The Imaging Resource
Kodak EasyShare DX3900 Zoom Digital Camera
|Very Good, 3.1-megapixel CCD|
|4x6, 5x7, 8x10 inches|
(Review was written in April, 2002)
Suggested Retail Price
Eastman Kodak Company has a long history of bringing professional imaging processes to the everyday consumer. Kodak's EasyShare System is the company's digital equivalent to its turn-of-the-century Brownie box camera, which came with preloaded film and no manual controls (once users shot all their film, they simply sent the boxes back to Kodak for processing and printing). While the first two Kodak EasyShare digicams, the DX3500 and DX3600, were much more sophisticated than a Brownie, they did feature the same "just press the button" simplicity, with fully automatic controls and an optional docking station that takes all of the guesswork out of digital image manipulation, management, and sharing. As Kodak has evolved the line though, they've introduced more advanced cameras that do offer a few user options. The subject of the current review is the EasyShare DX3900, a 3-megapixel camera with a 2x zoom lens and a moderate assortment of features and options, but that still remains true to the EasyShare "just push the button" ease of use.
Kodak's Picture Software is also extremely easy to use -- walking you through every step of the uploading, enhancing, and emailing process -- and has a more graphically intuitive interface than almost any other consumer imaging software I've seen. It automatically sizes the images for printing or emailing, stores copies, applies simple effects, and allows you to make image corrections, such as color, brightness, and contrast adjustments. Taken as a group, the DX3900 and its lower- and higher-end cousins are some of the simplest, most goof-proof cameras currently available. In the DX3900, Kodak's created a three megapixel camera with a nice balance of features and functionality, while maintaining the basic ease of use that characterizes the EasyShare line.
With a compact body design very similar to the Kodak EasyShare DX4900 I reviewed just before it, the EasyShare DX3900 Zoom is portable and lightweight. The DX3900 was designed to keep things simple, with a friendly user interface and a limited number of camera controls, while at the same time offering a few more exposure options than the rest of the EasyShare line. A concise LCD menu makes changes quick and uncomplicated. The DX3900 fits into the (optional) EasyShare camera dock, which provides quick access to your computer, AC power adapter (also charges batteries), or a photo printer. A plastic dock insert comes with the camera, as the camera dock was designed to host several Kodak digicam models. The DX3900 is just small enough to fit into most shirt pockets, which means it should also fit into larger coat pockets and purses. A wrist strap comes with the camera, and Kodak offers a selection of small camera bags as separate accessories. As with other zoom-equipped cameras in the EasyShare line, a sliding power switch on the left side of the camera (as viewed from the back) slides the lens cover out of place and turns the camera on. The built-in lens cover means you don't have to worry about accidentally misplacing the lens cap, a feature I appreciate. The DX3900's 3.1-megapixel CCD delivers high quality images, suitable for printing as large as 8x10 inches with sharp details.
The 2x, 7.3-14.6mm optical zoom lens on the DX3900 is equivalent to a 35-70mm zoom on a 35mm camera. This represents a range from a moderate wide angle to mild telephoto. Maximum aperture ranges from f/2.8 at full wide angle to f/4.0 at full telephoto, and is automatically controlled at all times. Focus ranges from 19.7 inches (500 millimeters) to infinity in normal autofocus mode, and from 2.7 to 27.5 inches (70 to 700 millimeters) in Macro mode. The DX3900 also features an Infinity focus mode, which reduces shutter delay for distant subjects, since you won't have to wait for the camera to adjust focus. In addition to the camera's 2x optical zoom, a 3x digital zoom option is available. (I always remind readers that digital zoom often decreases the overall image quality because it simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image, so shouldn't be relied on for sharp details and high image quality.)
composing shots, the DX3900 has both a real-image optical viewfinder and 1.5-inch
color LCD monitor. The LCD monitor's information display includes detailed exposure
information, including shutter speed and aperture settings, so you have an idea
of how the camera is setting itself up to take the shot. Although you don't
have any direct control over the shutter speed and aperture, I think it's helpful
for people to know what they are for any given shot, as an aid to understanding
why photos come out looking as they do. (For instance, it's helpful to know
when the camera has selected a slow shutter speed so you'll know to hold it
more carefully, or to ask your subject to hold still.) On top of the camera,
a small status display panel reports a variety of camera settings, including
file size, flash mode, focus mode, etc. (useful for saving battery power by
operating the camera with the LCD monitor switched off).
playback mode, you can review previously shot images on the LCD monitor, scrolling
through tiny thumbnails of all the photos on the card, viewing them full-frame
on the LCD, or zooming in to examine them more closely.
