient light into the image. (This helps avoid the common syndrome of a ghastly white subject in front of a pitch-dark background so common in flash shots from low-end cameras.) A small release button on the left side of the flash (as viewed from the back) releases the flash from its compartment. Note that the flash must be popped up in order to change its operating mode. A brightness adjustment accessed through the settings menu increases or decreases the overall flash power from -0.6 to +0.6 EV in one-third-step increments. This is handy for balancing flash exposure with light coming from other sources in the scene, although I'd really like to see it extend further toward negative exposure compensation, for those times when you really want only a subtle fill-light.

The external flash hot shoe on top of the camera features a single contact, and hosts a range of Fuji and third-party flash units, apparently synchronizing to shutter speeds as fast as 1/1,000-second. The internal and external flash units cannot operate together, so the pop-up flash should be closed when an external flash is in use. (Another note to the Fuji engineers: Why not allow the internal flash to fire along with an external one? - If you combined this with a broader range of exposure adjustment for the onboard, it'd permit all sorts of combination direct/bounced flash exposure tricks.)

Movie and Sound Recording
When it was first announced, the movie resolution and frame rate were two specs that really raised eyebrows in the digicam community. The S602 Zoom's Movie mode captures moving images with sound at either VGA (640 x 480 pixels) or QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) resolutions. Full VGA resolution movies are big news in and of themselves, but when you add the fact that the 602 will acquire them at a full 30 frames per second it's even more remarkable. Not enough? Consider that it'll can also grab VGA-resolution movies at 30 fps without a gap, up to the full capacity of the memory card! (No buffer limitations, but you do have to have a very fast memory card to keep up with the high data rate.) It's still not a digital video recorder, and the files you end up with are really huge, but this is breakthrough technology in anybody's book. Movie recording stops and starts with a full press of the Shutter button, and a timer appears in the LCD monitor to report the available recording time. Most of the exposure features are adjustable in movie mode, with the exception of flash, digital zoom, and the high-speed still-capture shooting options.

Back when Fuji first announced their SuperCCD technology, they spoke of possible future capabilities it could bring to motion recording. We're now seeing that promise bear fruit, in the high resolution/high speed motion capture of the S602. The key technology here is what Fuji calls their "Pixel-Mixing Technology," in which the signals from the higher-resolution SuperCCD sensor are actually mixed on-chip, while still in analog form. This mixing happens not only vertically on the CCD array itself, but horizontally in the data-readout shift registers at the bottom of the array. The end result is that the 3+ megapixel chip can be clocked as if it were a VGA-resolution video sensor, greatly speeding the process of getting the data off the chip and into memory. Even with this advantage in the CCD though, I suspect there was still some tricky engineering involved in arranging things so the huge amount of data could stream through the JPEG compression and onto the memory card fast enough to not slow the 30fps frame rate. Very impressive!

Voice Memo Mode
Accessed via the settings menu, a Voice Memo mode lets you record short sound clips to accompany still images in Auto and Scene Program exposure modes (also in Playback mode). Voice captions can last as long as 30 seconds. When activated, Voice Memo mode begins recording audio immediately after image capture, with a recording indication on the LCD screen.

Continuous Shooting
The S602 Zoom offers a range of high-speed shooting modes, all selected by holding down the Drive Mode button and turning the Command wheel. The available modes are called Top-5 Frame, Auto Bracketing (discussed above), Final-5 Frame, and Long-Period Continuous Shooting.

Perhaps the most interesting of the continuous modes are the ones called Top-5 Frame and Final-5 Frame. Top-5 Frame captures five consecutive frames at intervals as quick as 0.2 seconds, depending on the file size and quality settings. After the series is captured, all images are displayed at the bottom of the LCD screen as thumbnails while they are being recorded to the memory card. Final-5 Frame mode captures as many as 25 frames at the same 5 fps frame rate while the Shutter button is held down. The camera then records the last five frames of the series, recording what happened just before you released the shutter button. Final-5 Frame mode is thus especially handy for capturing fleeting moments. - If you're like me, you always recognize the perfect expression on your child's face or the perfect pose by your pet a fraction of a second after it's gone. With the Final-5 Frame feature, I can finally capture all those previously-missed moments, since the camera effectively reaches back in time to grab what I was looking at up to a second before I released the shutter button.

