Mat Gallagher and Tim Coleman try out four classic digital cameras that were highly desirable in their time to see if their second-hand prices still make them viable options
Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro at a glance:
- 12.34 million pixels (6.17m S pixels + 6.17m R pixels) SuperCCD SR II sensor
- ISO 100-1600
- 2in, 235,000-dot LCD
- 2.5fps shooting
- Viewfinder with around 94% coverage
- 835g (without battery/card)
- 148 x 135 x 80mm
- Nikon F mount
Back in 2004, the predecessor to the Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro, the S2 Pro, was the camera of choice in the office. We really enjoyed using it, despite its slight idiosyncrasies, but when the S3 Pro came along it was an altogether sleeker camera, bringing an advanced new sensor, a bigger LCD and a more efficient battery system.
When the S3 Pro was launched in 2005 (having been announced almost a year earlier), it had an RRP of £1,600, which priced it slightly above most other enthusiast DSLRs of the day, such as the Canon EOS 20D and Nikon D70. However, it remained significantly cheaper than professional models like the Nikon D2X. This appealed to wedding photographers and semi-pro shooters, and as it used the Nikon F mount it made a great camera for Nikon users converting to digital for the first time.
The camera featured a new SuperCCD SR II sensor, which had separate S and R photodiodes that captured an extended dynamic range, and unlike the original SR version, these R diodes sat separately in between the S diodes, allowing each to be bigger. The sticking point was the sensor’s exact resolution: it had 12 million photodiodes, but used the combination of the S and R diodes to create a single pixel of the image and, therefore, a total of just 6 million pixels. These were then interpolated in the camera to create a 12-million-pixel file (for both raw and JPEG). This, to the reviewers and retailers, meant it was a 6-million-pixel camera, which proved a disadvantage in the pixel race.
Image: With a maximum setting of ISO 800, a tripod was necessary for this evening image
The S3 Pro’s design was curvier than its predecessor, and featured a proper vertical grip built into the body, complete with vertical shutter button. The previous dual-battery configuration was ditched in favour of a simple 4x AA set-up, although this meant the power previously supplied by the additional two CR2 batteries now had to come from AA units.
The larger build of the S3 Pro is nice in the hand, and provides easier shooting in portrait format than most cameras thanks to the extra shutter button and comfortable grip. Despite the size, it is not quite as heavy as a professional body and therefore doesn’t weigh you down over a day’s shooting.
Image: Taken with a 50mm macro lens, colour rendition from the S3 appears natural
The camera’s 2in, 235,000-dot LCD screen is quite difficult to see, especially behind the protective plastic screen guard, and using the main menu required finding a shaded area first. One nice feature, though, is the additional info screen on the rear, which negates using the main menu for most features. The viewfinder is nice and bright thanks to the pentaprism, but the 0.86x magnification and around 94% coverage makes it feel quite small.
Images from the S3 Pro are generally impressive. Although they lack the resolution I would expect from a more recent camera and are more prone to fringing, the colours are natural and appear nice and sharp. Despite the dual photosites, the dynamic range is still quite limited compared to modern CMOS sensors. The shutter and mirror movements feel much more gentle than those of modern cameras.
The one downside of the S3 Pro is its use of AA batteries. The battery meter is quite erratic at times, falling from full to empty within a few shots, and then rising again after a brief pause. Whether an issue of power usage or capacity of the AA units, you can end up with fewer than 200 shots per charge, especially as the rechargeable units age. For a student wanting to learn more about photography, the Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro would be a great choice, especially considering the current price and its Nikon lens mount.
Thanks to LCE Guildford (www.lcegroup.co.uk) for providing the Fujifilm S3 Pro used in this test