What I Want in a Fujifilm S3 Pro Versus What We Got

Well, it's time to see what we got versus what we wanted

I had an S3 Pro Wish List on my site for over six months prior to the camera being announced. Now that Fujifilm has announced the S3 Pro, let's see how they did:

  • A rechargeable lithium main battery. It's okay if Fujifilm sticks with the current two-battery design, but only if they fix the primary battery power issue: NiMH AA batteries barely get it done, as the power curve on NiMH tends to let the camera eventually droop into a zone where the S2 Pro gets a bit unpredictable and unreliable (e.g., it lets you take the shot, but then posts ERR when it fails to find enough power to write it to the card). Easy fix: engineer a rechargeable lithium battery that's the size of the current tray, and a matching charger for the new battery. (It's easy because Fujifilm doesn't even have to do the engineering--there are plenty of outsource choices that could do this, leaving Fujifilm's engineering team to deal with the other issues.)
    Nope. They did simplify the battery situation, which is a big plus, but we're still stuck with AA batteries, which means no rechargeable lithium. Fortunately, this is still something that can be fixed post-ship, and I urge Fujifilm into looking into providing an optional lithium pack and charger.
  • Fix the histogram display. Can anyone really tell where the histogram ends and the borders begin? I can't. And that means that you can't maximize the dynamic range of the camera without potentially blowing out the highlights. Fujifilm needs to look at how Nikon implemented this function (or what Kodak did with the DCS Pro 14n). While they're at it, I'd like an explanation about why values are limited to 252,252,252 and whether the edge of the histogram reflects 252,252,252 or 255,255,255. And since we're updating this display, an optional Highlights function that shows any area that has values beyond 250 in any channel would be nice.
    Not really done. Highlights implemented.
  • Toughen up the chassis under the mirror box and check the focus sensor positions carefully. Nikon's autofocus sensors live at the bottom of the mirror box, looking up at the partially silvered mirror. They are incredibly sensitive to positioning, and any misplacement or movement on their part tends to produce back focus or front focus or just plain misfocus. I've seen enough S2 Pros with slight focus problems to wonder about the rigidity of the structure holding the autofocus sensors (perhaps they're even moving due to changes in materials due to temperature variations). Moreover, the only other Nikon bodies to ever show this kind of problem all have one thing in common: there's a built-in battery compartment underneath the main body (e.g., I've never heard of an N80 that experiences this issue, but the Nikon D1 models most certainly have it). I haven't had any focusing problems on my S2 Pro (nor the prototype I used for several months), but it can't hurt to over-engineer this section and tighten alignment procedures.
    Better, but not completely fixed, IMHO. The body has had a thorough going over, and obvious weak points in the body structure and design have been fixed.
  • Fix the CompactFlash card issues. We've got a whole bunch of minor problems here, and they all are software related. First, we have REVIEW/POSTVIEW issues. Every other DSLR competitor can write images to storage while displaying them on the LCD, so it's time Fujifilm catches up. There are actually a whole lot of subtle things that could be done to improve this aspect of the S2 Pro; off the top of my head I can think of a half-dozen variants Fujifilm hasn't tried, almost any of which would be better than what they used. Then we have the folder mess. If you look at how Kodak has implemented folders, it's a heap better than Fujifilm (or even Nikon) have managed. Apparently, "branding" the folder on the camera is more important than giving the user flexibility. (As an aside, in-camera software designed in the US, primarily by Kodak and HP, tends to be better organized, more logical, more flexible, clearer in intent, and better thought out than anything I've seen from the Japanese companies. I think is partly due to the way software is designed in the US, with product managers and other non-engineers playing key roles in design decisions. It's also partly because the Japanese companies just constantly engineer products rather than design them--their software is much more tactical than strategic.) Next, the Fuji S2 Pro seems to have troubles with many standard memory-based CompactFlash cards. Indeed, the manual makes no mention of any CompactFlash storage except for Microdrives. There's something inherently wrong when the mechanical Microdrive posts faster saves than do memory-based standard cards. Further, not all memory-based CompactFlash seems to work well in the S2 Pro. Fujifilm needs to work with the memory-based manufacturers and get the S3 Pro up to snuff in this respect. Also, support for 32-bit FAT formatted cards is going to be necessary going forward, so let's add that to the list along with WA (write acceleration) support.
    Unfortunately, most of this wasn't well addressed. Card writing is slow, and I've had more card writing problems than with Nikon bodies. Review is still slow and poorly implemented.