Exposure is automatically controlled on the DX3900, though the LCD menu offers a range of slow shutter speed settings for shooting in low light. Kodak didn't report the DX3900's full shutter speed range, but the slowest speed I found in Auto mode was 1/2 second, and the fastest was 1/2,000-second. However, through the Record menu, you can manually select slow shutter speeds ranging from 0.7 to 16 seconds, giving the camera great low-light shooting capabilities. (Although you're likely to have problems focusing on nearby subjects in that mode. Plan on using the "landscape" infinity-focus mode for shots in very low light.) A Mode dial on the top panel puts the camera in either Record, Playback, or Setup modes. The Record menu offers a handful of adjustable exposure features, including Exposure Compensation, White Balance, Quality, ISO, Metering, and Sharpness. Exposure Compensation lightens or darkens the overall exposure, from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-half-step increments. The White Balance setting adjusts color balance, with settings for Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, and Fluorescent. A sensitivity adjustment offers 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents, as well as an Auto setting. By default, the DX3900 uses a Multi-Pattern metering mode, which bases the exposure on the lighting conditions of the entire frame. Also available are Spot and Center-Weighted Metering options, for more specific exposure readings, handy when dealing with backlit subjects. The camera's Sharpness adjustment features Sharp, Standard, and Soft settings, which alter the amount of in-camera sharpening applied to the image. - Use Standard most of the time, Soft when you're planning on doing a lot of post-exposure manipulation in the camera, and Sharp if you're planning to print the camera's images as smaller prints on an inkjet printer. A Flash button on top of the camera selects either the Auto, Fill, Off, or Red-Eye Reduction flash modes.
For capturing short bursts of images, the DX3900 features an 0.8-megapixel Burst mode, which works like a motor drive on a 35mm camera. Burst mode captures as many as eight consecutive images while the Shutter button is held down. Resolution is automatically set to 1,080 x 720 pixels, and the actual shot-to-shot cycle time will vary depending on exposure settings and the amount of image information being recorded, but is generally a bit over three frames per second. (Pretty doggone fast.) Assuming you have the memory space, Burst mode will record up to about 8 shots in rapid sequence. The DX3900 also features a 10-second self-timer, which delays the shutter for about 10 seconds after the Shutter button is pressed, giving you time to zip around in front of the camera and get into the shot. A small light on the front of the camera lights solid for the first eight seconds, then blinks for the remaining two to let you know that the exposure is imminent.
The DX3900 stores images on CompactFlash memory cards, and comes with an 8MB card. Given the DX3900's maximum 2,160 x 1,440-pixel resolution, I highly recommend purchasing a larger-capacity CompactFlash card right away. Cards are currently available separately in capacities as large as 640 MB (!), but you'd do fine with a 64 MB card, which can be found for $20-40 these days. The camera utilizes either two AA-sized batteries or one CRV3 battery for power. A Kodak CRV3 battery comes with the camera. If you purchase the accessory camera dock, a set of two NiMH rechargeable batteries are included, and can be charged in the camera while the camera is in the dock. I strongly advise picking up an additional set of rechargeables, and keeping a freshly-charged set on-hand at all times. (Read my review of NiMH batteries for the latest info on the best brands, and my review of the Maha C204F charger, to learn about my favorite charger. - The charger is only needed if you don't purchase a dock to accompany your DX3900.)
The DX3900 features a USB jack for downloading images to a computer, though you can also connect the camera to the dock (which in turn connects to the computer) and download files with the press of a button. A software CD accompanies the camera, loaded with Kodak's Picture Software, compatible with Windows 98/98SE/ME/2000/XP and Macintosh OS 8.6-X. - As I mentioned at the outset, the Kodak Picture Software is some of the simplest I've found to operate, helping to make the EasyShare cameras ideal for novices. For connecting to a television set, the DX3900 has a Video Out jack and comes with a video cable. The DX3900 is DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible, with a range of print settings available through the Playback menu.
- 3.1-megapixel CCD (3.0 effective), for a maximum image size of 2160 x 1440 pixels.
- 1.5-inch color LCD monitor.
- Real-image optical viewfinder.
- Glass, 2x 35-70mm zoom lens.
- 3x digital zoom.
- Automatic exposure control with limited slow-shutter settings.
- Maximum aperture of f/2.8 to f/4.0, depending on lens zoom position.
- Shutter speed range from 1/2,000 to 16 seconds.
- Built-in flash with four operating modes.
- CompactFlash memory storage.
- Power supplied by two AA batteries, one CRV3 battery, or optional AC adapter via camera dock accessory.
