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Kodak DC3800


Review First Posted: 10/1/2000




MSRP $499 US

 

*
2 megapixel sensor delivers 1,792 x 1184 pixel images
*
Fixed focal length lens equivalent to a 33mm lens on a 35mm camera
*
"No Controls" design for ultimate point & shoot simplicity
*
Surprisingly capable white-balance system for good indoor shots


Manufacturer Overview
Kodak has long been a leader in the digicam field, with a product line that spans the spectrum from entry-level consumer models all the way to the highest-end (literally) 6 megapixel professional cameras. Most of their recent activity in the consumer marketplace has been in the middle to upper end of the market, so it appears it's now time for them to re-address the lower end of the product spectrum, at least in terms of functional capabilities and ease of use.

The new DC3800 is an interesting camera, aimed at the pure point & shoot user, who doesn't care to be troubled with exposure compensation, white balance, or other details of the imaging process. On the other hand though, many of these people would like the option to print their images as large as 8x10 inches, just as they do with their film-based point & shoot cameras. To address this market, the DC3800 presents a full 2 megapixels of resolution in a camera with virtually no user-controlled functions. While the resulting camera lacks the sophistication to handle certain difficult shooting conditions, we were surprised by how well this "no buttons" camera did in "typical" situations. Read on for the details...


Highlights


Executive Overview
Measuring just 3.7 x 1.3 x 2.4 inches (94 x 33 x 61mm) and weighing a trifling 5.8 ounces (165 g), the Kodak DC3800 is a compact, lightweight, and simple-to-operate digital camera. Its sleek contours make it very pocket friendly, and the padded carrying pouch and wrist strap provide added portability. It's clear that Kodak was aiming for an easy-to-use digicam, as the DC3800 offers a limited range of controls and works only in automatic exposure mode. The DC3800's simple user interface doesn't require much effort to learn, and its overall design makes it relatively easy to operate one-handed. The battery compartment and memory card slot are in close proximity, each covered by an easy-to-open clam shell cover.

For image composition, the DC3800 provides a rangefinder-style optical viewfinder and a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor. The LCD is automatically activated in playback and set-up modes; it can be turned on or off in capture mode by depressing a small, round button to the right of the screen. When activated, the monitor provides basic function information, including quality setting, number of images remaining, battery status, flash mode, and whether or not digital telephoto is enabled.

The fixed 6.9mm f/2.8 lens (equivalent to 33mm focal length on a 35mm camera) has a normal focus range of 1.64 feet (0.5 meters) to infinity. The Macro mode, one of four options on the camera's mode dial, provides a focus range of 0.66 to 1.64 feet (0.2 to 0.5 meter). The 2X digital telephoto option can be accessed in either Normal or Macro capture modes, but reduces image quality by increasing noise levels and cutting resolution in half. The digital telephoto setting automatically changes the image quality to Good, which is the lowest resolution available (896 x 600 pixels).

Exposure is completely automatic, except for a choice of flash settings. The DC3800's built-in flash unit features four operating modes: Auto, Red-Eye, Fill, and Off. These must be selected in one of the two capture modes, with the LCD monitor on, by depressing the round flash button directly above the LCD. The DC3800's film speed equivalency is ISO 100, which means that the camera is best suited for use in bright lighting conditions. Using the Redeye or Fill flash modes will help open up shadows and increase illumination levels when the ambient light in the scene is uneven.

The user can choose one of three image quality settings in the Setup menu: Best or Better settings provide 1,792 x 1,184-pixel resolution, and the Good image setting equals 896 x 600 pixels. Three vertical bars in the upper left corner of the LCD identify the quality setting when the camera is in capture mode (1 = Good, 2 = Better, 3 = Best).

Other options available through the Setup menu are: Burst mode, which allows you to take up to four consecutive images at approximately two frames per second; Quickview mode, which gives you a brief view of each image when it is exposed; Date/Time Stamp, which embeds date and time information in each image files; Beep signal, which, when activated, gives an audible signal with most functions; and Language, which allows you to view camera information in one of six languages.

