Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.Thanks to a black plastic body nearly identical to that of Nikon's N80 film camera, the Fujifilm FinePix S2 Pro packs quite a photographic punch. By itself, the body with media and batteries weighs just less than two pounds, and thanks to about 3/4 of an inch added at the base to house four AA batteries, it's a bit more substantial. The camera fits comfortably in your hand; your fingers find a deep grip to the front and thumb-hold to the rear for added support and stability.
The camera's functions are located in two sections, top and rear, that logically separate commands. If you're already familiar with Nikon film cameras, you'll have no trouble with the S2's layout. Command-dial finger wheels; shooting-mode dials; and dedicated buttons to control aperture, shutter speed, and flash are all intelligently placed. An LCD panel on the top of the body displays conventional exposure settings and battery status.
For navigating through setup functions and displaying images and histograms, look to the rear LCD, which is protected under a removable, frosted plastic cover. Kudos to Fujifilm for including a separate set of four function buttons above the LCD that give you one-touch access to the most frequently used features, such as resolution; color, tone, and sharpening adjustments; and white balance, without changing out of the shooting mode. Though traditional shooters may need to spend a little time getting used to the extra buttons, they're incredibly convenient in the long run.
Digitally, the S2 is pure Fujifilm, right down to its 6-megapixel Super CCD, which supports interpolated images up to 12 megapixels. The company supplements the sensor with a variety of settings to optimize any shooting situation. If you like to perform all adjustments in-camera, you can fiddle with many settings, from compression, sharpening, saturation, and tone to nine preset and two custom, manual white-balance settings. If you prefer the opposite, the S2 outputs a CCD-RAW format untouched by camera firmware. In custom settings mode, you can change the default behavior of advanced functions; for instance, you can specify which dials change aperture and shutter speed and the order in which exposure-bracketed shots occur.
This camera accepts both SmartMedia and CompactFlash cards, but we think you should opt for an IBM Microdrive to hold large images. Unfortunately, the camera can't automatically jump from one drive to another if a card fills up. For studio-friendly photography, you can tether the S2 to a computer via the included FireWire cable. During testing, we really appreciated the camera's sticky self-timer mode; many cameras make you reselect the mode before each shot.
A handy menu on the rear LCD provides a short description of each of the S2's 15 custom settings as you search. In review mode, this same bright LCD also provides a deep level of magnification to check images, as well as color bars and a histogram display. The S2 provides a 30-second voice memo, so you can record necessary information about your shots on the go.
Surprisingly, the S2 will slow you down while you're reviewing your images. The camera creates a low-res thumbnail while it opens, taking close to 5 seconds for the largest JPEG files. However, strong battery life will see you through; while the S2 splits its power source to two CR-123 batteries to power the camera and four AA batteries for digital needs, both sets will give you more than 500 shots. And downloading even the largest files is a breeze, thanks to the FireWire interface.
The S2 shares a disappointing flaw with the Nikon D100: the viewfinder is simply too small. Also, the display information sits very low in the viewfinder frame and is hard to view from some angles, which can quickly result in a bad case of eyestrain when shooting for long periods of time.
The S2 doesn't miss a pixel. In program mode with all default settings, which includes a moderate amount of in-camera sharpening, the S2 produces a clear, well-balanced, eye-pleasing image. This results in properly exposed scenes, excellent skin tones, and true-to-life colors. As with some other digital SLRs, automatic white-balance errors under tungsten lights tend toward pink rather than the more common orange-yellow, but the presets and manual white-balance options cope admirably.
Typical digital artifacts such as noise or blooming of light colors into dark are hardly noticeable, even in the most difficult scenarios. Low-light images and shadowy areas show minimal noise. Thanks to the 6-megapixel resolution, this camera faithfully renders fine details such as hair and fur. As you'd expect, shooting 12-megapixel interpolated images introduces some visible color noise but not so much that it interferes with using that mode to produce larger prints.
The built-in flash gets a bit hot in program-mode shooting but still provides excellent coverage for snapshots. Try switching to aperture priority or adjusting the flash compensation for a more subtle touch.