Digital Camera Home > Digital Camera Reviews > Fuji Digital Cameras > Fuji FinePix S20 Pro

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!

<<Video, Power, Software :(Previous) | (Next): Reference: Datasheet>>

Page 13:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 04/27/2004

Test Results
In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the S20 Pro's "pictures" page.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the S20 Pro with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the S20 Pro's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

For a more "pictorial" set of sample images, check out our Gallery of S20Pro photos.

  • Color: Pure, appropriately saturated colors, but some oversaturation in flesh tones. Overall, the S20 Pro produced accurate, appealing color under most test conditions. Hue accuracy and saturation levels were both generally very good, but I did notice a tendency to produce overly-pink skin tones, at least relative to my personal tastes. (Although I have to say that many people prefer the "healthy" pink of pumped-up skin tones to a more accurate representation.) Outdoors and indoors, the camera handled the difficult blue of the flower bouquet very well, with only slight darkness and purple tints indoors. Overall, the S20's auto white balance system was adequate, but I consistently found somewhat better color balance when using the Manual option, under a wide variety of light sources. Indoors, under the very warm incandescent lighting of my Indoor Portrait test, the Auto and Incandescent white balance options both produced very warm color casts, but the Manual option handled the light source with aplomb.

  • Exposure: Some tendency toward overexposure, but excellent dynamic range. The S20 Pro had a tendency to overexpose shots in the studio, most notably in the Davebox target. That said, the camera still managed to differentiate the tonal variations of the Q60 target, though shadow detail was somewhat limited. Outdoors, the S20 Pro handled the harsh lighting of the Outdoor Portrait unusually well, with good midtones and highlights, but had some difficulty with the far-field shot, losing more highlight detail there than I'd have liked. This is a good example of why many reviewers have claimed that Fuji's SR technology doesn't help dynamic range. It turns out that you need to have a fairly significant percentage of the frame area occupied by strong highlights before the camera makes much use of the low-sensitivity sensor elements. As a result, there's little benefit to be found from the SR sensor in the Far Field shot, with its relatively small proportion of strong highlights, but noticeable benefit in the Outdoor Portrait shot, where strong highlights occupy a much larger area. Along with others, I'd like to see the S20 Pro make more use of the low-sensitivity sensors to preserve highlight detail, but understand that doing so in some shots (like the Far Field image) would necessarily result in a "flatter" looking image overall. Bottom line, to my eye, Fuji gets it nearly right in their choice of tone curves for the SR chip, but I think they'd really have something if they could come up with a way to make the choice of how much low-sensitivity data to use somehow subject to user control or tweaking.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Good performance, with 1,300+ lines of "strong detail." The S20 Pro performed moderately well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 750 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,300 lines. (Some reviewers would perhaps argue for 1,350 or even 1,400, but I tend to be a little more conservative in this regard.) "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,600 lines. This is a very good performance for what's basically a 3 megapixel resolution array, but it bears noting that the SuperCCD technology "likes" vertical and horizontal detail, whereas conventional CCD sensor layouts tend to "like" detail that's at a 45 degree angle. Bottom line, the S20 Pro's "effective" resolution with actual subjects will lie somewhere between that of top-performing cameras with 3- and 6-megapixel conventional sensors.

  • Image Noise: As with other SuperCCD cameras I've tested in the past, image noise is the S20 Pro's biggest shortcoming. (It could likely be much better, if only Fuji would give us a lower minimum ISO than 200!) As I've often found in the past with Fuji's SuperCCD cameras, the S20 Pro is disadvantaged by its high minimum ISO sensitivity level of 200. While it actually does fairly well against other cameras when compared "apples-to-apples" at the same ISO level, it suffers when its image quality under well-lit conditions is compared with that of cameras that offer lower minimum ISO settings of 100 or even 50. If you have to shoot under dim lighting, such that you'd be shooting at ISO 200 anyway, you likely wouldn't notice any noise problem when comparing the S20 Pro with other cameras in its class. If you have plenty of light though (as with outdoor daylit scenes or in the studio under strobes), other cameras will deliver noticeably cleaner-looking images.

  • Closeups: Excellent job, a very small macro area. The S20 Pro performed exceptionally well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 1.12 x 0.84 inches (28 x 21 millimeters). Resolution was excellent in the printed details of the dollar bill. (The corner of the brooch is soft due to the shallow depth of field at such a short shooting distance.) There was quite a bit of softness in all four corners of the frame, but strongest along the left side of the frame. (This is very typical for ultra-macro shots with digicams.) The very short shooting range rendered the flash ineffective, and the exposure was somewhat uneven from the lens shadow and even the relatively short height of the brooch itself as well. (A macro ring would be in order here, for the best lighting.) Definitely plan on external lighting of some sort for the closest macro shots with the S20 Pro.

