As a frugal photographer, it has been well over a decade since I last purchased a new DSLR camera. All of my camera and lens purchases since then have been of used, well-reviewed DSLR cameras that have weathered a good bit of depreciation. I am, after all, a frugal photographer…
This brings me to my latest acquisition, a vintage Fujifilm FinePix S3 Pro. This camera has something of a cult following among photographers in the know, and for good reason. Fuji cameras had an enviable reputation for beautiful color rendition and highlight detail at a time (2004) when most DSLR cameras fared poorly in both respects. Vintage Fujifilm DSLR cameras including the S2 Pro, S3 Pro and S5 Pro models are still highly competitive in this respect. Fujifilm developed a unique image-sensor design for these cameras designated Super CCD SR with dedicated photodiodes just for highlight capture, a revolutionary design that added considerable dynamic range to image capture.
Above all, it is the color rendition that gives the FinePix S3 Pro (and the FinePix S2 & S5) its cult following. It produces beautiful images straight out of the camera that require minimal post-processing. Skin tones are lifelike, making this DSLR a huge hit with wedding photographers. Landscapes are rendered with luscious color and beautiful tonality. It is clear that Fujifilm applied its depth of color experience from film manufacturing into these cameras. The FinePix S3 Pro has the soul of an artist. By technical standards it is somewhat clunky but the images that come out of these beasts are captivating.
I purchased this used FinePix S3 Pro on eBay for the rockbottom price of only $31.00 (US) although they typically sell for around $200 on the used market. My FinePix S3 came with a Sigma 28-105mm lens and a 8 GB memory card. How did I get such a great deal?
Sometimes people sell used cameras online thinking that they are not working properly when in fact it is an issue that can be quickly resolved by reading the camera manual. This FinePix S3 was listed as “Not Working, For Parts Only” in an eBay auction because it showed an “ERR” message when turned on, and would not take a photo. I did a bit of research by reading the troubleshooting section of the FinePix S3 camera manual online. I discovered that the “ERR” message usually means either a battery problem or that the lens is not set at the right aperture ring setting. Since the party selling the camera was a pawn shop, they probably did not know the camera well enough to figure that out. I took a risk and was the final bidder on the camera. When the camera was delivered, it took me two minutes to adjust the lens aperture setting, making the camera fully functional. What a deal!
If you plan to purchase a used FinePix S2, S3 or S5, keep in mind that not all photo-editing software supports the raw files from these cameras. I have found the best results from editing S3 raw files by using Capture One Pro. My second choice is DxO Optics Pro followed by Adobe Lightroom. Capture One Pro does the best job by a good margin of rendering the beautiful colors the FinePix S3 is capable of.
If you shoot jpeg images in camera using the FinePix S3, you have the option of using film emulations that mimic classic Fuji film stock. The F1 setting mimics Fuji Provia film (great for skintones) and the F2 setting mimics Fuji Velvia film (great for vivid landscapes). If you shoot raw rather than jpeg, no modern photo-editor can mimic those settings. However, if you use DXO Optics Pro to edit your raw files, it offers a color rendering setting that mimics both Fuji Provia and Velvia that can be applied to your FinePix S3 raw images, creating a very similar look.
Here’s one additional tip. The standard camera White Balance settings don’t always produce the best results and can affect the color quality of your files. I always use Custom White Balance in all lighting conditions to get the best results. It is very easy to set custom white balance by using a tool like Expodisc or a white card. Personally, I use a translucent circular white plastic oatmeal container lid that works just as well for me (I am frugal). Custom white balance will help you to exploit the full color rendition this camera is capable of.
This is now my favorite (used) camera. Granted, it is slow and a battery hog. However, if you are looking for a vintage DSLR camera that is all about the beauty of the image, the Fujifilm FinePix S3 hard to beat. A top frugal photographer recommendation.
Would you like to obtain pro-level photo-editing software such as DxO Optics Pro and Capture One for free? From time to time older versions of these programs (perfect for vintage DSLR cameras) are offered as a free licensed promotional giveaway. Check out my Cheapskate’s Guide to Cameras and Computers for more info.