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Kyocera FineCam S3 Zoom

Kyocera packs 3 megapixels into the smallest zoom-equipped digicam yet. Too cool!

Review First Posted: 7/1/2001





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MSRP $750 US

 

*
3.3 megapixel CCD for 2,048 x 1,536 images.
*
2x telescoping zoom lens with integral lens cover.
*
Superbly designed, rugged stainless-steel case.
*
The smallest zoom-equipped digicam on the planet!


Manufacturer Overview
Though the Kyocera name is not a household word for most consumers (it's actually best known for its semiconductor development), both serious amateur and professional photographers will immediately recognize the names Contax, Yashica, and Carl Zeiss -- all camera / optics manufacturers marketed by 45-year-old Kyocera Optics Inc. -- and all highly regarded in the field of fine photographic systems and lenses. Though these camera lines are best known in the field of conventional film imaging, the Finecam S3 is not the first digicam to come out of the Kyocera family. In 1999, Yashica introduced the Kyocera Samurai 2100DG, reportedly the first 2-megapixel camera with a 4x optical zoom lens. This year, Kyocera has announced two new models: the Kyocera EZ Digital 1.3 Camera for consumers and the 3.3-megapixel Finecam S3, with a 2x optical zoom lens, for the serious amateur. Our first impression is that this is one classy little camera, with all the makings of a popular prosumer model. With Kyocera looking to establish their name as a brand in its own right, they could hardly have chosen a better flagship than the new Finecam S3. Its rugged, classy design exudes quality and pizazz. (And it takes pretty good pictures too!) With an important segment of the digicam market becoming more "fashion" conscious, we think Kyocera's hit a home run with the S3.


High Points




Executive Overview
As one of the tiniest digicams we've seen to date (June 2001), Kyocera's new Finecam S3 is even smaller than Canon’s ELPH series at just 3.4 x 1.3 x 2.3 inches (87 x 55 x 30mm), all the more remarkable for its 3 megapixel resolution and telescoping 2x zoom lens. Its stainless steel body is sturdy and light, weighing less than 6 ounces (150 grams) with the battery and memory card installed, and its construction exudes an air of quality. - Very nicely done! While it's small enough to fit into just about any pocket or bag, the S3 comes with a soft case and wrist strap for added protection. Efficiently packed into the S3's tiny body is a 3.3-megapixel CCD, which delivers image resolutions as high as 2,048 x 1,536 pixels, and a good selection of exposure features.

The S3 offers both a real-image optical zoom viewfinder and color LCD monitor for image composition. Next to the viewfinder is a set of LED lamps on the eyepiece that report the camera’s status (such as whether focus is set, the flash is charging, etc.). The 1.5-inch TFT color LCD monitor is activated by pressing the Display button, and features a fairly comprehensive information display (though aperture and shutter speed are not routinely reported). A set of target marks in the center of the screen help line up shots.

A 2x, 7.8-15.6mm optical zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-76mm lens on a 35mm camera) is made entirely of glass (as compared to some cameras which incorporate plastic elements to save cost), with three aspheric elements. Aperture can be set manually to either f/2.8 or f/6.2 (wide-angle values, the aperture decreases as the lens is zoomed toward telephoto). Focus also features a manual adjustment option, which ranges from 90cm to infinity in normal mode. A Macro setting focuses from 10 to 90cm. There's also a Landscape focus mode, which fixes the focus at infinity for distant subjects. The S3 offers Continuous and Single AF modes, which control whether the camera sets focus continuously or only when the shutter button is halfway pressed. A Digital Zoom option is enabled through the Setup menu, and enlarges images as much as 2x (decreasing overall image quality at the same time).

When it comes to exposure, the S3 provides limited manual control with Program AE, Aperture Priority, and Long Exposure modes. In Program AE, the camera selects the best aperture and shutter speed settings and you have the option of changing the Flash setting. In Aperture Priority mode, the user can set the lens aperture to f/2.8 or f/6.2, while the camera chooses the best corresponding shutter speed. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 1 second in both Aperture Priority and Program AE modes. Long Exposure mode provides longer shutter times, with options of 2, 4, or 8 seconds. Three metering options are available, including Evaluative (default), Center-Weighted, and Spot. Exposure can be lightened or darkened from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. The S3's Standard (default) Sensitivity is ISO 100, which can be increased through the Record menu to X2 and X4 settings.

White Balance adjustment offers five settings to match a variety of light sources, including Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, Cloudy, Fluorescent, and Preset (manual setting). Preset mode sets the color balance based on a white card held in front of the lens. (Very unusual in a compact digicam.) For self-portraits, the S3 offers a 2- or 10-second Self-Timer mode, and a Color mode enables you to choose between normal Color, Black-and-White, or Sepia modes. The S3's built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill In, or Flash Off modes, with an effective range from 90cm to 2 meters.

In addition to still images, the S3 can also capture moving images without sound. Movies are recorded at the 320 x 240-pixel resolution size and can be a maximum of 15 seconds in length.