For more extended rapid-fire shooting, Long-Period Continuous Shooting mode works only in Auto exposure mode, and automatically sets the image resolution to 1.0-megapixels. What you gain though, is the ability to capture up to 24 seconds of continuous action, albeit with a longer interval between frames of about 0.6 seconds. (That's about 40 frames, at a rate of about 1.7 frames/second.) As with the Movie mode though, you do need a fast memory card to get the best performance from Long-Period Continuous Shooting mode.

Multi-Exposure Mode
A Multi-Exposure mode lets you overlay images in the same file, for a double-exposure effect. Activated through the settings menu, Multi-Exposure mode continuously overlays exposures until you tell it to stop, merging each new image with the one (itself possibly also a composite) already in memory. A preview screen appears after each shot, so that you can check the effect. You can also opt to return to the previous version of the image (before your last exposure) and start over from there. I'm honestly not sure what use this might be, as it seems easier to do this (with more control to boot) in an image-editing program. It's there if you want it though...


Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a delay or lag time before the shutter actually fires. This is the time required by the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I routinely measure it with a custom test setup I built for the purpose. The table below shows the numbers I collected for the FinePix S602.

 

Fuji FinePix S602 Zoom Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
3.1
About average for a camera with a telescoping lens. (Although for some reason, it feels slower.)
Shutdown
4.9
A bit leisurely.
Play to Record, first shot
2.0
Fairly quick.
Record to play (max/min res)
3.0/1.8
Average to slightly slow. "Review" mode displays just-captured image almost immediately though.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.80/0.56
A good bit faster than average. Numbers are for tele/wide angle. (Average is 1.0-1.3 for tele, 0.8 - 1.0 for wide angle.)
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.37
Faster than average. (Average is about 0.5)
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.19
Faster than average. (Average is about 0.3)
Cycle Time, max/min res
0.9/1.3/2.0-6.4
1.06 VGA
11.3-40.5 TIFF
Buffer holds 4 shots at large/fine. Second shot 0.9s after the first, next two at 1.3 secs. Once buffer full, 2.0-6.4 secs, depending on card speed. Low res 1.06 secs indefinitely. TIFF highly variable, depending on card speed, from 11.3 - 40.5 seconds. (!)
Cycle Time, continuous mode, max/min res. 0.25(!)/7.6-30.2 VERY fast for first four shots, then variable time to clear, depending on card speed.
Cycle Time, "long continuous" mode
0.69-0.95
1M resolution only. Cycle time varies depending on card speed.

 

Boy, I thought I'd never get done testing all the permutations and combinations for this camera's timing! The reason it was so complicated was that it accepts a wide range of cards (SmartMedia, CompactFlash, and Microdrives), and its performance seems to depend fairly heavily on the particular card being used. - This is one camera that can really take advantage of faster memory cards! (And I was surprised to find that SmartMedia cards outperformed even fast CF cards in most situations.)

The basic shutter lag and cycle time performance of the S602 Zoom is really excellent. The 6900 had a fairly fast autofocus system, and it looks like the addition of the passive IR "coarse" focusing on the 602 has made it faster still. - The S602 Zoom has one of the best shutter lag performances I've yet found in a camera costing less than about $2,000, and beats most on cycle time as well. (The Olympus E-10 and E-20 beat it on shutter lag, but not by a lot, and the S602 Zoom beats them both with a big stick when it comes to cycle times.) Cycle time is quite fast when writing to the buffer memory, but is also very speedy after the buffer fills, provided you give the camera a fast enough memory card to work with.

Overall, this looks like about the best sub-$1,500 camera I've seen yet for sports and other fast-paced shooting. Its long 6x zoom is great for getting close to the action, and its fast shutter response, cycle time, and super-handy "Final 5 Frame" modes make for the best prosumer sports shooter I've come across.

Memory Cards & Performance
This really calls for a separate section all its own, as the results were so varied, and therefore interesting. As I mentioned above, the S602 Zoom is definitely a camera that can take advantage of fast memory cards. As it happens though, different cards come up the winners for different operating modes, so your ultimate choice may not be clear-cut. Here's a brief table summarizing some of the data I collected on performance in various operating modes with different memory cards.

