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Fuji FinePix S20 Pro

Fuji's latest electronic SLR offers a high dynamic range Super CCD (6.7 million photosensors in a 3.4 megapixel array) that interpolates to 6.0 megapixels, plus an external flash sync connection!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 04/27/2004

Executive Overview
Released as an update to the well-received FinePix S7000 digicam, the Fuji FinePix S20 Pro digital camera shares almost exactly the same body, with a traditional 35mm "Zoom lens reflex" shape that gives it a "serious camera" appearance. Though larger than other Fuji FinePix models, the S20 Pro is still fairly compact, considering its large 6x zoom lens and exceptional range of features. The body appears to be almost entirely composed of structural plastic, but the camera nevertheless has a very solid "feel" to it. 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 big news on the S20 Pro is its fourth-generation Super CCD SR image sensor, which produces file sizes as large as 2,832 x 2,128 pixels. The Super CCD SR sensor combines 3.1 million (effective, 3.4 million gross) large, high-sensitivity photosensors with 3.1 million smaller, low-sensitivity photosensors to create a high resolution 3.1 megapixel CCD with a much greater dynamic range than that found on many digicams, in an attempt to mimic the tonal characteristics of film. (Dynamic range refers to the range of dark to light brightness levels that a device can faithfully capture or reproduce.) Having spent the time to investigate the SR sensor's performance, I can say with confidence that it does indeed capture more detail in strong highlights than conventional sensors do. - This might be important to people shooting high-key subjects on a routine basis. (Fuji suggests that it might be well-suited for wedding photos, for example, where you'll frequently find lots of highlight detail in the white-on-white dresses.)

Along with the new image sensor, the most significant changes since the FinePix S7000 are the addition of a PC sync connector for use with off-camera flash strobes such as would be used in a photo studio, and an upgrade from USB 1.1 connectivity to a choice of both USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394 FireWire high-speed connectivity. Photographers who do most of their work in the studio will be particularly pleased to see that the S20 Pro offers the ability to remotely control most functions over the FireWire connection. A number of other changes relate to the different choice of image sensor, such as an increased ISO range (now from ISO 160 to ISO 1600), a reduction in the strength of the digital zoom (now up to a maximum of 2.2x), and an increase in the maximum exposure time (now 30 seconds). Like the S602 Zoom and S7000 Zoom before it, the S20 Pro offers Pixel-Mixing Technology for high-quality VGA-resolution movies at an impressive 30 frame/second frame rate, and a High-Definition Color Processor for more accurate color, in addition to an excellent range of exposure features.

The S20 Pro 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 S20 Pro uses an electronic viewfinder (EVF) system though, you can't conserve battery power by turning off the LCD screen. (Although the eye level 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 S20 Pro 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 235,000 pixels, the EVF on the S20 Pro is also much easier on the eyes when it comes to viewing finer details and menu screens. The 1.8-inch color LCD monitor also offers a very sharp display, with some useful focus enlargement options in record mode, and a histogram display.

The Super EBC Fujinon 6x zoom lens (35-210mm equivalent) offers an aperture range from f/2.8-f/8, manually and automatically adjustable. 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 from 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 Single or Continuous AF modes, with an adjustable AF area. (See my later discussion of the S20 Pro's autofocus under the Optics section of this review.) A focus switch on the left side of the camera goes between Single AF, Continuous AF, and Manual focus modes, and the focus ring around the end of the lens barrel adjusts the manual focus. The One-Touch AF button quickly snaps the image into focus in manual mode, letting you tweak the focus from there, while a Focus Check button enlarges the center of the frame 2x to help with manual focusing. (Like the S7000, the S20 Pro has some of the best focusing options I've yet seen in a prosumer-level digicam, although I still wish it had a numerical distance readout.) In addition to the impressive 6x optical zoom, the S20 Pro also offers as much as 2.2x digital zoom, though as always, image quality decreases with digital enlargement.

The S20 Pro 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, and Night Scene. Shutter speeds range from 1/10,000 to 30 seconds in full Manual mode, with a Bulb setting for arbitrary exposures up to 30 seconds, but the range decreases to 1/1,000 to 1/4 second in Auto and Scene Program modes (1/250 to three seconds in Night Scene mode), and 1/1,000 to three seconds in Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Program modes.

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 S20 Pro uses a 64-zone, multi-segment 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 (set through the menu system). In any of the manual exposure modes, the camera's ISO sensitivity setting offers Auto, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 ISO equivalents (though the 1600 setting automatically limits 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, and features a brightness adjustment to increase its flexibility. An external flash hot shoe with a single contact accommodates a more powerful flash unit, and new to the S20 Pro is an external flash sync terminal, offering a standard "PC" style sync jack for connecting to studio strobes or other external flash devices.

Three Continuous Shooting modes are available through the Drive menu: Top-10 Frame, Final-10 Frame, and Long-Period Continuous Shooting. The Long-Period Continuous Shooting mode is only available in Auto exposure mode, and forces the resolution to one megapixel , but allows very long sequences of images to be captured. The Final-10 frame continuous mode is unusual, in that the camera begins acquiring images continuously when you press the Shutter button, and then saves the last ten 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 has occurred. Top-10 mode captures up to ten images immediately after the Shutter button is pressed.

In Playback mode, a Voice Memo option records as much as 30 seconds of sound to accompany still images, great for more lively captions. The S20 Pro'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 S20 Pro's Multiple Exposure mode overlaps as many exposures as you like, producing a double-exposure effect.

Images are stored on either xD-Picture Cards or CompactFlash type II memory cards (a 16MB xD-Picture Card comes with the camera), as the S20 Pro has dual memory card slots. The camera also accommodates Microdrives, but since it uses the FAT16 file system, it can't access more than 2GB on the latest solid-state and Microdrive cards which are now reaching capacities as high as four gigabytes (six gigabyte and higher cards are well on their way). Quality choices include two JPEG compression levels, and an uncompressed RAW option. An included A/V cable lets you connect to a television set for image playback and composition, and both USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394 FireWire cables provides high speed connection to a computer. (The included Windows-only PictureHello software makes the S20 Pro into a webcam.) Also included is Hyper-Utility 2 software for both Windows and Mac OS, which allows the camera to be remotely controlled over the IEEE 1394 FireWire connection. The software CD that comes with the camera, also includes Fuji's FinePix Viewer software for image downloading, and ImageMixer for creating CD albums, as well as a basic RAW converter for processing the RAW format files. Power for the S20 Pro 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. An AC adapter is available as a separate accessory.

 

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