The S3 records images to MMC (MultiMedia) or SD (Secure Digital) cards, with a 16MB MMC card included. A USB card reader accompanies the camera, providing (very) quick image downloading by simply plugging the card directly into the cable. Images are saved as compressed JPEG or uncompressed TIFF file formats, with Superfine, Fine, and Normal JPEG compression levels available. File sizes include 2,048 x 1,536- and 1,024 x 768-pixels for still images, and 320 x 240-pixels for movies. The Playback menu allows you to create new folders for image storage, as well as write-protect image files, delete images, format the memory card, rotate images, and set up DPOF settings. You can also display images in a six-image thumbnail display, enlarge captured images to 2x, and set up an automated slide show.

A software CD accompanies the camera, loaded with ArcSoft PhotoImpression (for image editing), Apple QuickTime (for movie playback), and a set of USB drivers, for both Windows and Macintosh systems. US models of the S3 come with an NTSC video cable, for playing back and composing images using a television set (European models come equipped for PAL timing). For power, the S3 uses a proprietary 3.6v lithium-ion battery pack or AC adapter (which doubles as an in-camera battery charger), both of which are supplied with the camera.

Its tiny dimensions and a very sleek body design make the Finecam S3 a great travel companion, as it can be easily carried in a shirt pocket or small handbag. Though it's small, the S3 features a large, 3.3-megapixel CCD, as well as a handful of useful exposure features. Limited manual controls provide some flexibility over exposure, while a fully automatic mode turns it into a no-decisions-needed, point-and-shoot camera.


Design
The Finecam S3's stainless steel body is attractive, tiny, and rugged -- so compact that it's easily covered by a standard credit card. The champagne-colored surface is accented by lots of silver and chrome, plus a very slick SD Memory card logo on the front panel that changes color with the light, and doubles as a clear plastic finger grip. The overall size is approximately 3.4 x 1.3 x 2.3 inches (87 x 55 x 30mm), with a telescoping zoom lens that measures just under an inch when fully extended. The body weight is less than 6 ounces (150 grams) with the battery and memory card installed(!). But don't let this little camera fool you. The S3 offers a whopping 3.3-megapixel CCD (for images as large as 2,048 x 1,536 pixels, unusual in this small a form factor) and a high-quality 2x zoom lens that provides an equivalent focal range of a 38-76mm lens on a 35mm camera.



The 2x, 7.8-15.6mm zoom lens dominates the S3's front panel, extending about an inch when the camera is powered on in Record mode. A retracting, shutter-like cover protects the lens when it's not in use, and quickly slides open and out of the way as the lens telescopes outward. Above the lens are the viewfinder window and two LED lamps, with the built-in flash unit set off slightly on the left side. One of the lamps is a power indicator that glows red when the camera is in Playback and Setup modes. This serves as a reminder that the camera is on, even though the lens is not in its extended position.



The right side of the camera holds the memory card slot, wrist strap attachment eyelet, DC In, and Video Out jacks. A hinged, plastic door protects the memory card slot, which accommodates either MMC (MultiMedia) or SD (Secure Digital) cards (which are much smaller than standard CompactFlash and SmartMedia memory cards). A flexible rubber flap covers the cable connections, with small rubber plugs to protect the DC In and Video Out jacks.



The opposite side of the camera holds the battery compartment door, which slides out from the camera body before opening outward to reveal the compartment. The proprietary lithium-ion battery pack is small and flat, and recharges inside the body with the accompanying AC adapter.



The Shutter and Power buttons are the only two features on the camera's top panel, which mirrors the streamlined appearance of the camera's front panel.



All of the remaining camera controls are on the back panel, along with the optical viewfinder eyepiece and 1.5-inch LCD monitor. A Mode lever in the center of the top of the panel controls the camera's operating mode, placing it in Setup, Record, or Playback modes. Four buttons across the top of the panel control the focus mode (Macro or Infinity), flash mode, and optical zoom (one button for zooming out to telephoto, and another for zooming back in to wide-angle). Also on the back panel is a Four Way Arrow pad, which navigates the settings menus. In the center of the pad is an OK button, which confirms menu selections when the camera is in menu mode, and controls the LCD brightness level when the menu is turned off. The Display and Menu buttons are located at the bottom of the back panel, under the LCD monitor, and a long gray Card Release switch runs vertically along the right side. The optical viewfinder eyepiece features two LED lamps, which indicate the camera's status (such as when the subject is in focus or the flash is charging). Below the Card Release switch, another small LED lamp lights red whenever the camera is accessing the memory card.



The S3's bottom panel houses only a metal threaded tripod mount on the far right side, and the wrist attachment eyelet mentioned above.


Viewfinder
The Finecam S3 offers a real-image optical viewfinder (which zooms along with the lens) and an LCD monitor for composing images. Two LED lamps on the right side of the eyepiece glow to report the camera's current operating status. The top, red, LED lamp flashes to indicate that the flash is charging, or to indicate a camera shake warning or battery charging error, depending on the camera’s operating mode (the lamp glows steady while the battery is charging). The bottom, green, LED lamp lights to indicate that focus is set or that the battery has finished charging.

