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Epson PhotoPC 3100Z

Epson updates their excellent 3 megapixel digicam with a new user interface, and support for PRINT Image Matching!

Review First Posted: 7/10/2001



Click to Buy Now at State Street Direct!
MSRP $799 US

 

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3.3-megapixel CCD for 2,048 x 1536 pixel images ("Hypict" interpolates to 2,544 x 1,904 pixels).
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3x, 7 to 21mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 34 to 102mm lens on a 35mm camera)
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Support for PRINT Image Matching for improved color prints!
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Lots of manual controls
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Hot shoe for external flash


Manufacturer Overview
Epson America Inc. is clearly one of the leading companies in the digital photography marketplace, thanks to its longstanding position as the number one color inkjet printer manufacturer. While Epson's digital cameras hold a less dominant position than its color printers, they have consistently delivered the same high-quality performance that the printer line is known for, and this latest addition to the PhotoPC digital line clearly demonstrates the technical excellence and ingenuity that is synonymous with the Epson name.

Over the years, Epson digital cameras have evolved from simple point-and-shoot digicams, intended for the pure consumer market, to increasingly sophisticated models offering exposure and creative controls designed for the high-end prosumer and serious amateur markets. The PhotoPC 3100Z not only offers maximum versatility, but it also marks the first generation camera to actually bridge the image quality standards between Epson digital cameras and printers, by incorporating Epson's recently announced PRINT Image Matching Technology (February 2001). According to Epson, this new technology ensures optimum print reproduction by establishing critical image-specific printing parameters, such as gamma level, color space, contrast, sharpness, saturation, and highlight and shadow detail, right in the camera. The ultimate goal being to perfectly balance the two sides of the pixel-to-print workflow. While it isn't really possible to show the results in a web-based review, we discovered that PRINT Image Matching produced significant improvements in flesh tones and certain highly-saturated colors. - Definitely a step forward for digicam printing.


Highlights



Executive Overview
The 3.3-megapixel Epson PhotoPC 3100Z is an exciting new update to the Epson 3000Z model introduced in Spring 2000. Its innovative user interface and quick access to on-screen menu options make it, navigationally, one of the fastest digicams we've tested. A number of new features have been added to beef up its performance, including a dedicated Print button to mark images for direct printer output, in-camera image enhancement features incorporating Epson's new PRINT Image Matching technology, and a more intuitive menu layout that highlights the most frequently used camera options.

Ideally suited for the prosumer and serious photo enthusiast markets, the 3100Z is designed to look and feel just like a conventional 35mm film camera. Its body measures 4.3 x 3.5 x 2.6 inches (108 x 89 x 65mm) with the lens retracted, and weighs 12.6 ounces (358 grams) without the batteries or card installed (17 ounces complete). Too large for a "pocket camera," the 3100Z comes with a soft protective case and a sturdy neck strap that should fit easily into a large bag or tote, or hang securely over the shoulder or neck. The camera body has a comfortable hand grip, solidly made components, and a telescoping lens design, which extends when the camera is powered on in capture mode and retracts when the camera is shut down. The spring-loaded lens cap snaps securely in place, with an accompanying lens strap to attach it permanently to the camera's body.

Image composition is carried out with either the real image optical viewfinder or the 1.8-inch color LCD monitor, both of which are located on the camera's back panel. Unlike most digicams we've tested, the LCD monitor is not activated by a separate monitor button on the camera body. Instead, it is one of three Mode dial capture options indicated by red icons on the Mode dial: Viewfinder mode is used for single-image capture with the LCD monitor turned off, LCD mode is single-image capture with the monitor and menu screen turned on, and Mult-Shot incorporates Video Clip, Continuous, Interval, and Panorama Stitching modes and operates with the LCD screen turned on. Exposure settings are shared between the camera's Setup mode and the on-screen LCD menus, which are continuously displayed whenever the monitor is in use (unless the user voluntarily disables them). Seven unmarked buttons line the right side and bottom of the LCD monitor, corresponding to menu options appropriate to the Mode dial selection being used. Through this setup, you can very quickly change a variety of camera settings, including Exposure Compensation, White Balance, or ISO (when available), without having to navigate through several pages of menus, and because the image and menu items are displayed simultaneously, you can see the results of your adjustments immediately, without having to save your selections and exit from the menu screen.

A 3x, 7 to 21mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 34 to 102mm lens on a 35mm camera) is built into the camera, with manually or automatically adjustable apertures ranging from f/2.0 to f/8.0, and manually or automatically adjustable shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to 8 seconds. Focus is primarily automatic, unless you choose to use one of six preset focal distances (three Normal and three Macro Focus settings), which are available only in the Manual User mode. In Normal Focus mode, the focal distance ranges from 20 inches (50cm) to infinity, and in Macro mode, from 2.36 to 20 inches (6 to 50cm). A screw-on lens adapter is provided for attaching standard 49mm accessory lenses and filters, or one of several accessory lens kits available from Epson. (Big kudos to Epson for including the lens adapter in the box with the camera! Most camera manufacturers make this an extra-cost option that's hard to find at retail.) The 2x Digital Zoom function has been moved from the main menu pages to the camera's Setup menu, where you can set it to either On or Off. When turned on, the Digital Zoom kicks in automatically whenever you zoom past the optical zoom range. For the IR editors, putting this option in a less accessible position is a good move, since we strongly discourage the use of digital zoom in most shooting situations (due to the inherent loss of image quality and sharpness).

