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DCRP Review: Fuji
FinePix S20 Pro
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: March 30, 2004
Last Updated: April 3, 2004
The Fuji FinePix S20 Pro ($999) is a kind of hybrid camera. It takes the design, lens, and expandability of the FinePix S7000, and combines it with the SuperCCD SR sensor of the FinePix F700. The result is a 3.1 + 3.1 megapixel camera with a 6X zoom, excellent movie mode, and professional-looking body.
What do I mean by 3.1 + 3.1 megapixel? To understand that, you need a better idea about how the SuperCCD SR sensor works.
Each hexagonal photosite has two smaller sensors on it. One sensor captures the dark areas, and the other captures light areas. The camera combines the data from both, producing photos with higher dynamic range than your typical CCD (that's the promise, at least). Due to the design of the sensor, the native image size is 6 Megapixel, which means that some pretty heavy interpolation goes on to get them to that size. The "true" resolution of the camera has been hotly debated - is it 3 or 6 Megapixel? I tend lean toward the 3MP number.
With that out of the way, learn more about the S20 Pro in our review! Do note that since the cameras are so similar, I will be reusing some text from the S7000 review here.
What's in the Box?
The FinePix S20 Pro has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Fuji includes a rather small 16MB xD card with the camera, which doesn't hold too many photos at the highest quality setting. So plan on buying a memory card right away. The S20 Pro can use xD cards, as well as higher capacity CompactFlash cards, including the Microdrive. A few weird notes about CompactFlash support on this camera. First, Fuji only officially supports the use of Microdrives in the CF slot, though regular cards will work as well. Secondly, the S20 Pro is not FAT32 compatible, meaning that it can only see 2GB of data on a memory card.
Batteries are something else that you'll need to buy right away. Fuji includes four non-rechargeable alkaline batteries along with the camera, which will quickly find their way into the trash (or should I say, recycling bin). Buy yourself two or more sets of NiMH batteries (2000 mAh or greater) and a fast charger, and you'll be set.
Fuji estimates that you can take about 350 pictures using LCD (50% flash use) with a set of 2100 mAh batteries -- not too shabby. Using the Microdrive knocks about 10% from those numbers.
Fuji includes a lens cap and retaining strap in the box with the S20 Pro.
Tele and wide conversion lenses
In terms of accessories, you have quite a few options. First, you can add a wide-angle or telephoto lens to the camera (both are around $140). The WL-FX9 wide-angle lens brings the wide end of the lens down to 28mm, while the TL-FX9 brings the top end to 315 mm. Both of these lenses include the required AR-FX9 lens adapter ring. If you want to add filters (55mm) to the camera, you can buy the adapter ring separately ($45).
The S20 Pro can also use nearly any third-party external flash. More on that later. Other accessories for the camera include an AC adapter ($39), camera case ($38), and NiMH battery kit.
While it didn't come with my camera, I think it's safe to assume that FinePixViewer will be included with the camera. Buyers of the camera may also find the HS-V2 Hyper-Utility in the box (otherwise it's $135). I'll describe both below.
FinePixViewer is for basic image organizing and editing, and is no substitute for something like Photoshop Elements. Fuji also includes a RAW File Converter, and ImageMixer VCD2 (for making video CDs) on the CD. While ImageMixer VCD2 is (finally) Mac OS X native, it does not support direct CD-R burning on the Mac -- you'll need Roxio's Toast to do that.
The HS-V2 Hyper-Utility software is an advanced version of FinePix Viewer that has two important functions: RAW conversion and camera control.
There are actually three ways to process RAW files. You can quickly extract a 1280 x 960 JPEG, convert to TIFF, or you can take full advantage of the RAW format and tweak the properties of the photo you've taken. To do this, you use the RAW File Converter EX part of the package. You can see everything you can adjust in the screenshot above (note the dynamic range slider). The great thing about the RAW format is that you can adjust these properties and it's as if you took the photo again. If you've got a big memory card, and don't mind post-processing every shot, then RAW mode is a great way to get the most out of the S20 Pro.
