Since the advent of digital photography, photographers, and particularly wedding and portrait photographers, have complained that digital SLRs have lacked the dynamic range of film. Fujifilm hopes the S3 Pro will fill this void and provide those photographers with a digital imager that will rival the attainable tonal range of 35mm film. At an MSRP of $2499.00, and built around Fujifilm’s own Super CCD SR II imaging chip, the S3 offers two more stops of dynamic range than Fujifilm’s previous offering, the S2, or competing cameras. Additionally, the camera’s image processor has been designed by Fujifilm to make print-ready JPEGs, a convenient feature intended to save commercial photographers time in postproduction.
Fuji has done some very smart engineering to address a very real need in digital photography. Unfortunately, the FinePix S3 blends its uniquely impressive image quality with glacially slow shooting and writing speeds, and mediocre autofocus – it’s unsure in low light, and slow all the time. This results in some very strong limitations that many users will not be able to look past. But for some, the S3 will offer a formidable alternative that is superior to any other camera currently on the market.
Like the S2, the 5.8 x 5.3 x 3.2-inch, 29.5 oz. S3 is a hybrid of pro-level imaging technology with prosumer-level photomechanical technology. Addressing a few particular concerns among S2 users, Fuji added a new shutter release for vertical shots, a larger LCD, and a simplified power supply of four NiMH AA cells, rather than the S2’s bizarre requirement of four AAs and two lithium CR-123s. But the improvement isn’t as substantial as it could be; the S3’s competition all utilizes much higher-capacity and more convenient lithium-ion packs.
For users who don’t have a cost/benefit analysis to run, the question is much more subtle. The FinePix S3 yields much, much better dynamic range than the Nikon D70 or Canon 20D, and better color. It’s not better in any other respect, and it’s inferior in many other regards, so the decision will inevitably come down to personal preference and shooting priorities.