When it comes to exposure adjustment, the 3100Z gives you as much or as little as you need. Full Auto puts the camera in charge of everything except Image Quality, Flash, Zoom, Macro, and Self-Timer. The Program mode increases exposure control by adding Exposure Compensation, White Balance, and ISO adjustments to the list, plus a selection of exposure presets that cover a variety of common shooting conditions -- Normal, Sports, Portrait, and Landscape -- all of which are accessible via the on-screen shooting menu. Finally, the Manual capture mode gives you four main settings -- Auto Exposure, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual Exposure -- which between them, add the highest level of exposure control. Under Manual Exposure, you can set the shutter speed from 1/1,000 to 8 seconds, aperture from f/2.0 to f/8.0, select Spot or Matrix Metering, and change to an optional Manual Focus mode with a total of six presets that range from close-up macro to infinity settings. (Using one of the Manual Focus presets eliminates the shutter lag time needed for the camera to focus on the subject.) In both Manual and Program modes, you can set White Balance to Auto, Fix (5,200°Kelvin), or Custom (manual adjustment); choose from 100, 200, or 400 ISO settings; and adjust Exposure compensation from -2 to +2 EV in either one-half-step or one-third-step increments, depending on the camera's capture mode. The built-in flash operates in five modes: Auto, Forced Flash, Flash Off, Red-Eye Reduction, or Slow Synchronized (which features Leading or Trailing shutter options, selectable through the Setup menu). When you need more flash power, a top-mounted hot shoe accommodates an external flash head, which automatically disables the internal flash when connection is made through the Setup menu.

The 3100Z also allows you to capture up to 25-second video clips with sound (35 seconds without sound), at approximately 15 frames per second, with the majority of the exposure controls available through the LCD or Setup menus. Continuous Shooting lets you capture up to 45 images at up to two frames per second, depending on the image quality setting and the amount of CompactFlash space. There's also an Interval photography mode, which lets you set timed captures from 10 seconds to 24 hours apart (the camera automatically shuts down between exposures), and a Stitching mode that allows you to capture panoramic images, with four- and eight-image composites, that can be stitched together in the computer. This option is great for recording long, sweeping landscapes. In addition to recording audio with video clips, the 3100Z can also record short individual sound bites to accompany captured images. Image sounds can be played back and deleted through the Playback menu, without affecting the captured image.

Images are stored on a removable CompactFlash card, which can be purchased separately from third parties in sizes up to 512MB (a 16MB card is packaged with the camera). Five Image Quality settings are available: Standard JPEG (640 x 480 pixels), Fine JPEG (2,048 x 1,536 pixels), Super Fine JPEG (2,048 x 1,536), HyPict JPEG (interpolated to 2,544 x 1,904 pixels) and Uncompressed TIFF (2,048 x 1,536). JPEG Compression is determined through the Setup menu, with two compression levels available: Standard and Low (Low Compression provides the best quality of the two.) The HyPict JPEG has its own compression ratio, and runs an interpolation algorithm on the file before they're compressed, increasing the processing time significantly over other file formats. In Playback mode, images can be displayed as thumbnails on the LCD monitor (six or nine at a time), or they can be reviewed as single images and magnified up to 3x with the Zoom buttons. They can also be played back in a Slide Show format, making the camera an effective presentation tool when used in conjunction with a multimedia projector. A supplied video cable connects the camera to TVs, VCRs, and other video display devices, with NTSC or PAL format options available through the Setup menu.

The camera also offers two print preparation programs: DPOF and PRINT Image Matching. DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) lets you create a file with the information needed to print images directly off the CompactFlash card. You can turn over the CF card to a photo lab for conventional photographic prints, or make your own inkjet prints on a DPOF-compatible printer. Epson's PRINT Image Matching sets the color space and gamma, tweaks specific color ranges to compensate for limitations in the printing process, and can also save a file with print commands designed specifically for the camera's output (when used with a PRINT Image Matching compatible printer). Images are marked for printing with the green Print Button in the lower left corner of the camera's back panel, and adjusted in the camera's PC Connect mode, which allows you to increase or decrease sharpness and brightness.

Packaged with the 3100Z is a software CD containing Sierra Imaging's Image Expert (bundled with QuickTime Player and Adobe Acrobat Reader), Panorama Stitcher, Epson File Converter, and USB storage drivers for Windows and Macintosh computers. Image Expert allows you to transfer, organize, and view your pictures and video clips, as well as edit images and sounds. Panorama Stitcher enables you to stitch and print panoramic prints made from multiple images tagged in the camera's Stitching mode. And, Epson File Converter allows you to convert presentation slides and files into a format that can be uploaded into the camera for presentations. The 3100Z is powered by four AA alkaline batteries provided with the camera, or you can use lithium or rechargeable NiMH or NiCd batteries. (As with any digicam, we strongly recommend rechargeables.) An optional NiMH Universal battery pack and charger are available from Epson, as well as an optional AC adapter, which is recommended for power-consuming tasks such as image playback and downloading.

The PhotoPC 3100Z incorporates the best design features of its earlier version, the 3000Z, with some aggressive fine-tuning of the already unique user interface. It will definitely appeal to the serious photographer who wants maximum user control, as well as the busy corporate user, who wants to make fast, high-quality images without a lot of extra effort. The 3100Z performed well in the majority of our testing, though we observed some color shifts under difficult lighting conditions when used in Auto White Balance mode. We'd love to see a more cohesive approach to color balance adjustment (by improving the functioning of the white balance presets), but the Manual White Balance worked well under most shooting conditions. Resolution was about average for a 3.3-megapixel camera. Epson's PRINT Image Matching significantly improves the quality of skin tones and other colors, but only when the photos are printed on a compatible printer. (We evaluated this function on an Epson Stylus Photo 875EPX.)


