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Fujifilm Finepix S3 Pro Review


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Introduction
Back in early days of my photography career (that was around 2005), there was always talk about the special nature of what Fuji was doing with the Super CCD sensor enabled cameras.

 

I’d always wanted to experiment with one, but at the time, cost was prohibitive for me and there really were no rental options like there are now.

 

I was not really looking to buy anything the other day, but dropped by a local camera store to process a return and what do I see, but a Fuji S3 Pro. It was basically an even swap for the return, so I snagged it and a Nikon 18-55 AF-S lens to go with it. Having really liked the files from the Fuji S2 Pro, thought that we would see what kind of improvements, if any, there were in the next iteration.

 

I want to see how the camera performs in overall system operation and see how well the image quality holds up over the years. The S3 Pro was released in 200x, but we can experiment with modern post processing software to see if we can get some great results from that sensor in RAW mode. We can also see how well the out of camera JPG files fair.

 

Let’s take this journey and go back a few years on gear and and find out what this old camera has to offer.

 

Tech Stuff
Body
Right off the bat, the camera body has a solid feel in the hand. Given the age, there is no creaking or give in the plastic body panels. The CF/xD card door has been improved. No longer is it just a panel that flip down with a button on the side, but there is a switch on the back of the panel itself.

 

The feel in the hand is superb, just as with the S2 – with all the right grooves and grip depth that make it feel like an extension to your hand. I have often written about smaller cameras and how they feel to hold and at times they are too small. No such issue here. The added bonus is the built in vertical grip with an extra shutter release button and lock for those times you may want to shoot in portrait orientation.

 

Dials. This is very similar to Nikon DSLRs of that era. main and sub command dials fall naturally under index and thumb. The power switch is around the shutter release and is easy to find.

 

The top plate has a PASM dial with CSM (custom settings menu) and ISO. The CSM allows you to access settings using the rear LCD display and the main and sub command dials. A very different and unique way of accessing options. I actually kind of like it the more I use it.

 

If you set the PASM dial to ISO, you can use the command dial to change the ISO from 100 through 1600. There is no Auto ISO on this camera. Speaking to the ISO dial…while it is nice to have a dial on the body, the implementation of having to switch off shooting mode you are on to get to the ISO, then spin the command dial, then spin the dial back to your shooting mode of choice is a little bit of a pain. If this camera had auto ISO, it would be less of a pain…but I’d rather have a dedicated ISO dial or use the newer DSLR method of holding down a button and spinning the command dial.

 

ISO choices are limited to 100, 160, 200, 400,800,1600 and nothing in between.

 

Again – very similar and familiar to the S2 – not a far departure. There are buttons on the rear of the camera that did move around some and I’ll say for the better versus the S2 layout.

 

Shutter Release – The shutter release has a positive feel between activating the auto focus and actuating the shutter. It also has a thread for use of a cable release or to add a soft shutter release. It has a very soft feel down to focus actuation, then a positive stop. You have to give it that little extra to trip the shutter. I’ve had no issues accidentally hitting the shutter release.

 

Rear LCD – There are actually 3 LCDs on this camera. 2 TFT displays and on LCD. The top LCD is pretty standard with shooting settings displayed, focus points, battery life.

 

The other TFT display on the rear is for functions. It has 4 buttons and options can be changed here like image and tone control, image size and quality. During playback, options like deleting, histogram can be selected. Once again, the more I use this the more I like the layout and direct accessibility of it all. It is a far departure from the modern mirrorless camera where physical buttons are less the norm and you have to dive into menus.

 

Finally, the LCD, for image review and extended menu options. It is quite small, but much improved over the S2. While not very high resolution it is good enough to be able to check focus when zoomed in.

 

Flash

This being considered a high end DSLR at the time of release, it is unusual to have a built in flash unit. I really am not one to use the built in flashes, unless they are capable of being commanders for other off camera flash units. I’ll probably never use this flash unit. It also has your standard hot shoe.