Images are saved on a CompactFlash memory card. The provided 8MB card holds approximately 15 images in Best mode, 30 images in Better mode, and 54 images in Good mode. The DC3800 also comes with a USB CompactFlash card reader, which allows you to download images directly from the flash card, rather than having to tether the camera to the computer for image transfer.

Kodak USB Picture Card Software is supplied on CD for installing the card reader on either Macintosh or Windows computers. A copy of ArcSoft PhotoImpression 2000 provides minor image editing and enhancement tools, as well as access to specialty templates (for making greeting cards, calendars, etc.) and special effects filters.

An NTSC video cable accompanies US and Japanese models of the DC3800, allowing you to review captured images on a television set or record them to video tape via a VCR. (We assume that European models are equipped for PAL timing.) Two AA alkaline or Ni-MH rechargeable batteries power the DC3800, and an AC adapter and battery charger are available as accessories. We highly recommend purchasing the adapter, since the camera's LCD monitor quickly drains two AA batteries.

The DC3800 is clearly meant for consumers who don't want to be bothered with a lot of camera settings and exposure controls. Its basic functions are best suited for outdoors or well-illuminated interior settings. The compact body can be easily stashed in a pocket or purse, providing quick access to great family snapshots.


Design
It's easy to see that style and simplicity are at the heart of the Kodak DC3800 design. This sleek little camera is the perfect point-and-shoot digicam for folks who don't want to be bothered with details. Its compact body measures only 3.7 x 1.3 x 2.4 inches (94 x 33 x 61mm), and weighs a mere 5.8 ounces (165 grams) without batteries. It fits easily into a purse, pocket, or fannypack, and for added convenience, ships with a wrist strap and padded drawstring carrying pouch.



All of the DC3800 features are subtly integrated into the smooth contours of the body. The curvy front panel holds the lens, flash, viewfinder window, a small photo sensor, and the CompactFlash slot. The fixed focal length lens is protected by a mechanical cover, which snaps open when the camera is activated in record mode (thus eliminating the need for a pesky lens cap).



The CompactFlash slot is hidden beneath a hinged, plastic door that runs the vertical length of the right hand grip. A small slit in the front of the door gives you enough room to slide in a fingernail and pop it open. The camera's battery compartment takes up the back portion of the hand grip. The cover snaps open and closed in similar clamshell style, with a pull-tab on the inside to pop out the batteries.



On the left side of the camera is a small hinged rubber flap that protects the camera's Video Out and DC In jacks. Both the shutter release button and sliding power switch are located on the camera's top panel, at opposite ends from each other.



Most of the camera's manual controls are located on the back panel, within thumb's reach, surrounding the LCD. A large mode selection dial is centered on top, with three smaller control buttons below it. Of the three, the top and bottom arrow buttons are used primarily to scroll through menu options or stored images, and the middle button turns on and off the LCD monitor when the camera is in capture mode. The back panel also houses the optical viewfinder, timer delay, and flash mode controls.



The top of the DC3800 gives a clue to its simplicity, as the only controls visible here are the power switch and shutter button.



Finally, the DC3800 features a flat bottom panel with a small plastic tripod screw mount. Because the battery and CompactFlash compartments open from the front and back of the camera, they are fully accessible when the camera is tripod mounted.


Viewfinders
The DC3800's rangefinder-style optical viewfinder features central autofocus target marks for composing your images. A small LED light to the left of the viewfinder's eyepiece blinks as the camera's automatic functions go into operation. When the light glows a steady green, the camera is ready to capture an image. If it blinks green, either the automatic focus or exposure isn't locked, or the flash is not fully charged. If the LED glows red, the camera has a malfunction. If it blinks red, the batteries are low, or there is a problem with the memory card.

A 1.5 inch (38.1mm), color LCD monitor on the camera's back panel can also be used for image composition. The monitor is activated by a small, round button to the right of the display. Once activated, a set of basic function icons appears around the edges of the image. These icons can be turned on or off by depressing the bottom arrow key to the right of the monitor. The status of each function is represented by the following symbols in the LCD (clockwise, from top left corner): Image quality setting, indicated by a series of bars in the top left corner (1 = Good, 2 = Better, 3 = Best); macro mode, represented by a flower when activated; one of four flash modes; digital zoom, represented by a 2X when activated; battery status; and the number of available images.