Design
From a design standpoint, Epson's 3100Z is very reminiscent of a traditional film-based 35mm camera. It measures 4.3 x 3.5 x 2.6 inches (108 x 89 x 65 mm) with the lens retracted, and weighs 12.6 ounces (358 grams) without the batteries or card installed (17 ounces complete). The body is solidly built, with lightweight metal components and a dark gray anodized metallic finish. A darker gray textured plastic surrounds the hand grip, top, and right edges for a more comfortable hold. The relatively large proportions and telescoping zoom lens effectively eliminate this camera as a "pocket-size" model, but it does come with a sturdy neck strap (among the best we've seen) and a soft neoprene cover for safe, comfortable transport. Despite its large frame, the 3100Z is easy to handle and offers so many great features, we're willing to overlook the extra bulk.



The front of the camera houses the lens, built-in flash, and optical viewfinder window. Next to viewfinder is a red self-timer LED that blinks as it counts down the seconds, speeding up as it approaches the final shutter release. The telescoping zoom lens extends approximately .75 inch from the lens barrel when the camera is powered on and the Mode dial is turned to one of the three capture modes. A spring-loaded plastic lens cap protects the lens when the camera is not in use and comes complete with a small strap to attach it to the camera body. A lens adapter (not shown) is included in the box with the camera, permitting use of standard 49mm accessory lenses with the 3100Z.



The handgrip side of the camera holds the CompactFlash slot, which is covered by a hinged plastic door that snaps securely into place. The interior of the CompactFlash compartment has a black release button that is surrounded by a deep cut-out area, so it's very easy to access with your fingers or thumb. Popping the release button completely ejects the CF card, so you don't have to fumble to remove it (as is the case in many cameras). At the top of the right side is a small metal ring for attaching the neck strap.



The opposite side of the camera is dominated by a flexible rubber flap that covers the USB, AV Out, and DC In connectors. Soft rubber plugs insert into the connectors when the cover is closed. The flap is somewhat awkward in that it doesn't really slide out of the way when opened. Instead, it just flips over on itself, because it's attached at one corner. This makes it a little annoying when trying to plug in cables, since you have to hold the flap out of the way to access the connectors. (It's hard to say whether this flap would stand up to more use than some of the other rubber hinges we've observed, but we worry somewhat that it might eventually snap off.) The diopter adjustment dial for the optical viewfinder is at the top of the left panel. It turns very easily, with a nice range of adjustments. Next to it is the second neck strap ring.



The 3100Z's back panel features the optical viewfinder, microphone, speaker, and Print button down the left side, and Zoom buttons in the upper right corner, under the Mode dial. The LCD display sits in the middle, with eight control buttons surrounding it, including the Menu On / Off in the lower right corner. The LCD monitor is probably one of our favorite design elements on this camera, as it features an ever-present menu along the bottom and right sides of the display, which corresponds to adjacent control buttons. What this means is that you no longer have to take the time to sort through menu screens, you just change the settings as you shoot. We'll go into more detail on this timesaving idea in the Operation and User Interface section of this review.



The camera's top panel includes (left to right): an external flash hot shoe; small Status Display panel; Resolution, Flash, and Self-Timer control buttons; and Mode dial with the Power button in the middle. The Shutter button is on the right hand grip, slightly in front of the top panel.



The bottom of the 3100Z houses a plastic tripod mount and battery compartment door. We're glad to report that the spacing between the battery compartment and the tripod mount is just enough to allow you to change batteries while working with a tripod. Given the amount of studio work we do, we always pay attention to this area. Our only complaint here is that the battery compartment door is a little tough to close. The motion isn't very fluid and it's easy to get the door out of alignment when you're trying to slide it back.


Viewfinder
The 3100Z features both a real image optical viewfinder and an LCD monitor for composing images. The Mode dial on top of the camera determines which viewfinder you use by offering two single-image capture modes: One for framing with the viewfinder (indicated by a red camera with a tiny red square inside) and one for working with the LCD monitor (a red camera with a large red square inside).

The optical viewfinder has a diopter adjustment dial on the left side, enabling eyeglass wearers to adjust the focus. Two LEDs on the right side of the viewfinder report the camera's status. The bottom green light flashes when setting focus and exposure, and glows a steady green when complete. A set of central focus crosshairs inside the viewfinder help you line up your shots. In our testing, we found the optical viewfinder to be a little tight, showing 84 percent framing accuracy at both wide and telephoto settings.

The 1.8-inch color LCD monitor on the back panel can also be used as a viewfinder, and offers a rather unique menu display. A Menu On / Off button in the lower right corner of the back panel controls the on-screen menu display. The menu is unique in that it doesn't have separate screens to scroll through to make changes. Instead, a list of options appear along the bottom and right margins of the screen, lining up with corresponding buttons outside the monitor. So if you want to change your White Balance setting, you simply press the button next to the W / B menu option until you get to the desired selection. Although it took a little getting used to (and, we must admit, a good study of the manual), in the end we really appreciated this simplified, timesaving system. Our only complaint with the information display is that it doesn't report the battery power until the batteries are too low to operate the camera (neither does the small status display panel on top), so you don't really have any idea how much battery time you have left until it's too late.