Another thing you can do with the Hyper-Utility software is control the camera from your Mac or PC. You can change the camera settings, including the zoom and focus, right on your computer. To take a picture, you can hit the button on the camera, or in the software. One huge annoyance of the camera control feature is that you can't preview the image on your computer screen before it is taken -- you need to preview it on the camera's LCD first.The camera manual is typical of those included with digital cameras. It's complete, but finding what you're looking for may be difficult. There are lots of small "notes" on each page, as well.
Look and Feel
With a few exceptions, the S20's body is identical to the S7000's (I'll cover the differences below). The S20 Pro's body is a nice mix of high grade plastic and metal, and it feels very solid. While you can hold and operate the camera with one hand, you'll probably find two hands to be more comfortable.The official dimensions of the S20 are 121.0 x 81.5 x 97.0 mm / 4.8 x 3.2 x 3.8 inches (W x H x D, excluding protrusions), and it weighs 500 grams / 17.6 ounces empty. It's not a compact camera by any means, but it's not a camera I'd get tired of carrying around.
Let's get right into our tour of the camera now!
The lens on the S20 is the same as the S7000 -- F2.8-3.1, 6X zoom. This lens has a focal range of 7.8 - 46.8 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 210 mm. The lens is threaded, though you'll need to pick up the conversion lens adapter to do anything with it (see previous section).
Directly above the lens is the same passive autofocus sensor that the S602 and S7000 use. It allows for more responsive focusing than traditional contrast-detection AF systems. Whether it helps in low light situations is unclear.
Continuing upward, we find the pop-up flash, with the flash sensor to its right. The S20 Pro's very powerful flash has a working range of 0.3 - 8.5 m at wide-angle and 0.9 - 7.9 m at telephoto. If that's still not enough flash for you, you can also attach an external flash to the hot shoe you'll see in a moment.
To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's microphone. The self-timer lamp can be seen on the opposite side, at the top of the grip.
One new S20 feature can be found below-left of the lens. That's a PC flash sync port, which is protected by a plastic cap in this photo. The S20 can sync as fast as 1/1000 sec.
On the back of the camera, you'll find a high resolution, 1.8" LCD display. The LCD has a respectable 118,000 pixels, and images on it are sharp, bright, and fluid. LCD brightness can easily be adjusted by using the shift + display buttons.
Above the LCD is a large and sharp electronic viewfinder (0.44"). The resolution of 235,000 is higher than the LCD, and it shows -- this is a high quality display. As with the LCD, images on the EVF are sharp and fluid. It does get a little hard to see things on the EVF in low light situations, as the camera does not attempt to brighten the image on the screen like on some other cameras. There's also a diopter correction knob, which helps focus the image on the EVF.
To the right of the LCD are three buttons. EVF/LCD toggles between, well, the EVF and LCD. The display button toggles what is shown on the LCD/EVF, including a framing guide (perfect for people like me who seem to only take crooked pictures).
Photo mode menu
The next button down, which has an "F" on it, opens the Photo mode menu. It has the following options:
One thing I like about the photo mode menu is that it tells you how many photos you can take at a given image quality setting (see above).
SuperCCD-based cameras tend to have higher ISO sensitivities than your typical digital camera, illustrated by the S20's starting ISO of 200. If you need more sensitivity (at the expense of noise), you can bump it up to 400, 800, or even 1600. Note that ISO 1600 is only available at the 1 Megapixel resolution. The ISO Auto mode (which selects from 160-800) is only available when the mode dial is on "Auto". I'll have a comparison of the various ISO sensitivities later in the review.
Back to our tour now. To the right of the "F" button, we find the four-way controller (with Menu/OK in the middle), the Focus Check button, and the back button. The Focus Check button enlarges the center of the frame, so you can make sure the subject is in focus. You'll probably use this exclusively in manual focus mode, which I'll touch on in a bit.
At the top-right of the photo is the S20 Pro's zoom controller. This moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 1.8 seconds. Quick presses of the button allow for precise zoom adjustments. You can also use the ring around the lens (that you'll see in a minute) to adjust the zoom.
