This one caused a stir when it was announced in January. A digital SLR with 6.1 megapixel output for under £3,000 sounded amazing. How could they manage it?
It quickly turned out that the FinePix S1 Pro actually captures 3.05 megapixel, which is what you’d expect for the price. Fuji uses its own design of CCD sensor, called Super-CCD, based on octagonal cells with a minimized area occupied by circuitry between cells. Fuji’s logic is that because more image area is captured, it can output double the input resolution. Rival manufacturers, especially Kodak, rubbished this claim and after a lot of
rumblings on newsgroups Fuji is playing it down. The S1 Pro is now being presented as a 3.5 megapixel SLR with optional 6.1 megapixel output.
That aside, the S1 Pro is very impressive. The extensive manual and automatic controls, plus the ability to change lenses and use decent flash guns, will attract keen amateur or professional photographers. On the other hand it’s heavier and bulkier than the much cheaper, less capable fixed-lens 3.3 megapixel consumer cameras. There’s also a dilemma when dust inevitably gets on the fragile CCD – Fuji strongly warns against cleaning it yourself, but sending it back for cleaning is a nuisance. A fixed lens camera’s CCD is sealed against dust.
The S1 Pro is based on a Nikon F60 film camera, extensively modified by Fuji with a new digital back and base unit incorporating the CCD, a 2-inch playback monitor, an array of control buttons with an illuminated LCD status display, and two memory card slots. The body accepts the vast range of Nikon and third-party F-mount autofocus and
manual lenses. It also interfaces to Nikon-compatible flashguns (there’s a small pop-up flash built in).
Like all digital SLRs (except one from Pentax expected next year), the CCD is smaller than the 35mm film frame area, so it ‘sees’ a narrower field of view. The S1 Pro effectively multiplies the focal length of any lens by 1.5x.
One of the memory card slots accepts SmartMedia cards, the other CompactFlash Type II media. The CF II slot also takes IBM’s Microdrive mini-disks with capacities of 340MB (£200 plus VAT), 512MB (£225 plus VAT) or 1GB (£275 plus VAT). The 1GB card lets you shoot about 750 3.5 megapixel pictures in Fine (low compression JPEG) mode, or about 450 6.1 megapixel shots.
There are two battery compartments. One takes four rechargeable AAs and powers the digital parts, and the other takes two non-rechargeable lithiums for the camera components. Battery life is surprisingly good between recharges, mainly because the power-hungry LCD monitor doesn’t give previews, just playback. This isn’t a problem
as the SLR optical viewfinder lets you see exactly what you’ll be getting.
Unlike cheaper digital cameras, shutter response is instant. Writing images afterwards can take a few seconds, depending on resolution and if you’re using a solid-state memory card or the slower,
higher-capacity IBM Microdrive. There’s a ‘burst’ mode for up to five shots at 1.5 second intervals, then pause while they’re written.
There’s a wide choice of modes. You can shoot in colour with a choice of saturations plus B&W (I discovered that the S1 Pro takes beautiful infra-red shots in B&W if you fit an IR filter over the lens). You can also vary tone, sharpness and white balance.There are three resolutions: 3,040-x-2,016 (for 6.1 megapixel), 2,304-x-1,536 (for 3.5 megapixel, close to the ‘true’ resolution), and 1,440-x-960 (1.4 megapixel). You can also switch JPEG compression off for ultimate quality but big files. There are four sensitivity levels (ISO 320, 400, 800 and 1,600).
The playback monitor can show one, four or 12 shots, and you can zoom and scroll around images and optionally display an exposure histogram.
The Nikon F60 camera body is an entry-level model and not one of Nikon’s latest, but offers a wide range of manual and automatic controls and overrides, far more than any consumer digicam.
The metering, autofocus, and build quality aren’t quite up to the standards of Nikon’s own purpose-built D1 digital SLR. However, the S1 Pro costs £1,000 less than a Nikon D1 and if you don’t intend taking it into a war zone the construction is perfectly adequate.
Image quality is generally excellent, though my camera had a tendency to underexpose when on auto. The colour balance for correctly exposed images is very good. The CCD has excellent sensitivity across all lighting conditions from dim to very bright, with a very good dynamic range.
The only drawback of the hexagonal cells seems to be a slight image softness around fine detail and edges, compared to the very sharp Nikon D1 using the same lens. Shooting in 6.1 megapixel mode gives only a tiny increase in detail compared to shooting 3.5 megapixel images and interpolating to 6.1 megapixel in Photoshop. It’s probably best to stick to 3.5 megapixel and save the disk space.
The FinePix S1 Pro’s most obvious competitors are the Nikon D1 – a professional-level 2.7 mega pixel SLR for £3,500, the forthcoming Canon EOS D30, which uses a new 3.3 megapixel CMOS sensor and will apparently cost about £2,000, and the Olympus E-10, a non-interchangeable lens SLR with 4.1 megapixel for £1,499. The Fuji’s 6.1 megapixel isn’t as useful as you’d think: interpolating the rivals’ results in Photoshop works just as well. However, the S1 Pro does give excellent images, it’s a great all-rounder and the price is just about bearable.