The menu selections work the same way in Playback mode. There's an option for Multi playback that cycles between two index displays of four or nine thumbnail images and single image review, plus a 3x playback zoom for closer inspection of single images, controlled with the Optical Zoom buttons. Delete All, Scroll (Arrows), Delete, Lock, and Menu Change buttons are also displayed on-screen with Image Quality and Frame number.

We found the LCD monitor to be very accurate in framing, showing approximately 98 percent of the frame at both wide angle and telephoto focal lengths. We generally like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, so the 3100Z came through with flying colors.


Optics
A 3x, 7 to 21mm lens (equivalent to a 34 to 102mm lens on a 35 mm camera) offers a focal range of 20 inches (50cm) to infinity in normal mode. Macro mode adjusts the focal range from 2.36 to 20 inches (6 to 50cm). Apertures can be manually or automatically adjusted from f/2.0 to f/8.0 in one-stop increments. There's also a Manual Focus option, with three distance settings to choose from: Three feet (0.9 meter), 10 feet (3 meters), and Infinity. When the camera is powered on, the telescoping lens extends from the body and retracts once the camera is turned off. A spring-loaded plastic lens cap protects the lens from smudges and scratches, and attaches to the camera body with a small strap (so you don't have to worry about losing it). Metal filter threads around the lens accommodate a lens adapter, which ships with the camera. This lens adapter fits a variety of Epson accessory lens kits, including wide-angle, telephoto and macro lenses, plus standard 49mm filters. (Big kudos to Epson for including the lens adapter with the camera: Most digicam manufacturers offer adapters of this sort only as optional items. The issue isn't so much the added cost, but that dealers rarely stock these accessories, making them hard to come by. Having the lens adapter packed in the box makes the camera immediately more useful.)

The 2x Digital Zoom function is enabled through the Setup menu. Once you turn the Digital Zoom on, it's added onto the Optical Zoom range bar, so when you zoom past the Optical Zoom limit (about halfway up the bar), the camera automatically switches to Digital Zoom. Remember, though, that image quality suffers in the form of softer resolution and increased noise when using Digital Zoom.

The 3100 Zoom's lens appears to be of pretty high quality: During our testing, we found a slightly lower than average barrel distortion at the wide angle end of its range, approximately 0.7 percent, almost no distortion at the telephoto end. We also noticed just a little chromatic aberration, with only about three pixels of coloration on each side of the black target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around objects at the edge of the field of view on the resolution target.) Overall, the lens performance looks very good.


Exposure
Once you learn the basic camera operation, exposure control on the 3100Z is pretty straightforward. The unique LCD screen and menu display allow you to change most exposure settings with a simple press of a button, but you first have to set the camera's User and Exposure Modes. The camera has three User Modes which are chosen from the Setup menu: Full Auto (the camera controls everything), Program (offers partial user control), and Manual (provides full manual control). After you set the User mode, you just switch to one of the three capture positions on the Mode dial (indicated by red icons) to take a picture. Further exposure adjustments must be made in the LCD-enabled mode (red camera w / large box). While Full Auto mode has only one menu option (Macro On / Off), the Program mode has one full menu screen, and Manual mode offers two menu screens. You can make on-screen adjustments with these menus and then switch back to the Viewfinder or Multi Image capture modes to make exposures with your chosen settings.

In Full Auto mode, the camera controls everything except Flash and Image Quality. You can also choose to use the Macro or Self-Timer options, or switch to one of the special shooting modes offered in the last Mode dial setting: Video Clip (movie), Continuous Shooting (rapid fire), Interval Shooting (time-lapse photography), and Stitching (panoramic) modes. Program mode increases your exposure options to include Exposure Compensation, ISO, White Balance, and four exposure presets: Normal, Sports, Portrait, and Landscape. The Normal preset adjusts the camera to handle most daylight shooting situations. The Sports preset chooses a high shutter speed to capture fast-moving subjects. Portrait fixes the aperture a f/2.0 and switches the metering mode to spot, so that your subject is the primary focus. Landscape sets the aperture to f/8.0 (f/2.0 in dim light) for greater depth of field when capturing broad landscapes and scenery.

The Manual mode offers four exposure options: Auto Exposure, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual. All four options provide access to Flash, ISO, White Balance, and Metering (Spot or Matrix). In addition to these exposure options: Auto Exposure enables you to control Exposure Compensation. Aperture Priority offers Exposure Compensation, plus the ability to set the aperture from f/2.0 to f/8.0, while the camera selects the best corresponding shutter speed. Shutter Priority provides Exposure Compensation and shutter speed adjustment, from 1/1,000 to 8 seconds, while the camera selects the best corresponding aperture. Manual Exposure affords control over both aperture and shutter speed settings.

The Setup menu also offers a Monochrome (black and white) option, Compression settings (Standard or Low), TIFF or JPEG files, Digital Zoom On / Off, Trailing or Leading Flash Synchro, and a Confirmation On / Off setting, which enables or disables an image preview after each image capture, giving you the option of recording sound to accompany the image or deleting the image rather than saving it to the CompactFlash card.

Exposure Compensation and ISO
Exposure Compensation (EV) is adjustable from -2 to +2 in varying increments, depending on the camera's capture mode. In Program mode, EV is adjustable in one-half-step increments (nine available settings), and in Manual mode, EV is adjustable in one-third-stop increments (21 available settings). ISO sensitivity can be set to 100, 200 or 400, by pressing the button corresponding to the ISO setting at the bottom of the LCD monitor in the appropriate menu mode.