To the right of the zoom controller is the AE Lock button. Keep it held down to lock the current exposure.
On the top of the camera, you'll find even more buttons. There are plenty more where that came from, too.
At the center of the picture is the S20 Pro's hot shoe. As I mentioned, the camera can sync with an external flash as fast as 1/1000 sec via the hot shoe or the PC sync port. You will probably need to manually set the settings on your flash, as the flash doesn't communicate with the camera.
The next item over is the mode dial, which has the following options:
In Program mode, you can do something called "program shift", by using the command dial. You can cycle through sets of shutter speed/aperture combinations, which lets you use a faster shutter speed (when you don't have a tripod) or a smaller aperture (for more depth of field) than what the camera chose.
The next thing to see is the command dial, which is located to the right of the mode dial. You'll use this to adjust manual settings.
Above that is a button for continuous shooting. The S20 Pro has an impressive set of continuous modes (even better than on the S7000), including:
Moving toward the upper-right of the above photo, we reach the flash and exposure compensation buttons. The available flash settings are auto, auto w/redeye reduction, forced flash, slow synchro, and redeye reduction + slow synchro. The exposure compensation range is the usual -2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments. The exposure compensation button is also used to adjust the aperture when in "M" mode.
I should add that you adjust all these items I just discussed by holding down the appropriate button, and turning the command dial. This may be a little different than what you're used to.
The final item on the top of the S20 is the shutter release button, which has the power/mode switch around it. This switch moves the camera between the powered off, record, and playback modes.
This side of the S20 Pro is covered with buttons. But before I get to those, let me tell you about the focus/zoom (FZ) ring. When the camera is in autofocus mode, you can rotate this ring to adjust the zoom setting. It's a "fly-by-wire" control, meaning that you're telling the camera to move the lens, as opposed to mechanically moving it yourself. The zoom ring didn't seem terrible sensitive to me. It takes too much twisting to move the lens.
Manual focus + Focus check
Put the camera into manual focus mode, and the zoom ring becomes a focus ring. The camera shows a hint as to your current focus distance on the LCD/EVF, and the Focus check function lets you enlarge the center of the image to make sure you're focused properly. One thing missing here is a guide showing the current focus distance -- that would've been useful.
As they did on the S7000, Fuji puts a fairly misleading zoom number in big print on the side of the camera. They should have "6X" in big letters, and have the 2.2X digital zoom in small print. This is not a 13.2X zoom camera, and I wish they'd stop doing this.
Below that label is the macro button. I'll have more on that later in this review.
Next to that is the Shift button, which is a quick way to get to commonly-accessed camera settings. You hold it down and press one of the other buttons to change a setting. You can see what you can change in the screen shot above.
The next buttons over are info and focus. Pressing the info button (in record and playback modes) shows the current camera settings.
The focus dial has three choices: Continuous AF means that the camera is always trying to focus (you'll hear it). Single AF is the usual half-press to lock focus thing that most of us are used to. And I already described manual focus. If you press the button in the middle of the switch while in manual focus mode, the camera will autofocus, and then you can fine tune things manually.
Below that, under a plastic cover, is the DC-in port, which is where the optional AC adapter is plugged in.
For more I/O ports, just move your eyes to the right. There you'll find USB 2.0 high speed, FireWire, as well as video out ports, which are covered by a sturdy plastic door. Your eyes are not deceiving you -- the S20 has both USB 2 and FireWire -- hurrah!
Above that is the camera's speaker.
You'll find the S20 Pro's dual memory card slots behind a big plastic door. The slots include CompactFlash Type II as well as xD. The IBM/Hitachi Microdrive is supported.
The included 16MB xD card is shown.
On the bottom of the S20 Pro, you'll find the battery compartment and metal tripod mount. The batteries are under a sturdy plastic cover, keeping with the overall high quality construction of the camera.
The tripod mount is inline with the lens.
Using the Fuji FinePix S20 Pro
The S20 takes a little over 3 seconds to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting.
