Retro Review: Shooting With a 20-Year-Old Fujifilm/Nikon Frankenstein Monster

The early 2000s was the golden age of digital cameras. Companies like Olympus, Nikon, Sony, Canon, Ricoh, and others seemed to release an endless stream of unique, quirky, and often excellent cameras. I was lucky enough to work at a big camera store back then, and almost every day I remember unboxing a new gadget that pushed the boundaries of design and resolution. The most fun days were the arrival of a new DSLR.

Some of the weirdest and downright coolest cameras of this era were joint Frankenstein-esque collaborations between Kodak, Fuji, Canon and Nikon. Kodak merged digital backs with some of the best professional film cameras of the day, including the Nikon F5 and Canon EOS-1. In 2000 Fuji released the Finepix S1 Pro, which was based on the less than stellar Nikon N60 camera and looked like a Nikon with some kind of deformed grip attached (it was ugly). The camera received only criticism for being based on a low-end consumer model, as the N60 was not at all a professional body to begin with.

Two years later, Fuji released the Finepix S2 Pro, based on the more robust Nikon N80. Unlike the S1, the S2 had a much sleeker design, and the integrated handle and rear protrusion that housed all the digital bits was part of the overall aesthetic and didn’t look like an afterthought like with the previous model.

I remember when this camera came out because it was surrounded by a lot of hype. At the time, Fuji sensors used unique interpolation which, we were told, effectively doubled the camera’s pixel count. So while the S2 Pro is a 6-megapixel camera, it was said to give the effective 12-megapixel look. If that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t feel bad, because none of us understood it then, and I still don’t get it 20 years later. But I digress.

I stumbled upon a Finepix S2 Pro with a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens a few years ago when a friend gave me a bunch of bins full of old cameras. It immediately brought back fond memories, and since in 2002 we were only allowed to test the camera gently before putting it back in the box (all with white glove service), I was Glad to own one that worked perfectly.

I hope you enjoy my review of this DSLR relic that brought me so much joy 20 years later.

Amazing ergonomics and design

The first thing you notice about the S2 Pro is that it feels great. The camera’s size, shape and contoured handle make it a joy to hold and carry around. And, since it was based on the N80 (a mid-level camera with a plethora of plastic), it’s neither too heavy nor bulky. It feels really, really good in the hands, even by today’s standards. One of the best parts is the thumb removal on the back of the camera, which provides a nice user experience and grip.

The layout of buttons and dials is also excellent. Basic functions are exactly like the typical Nikon camera of the time, with a front and rear command dial for shutter speed and aperture control, and a four-way rocker dial to rear that allows the user to choose from five AF points.

But the best part of the menu system has to be the four unlabeled buttons below the small dot-matrix display. They are unlabeled which was confusing at first until I realized that pressing the Function button causes the menu icons on the dot-matrix to cycle through different options so the unlabeled buttons can each change a variety of parameters. It’s actually very intuitive and easy to use.

Auto focus

For a 20 year old camera, the autofocus is excellent. It’s fast and fast and usually has no trouble locking onto the subject. Even in backlit situations, where the subject is in shadow, I found focus consistent and fast with my 50mm f/1.8 Nikkor lens.

I also like the simplicity of the focusing system. The round group of five focus points (which virtually cover the entire middle of the frame) can be adjusted with the rear dial and illuminate red when in focus. Although I mostly keep the focus point in the middle and do the old school trick of half-pressing and recomposing, it’s easy to select another focus point when needed. In the age of hundreds of focus points, slide-and-focus LCD screens, and dozens of focusing options, I can appreciate how simple this system is.

Two sets of batteries

One of the coolest parts of this camera (besides being a Nikon with a Fuji nameplate) is that it has two completely separate battery compartments, and although it looks like it should have a vertical trigger, it is not. The grip houses four AA batteries and is accessible from the side, while the second battery compartment, located at the bottom of the camera, takes two CR123 lithium batteries.

At first I thought the camera needed both sets of batteries to work, but it turns out it can work with either set, so I used it exclusively with AA batteries instead of buying expensive and hard to find 123As. When the S2 Pro came out, most cameras used disposable lithium batteries, so that was the norm for the time. I think the idea was to have AA batteries as a backup just in case, which is actually a great idea. However, if you use AA alkaline batteries, you won’t be able to use the pop-up flash and they don’t last very long. The camera won’t die, but when the batteries are low it will beep and flash a battery icon between each shot.

Other odds and ends

The camera uses either a Compact Flash card or the now defunct Smart Media card. Smart Media cards held very little data and had exposed contacts, which meant they were easily corrupted. The S2 Pro also has a pop-up flash, an ISO capability of 100-1600, and a huge burst mode of two frames per second, up to 7 frames. The camera has a 1.8-inch LCD screen, which doesn’t tell you much about the final image because it’s such a low resolution, although that adds to the charm.

Image sensor and quality

The S2 Pro has an APS-C sized sensor and offers a resolution of 6.17 megapixels. As I mentioned above Fuji used an interpolation method at the time and claimed that their cameras did indeed deliver twice the stated resolution, but I never really gave much thought to this claim, as the results seemed to me to be six megapixels.

I was really surprised by the images for several reasons. Overall they are crisp and have a very nice look, although there is a bit of a blur (which I think adds to the nostalgic effect). I was incredibly impressed with the in-camera black and white film simulation, which I used to capture the image of Jesse and his guitar. Experience the dynamic range and detail that is retained throughout. Not bad for 20 years.

I also tried some photos in my studio. In auto white balance, everything tended towards cooler colors, so I wasn’t as thrilled with the results. Brandon’s color photo is unaltered and the colors leave a lot to be desired, but I was happy with the black and white edit I created in Affinity Photo using Tone Mapping. If I try the camera again in my studio I will set the white balance manually and see what results I get. My favorite way to use the camera is in natural light, and I think it really shines here, like in the picture of my son reading a book.

conclusion

The Finepix S2 Pro is a joy to use and holds up extremely well for such an old camera. Since it’s basically a Nikon with a Fujifilm nameplate, functionality and build quality are what you’d expect to find in a regular Nikon (hate to say it, but an N80 can probably be considered a classic at this point). Since the camera uses AA batteries and CF cards, it’s also easy to use in 2022 without the need for expensive or hard-to-find accessories, and since it has a Nikon bayonet mount, it can be equipped with a practically inexhaustible amount of inexpensive autofocus. and manual focus lenses.

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