- Burst and 10-second Self-Timer modes.
- Sharpness adjustment.
- White balance (color) adjustment with four modes.
- ISO adjustment with three ISO equivalents and an Auto setting.
- Multi-Pattern, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering options.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
- USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).
- Compatible with the Kodak EasyShare camera dock, for quick connection to a PC or printer.
The DX3900's automatic exposure mode keeps camera operation simple, while the available slow-shutter, variable ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation settings provide some exposure flexibility when needed. The 3.1-megapixel CCD captures high-resolution images, excellent for printing as large as 8x10 inches. The DX3900's relatively compact design makes it a travel-worthy companion, and the accessory dock means you can just plop down the camera, transfer images, and get back to shooting in a matter of minutes. Additionally, the unique the unique lens cover provides good protection for the lens when closed, while keeping the camera body smooth and low-profile. - Great for shoving into pockets. With its simple, straightforward user interface and great image quality, the DX3900 is perfect for novices, as well as more experienced amateurs looking for a hassle-free point-and-shoot camera to take on vacations, to family events, etc. It'd also make a great "family" camera, suitable for both parents and kids to use.
Light and compact, the DX3900's two-toned black and silver body has a portable size, great for travel. Measuring 4.6 x 1.7 x 2.6 inches (116 x 42 x 67 millimeters), the DX3900 should easily fit into shirt and coat pockets, as well as purses and small bags. The camera's wrist strap is great when holding the camera in-hand, but I'd recommend a small camera bag for better protection when traveling. An all-plastic body keeps the DX3900's weight down, at just 7.9 ounces (225 grams), without batteries. While the plastic body makes for a lightweight camera, it's also one of the aspects of the Kodak EasyShare cameras I've heard people respond negatively to. Compared to some metal-bodied cameras, Kodak's all-plastic design feels a little cheap. Other than a somewhat flimsy memory card compartment door, the camera feels rugged enough to me, but I do understand some folks' preference for metal bodies.
The DX3900's front panel is fairly smooth, with only a few small protrusions. The telescoping lens is protected by a thin cover, which slides out of the way whenever the camera is powered on. If the Mode dial is set to Record, the lens extends out from the camera body slightly less than half an inch. Just inside the lip of the plastic lens barrel, a set of filter threads accommodates Kodak's accessory lens adapter kits, which provide extended wide-angle, telephoto, and macro capabilities. Sharing the front panel with the lens are the flash, optical viewfinder window, exposure sensor, and self-timer lamp. A small handgrip on the right side features an inset sliver of rubbery plastic, providing a grip for your fingers as they wrap around the camera.
On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the back) is the memory card compartment, and an eyelet for attaching the wrist strap. The memory card compartment door has small ribs to make opening it a little easier (you can hook a nail in one and then pull), and slides outward before opening to reveal the CompactFlash card. My one criticism of the physical design of the DX3900 is that this card compartment door feels rather flimsy, to the point that I'd be a little concerned about it breaking with extended use. The button that actually releases the card is on the bottom panel, slightly inconvenient when using a tripod (though I doubt this will be a concern for most of this camera's users). Above the compartment, an LED lamp lights whenever the camera accesses the memory card, as a warning not to open the door or eject the card while file-saving is in progress.
The opposite side of the camera features the power switch (which also flips open the lens cover), and a connector compartment. A small, rubbery flap snaps over the compartment, which houses the USB and Video Out jacks.
The DX3900's gently sloping top panel holds the oblong Shutter button, Mode dial, and three other control buttons. I liked the pointed tips of the control buttons, as they're easy for your fingers to find without looking at the camera. A small status display panel reports key camera information, such as file size, flash mode, focus mode, etc., and is useful for conserving battery power by shooting without the LCD monitor.
The remaining camera controls share the back panel with the optical viewfinder eyepiece and the LCD monitor. The optical viewfinder doesn't have a diopter adjustment, and also has a rather low eyepoint, making it a bit awkward to use for eyeglass wearers. A Four Way Arrow pad toggles up and down, and left and right, controlling the zoom lens and navigating through settings menus. Two small control buttons (Select and Menu) are just below, with a protruding teardrop design that's easy for your fingers to find.
The DX3900's bottom panel features the dock connector jack, memory card Eject lever, battery compartment, and tripod mount. A sliding plastic cover protects the dock jack when not in use. The battery compartment and Eject lever are side by side, and too close to the tripod mount for easy access when the camera is attached to a tripod. The plastic tripod mount is off-center, but quite close to the camera's center of gravity, making for stable support. Covering the battery compartment is a sliding plastic door that snaps securely into place without a separate locking mechanism.
