Fuji FinePix S20 Pro review

3.5 out of 5
£600

For

PC sync socket, Firewire connection, bundled Hyper Utility HS-V2 software

Against

4th Generation SuperCCD SR sensor, only has 3 megapixels, too expensive

The Fuji FinePix S20 Pro currently sits at the top of the Fuji compact digital camera lineup. It's aimed firmly at the professional photographer, with an SLR-style body, full manual control, external flash option via PC sync socket or hot-shoe, a Firewire connection and bundled Hyper Utility HS-V2 software which allows RAW file data to be fine tuned. The FinePix S20 Pro also features Fuji's new Super CCD SR sensor, which enables the user to capture highlight and shadow detail missed by conventional digital cameras, resulting in images of stunning quality. It is supposed to offer a four-fold increase in dynamic range when compared to other conventional digital cameras. So is the Fuji FinePix S20 Pro a viable option for the professional photographer that it's aimed at? Read my review to find out.

Features
The FinePix S20 Pro has a 3.1 megapixel CCD that delivers more than 6.03 million recorded pixels. There are 4 image sizes available (2832 x 2128, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960), which can be recorded as JPEGs or in the RAW format. The camera features a Super EBC Fujinon 6X optical zoom lens that is equivalent to a 35-210mm lens on a 35mm format camera. The xD-Picture Card and Microdrive memory card formats are supported via 2 different card slots (some CompactFlash cards can be used in the Microdrive slot).

This camera offers a full range of selectable exposure modes, with Programmed AE, Aperture Priority AE, Shutter Priority AE and Manual, as well as a number of scene modes (Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Scene). The FinePix S20 Pro has 3 exposure metering modes (64-zone TTL metering - multi, spot, average) and there are 3 different types of focusing available (TTL-contrast type, Auto focus, Manual focus). The aperture range is f2.8 - f11 and the shutter speed range is 30 sec. - 1/10000 sec in Manual mode. There are 2 macro modes available - Macro, which allows you to shoot approximately 10cm - 80cms away from your subject, and Super
Macro, which allows you to shoot approximately 1cm - 20cms away.
ISO speeds range from 160 to 1600. Unfortunately 160 is only available in Auto mode and 1600 is only available when the camera is set to record 1M files, and not for the larger image sizes. There are 10 different White Balance settings to choose from.
The FinePix S20 Pro has a continuous shooting mode with various options. Top 10 allows you to take 4.5 frames/sec. up to 10 frames and keep the first 10 frames of the sequence. Final 10 allows you to take 4.5 frames/sec. up to 10 frames and keep the last 10 frames of the sequence. Long-period continuous takes up to 40 shots at up to 1 frame per second, but only using the 1M file quality setting. The The FinePix S20 Pro features a self-timer which can be set to either a 2 or 10 second delay.

The built-in flash offers a range of different modes; Auto, Red-eye Reduction, Forced Flash, Suppressed Flash, Slow Synchro, Red-eye Reduction & Slow Synchro. The effective range at the wide angle lens setting is: 0.3m to 8.5m, and at the telephoto setting 0.9m to 7.9m. If the built-in flash doesn't meet your needs, there is a non-dedicated hot-shoe and a

PC sync socket for connection to studio and external flash systems.
The FinePix S20 Pro Zoom has a traditional threaded cable release socket which avoids the expense of having to use a proprietary cable release. It also sports both USB 2.0 and Firewire connections, allowing rapid transfer of images from camera to PC. Like most recent digital cameras the FinePix S20 Pro Zoom is PictBridge compatible.

To compose your images, you can use the LCD monitor or the electronic viewfinder. The FinePix S20 Pro has a 1.8 inch colour TFT LCD monitor which has 118,000 pixels. The electronic viewfinder is .44 inches in size, has 235,000 pixels and features built-in dioptre adjustment. The camera is powered by 4 x AA size alkaline batteries or 4 x Ni-MH rechargeable batteries.

The FinePix S20 Pro can record movies at 2 different settings; 640x480 pixels at 30 frames per second and 320x240 pixels at 30 frames per second. Both settings are recorded in the Motion JPEG format, a type of AVI format that can handle images and sound as a single file, and can be played back by QuickTime 3 or later. As well as recording movies with sound, the FinePix S20 Pro also doubles up as a voice recorder, allowing you to record 30-second long voice memos in the WAV format.
The camera's dimensions are 121mm (W) x 81.5mm (H) x 97mm (D), and it weighs approximately 500g without batteries and storage cards fitted.

Finally, the standard box kit contains a 16Mb xD-Picture Card, USB cable, Firewire (IEEE 1394) cable, AV cable, 4 x AA type alkaline batteries, shoulder strap, lens cap and holder, PC Sync socket cap, manuals, a CD-ROM containing various software and the HS-V2 Hyper Utility Software (worth £149.99). This is a a new software tool that enables you to fine-tune aspects of a image such as sharpness, colour balance, and the full extent of the camera's dynamic range. You will need to invest in a few more xD-Picture Cards to store your images on, as the supplied 16Mb can only store approximately 5 images at the default 6M Fine file quality setting. You will also have to budget for some rechargeable batteries and a recharger, as the supplied alkaline batteries don't last very long.

