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Contrast King

Now that most $500-plus compact digital cameras give you high image quality, respectable zoom lenses, and plenty of controls, Fujifilm had to pack a lot of sizzle into its new FinePix S20 Pro ($899 street) for it to stand out from the crowd. This EVF camera’s top features include a fourth-generation 6.2MP Super CCD SR sensor, a 6X optical Super EBC Fujinon f/2.8-3.1 zoom, 4.5-fps burst capability (up to 40 frames), dual media storage, and FireWire and USB connections. But can it take on the slew of 8MP EVFs selling for only a hundred bucks more (see “Great 8MP Shoot-Out,” July 2004)?

Here’s what we found. The S20 Pro captures 2832×2138-pixel images with extremely high resolution and color accuracy. True to Fuji’s claims, it also has a wider dynamic range than Fuji’s standard Super CCD. (It’s most noticeable in high-contrast scenes). The credit goes to different-sized pixels on the sensor: 3.1 million S pixels and 3.1 million smaller R pixels. The Rs are optimized for recording details in bright areas, while the S team gathers more details from shadows. The downside of this technology appears to be slightly lower resolution than most 6MP cameras.

The bright 6X optical zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-210mm on a 35mm camera) makes it easy to zoom in and compose a shot. While not a true wide-angle, it remains fairly bright at full zoom. Focusing speed is fast, with three choices for AF function: area, center, and multi-zone; plus a manual mode and a super-macro mode (as close as 0.4 inches). There are also four scene modes; aperture-, shutter-priority, and manual exposure; average, spot, and 64-zone evaluative patterns; and ISO settings from 200-1600. Shutter speeds range from 30 sec to 1/10,000 sec (in manual)-good for both night shots and fast action.

The S20 Pro’s 235,000-pixel EVF displays a very realistic, smooth-flowing image (except in burst mode). Either it or the 1.8-inch LCD can be used to view live histograms. In burst mode, the S20 captures up to 10 hi-res JPEGs at 4.5 fps. There’s also the option of capturing up to 40 frames and recording just the last 10 shots before the shutter is released. Movies taken with the S20 are also impressive (see “Double Feature,” June 2004).

Overall, the S20 Pro captures very high image quality-at ISO 200. (The specs list an ISO 160 setting in auto mode that eluded our best attempts to activate it.) But noise levels are higher than we expected at ISO 200 and unacceptable by ISO 400. There’s also no quick-playback button so you must take time to switch from shooting to playback modes, and the flash hot-shoe is nondedicated. These foibles make it a good camera that might achieve “great” status if it cost $300 less.

Backlit beauty (right): The S20 Pro captures great shadow and highlight detail, accurate skin tones. Detail area shows what to expect from an 11×14 print at 200 ppi.

What’s Hot: 6.2MP Super CCD SR with extended dynamic range.Bright 6X zoom lens. Fast burst mode and great 30 fps video.

What’s Not: Nondedicated flash hot-shoe. Missing rapid-playback button.No swivel LCD monitor, and a bit noisy.

Certified Test Results: FujiFilm S20 Pro
Test results: Resolution: Extremely high (V1500xH1510xD1300). Color accuracy: Extremely high (Avg. Delta E: 8.13). Highlight/shadow detail: Extremely high. Contrast: Normal and adjustable. Noise: Moderate at ISO 160, unacceptable at ISO 400. Image quality: Very high at ISO 160-200. AF speed: Fast.
Vital statistics: 6.2MP (2832×2138), 35-210mm (equivalent) f/2.8-3.1, 6X optical zoom, 1.8-inch LCD screen, CF Type I/II and xD-Picture card slots, JPEG and RAW formats, VGA video w/ sound at 30 fps, four AA batteries, 4.8×3.2×3.8 inches, 1.5 lb with card and batteries
Street price: $899
In the box: Four AA batteries, lenscap, A/V, USB, and FireWire cables, 16MB xD-Picture Card, shoulder strap, software (Viewer, ImageMixer VCD2, HS-V2 RAW File Converter LE)
For info: www.fujifilm.com; 800-800-3854