Spot or Matrix Metering
In Manual mode, Metering is adjustable through the on-screen LCD menu, with options for Matrix or Spot readings. Matrix metering takes readings from areas throughout the image and averages them to judge the proper exposure. Spot metering bases the exposure on a reading from the very center of the image.

White Balance
White balance is also adjustable through the on-screen menu, with Auto, Fix, and Custom modes available. The Auto White Balance automatically sets the white balance based on the camera's assessment of the existing light quality. The Fix mode sets the camera's white balance to match 5,200°Kelvin, which approximately matches full sunlight. (Although the international standard for "daylight" is 5500K.) The Custom White Balance mode, available only in Manual capture mode, bases the white value on a user-defined setting. This setting is created through the Setup menu, under the Shot Setup option. You select New W/B, focus the camera on a white sheet of paper, and press the shutter button to save the selection. This is a slightly tricky way to manually adjust the white balance. We'd rather take the custom reading in the shooting mode, as part of the White Balance menu, rather than having to go into Setup mode.


Flash
The 3100Z features a built-in flash with five operating modes: Auto, Forced, Off, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow Synchro, all controlled by pressing the Flash button on the top panel. The Auto mode determines the need for flash based on existing light levels. The Forced setting fires the flash with every exposure, regardless of the existing light conditions, and Flash Off disables the flash for all exposures. The Red-Eye Reduction setting fires a small pre-flash before firing the full flash, to reduce the effects of red-eye. Finally, the Slow Synchro setting uses a slower shutter speed, to allow more ambient light into the image and balance the background with the subject. You can change the Slow Synchro from Leading to Trailing flash through the Setup menu. Leading Synchro fires the flash at the beginning of the exposure and Trailing Synchro fires the flash at the end of the exposure. The Slow Synchro setting is only available in Program and Manual capture modes.

Epson doesn't provide a flash range in the camera's documentation, but in our testing, the flash was effective to 10 feet, with its brightness dropping steadily after that point. We'd therefore rate the 3100's flash range as 10 feet.

When a more powerful flash is needed, the 3100Z's hot shoe enables you to connect an external flash (in Manual mode only). Once mounted, the External Flash setting must be selected in the Shot Setup option of the Setup menu (Trailing or Leading Synchro adjustment), automatically disabling the camera's built-in flash. We really like the inclusion of a standard hot shoe connection, since it means the 3100Z can be used with most any autoexposure external flash unit. 

Self-Timer
A 10-second self-timer can be accessed through the Self-Timer button on the camera's top panel. Once activated, the self-timer symbol on the LCD screen and the small LED on the front of the camera flash slowly for eight seconds, and then flash rapidly for the remaining two. The timer can be canceled by pressing the Shutter button or the Self-Timer button a second time. The Self-Timer mode is also accessible in the Continuous, Interval, Stitching, and Video Clip recording modes.

Video Clip (Movie)
The 3100Z allows you to record 25-second movies with sound or 35-second movies without sound, at 15 frames per second. Movie images are saved as 320 x 240-pixel files in the Motion JPEG file format, which can be played back on a computer with Apple QuickTime. The mode is accessed by turning the mode dial on top of the camera to the last setting, the red multi-shot symbol. From there, you press the Mode Change button in the lower left corner, which scrolls between Video Clip, Continuous, Interval, and Stitching shooting modes. You can change the White Balance and ISO settings by turning the Mode dial to the LCD single capture mode, adjusting the settings, then turning the dial back to the multi-shot symbol.

Continuous Shooting
Accessed in the same manner as the Movie mode, Continuous Shooting lets you capture either 45 standard quality images at up to two shots per second, 13 fine quality images at up to two shots per second, or seven super fine images at up to one image per second. (The actual image capture time will vary with the amount of image information being recorded and available CompactFlash space.) As with the Movie mode, you can adjust exposure by setting the mode dial to the LCD single capture mode and then re-entering the Continuous Shooting mode. The flash is unavailable in this mode, as are the HyPict and TIFF image formats.

Interval Shooting
Interval Shooting is accessed and controlled through the same method as Movie and Continuous Shooting. Like time-lapse photography, Interval Shooting sets up the camera to make exposures at set time intervals, from 10 seconds to 24 hours. For the longer interval times, the camera will shut off between exposures and wake back up again at the appropriate time to take the next shot. (Using an AC power adapter would be a good idea for such extended operation.) The total number of photos taken depends on the amount of CompactFlash space available. Interval photos can be strung together with software such as QuickTime Pro or Macromedia Flash to create time-lapse movies.

Stitching Mode
The Stitching (Panorama) mode is grouped with the Movie, Continuous, and Interval settings on the Mode dial, indicated by the red multi shot icon. Once selected, the panorama capture process is very simple. You can take four or eight exposures in a series. After the first capture, each screen will show a "ghosted" edge of the last image to use as a reference for lining up the next shot. The first four are taken from left to right and will be stitched into a single, four-frame panoramic when you run it through the Panorama Stitcher software loaded on your computer. If you continue to the fifth frame, the direction changes from right to left, and the second set of pictures are lined up along the bottom of the first four captures. To finish a series, you simply press the Finish button in the lower right corner.


Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it using Imaging Resource proprietary testing. The table below shows the times we measured for various camera operations.

 

Epson PhotoPC 3100Z Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
 7.6
Slower than average.
Shutdown
 6.8
Average to a bit slower than average.
Play to Record, first shot
3.4
A little slow.
Record to play (max/min res)
17.8/3.3/2.9
Longest time is for HyPict (interpolated) file format, immediate switch to play after shutter trip, shorter times are for max/min res JPEG formats.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.90-1.24
A bit slower than average. (Average is about 0.75) Shortest time is for wide angle, longest for telephoto.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.55
About average.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.29
About average.
Cycle time, large/fine files
2.75/4.8
Shorter time is for first four shots, then jumps to 4.8 seconds, but subsequent shots are at 3.9 second intervals. Fairly fast, good buffer size.
Cycle time, small/basic files
2.59
Average speed, but buffer holds at least 10 shots. (All we tested.)
Cycle time, TIFF files
43 (!)
TIFF mode files are huge, take a long time to write.(Not unusually slow for large TIFFs.)
Continuous mode
0.80/6.58
First time is for first five shots, then wait 6.58 seconds, then another four shots.

 


Overall, the PhotoPC 3100Z is a little faster than average among top-end prosumer cameras we've tested. Autofocus speed is a bit slower than average, but not by much. Cycle time is pretty good, at only 2.75 seconds for the first five shots before slowing for the sixth while the buffer clears. (This is a nice buffer length, most competing cameras can only rapid-fire for two or three shots.) Startup and shutdown are a little sluggish, but overall the 3100Z is a solid performer.


Operation and User Interface
We found the user interface on the 3100Z a little confusing at first, but a quick read through the manual put everything in perspective. We applaud Epson's attempt to simplify the conventional LCD menu by setting up a grid-like system of control buttons around the LCD monitor. This setup definitely saves time, allowing you to quickly change exposure compensation, white balance, and metering mode, without having to scroll through multiple screens and options. That said, we still found some of the settings a bit of a nuisance to change. For example, to change the camera's User mode, you have to go into the Setup menu via the mode dial to change the option. It seems far more sensible to keep the mode dial in control of camera mode. As it was on the prior 3000Z model, the mode dial controls whether you're using the LCD monitor or just the optical viewfinder, as well as the Multi-Shot, Playback, PC, and Setup modes. Aside from some exposure settings located in the Setup menu, overall exposure control was relatively straightforward, once we got the hang of it. The following overview will give you brief explanation of all of the controls and their functions.


Shutter Button: Located on the very top of the hand grip, the shutter button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed. It also starts the 10-second countdown when the camera is in Self-Timer mode.


Power Button: Situated on the right side of the top panel, encircled by the mode dial, this button turns the camera on and off, signaling the lens to extend or retract, depending on the mode setting.


Mode Dial: Surrounding the power button on the top right of the camera, this notched dial sets the camera's operating mode:



Flash Button: Positioned to the left of the mode dial, this button controls the Flash mode:



Image Quality Button: Diagonally to the left of the Flash button, this button sets the image quality and size to Standard JPEG (640 x 480), Fine JPEG (1,600 x 1,200), Super Fine JPEG (2,048 x 1,536), HyPict JPEG (2,544 x 1,904 interpolated) or Uncompressed TIFF (2,048 x 1,536 pixels).


Self-Timer Button: Located just below the Image Quality button, this button activates the Self-Timer mode, which starts a 10-second countdown when the Shutter button is fully depressed.


Diopter Adjustment Dial: Located on the left side of the optical viewfinder, this small dial adjusts the viewfinder focus to accommodate eyeglass wearers.


Telephoto (T) / Wide Angle (W) Buttons: Situated in the top right corner of the back panel, these two buttons control the Optical Zoom in any capture mode.


Menu On / Off Button: Positioned at the very bottom right corner of the LCD monitor, this button controls the on-screen menu display in Playback mode and any capture mode.


LCD Buttons: This series of seven unmarked buttons are positioned along the bottom and right side of the LCD monitor. Depending on the camera's mode, these buttons control various menu items on the LCD screen. Each button corresponds to a menu option, which is directly above or to the side of the actual button.


"Push" Battery Compartment Button: Located in the center of the battery compartment door, this button releases the door and allows it to slide open.

Camera Modes and Menus

Mode Dial Menus: The following explains each Mode dial setting and its corresponding menus:

Setup Mode: Marked on the mode dial as "Setup" in white letters, this mode controls all of the basic camera settings. Immediately upon entering the mode, the Setup menu is displayed on the LCD monitor with the following options:



Shot Setup: The Shot Setup choice on the main setup menu produces this submenu of options:



Camera Setup: The Camera Setup choice on the main setup menu produces this submenu of options:



PC Mode: Noted on the Mode dial with a double ended arrow, this mode allows the camera to connect to a computer and download images. It also provides access to the PRINT Image Match and DPOF settings menus for output to compatible printers.



Playback Mode: Accessed by turning the Mode dial to the green playback symbol, this mode allows you to review captured images, protect them, or delete them. The on-screen LCD menu offers the following choices:



Viewfinder Mode: One of two single-capture positions, this Mode dial setting is marked by a red camera outline with a small red rectangle on the inside. It deactivates the LCD monitor for shooting with the optical viewfinder only.

LCD Mode: One of two single-capture positions, this Mode dial setting is marked by a red camera outline with a large red rectangle on the inside. This mode activates the LCD monitor for use in image composition. It works in one of three Exposure modes selected through the Setup menu and described below: Program, Manual, and Full Auto.

Multi Mode: This mode is entered by turning the Mode dial to the red, multi-shot symbol at the far end of the dial. Because this mode is controlled by the Mode dial, the available exposure settings are determined by the capture mode set in the Setup menu or by switching back to the LCD mode to adjust settings. The Mult-Shot mode offers the following options, adjustable using the Mode Change button in the lower left corner.



User (Exposure) Modes: The camera's three basic User Modes are selected using the top right LCD button in the Setup mode on the Mode dial: Full Auto, Program, and Manual. Their descriptions and menus are as follows:

Full Auto: This mode puts the camera in charge of all exposure settings. The user has control over Self-Timer, Flash, Image Quality, Zoom, and Macro modes. (Other options, such as Digital Zoom, can be activated using the Setup menu.)

Program: The Program provides more user controls than the Full Auto mode, but less than the Manual mode, with the same controls available in Full Auto, plus the following exposure settings: Exposure Compensation, ISO, and White Balance. It also offers a choice of four preset shooting options:



While in Program capture mode, the basic on-screen menu offers the following options:



Manual: Also selected through the Setup menu, Manual exposure mode provides access to all of the camera's exposure settings, including ISO, White Balance, Shutter Speed, Aperture, Metering, and Manual Focus. Within Manual mode, you can choose from three levels of exposure control:



While in Manual capture mode, the basic on-screen menu offers the following settings, depending on the exposure control:



Image Storage and Interface
The 3100Z stores images on a CompactFlash card, with a 16MB card accompanying the camera. You can purchase additional Type I CompactFlash cards in sizes up to 512MB from third parties. Image quality and size are controlled by the Image Quality button on top of the camera, which cycles through Standard JPEG (640 x 480 pixels), Fine JPEG (1,600 x 1,200 pixels), Super Fine JPEG (2,048 x 1,536 pixels), HyPict JPEG (2,544 x 1,904 pixels interpolated) or Uncompressed TIFF (2,048 x 1,536 pixels). To determine which of the two higher quality settings is available, the Shot Setup option under the Setup menu must be set to either JPEG or TIFF (using the File Type button); the JPEG compression level is also set to either Standard or Low (best quality) using the JPEG Compression button.

Images can be individually protected through the Playback menu by pressing the Lock button. (You can also remove the protection through this menu setting.) Write protection prevents the file from being accidentally erased, except through card formatting, which is accessed in the Setup menu, under the Memory Setup option. File numbering is reset with each new card inserted into the camera, with no option to carry file numbers from one card to the next. (We'd really like to see this useful option added to future Epson cameras.)

With each image captured, the 3100Z creates an image information file that reports the exposure settings used for that image. This file is accessed by pressing the Menu Change button in Playback mode, and then pressing the Info button. The camera also contains two print preparation programs: DPOF and PRINT Image Matching. DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) lets you create a file with the information needed to print images directly off the CompactFlash card, at a photo lab or with a DPOF-compatible printer. PRINT Image Matching sets the color space and gamma for your printed photos and saves a file with print commands designed specifically for the camera's output and the PRINT Image Matching compatible printer. Images are marked for printing with the green Print Button in the lower left corner of the camera's back panel. The menus for making the adjustments are accessible through the PC mode setting on the Mode dial.

The table below shows the number of images, and their approximate compression levels, that can be stored on a 16MB CompactFlash card:

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
16MB Card
Uncompressed
Fine
Normal
HyPict Resolution
(2544 x 1904)
Images 1 12
-
Approx.
Compression
1:1 11:1
-
Full Resolution
(2048 x 1536)
Images
-
15
29
Approx.
Compression
-
9:1
17:1
SXGA Resolution
(1280 x 960)
Images
-
29
56
Approx.
Compression
-
10:1
20:1
VGA Resolution
(640 x 480)
Images
-
122
199
Approx.
Compression
-
7:1
12:1


A computer problem prevented us from testing the 3100Z's data-transfer time, but it should be pretty fast, being a USB-connected camera. (Typical USB download speeds from digital cameras we've tested run between 250-350 KBytes/second.)


Video Out
The 3100Z is packaged with an NTSC video cable (PAL for European models) for connection to a television set. It can playback captured images, video clips, or sound bytes to any multimedia projector, television, VCR or other video output device. The ability to connect to a video projector gives the 3100Z extended use as a presentation tool. The camera can be set to handle either NTSC or PAL timings through the Language option under the Setup menu. (Not what we'd call an intuitive control location, but this isn't a feature most users will have to change very often.)


Power
The 3100Z is powered by four AA alkaline batteries provided with the camera, or you can use lithium or rechargeable NiMH or NiCd batteries. An optional NiMH Universal battery pack and charger are available from Epson, as well as an optional AC adapter. The 3000Z doesn't report the available battery power until the batteries are low, so you'll want to keep some freshly charged spares handy. The camera does feature a power saving auto-off feature, which lets you set the amount of inactive time before the camera shuts off (30 seconds, one minute, or five minutes). We highly recommend purchasing the AC adapter to save battery power when downloading images, or playing back captured images and movies. The AC adapter is also a necessity for the Interval shooting mode, which has shutter intervals up to 24 hours.

Operating Mode
Power
Est. Minutes
Capture Mode, w/LCD
620 mA
100
Capture Mode, no LCD
430 mA
140
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
610 mA
100
Half-pressed w/o LCD
410 mA
150
Memory Write (transient)
500 mA
n/a
Flash Recharge (transient)
1050 mA
n/a
Image Playback
340 mA
180


Overall, battery life looks pretty good for a 3 megapixel digicam. With a high-capacity set of rechargeable NiMH AA batteries (1500-1600 mAh or higher), you should get about an hour and forty minutes of continuous operation in record mode with the LCD on, or about two and a half hours with the LCD off. In playback mode, a fresh set of batteries would last about 180 minutes. (Don't even think about using alkaline batteries though, they'll be drained dry in just a few minutes.) As always, we strongly recommend buying at least two sets of good-quality NiMH batteries and a good charger.

