Fujifilm’s FinePix S3 Pro
It Isn’t Just About Pixels Anymore Page 2

Software: The FinePix S3 Pro ships with the Hyper-Utility2 software. I used it when testing the FinePix S20 Pro camera and it's really great. You can compare images side by side, check out histograms on the entire image or parts of it, and check all the data associated with that file, including the dynamic range and Film Simulation mode. All raw functions are also controlled from here, a good thing since as I write this in early January Photoshop will not open the raw files. The software does allow you to convert raw files to JPEGs as well as TIFFs, a nice touch and time saver.

Photos of Emma Siebach show the difference in smooth tonality. The left image is taken with the FinePix S3 Pro using Wide 1, recommended for the studio, the right image taken with the FinePix S2 Pro, with no added sharpening or color boost.

The Super CCD SR II Sensor: All right, I know this is what you've been waiting to hear about. After all, this is the main reason for the new camera. And while other manufacturers have taken a "more megapixels is better" approach, Fuji departed from the mainstream and developed a chip that has greater dynamic range and a more film-like look to it. Sounds great you say, but does it actually give me a better picture? The short answer is yes. Can you make bigger prints? Yes. Will quality be improved? Yes. So let me explain how it works.

Does the extended dynamic range work? It's pretty evident that it does. The left image shows the FinePix S3 Pro image, the right is from a FinePix S2 Pro. Correct exposure is f/13, these were taken at f/8. The red areas indicate no highlight detail. You can readily see that the FinePix S3 Pro (set at Wide 2, the maximum dynamic range) holds the detail while the FinePix S2 Pro does not. I'd expect this to hold true against other cameras also. Model: Chelsea Hofacket.

Back about 1975 BD (Before Digital), I had a basic understanding of how film was made. It was basically layers of different sized light sensitive chunks (there are other layers for other purposes which we'll ignore). These silver-halide pieces had big chunks for low-light gathering and little chunks for brighter light. Put them all together and you've got a pretty good way of capturing an amazing range of tonal values, to the tune of about 10 stops. So Fuji figured, let's try the same concept using a digital chip. So instead of just trying to pack as many pixels as possible into the sensor, they opted to put different sized pixels on the same chip. There are 6.17 million of the bigger "S" pixels that respond to small amounts of light, like in shadows, and another 6.17 million smaller "R" pixels that are less sensitive and record the brighter light.

Another example of the dynamic range in action. At 1.5 stops over correct exposure, the FinePix S3 Pro holds most of the highlight detail while the comparison FinePix S2 Pro shows totally blown-out highlights.

How does the camera know how to mix all these "S" and "R" pixels together? Well, it goes something like this. You can let the camera try to figure it out all by itself or you can fiddle with it yourself. Leave the dynamic range on Auto and the camera figures it. Or use Standard, Wide 1, or Wide 2 to adjust dynamic range to taste. Look at some of the sample images to see how it goes. I think most will be content to just leave it on Auto instead of trying to outthink the camera.

Film Simulation Mode:
This is another first on digital cameras. While at first I thought this was "gimmicky," after shooting for a while I can see its value. That value is time saved in post-processing. I may make 600 portrait shots a day during my busy season, so anything that can make my images look better and also save me time is worthwhile to me. The F1 mode has less contrast and is made for skin tones. This emulates color negative film and is a good choice for portrait work. The F2 mode boosts both the color saturation and contrast and is suggested for landscape photography. It approximates some of the highly saturated transparency films. The "Standard" setting shoots for somewhere in the middle.

Other Notes: The camera has a Live Video, another first for a digital SLR. I find it of little value; it's black and white and only lasts for 30 seconds. I guess I'm just used to a viewfinder and I can use the new LCD panel, which is now higher resolution, to check focus and exposure. One thing I do like is the fact that the histogram now has "blinkies" like some other cameras to warn of "blooming," or overexposed highlights. While that's nice, to get to it you must navigate through the general histogram and then the ones for each color before getting to the blinkies. But it's gone the minute you press the shutter. I'd like to see them left on so you can see them in
the preview.

While I only did a few quick test shots to verify Fuji's claim of more accurate flash metering, that appears to be the case. The same goes for the in camera metering system. I found it to be quite accurate and capable when used in the hands of an experienced shooter, as people spending this kind of money should be. I aimed it at a gray barn and got a gray barn plus a histogram with a middle spike. I shot a snow scene and it was under so I added 1.5 on the compensation dial, put the range on Wide 2 and it looked great. I also did limited shooting at ISO 400, and it appears that noise is greatly reduced. This camera also boasts a new image processor that claims to improve both image quality and shooting speed, a claim that appears valid.

My main focus during the 1000+ shots I took over three weeks was to verify that the newly designed chip could give me a higher quality file with extended dynamic range, as claimed. I can emphatically state that compared to the FinePix S2 Pro, it does just that.

As noted earlier, the FinePix S3 Pro is better in every way compared to its predecessor. It has a better body, better metering system, better chip, starts up much faster, shoots much faster, etc. Shooting with my 90mm macro lens, used in many of the portraits, the quality was astounding. When viewed at 100 percent (a 30x40 at 72dpi) detail was still sharp. I wouldn't hesitate to make a 20x30 from these files at my pro lab.

The Hyper-Utility2 software is really nice, the camera has an auto rotation feature, and the film emulation modes work nicely and save lots of post-shooting time. About the only things I didn't like were the rather "spongy" shutter release that would sometimes even balk on me (my FinePix S2 Pro does the same thing) and the fact that you can't open the raw files in Photoshop, which I expect will be corrected soon. The auto white balance also acted a little strange at times, giving varying color in a series of identical shots taken under the same lighting conditions.

This is a terrific camera and one I can highly recommend to the professional portrait and wedding photographer. When I first heard the specs, I think my reaction, and the reaction of many of my fellow pros, was, "Why bother with a new camera if the chip is the same size?" That question has been answered. Like I said before, I'm no engineer, I deal in the world of results. And the results from this camera can give me a much higher quality image and allow me a little more leeway when shooting JPEGs, which I typically do. It is not a "half-step," but a major advancement. Priced at about $2500 the Fuji FinePix S3 Pro can give you beautiful, smooth high-quality files easily.

For a complete list of specifications, please visit Fuji's website at: www.fujifilm.com.

By the way, don't forget to sign up for my free e-mail newsletter at: steve@stevebedell.com.

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