  • Let the camera be active. When the camera goes inactive, only pressing the shutter release allows the camera to come back to the active state. That means that you have to press the shutter release partway before pressing the Play, Func, or Menu buttons, which is an inconvenience at best and certainly not what the user expects. Let those three buttons reactivate the camera, too. This is an area where the N80 body is a bit of a problem, as it has no external 10-pin connector, and thus no obvious place from which to trigger reactivation (putting voltage on one of those pins activates the F100, for example). Still, I'm betting that there's an internal bus that can be linked, especially since Kodak and Nikon have both implemented the 10-pin connector on their N80-based bodies and neither have any problems getting digital buttons to activate the camera.
  • Give us some balance. White balance options with the S2 Pro are a mixed bunch. It's nice that we have two options for custom balances and multiple options for fluorescent lighting. But for virtually every other situation we have little flexibility at all, and some slightly questionable color temperatures on top of that. The daylight color temp is a little high, the flash a little low. And, unfortunately, we have no way to correct those things (note that daylight varies with locale, with Japan's Northern location producing a different daylight color temperature than, say, the Galapagos Islands on the equator). Nikon allows us to run variants on all their white balance settings, and Fujifilm needs to do the same. With the Pro 14n, Canon 10D, and Nikon D2h all allowing almost any Kelvin setting, Fujifilm is way behind here.
    Still very little flexibility and heavy reliance upon AUTO white balance working right.
  • If it's not full frame, modify the viewfinder. One look through an S2 Pro then a Nikon D100 and you'll see some immediate differences. I really don't like the big gap between the picture viewing and viewfinder information area (due to the 1.5x crop and no change in the viewfinder), so perhaps a "sports finder" (ala the Sigma SD9) would be one useful compromise and quite simple to implement.
    No real difference here.
  • Talk to Hoodman. The silly plastic color LCD cover just simply doesn't cut it; give me something better, such as Hoodman did for the D1. We need LCD protection that doesn't have to be removed to evaluate an image, especially given the vulnerable location of the color LCD on the Fujifilm bodies.
    Better, still not great.
  • Get in or out of the software business. Both the Finepix Viewer and the Raw Converter Software have very amatuerish designs that get in the way of the few things that each product does. One imagines these tools being slapped together to fit some marketing requirement rather than being designed to fit users specific purposes. We've yet to see a really good digital workflow product from a camera manufacturer (or even a third party, for that matter), though Kodak is getting closer and closer and Nikon is giving an earnest effort that shows promise. Doing software in pieces isn't the way to make users happy or provide optimum performance (and what's with Japanese engineers and Macintosh software? Didn't they get their copy of the Macintosh Interface Guidelines?). It almost makes me want to get back in the software business and design a real user-oriented product that understands that you want to edit camera settings and data on the desktop, upload them to the camera, control the camera while connected, then download and organize and render the images properly (and all of this with as little user intervention as possible). My suggestion to Fujifilm: work with some real software design gurus (hey, I'm for hire ;~) and design a real product, then engineer it for performance and integration into other existing software. Hey, if Fujifilm has to sell the full thing to users in order to fund the development, I'll be one to say that paying $149 for a really good piece of software isn't an issue if the alternative is to get a free piece that I'll be constantly fighting.
    Still sloppy and amateurish.
  • Get with the IPTC. I like what Kodak's doing with the DSC Pro 14n: essentially you enter IPTC information in the Kodak Desktop software, connect your camera, and upload information that will be written to every file in the appropriate IPTC fields. This pre-captioning ability is more than a nice touch, it's a godsend for studio workflows and not bad for those of us who shoot outdoors, either. Even if you don't use the caption fields, you can still get your Copyright and contact information onto every shot in a standardized way. Add a method of field override/editing and I'm a very happy camper.
    Not done.

Those were my original suggestions made back in Spring 2003, and it does appear that Fujifilm may be addressing some of these items (even though we can't be sure about most of them until cameras actually appear). I'm heartened by the fact that some items on this list were addressed, so perhaps they all have been [fingers crossed]. Nope [fingers uncrossed and pointing...]

After getting some feedback from others reading this article, here's some more:

  • Temper the mirror. For long telephoto and macro use, the current shutter is a bit too vibration-inducing at shutter speeds from about 1/4 to 1/30. Nikon figured out how to include an anti-shock mirror mode on the D100, so I'll add that to my Fujifilm wishlist.

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