Despite the word pro in its name, the Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro's overall performance is decidedly entry- to midlevel. Start-up time is 0.9 second, and we got the same figure for shot-to-shot time shooting both JPEG and raw. Shutter delay, using autofocus with a Nikon AF-S lens, is 0.4 second with a bright target and falls to 0.6 second with a darker, lower-contrast target.
In continuous-drive mode when shooting standard dynamic range images, we measured the capture rate at 2.7fps; the framing rate fell to 1.1fps in Wide DR mode. In standard DR mode, buffer depth is a respectable 12 JPEGs or 7 raw images. But if you choose wide DR, buffer depth falls to 6 JPEGs or a skimpy 3 raw pictures. This would worry us in event or wedding shoots, and we think Fujifilm made a mistake imposing this heavy performance penalty on the camera's main distinguishing feature, its wide dynamic-range capability.
The camera's autofocus system has five focus patches, or zones. You can pick the active zone with the four-way pad or select dynamic AF mode, which makes all five zones active and relies on the camera to pick the best one for each shot. The AF system is only adequately fast, but it's fairly good at acquiring targets in low light, in part because it has an AF-assist light built into the body.
The viewfinder is clear and bright, and it shows about 95 percent of the actual image area. As with other dSLRs with APS-C size sensors and consequently smallish viewfinders, the S3 Pro is harder to focus manually than a 35mm film SLR. The camera's very good 2-inch main LCD is sharp and easier to see either in outdoor light or from an angle than most others. It shows 100 percent of the actual image.
The S3 Pro incorporates Nikon's D-TTL flash exposure system for dSLR cameras, which works with any DX-series Nikon shoe-mount flash. This is a substantial benefit for shooters such as wedding photographers who do lots of flash work, but unlike Nikon's own recent dSLRs, this camera does not support the more powerful i-TTL system. Non-DX Nikon flashes can be used in standard autoflash exposure mode, but Fujifilm warns against using non-Nikon flashes. The built-in flash's guide number is 39 (in feet at ISO 100), and flash-sync speed is 1/180 of a second. There is also a standard PC terminal for connecting studio flashes.
The Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro's images are excellent. They are also the product of some very complex math and geometry, and we recommend checking out Fujifilm's explanation here if you're curious about such things. The short version of the story is that the sensor uses two photodetectors in each of its 6 million photosites, what Fujifilm refers to as a dual-pixel system. One of the detectors in each photosite--which Fujifilm calls an S-pixel--is large and has high sensitivity to light, but the other--the R-pixel--is much smaller, and its low-light sensitivity is good for recording highlights. Data from both types of photodetectors is combined during image processing to extend dynamic range, which is the range of brightness values in your scene--from the brightest highlight to the darkest shadow--that you can capture with discernible detail in your image.
In practice, what we found is that the S3 Pro gave us about one to two photographic stops, or EV steps, more dynamic range than other dSLRs we've tested, and it does this by retaining highlight detail that those other cameras can't. Blown highlights are one of digital photography's big bugaboos (film handles overexposure much better), so Fujifilm deserves credit for tackling the problem. If you turn the Wide DR mode off, the camera turns the R-pixels off and produces a tonal range similar to that of other dSLRs.
As with previous Super CCDs, the S3 Pro's sensor processes the data from its 6 million photosites (though now each of these has two photodetectors) into 12 million pixel images. Fujifilm says that, by virtue of the Super CCD's honeycomb pixel arrangement, this renders better detail than a standard, 6-megapixel checkerboard-pattern sensor produces. In our tests, the S3 Pro did indeed capture somewhat better detail, overall, than other 6-megapixel dSLRs we've tested.
As expected, our test images are clean and relatively noise free from ISO 100 through ISO 800. At ISO 1,600, noise has a significant impact on images. To keep it in check, Fujifilm applies relatively heavy detail-smearing noise reduction to JPEGs. You can bypass this by shooting raw, but then your images will be fairly noisy. All in all, we'd rate the S3 Pro's high-ISO image quality to be middle-of-the-pack among current dSLRs.
Fujifilm's dSLRs are known for their pleasing, saturated colors, and the S3 Pro is no exception. At default settings, whether shooting JPEG or raw, its images are vibrant and juicy. For portraits, we also liked the pleasing skin tones and more subtle tonality we got when using the F1 film-simulation mode. If you're looking for a medium-resolution dSLR that produces high image quality in a variety of situations with minimal postprocessing required, the S3 Pro is hard to beat.
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