 

Operation
(All times in seconds)
SmartMedia
(128 MB Simpletech)
Mr. Flash 256MB CF
Lexar 12x 256MB CF
340 MB Microdrive
(Original DMDM model)
Post-buffer cycle time, Large/Fine
1.23
5.27
2.02
1.59
Post-buffer cycle time, TIFFs
11.87
40.44
13.09
11.10
Buffer Clear, continuous, L/F
7.63
30.15
13.02
11.50
Cycle Time, long series continuous
0.69
0.95
0.69
0.70

 

As you can see, there's quite a bit of variation between cards. I was surprised to see that the much-maligned SmartMedia card turned in the best performance in some circumstances. Do note though, that it's possible that newer Microdrives would produce better performance, as the read and write rates on the current generation are quite a bit higher than those on the early 340 MB unit I have here to test with. More so than most cameras, there's a huge difference in the performance of the S602 when using a "high speed" card (in this case a Lexar 12x 256 MB card) and a garden-variety unit (here, a "Mr. Flash" generic card, available at amazingly low prices from www.newegg.com). If you're planning lots of shooting (not to mention lots of motion capture) with the S602, an IBM Microdrive could make a lot of sense. Apart from that, plan on either a premium-grade CF card, or a handful of 128 MB SmartMedia cards. (Note that brand really doesn't matter much with SmartMedia cards - As far as I know, they're all the same speed since there's no controller in them.)

The FinePix S602's high-speed, high-resolution motion capture is another area critically dependent on memory card performance. It should come as no surprise that streaming 640x480 images at 30 frames/second places high demands on a memory card's throughput capability. In my testing, I found that some cards simply couldn't record reliably at all, others would record only shorter sequences, while others would blithely accept the video data stream until they physically ran out of space. Here's a quick look at how the cards discussed above performed:

 

Memory Card Tested
Movie Recording Performance
SmartMedia 128 MB
Limited only by card capacity
Mr. Flash, 256 MB
Stopped after 15 seconds, even with empty card. Recorded movie produced error on playback.
Lexar 12x, 256 MB
Movie length limited to 63 seconds, even if card was empty. Recorded movies came out OK though.
IBM 340MB Microdrive
Limited only by card capacity.

 


Operation and User Interface
With a lot knobs, switches, and buttons spread out around its case, the S602 Zoom's user interface at first seems more complicated than it really is. Most of the exposure features can be controlled externally, though they do require the LCD display to be active so that you can see the settings you've selected. (A small status display panel would be handy here for making quick changes while keeping the LCD display in the smaller EVF view.) A Shift button on the left side of the camera provides shortcut access to a number of functions, saving a lot of time otherwise spent scrolling through menus or switching the mode dial to the Setup position. When you do have to deal with the LCD menu though, it's very straightforward, consisting of a row of subject tabs at the bottom of the LCD display. As you scroll through each tab, the relevant options appear above it. Though you'll probably spend an hour or more learning to use the camera, operation becomes progressively easier and faster as you get to know the camera.

Shutter Button
Located on the top panel in the center of the Power / Mode dial, this black button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed and fires the shutter when fully pressed. If the self-timer is activated, a full press of the Shutter button triggers the two- or 10-second countdown.


Power / Mode Dial
Surrounding the Shutter button on the top panel, this dial controls the camera's power, and selects either Record or Playback operating modes.


Exposure Compensation Button
Just behind the Power / Mode dial on the top panel, this button lets you adjust the exposure compensation from -2 to +2 EV units (f-stops for the old timers among us) in one-third-step increments, by pressing it while simultaneously turning the Command wheel (except in Manual, Scene Program, and Auto modes). In Manual exposure mode, this same set of actions adjusts the lens aperture setting from f/2.8 to f/11.


Flash Button
Just to the right of the Exposure Compensation button, this button sets the onboard flash mode. If the pop-up flash is released to its operating position, pressing this button displays the on-screen flash menu. Holding the button down while turning the Command wheel selects Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Forced Off, Slow-Synchro, or Red-Eye Reduction Slow-Synchro modes.


Drive Mode Button
Directly behind the Flash button, pressing this button displays the on-screen Drive menu. Turning the command wheel with the Drive Mode button held down selects Single Exposure, Top-5 Frame, Auto Bracketing, Final-5 Frame, and Long-Period Continuous Shooting modes (the latter in Auto mode only).