With just a few control buttons and only a handful of exposure options, the DX3900's user interface is uncomplicated, just as its EasyShare name indicates. Flash, focus, and Self-Timer modes all feature external controls, as does optical and digital zoom. The status display panel on top of the camera reports some settings, making it easy to quickly check resolution, flash mode, etc. without scrolling through the LCD menu. When you do have to access the LCD menu system, navigation is again straightforward, with only a short scrolling list of options to choose from. I found menu navigation slightly slow, since you have to hit the "select" button whenever you want to do anything with a menu selection. (Very intuitive, but slower to operate than some camera user interface designs in which the right-arrow key is used to make menu selections.) The Mode dial on the camera also helps simplify operation, offering only three modes (Record, Playback, and Setup). Reading through the instruction manual with the camera in hand, it shouldn't take the average user much more than a half-hour to an hour to become acquainted with the camera.
Shutter Button: With a smooth, elliptical shape, the Shutter button protrudes slightly from the camera's top panel. Pressed halfway, it triggers the autofocus and exposure mechanisms. A full press fires the shutter.
Flash Button: The first button of three next to the status display panel, this button controls the flash operating mode. Pressing it sequentially cycles through Auto, Forced, Suppressed, and Red-Eye Reduction modes.
Four Way Arrow Pad: Dominating the top right corner of the back panel, this large button toggles left and right or up and down. In Record mode, the left and right arrows control the optical and digital zoom. All four arrows navigate through settings menus.
In Playback mode, all four arrows can be actuated to scroll through captured images on the card. When you're zoomed into an image in playback mode, all four arrows scroll the enlarged view around the full image.
In Record mode, this button turns the LCD monitor on and off.
Camera Modes and Menus
Record Mode: Designated on the Mode dial by a small camera symbol, this mode sets up the camera for capturing still images. If the camera is powered on in this mode, the lens automatically extends forward. Pressing the Menu button displays the following selections on the LCD screen:
- Exposure Compensation: Lightens or darkens the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-half-step increments.
- White Balance: Sets the color balance to match Daylight, Tungsten, or Fluorescent lighting, with an Auto setting as well.
- Color: Lets the camera record images in full color (Color setting), or Black & White or Sepia tones.
- Quality: Specifies the image size and quality setting. Choices are 3.1 MP (2,160 x 1,440 pixels), 3.1 MP High Compression, 2.2 MP (1,800 x 1,200 pixels), 1.6 MP (1,536 x 1,024 pixels), 0.8 MP (1,080 x 720 pixels), and 0.8 MP Burst.
- Metering: Changes the camera's metering system to Multi-Pattern (default), Center-Weighted, or Spot.
- Sharpness: Adjusts the in-camera sharpening to Sharp, Standard, or Soft.
- ISO Speed: Determines the camera's sensitivity to light. Choices are Auto, or 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents.
- Shutter Speed: Sets the shutter speed to Auto control, or offers a selection of slow shutter speeds ranging from 0.7 to 16 seconds.
- Date/Time Stamp: Lets you "stamp" the date and time over the image, with a selection of formats.
Playback Mode: This mode lets you review captured images and movies on the memory card, as well as erase them, protect them, or set them up for printing. Pressing the Menu button displays the following options:
- Magnify: Enlarges the currently displayed captured image as much as 4x.
- Delete: Calls up the Delete menu, which erases the current image or all images from the CompactFlash card.
- Protect: Marks the current image for write-protection, or removes write-protection. Protected images cannot be deleted or manipulated, but reformatting the memory card will still erase them.
- Slide Show: Activates an automated playback of all images on the card, letting you specify the interval between frames.
- Print Order: Determines how many copies of the current image will be printed, with an option for creating an index print.
- Picture Info: Displays a long list of exposure information about the current image.
Setup Mode: Automatically displays the camera's settings menu:
- Power Save: Determines whether or not the camera turns itself off after a length of inactivity.
- Digital Zoom: Disables digital zoom, or specifies how the camera activates digital zoom while zooming. Choices are Continuous (meaning the zoom range continues from optical to digital automatically) or Pause (meaning the zoom pauses at the end of the optical range).
- Camera Sounds: Controls the camera's beep sounds, with choices of Off, Selected On, and All On.
- Date/Time Set: Sets the camera's internal calendar and clock.
- Video Out: Specifies NTSC or PAL video timing.
- Language: Changes the camera's menu language to English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese.
- Format Card: Formats the CompactFlash card, erasing all files (even protected ones).
- Reset User Settings: Determines whether camera settings are reset when the camera is powered off.
