The Fuji S602Z offers nine different combinations of resolution and jpeg compression quality. The best quality option will cost you 18MB per picture, much more than most of us can afford for a single image. The next step down in quality, the 6mp-fine option, occupies a more reasonable 2.5MB per photo; however, you still get a mere one hundred images on a 256MB card. Although the price of memory is very reasonable right now, there can be times when it's necessary to conserve memory. At times like that, we have to consider using the more space-efficient quality options. Two quality options of particular interest are the 6mp-normal combination which typically occupies 1.2MB and the 3mp-fine option which occupies slightly more at 1.3MB.
The near identical file sizes of the 6mp-normal and 3mp-fine options raises the question as to when you would prefer one option over the other. In their S602Z manual, Fuji recommends using 6mp-fine or 6mp-normal for letter size (A4) printouts. When using 3mp-fine, the largest printout they recommend is 6" x 8".
I've been curious what (if any) differences I could detect between the 6mp-normal quality option and the 3mp-fine quality option in my own use. As it turns out, I can distinguish between the two quite easily, at least when doing side-by-side comparisons of identical images shot at the two options, especially when viewing the images on a monitor. For me, though, the real question was which option would give the best prints.
I decided to run a quick little experiment to see if either option was clearly superior to the other. Using the top of a carved box that my daughter brought back from China as a subject, I shot several macro photos using both the 6mp-normal and the 3mp-fine quality options. I then printed pictures and compared the results.
The macro shots were of a small section on the left side (at 9:00) on the box top.
The pictures below are meant to illustrate some of the differences between 6MB Normal and 3MB Fine quality options. Other than cropping, the first two images are untouched from the camera. The last two images are the sharpened versions that I printed.
Examine the images, print them if you like, and and decide for yourself which you think is better for general use.
I normally prefer not have the camera do any sharpening, but these images were shot with the Fuji's Sharpness setting at Normal at ISO 200.
If you zoom in on the two images above, and keep zooming, you'll see pixelation in the the 3mp-fine image long before the 6mp-normal image.
The next two images were sharpened for printing in Picture Window Plus.
If I were choosing between 3mp-fine and 6mp-normal based on the appearance of the images on the monitor, I would choose the 3mp-fine option. However, after I printed the images, I found that I preferred the 6mp-normal image. My wife daughter, and son, on the other hand, opined that the 3mp-fine image print looked sharper than the 6mp-normal print.
As a result of this admittedly un-scientific test, I'll be using the 6mp-normal option when conservation of card space is critical.