12.3MP SLR comes out swinging
Fujifilm may not be the first brand that comes to mind when you think of digital SLRs. But among pros who shoot weddings and portraits, the $2,000 Fuji FinePix S2 Pro digital SLR (see Pop Photo, November 2002) has gained a cult status. Two years after its introduction, the S2 Pro still provides the highest resolution of any sub-$4,000 DSLR, plus excellent color accuracy, low noise, and compatibility with Nikon lenses and accessories. Now, hoping to expand its loyal digital SLR following, Fuji has introduced the new 12.3MP FinePix S3 Pro (we're guessing $3,000 street), which it claims has even higher resolution and image quality. But will it outgun the more affordable 6- or 8MP SLRs from Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Pentax?
To find out, we wrestled an early working sample from Fuji and fired away. Unfortunately, we weren't able to run this preproduction camera through the Pop Photo Lab for the barrage of image quality, focusing speed, and other tests. Those test results will be available online at www.PopPhoto.com as soon as we receive a production unit.
At first glance, the S3 Pro looks similar to the S2 Pro, but it's slightly smaller, features a vertical shutter release on the lower right side, and now has a PC-sync connector to the left of the lens. From the top, there's very little difference between the two cameras, and Nikon N80 owners will feel right at home with the pop-up flash, dials, and settings located there. Both the S3 and S2 Pro have much in common with Nikon's film-based N80 and digital D100 SLRs when it comes to AF speed and metering options. The AF system gives five selectable AF zones, and metering choices include 10-zone 3D Matrix metering, 1.8-percent spot, and centerweighted average.
In response to feedback from photographers on the S2 Pro, Fuji added a higher-performance shutter (albeit with the same 30-1/4000-sec range) and a greater-magnification viewfinder similar to those found on the higher-end Nikon F100. The flash-sync speed has also been increased to 1/180 from 1/125 sec, and the S3 Pro hot-shoe is now fully compatible with Nikon D-TTL flash units (but not the new i-TTL SB-600 and 800 Speedlights).
On the back of the camera, there are several modifications, including a larger 2-inch TFT LCD monitor with 235,000-pixel resolution, and a taller backlit info display. The same menu, back, play, and function buttons are there, only they've been separated to prevent hitting the wrong controls. Fuji also added a 10-pin jack on the camera's left side, compatible with Nikon's optional electronic remote control. And, behind a rubber door, there's a Hi-Speed USB 2.0 connector and a FireWire connector (which can be used to control the camera from a computer).
As we handled the camera, we noticed several ergonomic improvements, and found the S3 Pro to be a more compact, well-balanced body. In addition, rubberized surfaces surround the less obtrusive camera grip on the right side and in the back, making it much easier to hold safely with one hand. Fuji claims that the camera's single-form (monocoque) polycarbonate body is more rugged than the S2 Pro body-and it appears to be a solid casing. Internally, there's a similar carbon-fiber chassis plus a stainless-steel lensmount for Nikon F-mount lenses. Compatible lenses now include D/G-type AF Nikkor lenses and even the digitally optimized DX-series lenses (with a 1.5X 35mm lens factor). Instead of the S2 Pro's wacky four AA plus two CR123 batteries, the S3 Pro uses four AAs (four NiMH cells are included with charger). Fuji claims no loss of shooting capacity, thanks to more efficient image-processing circuitry. New electronics are also responsible for its fast 0.5-sec start-up time. Yet despite its fewer batteries and smaller size, the S3 Pro is actually a few ounces heavier than the S2 Pro (29.5 vs. 25 ounces without batteries).
The S3 Pro has also rid itself of the fairly obsolete SmartMedia card format. Instead, it now features dual media-storage slots for CF Type II cards (Microdrive is recommended) and xD-Picture cards up to 512 MB. You can store JPEG and CCD-RAW images in a variety of resolutions (including variable-sized RAW) and JPEGs at two compression levels.