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Fuji FinePix S2 Pro

Fuji updates their digital SLR with a 6 megapixel CCD, with the same excellent color...

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Page 3:Design

Review First Posted: 7/24/2002

Design

 

Built on a Nikon N80 camera body, Fuji's new FinePix S2 Pro obviously has a lot in common with popular Nikon SLRs in terms of both looks and operation. This is Fuji's second digital SLR, an update of the earlier S1 Pro, which was built on an N60 Nikon body. The S2 Pro handles a lot like the N80 Nikon it's built on, the main difference being a bit more heft from the set of 4 AA cells across the bottom of the camera. The S2 accommodates an array of Nikkor lenses in its Nikon "F" lens mount, a feature that will doubtless attract many current Nikon users. Measuring 5.6 x 5.2 x 3.1 inches (141.5 x 131 x 79.5 millimeters), and weighing 26.8 ounces (760 grams) without batteries or lens, the S2's bulk is in line with other digital SLRs, although slightly larger than either the Nikon D100 or Canon D60.

The S2 will most naturally be compared to the Nikon D100, given the similarities in price, size, and specifications between the two. With the batteries loaded but no lens attached, the S2 weighs in at 880 grams, slightly heavier than the D100, which weighs in at 790. The S2 is also a bit taller, due to the battery compartment across the bottom. The two cameras have a surprisingly similar balance, the S2's center of gravity located just slightly further from the handgrip than that of the D100. (I say "surprising" because I'd expected the S2 to have much more weight to the left of the handgrip, given that its AA batteries extend across the entire bottom of the camera, while the battery pack of the D100 is contained in the handgrip.)

The front of the S2 holds the Nikon F lens mount, the most prominent feature on the front panel. To the right of the lens are the lens release button and Focus Mode switch. On the other side of the camera, a sub-command dial projects slightly from the top of the handgrip, and you can also see the Shutter button and Power switch as they angle down from the top of the camera. Nestled between the lens and handgrip are the Depth of Field Preview button and AF assist lamp.

On the left side of the camera (as viewed from the back) are a variety of connection jacks, including the Flash Sync, Video Out, IEEE 1394, USB, and DC In jacks. The DC In, Video Out, and USB jacks are protected by a flexible plastic flap, that flips open to reveal the jacks. The IEEE 1394 jack has a similar cover, and both flaps remain tethered to the camera when opened. By contrast, the flash sync socket (a standard PC-contact type) is protected by a tiny plastic cap that screws into place. (These little screw-on sync socket covers are found on many cameras, and I dislike all of them - They're too finicky to remove if they were tightened down securely when last used, and are just way too easy to lose. No knocks against Fuji, it's actually a Nikon body, but I do wish the industry could come up with a better solution for protecting sync sockets.)

The battery compartment is located at the bottom of the camera, unlocking with a flip and twist of the latch you can see at the bottom of the photo above. Once unlocked, the battery holder slides out from the compartment to reveal four AA-type batteries. (This is the main battery compartment, see the description of the camera's bottom below for a view of the secondary compartment housing a pair of CR-123 lithium cells.) Also on this side of the camera is one of the eyelets for attaching the neck strap.

The opposite side of the camera is bare except for the second neck strap eyelet .

On the S2's top panel are a variety of camera controls, as well as a small status display panel, external flash hot shoe, and the pop-up flash compartment. On the left of the top panel are the Mode dial and the Release Mode Switch (under the Mode Dial, controlling single exposure, motor drive, self-timer, and double-exposure shutter release options). Controls on the right side of the top panel include exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation, and LCD illuminator buttons, as well as the Shutter button and Power switch.

The S2's back panel holds the remaining camera controls, as well as the optical viewfinder eyepiece and LCD monitor. The optical viewfinder features a diopter adjustment, to adjust the optics for eyeglass wearers. Another small LCD data panel just to the left and below the viewfinder turns the four buttons below it into "soft" buttons, each serving multiple functions as governed by the data panel. A Four-Way Arrow rocker pad serves multiple functions, and sits just to the right of the camera's tiny microphone grille. The memory card compartment is below the Four-Way Arrow rocker pad, hidden behind a locking cover. (One of my few gripes with the S2's design: I found the latch on this cover quite awkward to use - You have to press the latch down while simultaneously pulling the cover outward.) Inside the compartment are SmartMedia and CompactFlash card slots, the latter of which accommodates IBM's MicroDrives as well.

The S2's ribbed bottom panel features a tripod mount centered beneath the lens, and a second battery compartment which holds the CR-123 lithium batteries that power the camera's flash.

The "SuperCCD"
We first reported on Fuji's patented "SuperCCD" technology almost a year ago, when it was announce to the public at Fall Comdex '99. Since then, SuperCCD technology has been the source of some controversy, not the least of which is due to Fuji's claims that it's unique sensor geometry permits more image interpolation than does the rectilinear layout of conventional CCDs. (And, just to be clear, all single-sensor/single-shot color digicams use some degree of interpolation to produce their pictures.) There are two major differences between Fuji's SuperCCD technology and conventional configurations: 1) SuperCCD uses an octagonal cell layout that increases the amount of light-sensitive surface area in every cell, and 2) The SuperCCD rows and columns overlap slightly and are rotated 45 degrees. This theoretically improves resolution (at least somewhat) over a conventional sensor with a rectilinear layout.

For clarification on the Super CCD technology, here's a repeat of the information we published as part of our Fall '99 Comdex coverage (where the Super CCD was first announced).

According to Fuji, the SuperCCD's layout offers an effective resolution some 60% better than a standard CCD, as well as 130% better sensitivity, dynamic range and signal/noise ratio, 50% better color reproduction and significantly better power consumption (assuming that a SuperCCD with 40% fewer pixels can match the resolution of a standard CCD). The logical question is - how can simply changing the shape and orientation of the photodiodes in a SuperCCD produce such a dramatic improvement in image quality? Borrowing heavily from Fuji's own explanation, here's a quick summary of the reasons:

  • Higher horizontal/vertical resolution: According to Fuji's research, due to gravity, the usual characteristics of natural scenes tend towards more spatial frequency power in the horizontal and vertical planes, and analysis shows that the human eye makes use of this tendency, being more sensitive to high frequency information on these axes. A look at the layout of a conventional CCD shows that it has an exactly opposite tendency, offering a higher capture resolution on the 45 degree diagonals. The SuperCCD's layout reverses this, matching the human eye in capturing its highest resolution horizontally and vertically. (Note that the images below with borders can be clicked on to see larger versions.)

    Click here for a larger version!

  • Increased sensitivity, signal/noise ratio and dynamic range: The SuperCCD does away with the need for a control signal path as required in normal CCDs, allowing the photodiode to increase in size (and hence increasing the area of light that it can capture). At the same time, the shape of the photodiode is changed from rectangular to octagonal, which more closely matches the circular form of the microlens over it, again allowing for an increase in the effectiveness of light capture. This increased light capture allows for the gains in sensitivity (Fuji predicted an ISO rating of 800 in its initial brochure, the sensor in the S2 Pro has a top ISO rating of 1600), signal/noise ratio and dynamic range.

    Click here for a larger version!

    At the same time, Fuji claims two further enhancements with the SuperCCD - both the video frame rate and the ability to use an electronic shutter (i.e.. turn the CCD on/off) rather than using a mechanical shutter, much more simply than is possible with a conventional CCD. Since the color layout of the SuperCCD features the R, G and B pixels on every horizontal line, it becomes simple to skip horizontal lines when reading from the CCD for video. With a conventional CCD, each horizontal line contains only the R and G or G and B pixels, necessitating that consecutive lines must be read to recapture the full RGB color information, and slowing down video capture. Fuji's SuperCCD can offer skipped readout at ratios of 1/2, 1/3 and more, offering video frame rates of 30 frames per second at 1/3 of the sensor resolution. The SuperCCD also takes a different approach to how it transfers charge through the transmission path, adding an extra packet to the standard three packets required to eliminate the mechanical shutter with a conventional CCD, at the same time as increasing the width of the transmission path to accommodate this. The result is the ability to control shutter speed completely from the CCD itself.

    Click here for a larger version!

 

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