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

The early 2000s were a golden age for 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 to work at a large camera store at the time, and almost every day, I remember unboxing some new gadget that was pushing the boundaries of design and resolution. The most fun days were when a new DSLR arrived.

Some of the strangest, and downright coolest, cameras from this era were joint Frankenstein-esque collaborations between Kodak, Fuji, Canon, and Nikon. Kodak merged digital backs to some of the best pro film cameras of the time, 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 sort of deformed grip attached (it was ugly). The camera received just criticism for being based on a low-end consumer model, as the N60 was not at all a pro body to begin with.

The back of the S2 Pro has a very cool design that includes four buttons and a small dot matrix screen. Press the function button, and the options change, allowing each button to serve double duty. The small screen also shows valuable shooting data when the menu is not in use.

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

I remember when this camera was released, because it was surrounded by a  lot of hype. At the time, Fuji sensors used a unique interpolation that, we were told, effectively doubled the pixel count of the camera. So, although the S2 Pro was a 6-megapixel camera, it was said to give the effective look of 12 megapixels. If this makes no sense to you, don’t feel bad, because none of us understood it at the time, and I still don’t get it 20 years later. But I digress.

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

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

Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro with 50mm Nikkor f/1.8 lens, in-camera black and white simulation, straight out of camera with no editing. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and look of this film simulation.

Amazing Ergonomics and Design

The first thing you notice about the S2 Pro is that it feels great. The size, shape, and contoured grip of the camera make it a true joy to hold and lug around. And, since it was based on the N80 (a mid-level camera with a plethora of plastic), it’s not too heavy or bulky. It feels really, really good in the hands, even by today’s standards. One of the best parts is the thumb indent on the back of the camera, which makes for a nice user experience and grip.

The button and dial layout are also excellent. The basic functions are exactly like the typical Nikon camera of the era, with a front and rear command dial for shutter speed and aperture control, and a four-way toggle dial on the back that allows the user to choose from the five AF points.

But the best part of the menu system has to be the four unmarked buttons below the small dot matrix screen. They are not labeled, which was confusing at first until I realized that by pressing the Function button, the menu icons on the dot matrix screen will scroll through different options, so the unmarked buttons each can change a variety of settings. It’s actually very intuitive and easy to use.

Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro with 50mm Nikkor f/1.8 in auto white balance, straight out of camera with no editing.

Autofocus

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

I also love the simplicity of the focusing system. The round cluster of five AF points (which basically all cover the middle of the frame) can be adjusted with the rear toggle dial and light red when focus is achieved. Although I mainly keep the point in the middle and do the old school trick of half-pressing and recomposing, it is easy to select an alternate focus point when needed. In the era of hundreds of AF points, drag-and-focus LCD screens, and dozens of focus options, I can appreciate how straightforward this system is.

Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro with 50mm Nikkor f/1.8, image straight out of camera with no editing.

Two Sets of Batteries

One of the quirkiest 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 shutter button, it does not. The grip houses four AA batteries and is accessed from the side, while the second battery compartment, located on the bottom of the camera, takes two CR123 lithium batteries.

At first, I thought the camera required both sets of batteries to work, but it turns out that it can work with either set, so I have used it exclusively with AA batteries instead of buying expensive and hard to find 123As. When the S2 Pro was released, most cameras used disposable lithium batteries, so this was standard for the time period. I think the idea was to have AA batteries as a backup just in case, which is actually a great idea. If you do use alkaline AA batteries, though, you will not 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 weak, it will beep and flash a battery icon in between each shot.

Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro with 50mm Nikkor f/1.8. For a 20-year-old camera, the S2 Pro handles difficult lighting situations, including backlit circumstances, quite well.

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 corrupted easily. The S2 Pro also has pop-up flash, ISO capability from 100–1,600, and a whopping two frames per second burst mode, up to 7 frames. The camera has a 1.8-inch LCD screen, which really doesn’t tell you much about the final image since it’s such a low resolution, although it does add to the charm.

Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro with 50mm Nikkor f/1.8. This image of Brandon was taken at my studio using continuous lighting and auto white balance, unedited. See below for the edited version.

Sensor and Image Quality

The S2 Pro features an APS-C sized sensor and delivers 6.17 megapixels of resolution. As I mentioned above, Fuji used an interpolation method at the time and claimed their cameras delivered what was effectively double the stated resolution, but I never really put much stock in the claim, as the results looked to me like six megapixels.

I was really surprised by the images for a few reasons. Overall, they are sharp and have a very pleasing look, although there is a sort of haziness to them (which I think adds to the nostalgic effect). I was incredibly impressed by the in-camera black and white film simulation, which I used to capture the image of Jesse and his guitar. Check out the dynamic range and detail that is retained throughout. Not bad for 20 years old.

I attempted some photos at my studio as well. In auto white balance, everything tended towards cooler colors, so I was not as thrilled with the results. The color photo of Brandon is unedited, and the colors leave much 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 in my studio again, 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, as in the image of my son reading a book.

Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro with 50mm Nikkor f/1.8. Edited in Affinity Photo using Tone Mapping. 