Command Wheel
Located in the far lower right corner of the top panel, behind the Drive Mode button, this ribbed black wheel adjusts various camera settings when turned while pressing a control button. In Manual mode, turning this wheel with no control button pressed sets the shutter speed. In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, turning the wheel adjusts the corresponding exposure setting (aperture or shutter speed, respectively), while in Program AE mode, turning the wheel selects between a range of equivalent exposure settings. (This last lets you bias the camera's exposure system to prefer larger or smaller apertures, giving you some degree of control over depth of field and shutter speed, while still maintaining automatic exposure control.)


Exposure Mode Dial
Directly to the left of the Command wheel, this large, ribbed dial controls the camera's exposure mode, offering the following selections:


AEL Button
Positioned in the top right corner of the rear panel, this button locks the exposure setting until pressed again or until the Shutter button is fully pressed and released.


Zoom Buttons (Playback Zoom Control)
Directly to the left of the AEL button, these buttons control the optical and digital telephoto when the camera is in Record mode. In Playback mode, the buttons zoom the LCD view in and out of captured images, enlarging details.


Back Button
Beneath the "T" button of the Zoom controls, this button backs out of menu selections without making any changes. It can also be used to quickly exit from some camera functions. (Such as enlarged playback of images.)


Focus Check Button
To the left of the Back button, this button enlarges the center portion of the frame on the LCD monitor by about 2x, making it easier to see the results of manual focus adjustments. (This enlargement isn't available in 1M or VGA resolution modes.)


EVF / LCD Button
Adjacent to the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this button switches the viewfinder and playback displays between the electronic viewfinder eyepiece and LCD monitor.


Display Button
Directly below the EVF / LCD button, this button cycles through the information display options in both Playback and Record modes. In Record mode, one of the optional displays includes an alignment grid that divides up the image area into thirds, horizontally and vertically. (This is very handy for lining up the camera with objects in the scene, to insure that your photos are square and level.) In Playback mode, the display button also activates a nine-image index display mode.


Four Way Arrow Pad
Located beneath the Focus Check and Back buttons on the back panel, this arrow button toggles up and down or left and right, with an arrow in each direction. In any settings menu, the arrow keys navigate through menu options and selections.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images on the memory card. When an image has been enlarged in Playback or in Preview mode, all four arrows move around within the enlarged view.

Menu / OK Button
Tucked in the center of the Four Way Arrow pad, this button calls the settings menu in any mode (except for Set mode, which displays the Setup menu immediately upon entering that mode). This button also acts as the "OK" to confirm menu changes.


Diopter Adjustment Dial
Just on the left side of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, this dial adjusts the focus of the viewfinder to accommodate near- or farsighted users.


Pop-Up Flash Release Button
Nestled on the left side of the camera, just beneath the pop-up flash compartment, this button releases the flash, allowing it to spring open its operating position.


Macro Button
Located the furthest forward on the camera lens (and marked with the standard Macro flower icon), this button cycles through Normal AF, Macro, and Super Macro modes when pressed repeatedly.


Shift Button
Directly to the right of the Macro button, this button displays shortcuts to menu functions in both Record and Playback modes.


Info Button
Just beneath the neck strap eyelet on the left side of the camera, this button displays exposure and camera information in both Record and Playback modes. In Record mode, it lists the current exposure settings. In Playback mode, it shows a histogram of the captured image, as well as the exposure settings used to capture it.


Focus Switch
Below the Info button, this switch selects manual or automatic focus control.

One-Push AF Button
Centered inside the Focus switch, this button momentarily triggers the autofocus system to quickly adjust the focus when you're in manual focus mode. (This is very handy for getting the focus "in the ballpark" before fine-tuning it manually.)

MF Adjustment Ring
Encircling the end of the lens barrel, this notched ring adjusts the focus when the camera is in manual focus mode.


Camera Modes and Menus

Movie Mode
Records short movie clips with sound. The actual amount of recording time varies with the resolution setting and amount of memory card space, but recording will continue until either the Shutter button is pressed again or the memory card runs out of space. Limited exposure controls are available, though there are no menu options.

Scene Program Mode
Offers a selection of preset "scene" shooting modes, for capturing good images in specific shooting situations. Available scene types are Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Scene, and Black and White Monochrome. Limited exposure controls are available, though the camera controls most settings.