No live histogram in record mode
Autofocus speeds were very fast, thanks to the passive AF sensor on the front of the camera. The S20 locked focused in under 1/2 second. In dim lighting, the camera was able to focus if there was enough ambient light. If it's too dark, the camera won't focus -- an AF-assist lamp definitely would've helped in that situation.
I did notice that both the LCD and EVF pause for a second when you halfway-press the shutter release button, which may be a problem for action shots. The S7000 was the same way.
Shutter lag was not an issue, even at slower shutter speeds.
Shot-to-shot speed is superb -- you can take another shot as fast as you can compose it (assuming the post-shot review is turned off). Fuji definitely has the shooting performance thing nailed on their higher end cameras.
By setting the "image view" option in the setup menu to "preview", the camera will let you decide whether to keep or delete a photo after it is taken.
Now, let's take a look at the resolution and quality choices available on this camera.
|Resolution||Quality||Approx. File Size||# photos on 16MB card (included)|
(2832 x 2128)
(2048 x 1536)
(1600 x 1200)
(1280 x 960)
I discussed the RAW image format back in the first section of the review.
The camera names files as DSCF####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the numbering even if you erase the memory card.
The FinePix S20 Pro has a attractive, easy-to-use menu system. It doesn't have all the crazy manual features like some Canon, Minolta, and Nikon cameras, but they've got the important things covered. The menu items are:
The S20 Pro lets you store two custom white balance settings into memory -- very nice. Custom white balance lets you shoot a white or gray card, allowing for perfect color in even the most unusual lighting.
The multi AF mode lets you choose exactly what the camera focuses. You do this by holding down the one-touch AF button and using the four-way controller. There are 49 points to choose from (7 x 7).
By turning the mode dial to the "set" position, you can access the setup menu. It has the following options:
Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
The S20 did a nice job with our usual macro test subject, which was taken at the 3M setting. The subject is sharp and detailed, and the colors are both accurate and saturated.
The S20 has two macro modes. In regular macro mode, the distance from the subject is 10 - 80 cm. The zoom is limited to the 35 - 80 mm range (2.3X), though. In super macro mode, the distance drops to just 1 - 20 cm, and the zoom is fixed at the full wide-angle position. I was able to get a 32 x 25 mm subject to fill the frame in super macro mode.
Aside from the fact that I can't take a level night shot, the S20 did a pretty nice job here. Do be warned that the camera won't shoot any slower than 3 seconds in shutter priority mode -- you'll need to use manual (M) mode to get at the full range. There's a bit of purple fringing here, and I suggest closing down the aperture (by using a higher F-number) to reduce it. Noise levels are quite low in this 3M shot -- click here to view it at 6M (which is still pretty nice).
Now, let's a look at how changing the ISO sensitivity affects image noise:
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
ISO 1600 (1M)
View Full Size Image
The S20 does a pretty good job at keeping noise under control, even at the higher ISOs. As with all my test shots, I took these at the 3M resolution.
The S20 did a great job with the redeye test. There's a slight reddish glow, and a bit of flash reflection, but no "demon eyes" can be found.
Our new distortion test shows mild barrel distortion at wide-angle, and no sign of vignetting (dark corners).
How you view the S20's image quality depends a lot on your expectations. Can it compete with a true 5 or 6 Megapixel camera? I don't think so, there's just too much noise that destroys the fine detail in images. I say: save the 6M modes for large prints only. That's because I got much nicer looking photos at the 3M setting. Images still seem a little "fuzzy" at times, but they hold up well against 3 Megapixel cameras with traditional CCD sensors.
As for dynamic range, the S20's results were not surprisingly the same as they were on the F700, which uses the same sensor. That is to say that dynamic range is improved over "regular cameras", but it's not the revolution in digital photography that Fuji would have you believe. Here's an example:
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
The S20 Pro was able to pull out just a little more detail in the highlights (and the shadows too) than the C-8080WZ. Don't expect miracles with the SuperCCD SR sensor, but do expect a slight improvement in dynamic range in your everyday photos (and greater improvements in situations where highlights tend to get "blown out"). In certain situations If enjoy such things, there are software tools (like s7raw) that let you play with the dual images in the S20's RAW images (one for the each of the sub-sensors).
