You can operate the camera in aperture-priority, shutter-priority, program (with program shift), manual, or fully automatic modes, and you can choose among pattern, spot, and average metering; oddly, Fuji refers to metering as photometry. You can save two custom white-balance settings in addition to the six preset options.
The camera's feature set really excels for action shooting. In addition to a standard one-shot continuous-shooting mode that we clocked at a zippy 4.9fps, the S20 has a Final 10-frame mode, which saves only the last 10 shots of a run. If you drop down to 1-megapixel resolution, the S20 lets you pop off 40 sequential shots at 1fps. Or you can eschew stills entirely and shoot 30fps VGA movies with sound, up to the capacity of your media. The S20 also supports 30-second voice annotations for photos.
For professional users, the Fujifilm FinePix S20 can also be tethered to your computer. Fuji bundles the camera with its own image-management software and live-video function that enables the photographer not only to see what the camera sees on their monitor, but also to control the camera through the computer.
A wide variety of media work with the S20: xD Picture Card, CompactFlash, or Microdrive. And the camera is one of the few models left in its class to run on AA batteries. Furthermore, it offers both FireWire and USB connection options.
There are some oversights in the S20's capabilities. For instance, although you can manually select the AF area, the camera can meter from only the center of the frame. Also, the histogram appears only during playback. The Fujifilm FinePix S20 is a highly responsive, strong performer overall. It takes about 4 seconds to fire up, but once it's on, it's fast: shutter lag typically runs about 0.4 second, and even in low-contrast scenes, it will delay you by only 0.7 second. Shot-to-shot time is about 1.8 seconds, whether you're recording raw or JPEG images, and that bumps up to a mere 2 seconds with flash. Even with high-res photos, continuous shooting runs at almost 5fps, and those old-fashion AA batteries lasted for almost 1,000 shots during testing.
The LCD and EVF are bright and easy to read even in bright sunlight but not quite clear enough for manual focusing; users should rely on the camera's in-focus indicator for the most accurate results. The autofocus lens responds quickly and accurately even in low light.
You definitely want to use fast media with this camera, if only to speed up the process of reviewing photos; highest-resolution JPEGs took forever to cycle through. If you like to check images quickly, using a fast CompactFlash or xD card will improve your review speed. If you buy the Fujifilm FinePix S20, shoot raw. Though the Super CCD SR it uses can drop down to a light-sensitivity setting of merely ISO 200 (ISO 160 is available only in full-auto mode), photos shot at that setting have little enough noise that you won't mind. It rendered low and dramatic lighting smoothly and accurately, with little visible noise in shadowy or dark areas. Manual white balance delivered very neutral and accurate yet saturated colors, though Tungsten and auto didn't fare quite so well in our tough tungsten lighting. Digital flaws such as blooming and purple fringing were virtually nonexistent, even in the most susceptible lighting situations. The Fujinon lens rendered clear and sharp details even at the default sharpness level and kept lens distortion to a minimum at wide and telephoto extremes.
Now here's the downside: For its JPEGs, Fuji takes that relatively good raw data and crunches it through a compression algorithm that practically ruins the photos. Even at its best, the postprocessing adds a significant amount of noise and smears detail. For this, we had to dock the S20 a point on its image-quality rating.