  • Night Shots: Good exposures to very dark levels, but the autofocus stops at about 1/2 foot-candle. The S20 Pro produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test at all four ISO settings, but I found its autofocus system was only usable down to about 1/2 foot-candle. That's dark enough that the camera should be able to handle typical city night scenes well, but I'd really like to see an autofocus-assist illuminator added to help with focusing under dim lighting. Color was good in most cases, though the darkest shots had a warm color balance. The S20 Pro handled noise fairly well here, with reasonable levels at the 200 and 400 ISO settings. At ISOs 800 and 1,600, noise was much higher, as you might expect. (At ISO 1,600, the camera forces a smaller image size, so it can reduce noise by averaging together the data from adjacent pixels. This helps somewhat, but noise is still quite high at ISO 1,600.)

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A very accurate electronic viewfinder. The S20 Pro's electronic "optical" viewfinder (EVF) was very accurate, showing 99+ percent frame accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto zoom settings. The LCD monitor is also very accurate, since it shows the same view, just on a larger screen. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the S20 Pro's LCD monitor is essentially perfect in this regard.

  • Optical Distortion: Good distortion levels at wide angle, poor at telephoto. High chromatic aberration. Optical distortion on the S20 Pro was lower than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.5 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much worse though, as I found 0.7 percent pincushion distortion there. Chromatic aberration was quite high, showing nine or more pixels of fairly strong coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the target details at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) I also noticed some softness in the corners of a few shots, but it was for the most part pretty minimal (with the exception of the macro shot, which had much stronger distortion, not unexpected for an ultra-macro image).

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Shutter lag ranges from average to very slow, cycle times are generally pretty good. The S20 Pro's full-autofocus shutter lag ranges from the fast side of average, at 0.80 seconds with the lens at its wide-angle setting, to a very slow 1.45 seconds with the lens at the telephoto end of its range. Cycle times for large/fine files are respectable, at 1.51 seconds with a fast CF card and 1.75 seconds with an xD card. When shooting in single-shot mode, there doesn't appear to be any buffer memory, so the shot to shot speed is the same regardless of how many images are captured. As noted, the cycle times are OK compared to the general run of consumer cameras, but really aren't in the range that one would expect from a camera with a "Pro" designation as part of its name. - And autofocus speed at the telephoto end of the lens' range is slow by any standard.

  • Battery Life: Excellent battery life. One area where the S20 Pro excels is battery life: Worst case battery life (capture mode, with the rear-panel LCD illuminated) is 2.9 hours, based on the 1600 mAh NiMH cell "standard" that I've used for comparing AA-based cameras for years now. With modern cells having true (not stated) capacities of more than 2000 mAh, you can realistically expect to get well over three and a half hours of operation from a single set of batteries. (I do still recommend purchasing two sets of the highest-capacity NiMH batteries you can find, along with a good charger though. See my Battery Shootout page for a ranking of NiMH cells based on actual tests, and my review of the Maha C-204F charger, to see why it's my longtime favorite.)

Free Photo Lessons

Check out the Free Photo School program for lessons and tips on improving your photographs!
Learn how to take stunning photos with simple pro lighting tips, in our free Photo School area!

There's no question that Fuji's S20 Pro offers a unique solution to the problem of limited dynamic range in digital images. - And it does so at relatively modest cost, compared to the price of high-end photo gear these days. It also offers an excellent level of integration with a controlling PC or Mac, making it ideally suited for various event-photography and other highly automated applications. (School portraits?) I'm not sanguine about its prospects in the market though, as I think that some of the tradeoffs made to achieve its unique capabilities will be too much for most potential users to accept. While it offers excellent color, its high minimum ISO of 200 results in noisy images even under bright lighting. (When you compare its noise levels with those of other cameras at ISO 200, it doesn't do all that badly, it's just that most competing cameras offer the option of much lower minimum ISO settings.) Resolution-wise, while it does better than cameras built around conventional 3-megapixel sensors, it's resolution is well below that seen in cameras with a "true" 6-megapixel array. (As I noted earlier, Fuji's positioning of the S20 Pro as a 6-megapixel device is legitimate, based on the JCIA definition of the term "megapixel," but the fact remains that it only has 3 million discrete imaging array locations that contribute to the resolution of its final images.) All in all, the S20 Pro represents the best embodiment yet of what could still be an important innovation in digital imaging, namely Fuji's unique SR sensor technology. As such, it will certainly find a home in many applications, particularly ones involving unfavorable lighting, and requiring close coupling between computer and camera. In the general market though, I'm afraid it's going to have a tough go of it, much though I'd like to see Fuji have a big success with their SR sensor designs. (To my mind, Fuji deserves a lot of support for pushing the envelope of sensor technology, and in the process coming up with a unique approach for dealing with one of the biggest limitations of digital imaging technology. Unfortunately, the market doesn't reward innovation for its own sake.)


Reader Comments! --> Visit our discussion forum for the Fuji FinePix S20 Pro!

<<Video, Power, Software | Reference: Datasheet>>

Follow Imaging Resource: