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Fujifilm FinePix S602 Pro Zoom

Fujifilm’s FinePix S602 Pro Zoom is a 3.1 megapixel pro-sumer digital camera, with a 6X optical zoom, plenty of control and 356MB of memory. While the lens, controls and supplied memory are definitely in pro-sumer territory, the resolution of 3.1 megapixels is modest compared to its 5 megapixel rivals. The S602 Pro is however fitted with one of Fujifilm’s SuperCCD chips, with optional image scaling to deliver 6 megapixel output. Our tests will show whether this strategy really can compete with its genuine 5 megapixel rivals.

With its large comfortable grip and long lens barrel, the S602 Pro certainly looks like a serious piece of kit that’s worth more than its £599 price tag. It’s much larger than its similarly-priced rivals at 121 x 82 x 97mm and 590g including batteries. The shape and style of the camera will immediately appeal to photographic enthusiasts though who won’t mind carrying its extra bulk; the build quality is also excellent. Note: the camera is essentially identical to Fujifilm’s earlier S602 model with five main differences starting with a smart black finish; we’ll mention the other four improvements throughout the review.

Images are composed using either the 1.8in screen or electronic viewfinder; the main screen offers decent quality, but the viewfinder is quite coarse and slow-responding in comparison. Unlike rival models from Canon, Nikon and Olympus, the main screen is fixed; there’s also no LCD status screen.

There’s a pop-up flash, but it must be manually opened using a button on the side even when shooting in Auto mode. Once popped-up though, there are numerous options including slow-synchro with or without red-eye reduction. The second of five improvements over the earlier S602 is the addition of a standard PC Sync port for connection to external studio lighting, along with the standard flash hotshoe.

The S602 Pro is powered by four AAs, and the third welcome improvement over its predecessor is a bundled set of (1600mAh) rechargeables and a recharger; the AC adapter for the camera is optional though. Around the side are AV, USB and DC ports, while improvement number four over the plain S602 is a threaded shutter button which can take affordable standard cable releases – manufacturers who force digital owners to buy expensive proprietary cable releases, take note.

The S602 Pro’s most obvious feature is its large 6X optical zoom lens, with a 35mm equivalent range of 35-210mm. Its actual focal length is 7.8-46.8mm with a relatively bright focal ratio of f2.8~3.1. The lens extends 3.3cm during its three second power-up, and takes the lens cap with it if you’ve forgotten to remove it.

Two macro modes focus as close as 10cm and 1cm respectively, although the latter suffers from slight barrel distortion. The motor-assisted manual focussing ring automatically magnifies the centre of the image while being turned and is quite effective in-use. There are two optional lens attachments, offering 0.79X and 1.5X magnifications.

The S602 Pro employs a (1/1.7in) 3.1 megapixel SuperCCD, which delivers native 4:3 aspect ratio images with 2048 x 1536 pixels – sufficient to make a good-looking 10 x 8in colour inkjet print at 200 ppi. The S602 Pro additionally offers two lower resolutions, but importantly one higher mode which delivers 6 megapixel images with 2832 x 2128 pixels. In theory, this is sufficient to make a 200 ppi print at 14 x 11in, but it’s important to consider what’s behind the increase.

Fujifilm’s SuperCCD chips employ octagonal shaped pixels, arranged closely in a honeycombed pattern. Along with increased sensitivity, Fujifilm claims greater apparent horizontal and vertical resolution from the unique layout, and as such justifies the option of scaling images in-camera. It’s a contentious technique, so check our results to see what level of detail is really captured.

The S602 Pro offers three levels of JPEG compression and an uncompressed TIFF mode, although it’s worth bearing in mind the latter in 6 megapixel mode will deliver 18MB files. Considering the camera starts with 18MB worth of data in 6 megapixel mode, the JPEG compression is relatively fierce, delivering files measuring just 2.3MB and 1MB in Fine and Normal modes respectively. Compare this to the compression used on 5 megapixel cameras which start with 15MB worth of data.

It’s a shame there isn’t a finer JPEG setting, especially as capacity really isn’t a problem with the S602 Pro. The camera features both SmartMedia and Type-II Compact Flash slots and is supplied with 16MB for the former, and a 340MB IBM Microdrive for the latter; the inclusion of a Microdrive is the fifth and final improvement over the older S602 package. With a considerable total of 356MB of storage, you’re looking at over 150 or 330 images in Fine or Normal 6 megapixel modes respectively.

An eight-position mode dial selects between Auto, program, Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priority, along with entering the Setup menu, choosing one of five scene presets, or capturing movies. Movie mode is where Fujifilm currently leads the pack, with the S602 Pro offering not just video at 640 x 480 pixels, but also at a smooth 30fps with mono sound. Even more impressive is that movies are only limited by available memory, which means 307 seconds-worth with an empty 340MB Microdrive. Annoyingly some changes in exposure are just audible during quiet video, and the quality is still far from a camcorder, but it remains considerably superior to its rivals.

An impressive burst mode captures up to five full-resolution images in one second, and there are shutter speeds between 15 seconds and 1/1000. Sensitivity runs between 160 and 1600 ISO, although the 800 and 1600 ISO modes reduce the resolution to 1280 x 1024 pixels. There’s no live histogram, although you can optionally overlay grid lines which greatly aids composition.

As explained at the start, the S602 Pro has a SuperCCD sensor with 3 million effective pixels, but the ability to internally scale and output a 6 megapixel image. As our resolving power tests show though, the resulting level of detail lies somewhere between a 4 and 5 megapixel camera. So while the S602 Pro does resolve more than 3 megapixels worth of detail, it’s nowhere near the 6 megapixel mark.

Whether it’s compression, scaling or other image processing though, the S602 Pro’s images suffer from a higher than average level of random electronic noise – this is especially apparent on flat areas like blue skies or skin. To be fair this doesn’t spoil printed images, but it’s a concern nonetheless.

On the upside, the S602 Pro has a longer than average 6X optical zoom, 356MB of bundled memory and one of the best movie modes around, along with the inclusion of a studio light sync-port and a threaded shutter for cheap cable releases; it also looks the business too.

Ultimately though, the S602 Pro is in the uncomfortable position of combining high-end professional features with mid-range quality. Prospective buyers should bear this in mind, along with the Winter 2003 release of Fujifilm’s more highly specified S7000 which sports a genuine 6 megapixel sensor.

Verdict

In terms of looks and features, Fujifilm’s S602 Pro is hard to beat. To name just four features, it’s got a 6X optical zoom, 356MB worth of memory, superb movie capture and connection to professional lighting. The only problem is the SuperCCD sensor, which while impressively delivering 4 to 5 megapixels worth of resolution from 3 million effective pixels, falls below the quality of its genuine 5 megapixel rivals. The release of Fujifilm’s S7000 is bound to see some great deals on the S602 Pro, but they’ll only be a bargain if you know you’re getting sub-5 megapixel resolution.

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