A Look Back: The Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro

The Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro was a leading digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera in 2002.
The Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro was a leading digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera in 2002.
Abby makes pictures with the Fujifilm S1 Pro, the S2's immediate predecessor. The cameras have a lot in common.
Abby makes pictures with the Fujifilm S1 Pro, the S2’s immediate predecessor. The cameras have a lot in common.

I never owned the Fujifilm S2 Pro, but my long-time friend Michael bought one just a year after it’s 2002 introduction, to replace his S1 Pro. My wife Abby and I borrowed the S1 Pro for a while during that period.

The S2 Pro is built on a Nikon N80 film camera body, a practice common during the period; it was a “Frankencamera,” stitched together from film hardware and digital guts. Many of us used cameras like this in the early 2000s; I used the Nikon/Kodak DSC 760 and the 720x.

Among many other things Michael has photographed over the years, he shot our 2004 wedding with the S2 Pro, with outstanding results.

Abby and I beam as we exchange vows at Utah's iconic Delicate Arch, photographed with the Fuji S2 Pro.
Abby and I beam as we exchange vows at Utah’s iconic Delicate Arch, photographed with the Fuji S2 Pro.

On a couple of occasions when Michael let men borrow it, I made some very successful images with it, including a couple of magazine covers.

Some thoughts…

  • Some reviewers claimed that the sensor in the S2 Pro wasn’t “really” a 12 megapixel sensor because it used six millions photo sites, arranged in Fuji’s own Super CCD diagonal configuration, and interpolated up to 12 megapixels. What this view misses is that all digital color images are made using some kind of interpolation. Fuji’s scheme in the S2 Pro seems to deliver a “real” 12 megapixel image.
  • The S2 Pro took two different kinds of storage media. There is a SmartMedia slot on top, and a CF/Microdrive slot below. I assume SmartMedia was supported because Fuji helped develop it, even though it was as good as dead even in 2002.
    The S2 Pro took two different kinds of storage media. There is a SmartMedia slot on top, and a CF/Microdrive slot below. I assume SmartMedia was supported because Fuji helped develop it, even though it was as good as dead even in 2002.

    The separate digital and film mechanisms mean separate battery systems. The digital side runs on AA batteries in a tray at the bottom, and the film side uses CR123 batteries in the grip, though for a while you could buy a bypass insert to skip the CR123s, with inconsistent results.

  • Even by 2002 standards, the autofocus system the S2 Pro inherited from the N80 was slow and inaccurate. I usually manually focused, and Michael eventually got so frustrated with it he replaced it with a Nikon D200.
  • Although it was touted as having decent high-ISO performance, I was disappointed by it, particularly that it could make noise bands at ISO 1600.
  • Like its contemporary the Nikon D100, the S2 Pro requires moving the exposure mode dial to change the ISO and the custom settings, inherited from its film ancestors, which interrupts workflow, particularly if you forget to put it back.
  • Color straight out of the camera might be the best of the era, a Fujifilm strength; accurate, saturated but not phony, good skin tones, though I found that auto and daylight settings both tended to be a little too cool, particularly for skin tones.
  • Sharpness was good as well, allowing true 12 megapixel enlargements.
  • The camera is smaller and lighter than some of its contemporaries, like the Kodak DCS 14n, but slightly bigger and bulkier than the Nikon D100. In my hands, everything about the Fuji seems small compared to the pro DSLRs I use every day.
  • The frame rate, write-to-card time, and response time to button pushes all lag, and slow me down. Sometimes that can be a bonus, since it can force you to be more conservative and more contemplative about your shooting, but I would never attempt to shoot sports, for example, with the S2 Pro.
This is a 100% crop of an image from the S2 Pro, which, as you can see, is sharp and has satisfying colors.
This is a 100% crop of an image from the S2 Pro, which, as you can see, is sharp and has satisfying colors.
Several cameras of this era made this mistake: having to take the camera out of a shooting mode to change vital settings like ISO.
Several cameras of this era made this mistake: having to take the camera out of a shooting mode to change vital settings like ISO.

Despite its slowness, I always liked shooting with the S2 Pro, and if I found one at a garage sale for $25, I’d buy it, but not for much more than that. It was a good step forward in the early years of digital photography, and Fuji obviously learned and grew from the experience (which Kodak, for example, did not), and has gone on to do great things in the field.

The back of the Fuji S2 Pro plainly shows the Nikon N80 heritage, with its cheaper plastic covering and small viewfinder eyepiece.
The back of the Fuji S2 Pro plainly shows the Nikon N80 heritage, with its cheaper plastic covering and small viewfinder eyepiece.
Michael ran the S2 Pro through its paces over the years, though it is mostly retired now. He made a lot of great pictures with it.
Michael ran the S2 Pro through its paces over the years, though it is mostly retired now. He made a lot of great pictures with it.

Special thanks to Michael for getting the S2 Pro out of storage and photographing it for me.

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2 Comments

  1. At the time, I’m sure I would have loved it; Stu had us shooting with the Sonys that took floppy discs and shot 0.5 mp images. With a max ISO of 400. Basically, daylight only and no cropping.

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  2. The AF was slow and inconsistent and it only had 5 focus points in its CAM900 module. I moved to the Nikon D200 with 11 focus points in its CAM1000 module. And, then to the Nikon D7000 with 39 in its CAM4800DX module. If I were upgrading today, I’d be looking at the Nikon D7500 and its 51 point CAM3500-II module.

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