Optics
A fixed 6.9mm f/2.8 lens (equivalent to a 33mm lens on a 35mm camera) is built into the DC3800, with focal distances ranging from 1.64 feet (0.5 meter) to infinity in normal mode, and 0.66 to 1.64 feet (0.2 to 0.5 meter) in macro mode. The lens is protected by a mechanical shutter that opens when the camera is powered up in capture mode. A 2X digital telephoto function digitally enlarges the image, but automatically changes the image resolution to its lowest setting (896 x 600 pixels). Keep in mind that digital telephoto merely enlarges the center of the CCD image, so resolution usually decreases while noise levels increase.


Exposure
Exposure control on the DC3800 is very straightforward. Because the camera operates in only automatic mode, there's no shutter speed to adjust. There's not even an exposure compensation function or white balance option to help accommodate difficult lighting situations. The DC3800's light sensitivity, or film speed equivalency, is rated at ISO 100, which means the camera is best suited for bright lighting situations.

A 10-second self-timer can be activated by depressing the top left-hand button above the camera's LCD monitor. Once activated, a small clock icon appears in the screen next to the flash indicator. A small LED light on the front of the camera blinks as it counts down. The countdown can be easily canceled by depressing the self-timer button a second time.


Flash
The DC3800 features a built-in flash with four operating modes: Automatic, Redeye, Fill, and Off. The Automatic mode lets the camera determine when to fire the flash, based on the current light levels. Redeye mode fires a quick pre-flash before the real flash to eliminate red-eye effect. Fill mode fires the flash with every exposure, and the Off setting completely disables the flash. Each flash mode is accessed by depressing the Flash button above the LCD monitor (marked by a lightning bolt) until the desired icon appears on the display. Kodak estimates the DC3800's flash to be effective from 1.6 to 8.2 feet (0.5 to 2.5 meters).


Burst Mode
For taking quick, successive shots, the DC3800 offers a Burst photography mode, accessible through the setup menu. In this mode, the camera can capture up to four images, at approximately two frames per second, with one press of the shutter button. The actual shot-to-shot recycle time will vary depending on the amount of image information being recorded. The camera's flash is temporarily disabled in this mode, and the image quality is automatically set to the lowest resolution (Good).


Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you depress the shutter release button on a digital camera, there's usually a lag time before the lens actually fires. This time allows the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to work and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported in the camera's standard user's manual, and because it can significantly impact the picture-taking experience, Imaging Resource now routinely measures shutter lag using a special electronic test setup.


DC3800 Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
2.8
Time to first shot captured. Quite fast
Shutdown
0.7
Time until lens shutter closes. Also very fast.
Play to Record, first shot
1.02
Time to first shot captured. Quite fast.
Record to play (max/min res)
4.15/2.15
Time until image fully displayed on LCD. About average
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.65
Quite fast.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.32
A bit slower than average.
Cycle time, maximum resolution.
9.46
Rather slow by current standards
Cycle time, continuous mode
0.5
DC3800 can capture four shots at 0.5 second intervals, 2.0 frames per second. (Pretty quick!)



The DC3800 starts up and shuts down quickly, and has a pretty short shutter lag when autofocusing compared to other cameras we've tested. It's rather slow from shot to shot though, taking 9.46 seconds between frames at full resolution. On the other hand, its continuous-shooting mode captures 4 frames at a rate of 2 frames per second, a very fast performance for a basic camera.


Operation and User Interface
The Kodak DC3800 Digital Camera features a very straightforward and uncomplicated user interface. The LCD menus are very basic, with only the Flash, Digital Zoom, and LCD on/off options available in the two capture modes.

In Playback mode, you can scroll through your images using the Arrow buttons to the right of the monitor. Pressing the round OK button between the two arrows brings up the following menu items: Print Order, Delete, and Exit. Scroll to Print Order and press OK to bring up the printing options—Single Image or Index Print. These allow you to print images directly from the camera to the Kodak Personal Picture Maker, or other direct print enabled printers.

The largest LCD menu selection is in the camera's Setup mode, and even that offers only a handful of selections to scroll through: Quality, Burst, Quickview, Date/Time Stamp, Beep, Date/Time set, Language, About, and Format (see Setup descriptions below).