 

Viewfinder

The viewfinder is optical and compared to more modern cameras is rather small. Unlike the S2 who’s viewfinder gets very dark and hard to see sometimes – this one is better – brighter in lower light. It is capable of getting the job done though with all the information you’d need to grab that shot. It’s coverage is the same as the S2 at 95%.

 

Weather Sealing

Fuji does not really go into depth on the weather sealing of their cameras, but I have to feel that it could handle just about anything I would put it through….from a light rain shower to a snow storm. Paired with the right lenses and you should have a capable inclement weather kit.

 

Lens Line Up
Fuji went with making this camera f-mount compatible. It states that it is compatible with lenses up through AF-S auto focus. I did try some newer lenses like the Tamron 70-200/2.8 G2 lens. Unlike the S2 this DID function as expected, which is great.

 

This body does have a screw drive built into it, so those old AF and AF D type lenses should work.

 

Fuji states also that the camera needs to have a chipped lens in order to properly meter. So, older manual focus lenses are limited.

 

Performance
Overall System Performance
Do not expect this camera to be a speed shooter. AF is going to be limited by the type of lens you attach. I will say that the responsiveness of this iteration is better than the S2 Pro in all aspects.

 

Continuous shooting tops out at 2 fps and a burst of 7 shots.

 

System performance is still rather snappy considering it’s age, and powering on from off if still faster than some of the modern mirrorless cameras.

 

The camera uses 4 AA batteries to power it. Unlike the S2 Pro, it does not use the CR123 battery. Everything is powered from the AA batteries only.

Image playback is just fine and not at all sluggish like the S2 Pro. The buffer clears in quick time to CF/Smartmedia card. Zooming and panning image playback is also fast and responsive.

 

Shooting RAW with this camera and a 128MB card netted me around 50 images and around 150 JPG.


With the 2GB card I can get way more RAW at around 150 images and JPG at FINE and 3024 (6mp) resolution, I get just shy of 1000 images. If I bump the capture resolution up to 4256 (12mp), it registers around 400 images.

 

Overall, the camera is still responsive and good for those single servo acquisitions.

 

Autofocus
Single Point

The auto focus performance here is , as stated previously – limited very much by the individual lens attached. Screw drive lenses will be slower where as a lot of the AF-S lenses will be faster.

 

There are 5 AF points to choose, much like my beloved Nikon D50.

With the 18-55 and the 18-140, the focus was fast and very confident in good to average lighting.

 

Continuous

Not sure how valuable this might be. I did use it in a limited capacity when shooting images of the flower in this post. It did keep track of the flower and stayed in focus with a light breeze moving the flower. As far as tracking sports or some such, I would not expect anything spectacular.

 

Manual Focus

I will use manual focus on occasion, but usually only with adapted manual focus lenses.

 

It is good enough to get the job done.

 

Battery and Battery Life
This camera uses 4 AA batteries alone. Fuji removed the need to use a CR123. Yay!

 

It can use AA alkaline or NiMh rechargeable.

 

From my research, the batteries (rechargeable) should allow for ~600 images to be captured.

 

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Stabilization VR/VC/OIS
Back in 2002, there was no f-mount camera with in body stabilization (and there still isn’t one – gotta go Z mount if you want in body stabilization from Nikon), so lens VR was how that was accomplished. If you are using this camera and need VR, then you’ll be shopping for compatible lenses with stabilization in them. For this set of tests, I used the Nikon 18-55VR, 18-140VR and the Tamron 70-200/2.8 VC G2. Stabilization worked perfectly with all those lenses.

 

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Ergonomics
For me, the size of a camera is important. There is a point of diminishing returns on size. You can only go so small before the controls are hard to reach and the camera is difficult to hold.

 

Feel in The Hand

I already mentioned that the camera feels solid. If a camera is too small it is hard to get to the buttons that are on the camera body. This camera feels very right to me. No matter the orientation, it just gets out of your way and lets you use it for its intended purpose – capturing images.