- About This Camera: Displays an information page listing the camera's firmware version.
See our sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of our test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.
See the specifications sheet here.
Information on shooting speed, battery life, etc. can be found here.
- Color: The DX3900 produced bright, pleasing, accurate color throughout most of the testing, both outdoors and under the studio lighting. I most often chose the Auto white balance setting, as the Daylight setting frequently resulted in a slightly warm color cast. Both the Tungsten and Auto white balance settings performed surprisingly well under standard (incandescent) room lighting, though the Auto setting resulted in the best overall color (appearing just a bit reddish). The DX3900 also produced good color on the test targets under the studio lighting, with great color in flash exposures. The blue flowers of the Outdoor Portrait were almost perfect, with only hints of the purple hues that plague many cameras on that shot. Skin tones also looked good, both indoors and out.
- Exposure: The DX3900 accurately exposed most shots, though the harsh lighting of the Outdoor Portrait and the outdoor house shot gave it a little difficulty. In the Outdoor Portrait, the camera's half-step EV adjustments weren't quite fine enough to handle the high contrast lighting, but the camera did surprisingly well nonetheless. The bright sunlight in the outdoor house shot tricked the camera into losing some highlight detail in the brightest areas, though shadow detail remained reasonably strong (albeit a little noisy). The DX3900 picked up the subtle tonal variations of the Davebox well, which is a difficult area for many digicams. Overall, I was pretty pleased with the DX3900's exposure behavior.
- Sharpness: Image sharpness was good in most cases, as the DX3900's 3.1-megapixel CCD and lens produced good detail and definition. Optical distortion was very low at the wide-angle lens setting, but chromatic aberration in the corners of the image was slightly higher, drawing a rating of "moderate." The strongest distortion was in the form of corner softness, with the most visible instance in the Macro test shot. Overall, sharpness was a notch down from the best 3 megapixel cameras I've tested, but a visible step up from the best 2 megapixel ones.
- Closeups: The DX3900 performed well here, capturing a macro area of just 3.2 x 2.2 inches (82 x 55 millimeters). Detail was strong in the coins, brooch, and dollar bill, though all four corners of the frame were rather soft. (Corner softness is a very common lens failing in macro photography with most digicams.) The camera's flash had some trouble throttling down for the macro area, creating a hot spot in the top right of the frame, and a dark shadow in the lower left corner. - If you were backed off a little further from your subjects though, it would do fairly well.
- Night Shots: The DX3900's maximum shutter time of 16 seconds gives the camera excellent low-light shooting capabilities. At all three ISO settings, the DX3900 captured bright, clear images at light levels as low as 1/16 foot-candle (0.067 lux). Thus, the DX3900 should easily handle dark shooting situations, well below average city street lighting at night. (Which averages 1 foot-candle.) Color was good, but slightly warm and yellowish/greenish at the lower light levels. Noise was only moderately high at the 400 ISO setting, and minimal at ISO 100. A great job here.
- Battery Life: Two-cell cameras like the DX3900 suffer somewhat from short battery life when the LCD is turned on, and the DX3900 is no exception to that rule. With the LCD off though, battery life is reasonable, as long as you use good-quality NiMH rechargeable batteries. (Don't even think about running digicams from standard AA alkaline cells.) I do strongly recommend buying and carrying along an extra set or two of rechargeable batteries.
In the Box
The DX3900 ships with the following items included:
- Wrist strap.
- CRV3 lithium battery.
- USB cable.
- NTSC video cable (US models).
- 8MB CompactFlash card.
- Dock insert (for use with accessory camera dock).
- Software CD.
- Instruction manual, software guide, and registration kit.
- Larger capacity CompactFlash card. (64MB recommended)
- Dock kit (which includes rechargeable batteries, and has a charger for them built in).
- Additional set of rechargeable batteries.
- Battery charger (if you don't buy the dock).
- Soft case.
- Lens accessory kits.
Following in a line of user-friendly Kodak digicams, the EasyShare DX3900 keeps camera operation simple and straightforward, with only a few external controls and a handful of adjustments in the LCD menu system. Though exposure is automatically controlled, the DX3900 does offer a reasonable range of exposure options, including some slow shutter speeds (as long as 16 seconds) that really extend its low light capability. Its 3.1-megapixel CCD captures high-quality, high-resolution images with great color, suitable for making sharp 8x10-inch prints. With its flexible exposure options but very simple operation, the DX3900 is perfect for novices, but still offers a little room to grow as your abilities expand. All in all, another nice, easy-to-use camera from Kodak.
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about Kodak DX3900, or add comments of your own!
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