Auto Exposure Mode
Gives the camera control of all exposure parameters, although the user still can adjust flash mode, Drive mode, file size and quality settings, and zoom.

Program AE Exposure Mode
Returns most of the exposure control to the user, although the camera remains in charge of aperture and shutter speed values. Turning the Command wheel selects a range of equivalent aperture/shutter speed combinations though.

Shutter Priority Exposure Mode
Gives the user control over shutter speed (from 1/1,000 to three seconds), while the camera selects the best aperture value. All other exposure options are available.

Aperture Priority Exposure Mode
Similar to Shutter Priority mode, only now the user controls the aperture setting (from f/2.8 to f/11 in 13 steps) while the camera selects the shutter speed. All exposure options are available.

Manual Exposure Mode
Gives the user complete control over exposure parameters, including aperture and shutter speed. The shutter speed range expands to include times from 1/10,000 to 15 seconds. All exposure options are adjustable, but exposure compensation is disabled since there's no automatic exposure selection to adjust.

Set Mode
Displays the camera's settings menu, described below.

Playback Mode
This mode lets you scroll through captured images and movies, view a nine-image index display, zoom into a captured image to inspect it more closely, delete unwanted images, and set up images for printing on DPOF compatible devices.

Record Menu
Accessed by pressing the Menu button in any of the Record modes. Not all options will be available in all exposure modes.

Playback Menu: Accessed by pressing the Menu button in Playback mode.

Setup Menu: The following menu options automatically appear when entering Set mode:


Image Storage and Interface
The FinePix S602 Zoom is relatively unique in that it features a dual-media slot that accepts SmartMedia memory cards as well as CompactFlash Type I and II memory cards (includes the IBM Microdrive). The camera comes with a 16MB SmartMedia card, which won't hold very many high resolution images. Given the S602 Zoom's large maximum file size, I highly recommend buying several large memory cards, or possibly an IBM Microdrive.

As detailed in my timing tests above, you'll want to pay attention to the speed of the card you're buying: In order to take maximum advantage of the 602's remarkable video capabilities, you'll need either a very fast CompactFlash card (I'd guess "16x" or better), a 128 MB SmartMedia card, or an IBM Microdrive. - Of the three options, the Microdrive will be the best choice if you plan on much motion capture, as it's the only one with both the data throughput and capacity to keep up with the S602's 30fps VGA video. (As noted, movie files take up a *lot* of space: A 128 MB card will give you about 112 seconds of VGA video, or 222 seconds of QVGA.)

It bears saying again: NOTE: If you want to be able to record continuous high-resolution movies, be sure to get either a large SmartMedia card, a very high-speed CF card, or an IBM Microdrive.

The LCD display reports the number of available images at the current resolution/quality setting, so you always have an idea of the remaining image capacity. The table below shows the number of images of each size that can be stored on an average 64MB memory card, and the approximate level of JPEG compression used for each. (Note that this is NOT the size card shipped with the unit, but rather a typical and fairly useful size many owners may end up using. - Divide the image capacities shown by four, and you'll see why I say you really have to plan on buying an extra card or cards with the camera: The included 16 MB card really isn't very useful with files this large.)

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
64MB Memory Card
Hi
Fine
Normal
Basic
Full
Resolution
2,382 x 2,128
Images
(Avg size)
3
18 MB
26
2.4 MB
56
1.2 MB
137
460 KB
Approx.
Compression
1:1 7.5:1 15:1
39:1
High
Resolution
2,048 x 1,536
Images
(Avg size)
N/A
50
1.3 MB
107
590 KB
N/A
Approx.
Compression
N/A 7:1 16:1
N/A
Standard Resolution
1,280 x 960
Images
(Avg size)
N/A
101
620 KB
198
320 KB
N/A
Approx.
Compression
N/A
6:1
11.5:1
N/A
Low
Resolution
640 x 480
Images
(Avg size)
N/A
N/A
497
130 KB
N/A
Approx.
Compression
N/A
N/A
28:1
N/A


As you would expect, the memory card should never be removed while the camera is in operation to avoid damaging the media. A flashing orange and green LED lamp next to the memory card compartment lights when the camera is accessing the card.