Conclusions

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, the functionality and build quality are what you would expect to find in a classic Nikon (I hate to say it, but an N80 probably can be considered a classic at this point). Since the camera uses AA batteries and CF cards, it is also easy to use it in 2022 without needing any expensive or hard to find accessories, and since it has a Nikon bayonet mount, it can be fitted with a virtually inexhaustible amount of inexpensive autofocus and manual focus lenses.

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24 Comments
Mark Carr's picture

For a long time I shot with the S2 & S3. They were/are great cameras. Unfortunately, neither was weather sealed. Both suffered water damage and weren't worth fixing. The image quality was always good enough, though I found the auto white balance very inaccurate. All my pics has a greenish cast to them, which I blame on the intense, tropical light. As a result, I always shot in RAW and set a custom white balance. Its unique sensor design made it especially popular with wedding photographers, as it did a wonderful job of retaining the highlights. In that respect, it still might hold its own against newer cameras.

When I moved on to a Nikon D7200, the higher resolution was immediately apparent. This was particularly true with wide angle scenics; the Nikon was able to deliver much sharper, detailed results. If you could fill the frame with the subject the difference was far less noticeable. The Fuji did macros extremely well.

Thanks for the post. It brought back some fond memories. I'm glad to see Fuji doing so well with their new line of mirrorless cameras.

Pete Coco's picture

Hey Mark, thanks for this insight. I've had the same issue - blueish/greenish with AWB. Overall I think it holds up really well in usability and quality. Thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed it!

Bruce Blackerby's picture

Nice review. I agree, it's a solidly built camera. I have several. One of the most interesting things about the S2 is that it is capable of fully using all of the earlier film camera Nikon flashes, something that the S3 and all of the Nikon digital cameras cannot do. Some of the sensors can go bad, but hey, a 20 year old camera...

Pete Coco's picture

Thanks Bruce, and great point about the flash compatibility.

Milan Svítek's picture

They didn't really use interpolation. There were 2 different sized pixels on the sensor. 6 million of each, and while there were really 12 million of them, the 12MP images weren't as well-detailed as 12MP files should have been. The original idea WAS to use the smaller pixels to boost highlight dynamic range and in 6MP mode the DR was absolutely incredible.
I miss my S3 and S5... Fuji made some absolutely incredible cameras...

Pete Coco's picture

Interesting, thanks for clarifying this, Milan.

Bill Ferreira's picture

Just a couple notes:

The memory card plugs into the motherboard which is easily cracked. At which point the camera becomes a paperweight. Recommendation: use the largest supported card and copy images from the camera to a computer.

At the time I was shooting with a pair of them, Lightroom didn't support S2 raw images so I always shot jpegs, HDR, 6mp, default color temperature. They required very little OOC processing, unlike all the newer Nikon DSLRs that I used including a D300S.

While a camera for the slow careful shooter, AF accuracy was excellent. The only camera that approached it for accuracy was the Olympus OM-D E-M1. Better than several newer DSLRs that I've owned, much better than the Fuji X-T1 and noticeably better than my current X-T3. My son's Canon R5 is the 1st camera to best it for accuracy. Note that I'm discussing accuracy and NOT speed. For BIF it was impossible.

I used Eneloop rechargeable NiMH batteries with very good results. While these batteries are heavy, this is overall a heavy camera so I didn't see it as an issue.

Pete Coco's picture

Hey Bill, thanks for this info!

Milan Svítek's picture

I used an S3 to shoot hockey games... I imagine BIF would be about as painful 😅

Pete Coco's picture

Oh man that must have been an experience! LOL

Mark Carr's picture

Those Eneloop batteries were/are just fabulous. I used the same ones myself.

Richard King's picture

what's interesting is to look at the marketing and user hype from to the time the S3 was launched

exactly the same as with today's must have cameras

Pete Coco's picture

True. Back then, maybe because I was younger, it was much more exciting when new products were released since each camera really did push the bar on quality and pixel count.

Sidney M's picture

Can anyone comment on the pal/ntsc video picture quality on this camera ? I was wondering if it is a good quality standard def and could shoot for hours with no overheating ?

Tim Foster's picture

There is no video capability.

Tim Foster's picture

Didn't mean to post that twice.

Jacob Smith's picture

I actually carried one of these Nikon kits on my first tour to Iraq in 2003. We called it Camerasaurus Rex. But for the time a Nikon F5 with a Kodak DCS620 back was pretty much the way to roll unless you had the money for a D1 at the time.

Pete Coco's picture

Hey Jacob thank you for your service! I love the nickname! That F5/Kodak was quite the beast for sure.

Jacob Smith's picture

We had forearms like Popeye after that tour.

Pete Coco's picture

You must have some crazy stories - and images.

Jacob Smith's picture

Oh I definitely do. I covered the Iraq War from 2003-2010. I actually got to see the whole digital camera industry develop. Each tour was a newer and better piece of gear to use.

Pete Coco's picture

Wow. I am interested to know where all those images wind up. Are you allowed to share them?

Timothy Gasper's picture

Very nice. Thank you. I had the S5 Pro. It was/is great for portraits. I think I'll get another one. It's a Nikon D200 with Fuji printed on it. 😁

Tim Foster's picture

My first digital camera. I think my frustration with that body is what eventually led me to medium format film. We've come a long way.