About Batteries
We've gotten so many emails about power issues for digicams, that we're now inserting this standard notice in the reviews of all AA-powered cameras on our site: Don't even *think* about using alkaline AA batteries in a digicam! Despite their being packed in the box with many cameras, they simply don't have the juice to handle typical digicam demands. (Even the "high power" ones the battery manufacturers say are designed for devices like digital cameras.) Spend the $35-40 or so it takes to get a set (or two) of high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries and a good charger! The few dollars up front will save you literally hundreds of dollars in the long run, not to mention the hassle of wimpy batteries running out in the middle of the action. We suggest you buy two sets of batteries, so one can always be in the charger, ready to go, and so have two sets available for longer excursions. Good brands of batteries include Maha (our favorite), GP, Kodak, and Nexcell. Also, buy the highest capacity AAs the manufacturer makes, the few extra dollars for the extra capacity is usually well worth it. Getting a good charger is critical though, almost more so than buying good batteries. We recommend the Maha C-204F (see the photo at right), the charger we use the most in our own studio. - Read our review of it for all the details. Or, just click here to buy one, you won't regret it.


Included Software
Packaged with the 3100Z is a software CD containing Sierra Imaging's Image Expert (with the QuickTime Player and Adobe Acrobat Reader), Panorama Stitcher, Epson File Converter, and USB storage drivers for Windows and Mac. Image Expert allows you to transfer, organize, and view and edit your pictures and sounds, and view video clips. Panorama Stitcher enables you to stitch and print panoramas from multiple images. Finally, Epson File Converter allows you to convert presentation slides and files into a format that can be uploaded into the camera for presentations.


In the Box



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 3100Z'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 3100Z performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

Overall, the 3100Z produced good photos, with great color balance under most shooting conditions. Colors are rich and accurate, the only problems we saw being a slight weakness in bright yellows, and a tendency for the always-difficult blue flowers in our Outdoor Portrait test to go purple. Tonal range and shadow noise were excellent, even when the camera's ISO value (light sensitivity) was boosted to 200 and 400. (There was noise there, but our impression was that there was less of it at ISO 400 than we're used to seeing in cameras in this price/function range.)

The 3100Z's automatic white balance system did well under "average" conditions, but had some trouble with the strong yellowish cast the household incandescent lighting of our Indoor Portrait test. Fortunately the Manual white balance option handled even this extreme color cast with aplomb.

Resolution on the 3100Z is very good, with a slight softness to the images, but a lot of detail present nonetheless. (Applying unsharp masking in Photoshop(tm) brings out a good bit more detail than you'll see in the photos at first glance.) We see the first artifacts creeping into our resolution test target at about 600 lines per picture height, but strong detail is present to 1000 lines per picture height, and "extinction" of our test target patterns didn't occur until nearly 1300 lines. Chromatic aberration is quite good, and geometric distortion (barrel and pincushion distortion) is about average among high-end prosumer cameras. Overall, a very good performance.

The 3100Z offers excellent exposure control, from a full manual mode to a manually adjustable white balance setting and control over ISO and metering options. The camera performed extremely well in our low light tests, producing bright, usable images as low as 1/16 foot candles (0.63 lux) at the 200 ISO setting (1/8 foot-candles, 1.3 lux at ISO 100), with amazingly little noise. To put the 3100Z'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.

We found the 3100Z's optical viewfinder to be a bit tight, showing approximately 84 percent of the final image area at both wide angle and telephoto. The LCD monitor turned in a much more accurate performance, showing approximately 98 percent accuracy. Since we generally prefer LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the 3000Z does a very good job.

The 3100Z performs very well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of just 3.14 x 2.25 inches (79.7 x 59.8 millimeters). This is a slightly better than average performance among the digicams we've tested, and the filter threads and lens adapter allow you to capture even smaller areas with the accessory macro kit.

Overall, the 3100Z performs quite well for its 3.3 megapixel class, providing excellent exposure control and nice image quality. It's images are a bit softer than the sharpest 3 megapixel cameras we've tested, but all the detail seems to be there - The softness just looks like a bit understated in-camera sharpening.


Conclusion
Epson's done a lot right with this camera, including all the standard "high-end" features, including flexible exposure modes and even a flash hot shoe. Its full auto setting though, means you can hand it to a non-techie with confidence. Nice image quality and a quick, timesaving (if not a little unusual) user interface give this camera an edge over many in its 3.3 megapixel class. There's also the benefit of an uncompressed TIFF mode and an interpolated 4.8-megapixel CCD that produces 2,544 x 1,904-pixel images capable of making prints as large as 11 x 17 inches. If you have a compatible printer , the 3100Z's inclusion of PRINT Image Matching will offer significant improvements in the quality of your prints. (At this writing, Epson's own Stylus Photo 875EPX is the only supporting printer, but PRINT Image Matching drivers are promised soon for the 780 and 1280) To our eye, the improvements from PRINT Image Matching are worth buying an Epson printer for, undoubtedly exactly what Epson intended. With Epson known more for its printers than its cameras, it would be easy for this camera to be overlooked in the marketplace. That would be a shame, as it's a genuinely excellent digicam.


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