The S602 Zoom doesn't offer any write-protection for individual images, so you'll want to be careful when deleting files. You can write-protect entire SmartMedia cards, however, via a small write protection sticker that comes with the card, but it's frankly a rather "iffy" sort of thing. If the surface of the sticker gets dirty, it could fail to protect the card against being overwritten. CompactFlash cards cannot be locked or protected at all however. The Erase menu option under the Playback menu lets you erase individual or all images while in Playback mode, as well as format memory cards.

A USB cable and software CD accompany the camera, for connection to a computer. Like many USB-equipped cameras these days, the S602 is a "storage class" USB device, meaning that it will show up on the desktop of Mac OS 8.6 and higher machines, as well as those of Windows Me, XP, and 2000 computers, without having to load driver software. This is a really handy feature, since it makes it a lot easier to connect the camera to computers other than your own, without having to worry about special driver software, etc. Connected to my 500 MHz G4 Mac, the S602 transferred image files at a rate of 435 KBytes/second. This is fairly fast, but a bit slower than the fastest USB cameras I've tested, which clock in at 600 KB/sec or higher.

Thanks to its SuperCCD technology, the S602 Zoom can also function as a "webcam," streaming video imagery over the USB connection to a host running the appropriate software. Personally, I'm not sure that I'd buy a high-end digital still camera to use as a webcam, but I guess having the capability there if you want it is a nice feature.

Lost Images? - Download this image-recovery program so you'll have it when you need it...
Since we're talking about memory and image storage, this would be a good time to mention the following: I get a ton of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. It's tragic when it happens, there are few things more precious than photo memories. Corrupted memory cards can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. "Stuff happens," as they say. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 


Video Out

The S602 Zoom comes with an A/V (audio and video) cable that allows you to connect the camera to a television set for reviewing images and movies. Since the viewfinder signal in record mode is also routed to the video jack, you can also use a video monitor as an expanded viewfinder for composing shots. US models come set up for NTSC video timing: I assume European ones are configured for the PAL standard. Unlike some cameras, the S602's video output signal is hardwired, and can't be changed by way of a menu option. This means that European models can't be made to work with US TV sets, and vice versa.


Power

In a departure from the previous high-end FinePix line, the S602 Zoom uses four AA-type batteries for power, rather than the small NP-80 battery used in the 6900 and other models. As you'd expect, the increased power capacity provided by high-capacity NiMH AA cells brings some clear benefits in terms of extended operating times. The 6900 was a little underpowered relative to some of its competitors, but the S602 shows very good run times.

As always, I strongly recommend buying a few sets of high-capacity NiMH AA cells and a good charger, and always keeping a freshly charged set on hand as spares. You can read my battery test results here, or see this article for a review of my favorite charger.

An AC adapter is available as a separate accessory, handy when downloading images or reviewing captured files, essential/mandatory if you plan to use the S602 Zoom as a webcam. An Auto Power Off function shuts off the camera automatically after either two or five minutes of inactivity (adjusted through the Setup menu), but can be disabled if you want to keep the camera ready all the time, at the obvious cost of shorter battery life. The table below details power consumption in various operating modes.

Operating Mode
Power Drain
(@ 5 v)
Estimated Minutes
(1600mAh, 4.8v
4 NiMH Cells)
Capture Mode, w/LCD
581 mA
159
Capture Mode, EVF
537 mA
172
Capture Mode, "sleeping"
140 mA
656
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
631 mA
146
Half-pressed w/EVF
587 mA
157
Memory Write (transient)
656 mA
n/a
Flash Recharge (transient)
895 mA
n/a
Image Playback
333 mA
276

Some cameras with large, proprietary LiIon batteries (certain Canon and Sony models) have longer run times than the S602 Zoom when running from four high-capacity NiMH cells, but for the long haul, you can't beat the cost-effectiveness of premium NiMH cells and a good charger. - And the run times here are quite respectable - 2 hours and forty minutes in the worst case capture mode with the main LCD screen in use. Interestingly, the EVF saves only modest power relative to the rear panel LCD monitor. The real (battery) lifesaver though, is the very low power consumption when the camera is left in capture mode, but goes to sleep after a brief period of inactivity. Overall, the power consumption/battery life of the S602 Zoom was quite a bit better than I had expected.