Other image quality notes: color is good, as is usually the case with Fuji cameras. Purple fringing is above average, which is fairly common on longer zoom cameras.
Please, don't just take my word for all this. Have a look at the photo gallery and see if the S20's photos meet your expectations. You are encouraged to print them, as well.
As was the case on the S7000, the movie mode on the S20 Pro is as good as it gets. You can shoot VGA quality video (640 x 480) at 30 frames/second, until the memory card is full. Sound is recorded as well. A 320 x 240, 30 frame/second mode is also available.
You can store a grand total of 13 seconds of VGA video on the included 16MB xD card (or 26 seconds at 320 x 240). Stuff in a 1GB Microdrive and you can record over 15 and 30 minutes, respectively.
As you'd expect, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming.
Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.
Here's a sample movie for you -- be warned, it's a big download.
Click to play movie (12.2MB, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
Playback mode on the S20 Pro is pretty standard-issue. Basic features here include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to compatible photo printers.
The zoom and scroll feature lets you enlarge your image anywhere from 8-18X, depending on the resolution of the photo, and then move around in the zoomed-in area. When you enlarge an image, you have the option to trim (crop) it down.
The S20 Pro allows you to add 30 second voice clips to each image.
The S20 Pro doesn't normally show you any exposure info while in playback mode. That can quickly be resolved by pressing the Info button on the side of the camera. You'll then see the info and histogram above-right.
The camera moves though photos quickly in playback mode, with about a 3/4 sec delay between high res images.
How Does it Compare?
The Fuji FinePix S20 Pro's conclusion is much like the one I wrote for the F700. The S20 is a very capable camera whose main disadvantage is its price: this camera is priced way too high at $999. As with the F700, the camera does its best at the 3 Megapixel resolution -- at the 6M setting things are just too noisy. Dynamic range is slightly better than your typical camera, but don't expect "night and day" differences between the two in your everyday photos. At the 3M setting, images are colorful and sharp, though do expect above average purple fringing and a little noise as well.
If you like a feature-packed camera, then you'll love the S20. It features a 6X zoom lens, hot shoe and PC flash sync port, manual controls, a great burst mode, support for the RAW image format, and a VGA movie mode. Fuji gets big bonus points from me for having both USB 2.0 and FireWire support. With the included Hyper-Utility software, you can control your camera from your Mac or PC, though you still must frame the shots on the camera's LCD. The camera can focus down to just 1 cm in its super macro mode, making it a nice choice for those who love close ups. Performance is good in general, though an AF-assist lamp would've greatly helped in low light situations.
Another frustrating part of low light shooting on the S20 is that neither the LCD nor the EVF amplify what's on the screens, making them pretty useless when it's getting dark. I also would've liked a larger range of shutter speeds in shutter priority mode, as well. If you want to shoot slower than 3 seconds, you must use manual (M) mode. The manual focus feature is also a little disappointing: the camera gives you no hint as to the current focus distance. And finally, image quality choices at the lower resolutions, and not just at 6M, would've been nice.
The S20 Pro would be a camera I'd seriously recommend if it cost about 50% less. But it doesn't, and the image quality does not compare to other cameras in the S20's price range (which includes D-SLRs). As was the case with the F700, I expect the S20's price to drop rapidly, at which point it would be a much better buy.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
I'm not sure what "class" the S20 falls into, so I'll just list off a bunch of other cameras that I'd also consider. These include the Canon PowerShot Pro1, Konica Minolta DiMAGE A1, Nikon Coolpix 8700, Olympus C-8080WZ, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828. You can spend a lot less than these and still get a nice camera as well, so check out the Reviews & Info section to see what other cameras are available.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the FinePix S20 Pro before you buy!
See how the photo quality stacks up in our photo gallery!
Want another opinion?
Read another review at Steve's Digicams.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
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