- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

It’s almost a caricature, to be an American wandering through Europe with a camera slung around one’s neck. But in the old city of Riga, Latvia, with its unique cafes, architecture and scenes, not having a camera to capture these sights would be almost criminal.

On a recent trip to Finland, Latvia and Lithuania, my photographic companion was the FinePix S602 zoom digital camera from Fuji Photo Film USA Inc., a $700 wonder that isn’t an SLR, or single lens reflex, digital. That means you can’t change the lenses as you can with a camera such as Nikon’s D100 digital, but it is less than half the Nikon’s price and delivers incredible pictures.

The S602 is everything it advertises to be: a digital zoom camera, capable of delivering pictures with a resolution of up to 6 megapixels, far above what’s usually needed for print publication, let alone nice prints for the photo album. You can also snap photos at lower resolutions, in color or in black and white, and a range of speeds, something advanced photographers will appreciate.

Frankly, there are far more features on this camera than I was able to use during the 10-day trip. You can add a 30-second voice annotation to photos; you can shoot short videos. I wanted to take pictures, and I took lots of them, as many as 250 in a single day.

Were I using a conventional camera, taking 250 photos might require about seven to 11 rolls of film and a lot of switching. With the S602, however, all it required was having enough AA batteries to power the camera (at high resolutions, power is consumed) and an IBM Microdrive, in my case, one that holds 340 MB of data.

The Microdrive fit in a slot that also could be used by some Compact Flash media cards; IBM is now offering the tiny hard disks in capacities up to 1 GB, which, Fuji says, can hold 938 photos in “normal” mode. Another slot holds a superthin SmartMedia card, available in sizes up to 128 MB, which, the maker says, translates to 113 normal-resolution photos.

Transferring the pictures to a computer requires either a USB connection — the faster FireWire connection is not available, alas — or, generally, an adapter for the Microdrive or SmartMedia card. The Toshiba Portege 3500 that I carried, oddly enough, had an adapter for the Microdrive, making it very easy to transfer photos without taxing the camera’s batteries. On the Mac side, the camera works just fine with Apple’s iPhoto software.

What I liked about the camera was its heft, about 18 ounces without batteries. It felt like an SLR camera, like the ones I began with in photography years ago; this made me feel as if I were taking photographs, not snapshots. Because of this, I felt free to be a bit more creative and spontaneous in my picture taking.

Not being as experienced as I might have been, some “sudden” photos took more of an artistic cast, when the camera’s autofocus wasn’t as quick as I’d have liked. The photos that were more carefully composed and focused came out quite nicely.

Battery life for the camera can be a bit of a challenge. Shoot pictures at fine or high resolutions and you can tax the camera’s resources quickly. The same can apply to storage media: At highest resolution, the 340 MB Microdrive can hold only 19 images.

The zoom lens on the S602 is the equal of an SLR telephoto that ranges from 35 millimeters to 210 millimeters, and it allowed me to capture some wonderful images. You can get an optional conversion lens that would increase the range of the zoom, if desired.

Would I buy this camera? Most likely, if I were getting serious about photography again, or if I wanted something substantial on hand for everyday events. Information can be found at www.fujifilm.com; the camera is in many stores and online, often at a bit of a discount on the list price.

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