Included Software

The software they didn't include...
(But that you should)
Few people realize just how *much* you can improve your digicam images through clever processing in Photoshop. Greatly (!) increased sharpness, reduced noise, and even ultra-wide dynamic range (light-to-dark range) by combining multiple exposures. Fred Miranda and uber-Photoshop expert Fred Miranda has packaged some of his Photoshop magic in a collection of powerful and affordably priced "actions." Check out his site, the results are pretty amazing!

Packaged with the S602 Zoom is a software CD containing Fuji's Packaged with the S602 Zoom is a software CD containing Fuji's "Software for FinePix (version 3.0),"


Included Hardware

Included in the box are the following items:


Test Results
In keeping with our standard policy, my comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the S602 Zoom's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the S602 Zoom performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

The S602 Zoom produced very pleasing color throughout my testing, with good hue and saturation in most cases. The camera's White Balance system handled most of the test lighting well, and I typically chose the Manual and Auto settings as the most accurate. In the tough Indoor Portrait (without flash) test, the S602 Zoom's Manual white balance produced slightly greenish casts, though some tweaking produced better color. Both the Auto and Incandescent settings also produced color casts, but the overall white balance under incandescent lighting was a huge improvement over earlier Fuji cameras, and better than many competitors manage. The S602 Zoom performed well on the Davebox test target, accurately distinguishing between the subtle tonal variations of the Q60 target and reproducing the large color blocks correctly, with good saturation, although the pure yellow block was a little muted. Skin tones were pleasing in both Outdoor portraits - A little pink, but I've found most viewers seem to prefer the "healthier" look that gives. The difficult blue flowers and other colors were pretty much spot-on in those shots.

The S602 Zoom's Super CCD performed very well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 800 lines per picture height vertically and horizontally, but detail remained strong out to about 1,150 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred at about 1,450 lines.

The S602 Zoom has a full Manual exposure mode, with exposure times as long as 15 seconds. As a result, the S602 Zoom captured great images at very low light levels, with surprisingly little noise. The camera captured bright, clear images at light levels as low as 1/16 foot-candle (0.067 lux) at all of its ISO settings, though color balance was a bit warm at the lower light levels (It must be noted though, that both EVF and autofocus systems stopped working at light levels quite a bit higher than this, close to one foot-candle).

The S602 Zoom captured a very tiny macro area at its Super Macro setting, measuring only 1.49 x 1.12 inches (38 x 28 millimeters). The macro area in normal macro mode was also good, measuring 3.95 x 2.97 inches (100 x 75 millimeters). Resolution was high in both shots, with great detail in the coins, brooch, and dollar bill. Details were sharp, though some corner softness was present. Color balance was a little warm, but still good. The camera's flash throttled down well for the macro area, though the large lens produced a shadow in the bottom of the frame.

My biggest complaint about the S602 Zoom is that it tends to lose detail in strong highlights, and is also a little prone toward overexposure on some shots. That said, I was quite impressed with its capabilities throughout my testing. It's unusually fast, both in terms of shutter lag and from shot to shot, and has outstanding macro capabilities and very good low light shooting as well. Its color is accurate and pleasing, and its images show lower than average noise levels and very good resolution. All in all, it proved to be a very capable camera, particularly for the price.


Conclusion
I really think Fuji's hit a home run in the "enthusiast" category with this one. They've brought together a range of key features in an appealing package, and thrown in some unusual capabilities to boot. - And they've managed to offer all this capability with a surprisingly low price tag as well. The S602 Zoom will meet the needs of many "enthusiast" photographers, and its long 6x zoom, faster than average shutter lag and shot to shot cycle time, and unusual "Final 5 Frame" capture mode make it a particularly good choice for amateur sports shooters. And of course, there's the amazing 640x480, 30 fps movie mode too. While talking about all the other cool features though, it's important not to miss image quality: The S602 delivers great-looking images, with excellent color and resolution, and low image noise. (But I would really like to see less geometric distortion at the ends of its zoom range.) Finally, despite all its advanced features, it's as easy to operate in full "auto" mode as any point & shoot on the market. - A great camera to start with and gradually grow into. Long the "Rodney Dangerfield" of the digicam marketplace, with the S602 Zoom, Fuji may finally get some respect among the enthusiast crowd. Highly recommended!

 

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