The control layout on the camera's back panel is logical and simple to figure out, and the small size lends itself to one-handed operation. Combine this with the DC3800's compact size and clean design, and you have a very handy digicam that's perfect for shooting on the go.


Control Enumeration


Shutter Button: Located on the far right of the camera's top panel, this silver, oblong button sets focus and exposure while halfway depressed in either capture mode. When fully pressed, the button triggers the shutter. In Self-Timer mode, fully depressing the shutter button triggers the 10-second countdown, and automatically fires the shutter when the 10 seconds are up.


Power Switch: Sitting diagonally from the shutter button, this sliding switch turns the camera on and off.


Mode Dial: Positioned in the top center of the back panel, this dial sets the camera's operating mode. Three raised grooves provide a finger grip, and the dial audibly clicks into place at each setting. The following modes are available on the dial:



Self-Timer Button: Situated over the top left corner of the LCD display, this button places the camera in Self-Timer mode, which activates a 10 second countdown after the shutter button has been fully depressed. The mode can be canceled by depressing the Self-Timer button a second time.


Flash Button: Directly to the right of the Self-Timer button, this button controls the flash mode. With each press, the button cycles through the following modes:



Up Arrow Button: Just adjacent to the top right side of the LCD monitor, this oblong button serves as the up arrow indicator, even though it is not marked as such. When in capture mode, this button activates and deactivates the 2X digital telephoto. When in the Setup menu, it acts as the up arrow to scroll through menu selections. In Playback mode, it scrolls through captured images or Print Order options


OK Button: This round button is located just beneath the up arrow button, and activates the LCD display when the camera is in capture mode. It also serves as the "OK" button for confirming menu selections in the Setup menu. In Playback mode, this button pulls up the Playback menu and confirms menu selections.


Down Arrow Button: This bottom button, located adjacent to LCD monitor and below the OK button, serves as the down arrow indicator. When the LCD monitor is activated, and the camera is set in either capture mode, this button turns the information display on and off inside the monitor. In Setup mode, it scrolls down through the menu selections. In Playback mode, it scrolls through captured images, as well as menu options when the Playback menu is displayed.


Camera Modes and Menus

Setup Mode: The first setting from the left on the mode selection dial, the Setup mode allows you to change the following settings displayed on the LCD monitor:


Playback Mode: The next stop on the mode dial is the Playback mode. It allows you to scroll through captured images, as well as delete them or set them up for printing on DPOF compatible devices. The image file number is automatically displayed at the bottom of the screen for each captured image. Pressing the OK button pulls up the following Playback menu.


Capture Mode: This third mode on the dial (indicated by a black camera symbol) sets the camera to record normal images. Exposure is completely controlled by the camera, with the user in charge of flash mode and digital telephoto. No LCD menu is available in this mode, as all user-controlled functions are activated by control buttons.

Macro Mode: This mode is marked on the mode dial with the traditional macro flower symbol. Upon entering Macro mode, the camera's focal range is altered to capture close-up objects, with the range extending from 0.66 to 1.64 feet (0.2 to 0.5 m). Exposure is still automatically determined by the camera, with the user in control of digital telephoto and flash mode. Again, there is no LCD menu in this mode.


Image Storage and Interface
The DC3800 stores images on the 8MB CompactFlash memory card supplied with the camera. You can increase storage space by upgrading to a larger capacity card, as much as 64MB. The image quality setting will determine how many images can be stored on one card (see below).

Images can be saved at Best (11:1 compression), Better (22:1 compression), or Good JPEG compression levels. Best and Better quality images are 1,792 x 1,184 pixel resolution (Best is 11:1 compression and Better is 22:1 compression), and Good quality images are saved at 896 x 600 pixel resolution size (12:1 compression).

While in the Playback menu, you can delete images individually or all at once. The DC3800 doesn't offer any image protection functions, so be careful when deleting images. Images can also be set up for printing in the Playback mode, as individual images or index prints, using a Digital Print Order Feature (DPOF) compatible device.