Ease of Use
The FinePix S20 Pro is virtually identical to the FinePix S7000 Zoom in terms of its design, so most of the comments that I made about the S7000 apply equally to the S20 Pro. It is definitely not in the pocketable category of digital cameras - you will need to carry it in a camera bag. What can only be described as the chunky hand-grip on the right of the camera makes it very comfortable to hold with just one hand, although you may want to use your left hand to steady things. The zoom buttons are very well positioned in a recessed area just where your right thumb naturally sits, with the exposure mode and aperture/shutter speed dials handily positioned above. The FinePix S20 Pro is one of the heavier digital cameras on the market, weighing 500g without batteries and storage cards fitted, but this I think this actually counts in its favour, as it has a reassuring balance to it without being too heavy. Although it's not the smallest or lightest camera around, the FinePix S20 Pro instantly feels intuitive to hold and use.

There are quite a lot number of external controls and buttons on the camera (around 20), but most of them are clearly labeled and common to most mid-range digital cameras. If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the manual before you start is a good idea. For more experienced users, a quick look through the manual for the few functions that are not so self-explanatory is all that's needed. There's a fairly traditional dial on the top of the camera that lets you select the different exposure modes; Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual. This dial is a typical feature of SLR cameras, and enables you to quickly change between the various modes. Fuji have wisely integrated all of the scene modes (Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Scene) into one option on the dial, called SP. Choosing this brings up an on-screen menu, from which you can select a particular scene mode. The other two options are Movie and Set, which allows you to change various functional settings of the camera, such as date/time and whether RAW mode is on or off.

As with a lot of Fuji's other digital cameras, the FinePix S20 Pro has a Menu button on the rear of the camera which, as you would expect, gives you access to the software menu system. This lets you set various parameters including focusing, sharpness and white balance. There is also a small silver button with an F on it which opens the Photo Mode menu and allows you to control the file quality setting, ISO speed and colour settings (B&W, Chrome or Standard). I'm not really sure why these 3 settings alone should fall under the heading of Photo Mode, and things like white balance and sharpening are just part of the standard menu. And I'm undecided about whether it is a good idea or not. The F button does give quick access to certain features, but you do have to memorise what another button does.

One of the issues that I had with the FinePix S20 Pro is linked to the EVF and LCD displays. The camera makes a distinct mechanical noise when you move it around, as it tries to focus on whatever you are pointing it at, until it has locked on the subject. This noise is loud enough to catch someone's attention and spoil a candid moment at close quarters, although in most situations it will probably annoy you more than the subject! It's definitely one of the noisier auto-focusing systems that I've used and is especially annoying if you leave the camera turned on all the time.

On the whole the FinePix S20 Pro is a very well-built, easy to use digital camera that successfully mimics the feel of a 35mm film or digital SLR. The menu system is well-designed and very clear, perfect for both the beginners and more experienced photographers alike that will be interested in buying it. I would have no hesitation in highly recommending this camera from an ease-of-use point of view.

Overall Image Quality
The FinePix S20 Pro's new Super CCD HR sensor has delivered a slightly disappointing set of images. The bright sunny conditions of the review period have ensured that the sample photos have great colour, with deep blues in the sky. Unfortunately the same bright conditions have caused chromatic aberrations to appear, both where you would normally expect them and where you wouldn't. The 6M 2832 x 2128 pixel images can be printed up to A3 in size, although you will need to sharpen them first in Photoshop or set the sharpness option in-camera to "Hard". Noise is well controlled at the slowest ISO setting of 200, but starts to appear at ISO 400 and is very visible at ISO 800. I'm still not convinced about the 4th Generation CCD SR sensor, which doesn't seem to offer any great advantages over other digital cameras in terms of dynamic range. So overall only an average performance from the FinePix S20 Pro.

Verdict

Just like the Fuji FinePix F700 Zoom, which also uses Fuji's new 4th Generation SuperCCD SR sensor, the FinePix S20 Pro has a number of innovations that potentially make it stand out from the crowd and which justify the much higher than average price tag for a 3 megapixel camera. Unfortunately none of those innovations are fully realized, such as the new CCD that promises increased dynamic range and the 6 megapixel file quality setting.

There are some other features which partly make up for this - the PC sync socket, Firewire connection and the excellent bundled Hyper Utility HS-V2 software are all plus points that aren't found on many more expensive cameras. But ultimately what we are left with is a well-designed, professional-level camera that effectively only has 3 megapixels and which most professionals will probably ignore in favour of a true DSLR. If you buy this camera because you want 6 megapixel images to make large prints or you want images that have noticeably greater shadow and highlight details than other digicams, I think you will be disappointed. On the other hand, if you buy it because you want an easy to use, well-built digital camera that will create good quality prints up to A4 in size, whilst offering full control over the photographic process, then you will be more than pleased.