The Film Model
Of all the manufacturers manufacturing digital SLRs, Fujifilm and Kodak are the only ones that also manufacture films. It would probably be inaccurate to say this makes them better at digital imaging than, say, electronics manufacturers. But it would probably be advantageous to insinuate as much. It's a promotional angle that begs to be leveraged. To that extent, Fuji recently announced that the forthcoming S3 will have modes that emulate the look of Fujichrome and color-negative films. This is much the same thinking as Kodak's "Product Looks" software, a free download for registered users who want their SLR/n and SLR/c pictures to look like they were shot on Rochester emulsions.
Do photographers really want their digital pictures to look like film pictures? One of the liberating features of digital photography is the ability for each picture to look any way you want it. Saturated colors? Pastel? High-contrast or low? That's in the photographer's hands, from shot to shot. Why would a photographer limit himself to the "look" of just one film?
There sometimes seems to be evidence of culture-shock in the world of photography, and an inability to grasp what's going on. Two films could give two different "looks," and that's all good, but it's still only two. Through custom white-balance settings alone, you can get a half-dozen "looks" from each of several digicams.
Still, there are still people shooting film, and now that DSLR prices are becoming reasonable, they're making the big leap into digital. And it would be understandable if they preferred something, anything, to be familiar. The "look" of a given film may last only as long as it takes to get the picture into Photoshop, whereafter photography is different evermore. But that known reference may be the most comforting place for some converts to start. In any case, Fujifilm, as well as Kodak, can point to an impressive legacy for their "look" to draw from, something no "electronics company" can.
Heading into photokina, we're expecting to see a lot of new DSLRs for a field that keeps getting better. Still, the sense of anticipation surrounding the S3 is greater than normal, and may be a reaction to the bumpy ride first accorded the S1. Fujifilm preceded the introduction of that camera with bold claims about the capabilities of the first Super CCD, and the claims proved to be well-founded. But the company's own reps now contend that their claims made observers—and reviewers—extra-critical. If Fuji had said their product was two times as good as the other guy's, the observers heard them say it was ten times as good—then complained if it turned out to be only three times as good.
We don't know how many times better the S1 was, or the S2 is, than the other guy's. But a certainty is that the Fujis make excellent pictures, at the top of their class. The assumption now seems to be that if Fujifilm says they can make a blowaway camera, they'll make a blowaway camera.
New concepts in sensor design were viewed with suspicion in the day of the S1, as in "are you trying to kid me?" But that was a long time ago, before CMOS imagers reached prime-time, for example, and before the Sigma DSLRs confirmed that new thinking sometimes provides spectacular results.
What's In a Pixel?
It's come up a number of times here that there are good pixels, and there are better ones. Back toward the beginning of things, when the first digital consumercams came out, there were even bad ones. Not all pixels are created equal. There's been a recent trend, of which we approve, to superlative pixels. These are made possible, among other methods, by eliminating or reducing optical filters ahead of the imaging sensor itself. This rebalances certain trade-offs once taken for granted, in a way that may portend new ways to think about cameras. There are, for example, those in the group that blur a little, and those in the group that blur even less. We've mentioned this before, and will go into detail when a few more facts arrive.
The FinePix S2 adheres to the standard of its epoch; it blurs a little. So, we've been told, will the S3. By how much is something nobody's saying just yet, but an optical blur filter is reportedly part of the plan. Would it compromise the picture in any substantial way? We suppose it possibly could, but if its execution in the S2 is any indication, it probably won't. The FinePix S2 is one of the sharpest in its class.
Many things besides filters contribute to or detract from sharpness, or more correctly, from the ability to reproduce small details in a scene. Color or luminance noise will do as much in their way, literally blotting-out the fine lines captured by the imager. Even in-camera sharpening can unsharpen an image, if it draws a fringe around a figure.
Whatever the S2's balancing act, its a successful one, quite pleasing to behold. Fuji has always associated vivid, rich colors with the Super CCD, and that's certainly what the S2 delivers. But for all their saturation, these colors at default settings are light in a way, a bit airy—not the garish luminescence of some of the early consumer cameras. It is really a very attractive rendition of colors, as easy to love as its counterpart in films. Do you suppose the day will come when film emulsions emulate digicam output? If such a day should come, the S2's renditions should be a leading candidate.
Some professional cameras presume their users will edit their pictures as standard procedure, before sending them on to, say, a newspaper press. And other professional cameras presume their users will not edit their pictures as standard practice. There are portrait and event photographers who pick up extra change selling inkjet prints there on the spot. This would seem to be the S2's target market, as little or no editing is strictly required by S2 pictures. Assuming correct camera exposure, high-quality, good-looking prints are ready to go just about as-is. Photographers can make money this way.
We, ourselves, don't do weddings. We shoot for publication, and our requirements include a fair latitude for adjusting the picture. For this, the S2 provides a RAW mode, though we could hardly bear to use it. We really like the way the S2 does color. We did, in fact, adjust the pictures after shooting, lightening them and increasing the saturation of certain colors, but this was to satisfy specific requirements that no manufacturer could predict. The point being that the S2, though giving a "finished" picture by default, also allows a fair range of tweaking and sweetening when circumstances warrant.