Instead of connecting the camera directly to a computer for image download, the DC3800 comes with a USB interface CompactFlash card reader. This gives you the freedom of popping the CompactFlash card in and out of the camera to download images, while you continue to shoot more pictures with a spare card. It'll also save on the camera's battery consumption, because you don’t have to leave the camera on while transferring files. In our opinion, this is a sensible solution to the "image download" dilemma that other digicam manufactures should consider employing. This approach also generally results in faster downloads, since card readers almost always transfer data faster than USB-connected cameras do. In the case of Kodak's card reader, we clocked it at only 7.5 seconds to transfer 4.2 megabytes of data, a very speedy transfer rate of 564 KBytes/second.

The table below shows the number of images that can be stored on an 8MB card, along with their compression levels:


Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
Best
Better
Good
High Resolution Images 14 29 N/A
Approx.
Compression
1:1 7:1 N/A
Standard Resolution Images N/A N/A 58
Approx.
Compression
N/A N/A 12:1

 

 

Video Out
US and Japanese versions of the DC3800 come with an NTSC video cable for playing back images on a television set. (Given the language option under the Setup menu, we assume that European models are set up for PAL timing.) Once connected to a TV, images will appear on screen as they do when you scroll through the Playback mode. If a VCR is connected, images can be recorded to videotape.


Power
Power is supplied to the DC3800 by two AA alkaline or Ni-MH rechargeable batteries. The battery compartment is accessible from the camera's back panel, so there should be no trouble changing batteries while it's mounted on a tripod. We highly recommend keeping a spare set of freshly charged batteries handy, especially when using the power-hungry LCD monitor. An AC adapter and battery charger are available as accessories. The AC adapter is especially useful for such tasks as reviewing images in Playback mode or on a television/VCR.

When we saw that the DC3800 only used two AA batteries to power it, we immediately wondered about probable battery life: With a lower battery voltage available, the camera would need to draw more current to provide a given level of power. Boy, were we right! The DC3800 draws very high currents from its batteries, especially when the LCD is enabled. The power level when the LCD is running in capture mode would drain even high-capacity NiMH cells in as little as 30-40 minutes. With the LCD off though, the power level is much more reasonable: You should get a good 4 hours of operation out of a set of high-capacity NiMH rechargeables. Don't even think about using alkaline cells in this camera.


Operating Mode
Power Drain
Capture Mode, w/LCD
1400 mA (!)
Capture Mode, no LCD
280 mA
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
1420 mA (!)
Half-pressed w/o LCD
760 mA
Memory Write (transient)
370 mA
Flash Recharge (transient)
1450 mA
Image Playback
820 mA (!)


We always recommend buying two or more sets of good-quality, high-capacity NiMH batteries (Kodak's own 1600 mAh cells are some of the best we've used), and a good-quality charger. This advice is even more important with the DC3800, as it's power drain is particularly high. Don't go out for a day's shooting without at least one extra set of batteries in your pocket or camera case, and preferably two extra sets or more. (You'll want to label your batteries somehow also, so you can keep track of which pairs belong together in a set, and which you've already used on a given outing.)


Included Software
The DC3800 comes supplied with a CD for loading its USB Picture Card Reader software and ArcSoft PhotoImpression 2000 image-enhancement software. All software is compatible with Windows 95, 98, and 2000, as well as Mac OS 8.6 or higher. The card reader software simply sets up your computer to work with the card reader and download images. PhotoImpression 2000 is a basic image editing program that allows you to edit, enhance, retouch, or add special effects to digital images. Also included in the package is a variety of fun templates for creating greeting cards, calendars, borders, etc.


Test Results
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Kodak DC3800's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the Kodak DC3800 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

Overall, the Kodak DC3800 performed better than we expected for such a simple camera with essentially no exposure controls. The camera produced very good color balance throughout most of our testing, and was also up to the challenge of some of our more difficult lighting situations. (Most particularly the indoor portrait shot, taken under strong incandescent lighting: Most cameras have a very hard time with this shot, but the DC3800 did very well.) The camera's white balance system produced nearly accurate results most of the time, though we noticed a slightly warm cast in some of the images. The DC3800 accurately reproduced the large color blocks in the Davebox test target, and tonal handling also looked good, as the subtle tonal variations of the Q60 target were visible up to the "B" range. Despite the slightly warm color cast, the DC3800 did a great job with color balance.