 

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Image Quality
I find Fujifilm mirrorless special in their JPG processing. Out of the box the colors are pleasant, but the film simulation engine is what really makes me happy here.

 

How far back does this magic go?

 

There are not many options to tweak the JPG engine like the newer Fuji cameras. There are however, RAW, TIFF and JPG save options and options to tweak the color science slightly for the non-RAW files.

 

They have:

ORG,STD,HIGH, B/W for COLOR
ORG,STD,HIGH for the TONE
STD,HARD,OFF for sharpening

 

You would use ORG for wanting to further post process the files, STD for a “normal” output processing. HIGH for COLOR and TONE boost of the colors and contrast.

 

We did shoot some JPG on STD COLOR/TONE/Sharpening, but the real test is what can we get out of the RAW files. The JPG files were just fine, but you can definitely see the age of the processing.

 

RAW settings were set to HIGH and RAW, which output a RAF file.

JPG file examples. The images of Nova and Scoobi were shot using in camera monochrome settings.

 

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RAW files processed in Lightroom for Exposure/Cropping and sharpening.


Just know that this is not a pixel peepers setup if you are comparing to the DSLRs and mirrorless of today.

 

We are looking at a basically 6mp setup, with a pixel binning option to go to 12mp resolution. At normal viewing distances and not zoomed in to 100% the images are pleasing.

 

Even tried using the camera as a dedicated JPG B/W shooter. I liked the output and options, even though limited.

 

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Final Thoughts
First, let me say that I did not NEED this camera. It is fun to experiment, even with older equipment! The price was right to take a gamble too!

At the time that this camera was released, not too many other cameras could out do it much in performance. Where this camera shines is the color science. Is it something that you may want to experiment with? Only you can decide. The files are plenty workable in if you shoot RAW and as you can tell from the examples, they hold up pretty well to modern post processing software like Lightroom Classic and Topaz Sharpen AI.

I’ve kind of left behind the desire for perfection in optics a long time ago. Much like there is no one perfect camera and sometimes a camera being fun to use may trump another cameras better utility or enhanced performance.

 

Right now, I’d say that the Fuji S3 Pro falls into the fun to use category. Experimenting with older equipment gives you sense of where we came from and how it used to be. It allows you to appreciate the modern technology advances and it also puts into perspective the potential bloat of options that are there. I don’t know about you, but I do not use a lot of the advanced features of any of the modern cameras I have. For a work camera, I want it to have excellent AF capabilities, predictable metering, and a fast continuous capture level to keep up with the demands of covering sports.

 

If you want a bit of cheap nostalgia and something a little different than the “normal”, the Fuji S DSLR line may be the ticket.

 

Comparing it to the Minolta Maxxum 7D – I’d still pick the Minolta over this if I had to choose. The Maxxum feels like a more well thought out product. The files when processed from RAW are a bit more malleable and the colors are uniquely Minolta. The Vintage Minolta lenses also are a treat to use as well. I’d definitely pick it as well for just the overall experience of use.

 

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See my content here:

http://www.visualohio.com | BESTLIGHTPHOTO BLOG | 500px Profile & Pics

 

I shoot Nikon, Olympus, Minolta, Pentax and Leica.  Probably not enough!  LOL

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Nice write up there, Andrew. It’s good to know that these older cameras are still able to perform. And with AA batteries too! There should be a law that says manufacturers are only allowed to use them, in my opinion. 

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1 hour ago, crowecg said:

That might be one to hang on to as you’ll not have the worry of being unable to find batteries.  


so true and it is fun to shoot it in monochrome mode as well!  

See my content here:

http://www.visualohio.com | BESTLIGHTPHOTO BLOG | 500px Profile & Pics

 

I shoot Nikon, Olympus, Minolta, Pentax and Leica.  Probably not enough!  LOL

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