Resolution on the Kodak DC3800 was slightly below average for a two megapixel digicam, with a resolution value that we "called" as between 600 and 700 lines per picture height in the horizontal and vertical directions respectively. Still, when you look at other cameras that will likely be close to the price of the DC3800, you'll find a lot of 1.3 to 1.5 megapixel models, which the DC3800's resolution far exceeds.

The DC3800 operates in automatic exposure control at all times, with no exposure control available to the user (with the exception of the flash mode). Most of the time, this isn't a problem , but for high-key subjects (very bright overall), it has severe difficulties: Our outdoor portrait shot came out very dark (as it usually does when no exposure compensation is applied). This sort of shot isn't terribly common, but if you spend a lot of time at the beach, or want to shoot winter scenes with snow, the DC3800 wouldn't be your first choice.

The DC3800 performed reasonably well in our low light tests, as we obtained bright, useable images as low as four foot-candles (44 lux). We were impressed with color balance and detail, and the very minimal amount of noise in the images. To put the DC3800's low light performance into perspective, an average city night scene under modern street lighting corresponds to a light level of about one foot candle, so you'll find it most useful in reasonably well-lit indoor scenes.

The DC3800's optical viewfinder is very tight, showing only about 79 percent of the final image area. The LCD viewfinder produced only slightly more accurate results, showing approximately 83 percent of the final image area. Since we generally like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the DC3800 falls a short of our expectations in this area, although there's a good argument for tight viewfinders on point & shoot cameras: They help keep people from cutting off subjects' heads in the resulting photos! The close match between optical and LCD viewfinders is also good for a point & shoot camera, as it will be less likely to confuse users than the more usual combination of an accurate LCD with a tight optical viewfinder. We also noticed that images framed with the optical viewfinder appear slanted towards the lower right hand corner of the frame (this could be due to a shifted CCD in our test unit, which often results in a slanted image though the optical viewfinder appears square on the target).

The DC3800 performs less well than average in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 9.22 x 6.09 inches (234.28 x 154.79 mm) at the normal macro setting. With the 2x digital telephoto turned on, the DC3800 captures a minimum area of 4.61 x 3.05 inches (117.14 x 77.40 mm). This is enough to let you get reasonably close to small objects, but the DC3800 wouldn't be your first choice if you like pictures of itty bitty bugs, small jewelry, etc. Color balance looks great, though resolution and detail are slightly soft in both images. We did notice that resolution stayed relatively crisp with the digital telephoto enabled. The DC3800's built-in flash does a great job of throttling down for the macro area, though slightly tricked by the shiny coin.

Even though the DC3800 doesn't provide any exposure control (with the exception of flash mode) we were still impressed with the results of our tests. Color balance looked good in most cases, and the camera's white balance system did a good job of matching our light sources. We would like to see more accurate optical and LCD viewfinders, as well as a zoom lens, but a zoom would admittedly add dramatically to its cost. Our biggest criticism is that even a camera intended for point & shoot users really needs an exposure-compensation control: This wouldn't have added significantly to the camera's complexity, but would have brought big benefits to users. Overall though, the DC3800 does a surprisingly good job in a surprisingly wide range of conditions. Compared to a 1.3 or 1.5 megapixel camera with similar features at close to the same price point, it should be an easy choice.


Conclusion
With its fully automatic exposure control, and basic uncomplicated design, the DC3800 is perfect for those consumers who don't want to mess with exposure settings to take good pictures. The extremely compact design makes it one of the most portable cameras we've seen, and the smooth, curvy design is perfect for single-handed operation. However, if you fancy yourself a "prosumer" shooter, you may miss the exposure override features found in many of today's digicams. The only exposure option you have is to set the flash mode. We suggest using Fill flash for the majority of images, as it will help fill in shadows and reduce contrast in bright sunlight. Don’t expect great results in a dark room or for nighttime photography. The camera's flash does not have the capacity or power. But for picnics and birthday parties, where you want a tiny camera you can just drop in your pocket as you're going out the door . . . shoot on!


<<DC3800 Sample Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

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