The 1.5-inch, polysilicon TFT color LCD has approximately 110,000 pixels, in an array of 521 x 218 pixels. The Display button below the monitor controls the image and information display, turning the LCD monitor on or off. When activated, the LCD monitor displays the current date and time for approximately three seconds. Basic camera settings, such as image quality settings, number of available images, and remaining battery power, are turned on and off with the Up and Down Arrow keys. Optional settings, such as Macro mode and Flash settings are displayed at all times. A set of focus brackets in the center of the frame indicate the focus and autoexposure target area. These can also be turned on or off with the Arrow keys.

In Playback mode, the S3’s LCD monitor offers a detailed image information page (activated by pressing the Up and Down Arrows), which reports the basic exposure settings, as well as the date and time of capture, folder and file names, file size, image quality setting, and any DPOF settings. The Zoom button enlarges captured images as much as 2x, allowing you to check details pan around the image using the Arrow keys. You can also display as many as six thumbnail-sized images with the Index Display mode, activated through the Playback menu.


Optics
A 2x, 7.8-15.6mm optical zoom lens is equivalent to a 38-76mm lens on a 35mm camera, with manually adjustable apertures of f/2.8 and f/6.2, and automatic aperture settings between. The maximum aperture setting varies with the lens' zoom position, equating to f/2.8 at wide angle and f/3.5 at full telephoto. The all-glass lens features three aspheric elements for capturing sharp images. Focus can be manually or automatically controlled (through the Record menu), and ranges from 90 centimeters to infinity, with a macro range of 10 to 90cm (at the wide-angle lens position). A Focus button on the camera's back panel places the S3 in Macro or Landscape modes. Macro focus changes the focus range to the macro setting, while Landscape focus fixes focus at infinity. When manual focus is enabled, a distance scale appears on the LCD monitor and focus is adjusted with the right and left buttons of the Four Way Arrow pad.

The S3's autofocus mechanism offers Single AF and Continuous AF settings, adjustable through the Setup menu. In Single AF mode, the camera determines focus only when the Shutter button is halfway pressed. Alternatively, Continuous AF mode sets focus whenever the subject or frame changes, which consumes considerably more battery power.

In addition to the S3’s 2x optical zoom, the camera also offers a maximum 2x digital zoom, effectively increasing the zoom range to 4x. Digital zoom is enabled through the Setup menu, and controlled with the Zoom buttons on the camera’s back panel (zooming past the optical zoom range activates digital zoom). The amount of digital zoom appears in the LCD monitor, with settings of 1.3x, 1.6x, and 2x. Remember that digital zoom only enlarges the central portion of the CCD image, thereby compromising image quality in the form of lower resolution or increased image noise.


Exposure
The Mode dial on the back of the camera controls the S3's main operating mode, with options for Setup, Record, and Playback. Through the Record menu, you can select one of two exposure modes: Program AE (default) or Aperture Priority. In Program AE, the camera controls both shutter speed and aperture settings. In Aperture Priority mode, the user can select either an f/2.8 or f/6.2 lens setting, while the camera chooses the best corresponding shutter speed. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 1 second in Program and Aperture Priority modes, or can be set at 2, 4, or 8 seconds in the camera's Long Exposure mode (activated through the Record menu).

The S3's default metering system is Evaluative metering, which takes readings from various points throughout the image to determine the best overall exposure. Through the Record menu, you can change the metering system to Center-Weighted or Spot metering. Center-Weighted metering reads a large area in the center of the frame, and averages the values to determine exposure. Spot metering reads a small point in the very center of the frame to judge the exposure, which is very useful for backlit or high-contrast subjects. Though the S3 does not offer a separate AE Lock function, you can manually lock the exposure by pointing the center of the frame at a specific part of the subject, halfway pressing the Shutter button, and then reframing the subject while holding down the Shutter button halfway. This locks both focus and exposure until the Shutter button is either fully depressed or released.

You can lighten or darken the exposure by adjusting the Exposure Compensation from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. The S3's default sensitivity setting is equivalent to 100 ISO, but can be increased through the Record menu to 200 or 400 via the X2 and X4 settings. As usual, boosting the light sensitivity also increases the image noise levels, although the S3's noise level at the X4 sensitivity setting is still quite low. White Balance offers five adjustment settings to match a variety of light sources: Preset, Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, or Fluorescent. The Preset mode enables you to set the color balance manually by holding a white card held in front of the lens.

A Self-Timer option in the Record menu allows you to set a 2- or 10-second countdown between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the exposure is made, for self-portraits or other timed shots. It's the first menu option on the screen, making it very quick to access. There's also a Color mode option that offers Black and White and Sepia exposures.


Flash
The S3's built-in flash offers Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill In, and Flash Off options. In the Auto flash mode, the S3 automatically fires the flash in low lighting or when the subject is backlit. Red-Eye Reduction mode fires a small pre-flash before the full flash, to reduce the occurrence of the red-eye effect. Forced Flash triggers the flash with every exposure, while No Flash completely disables it. These last two modes work independently of light level. Kyocera reports the effective flash ranges as 90 cm to 2.5 meters at the wide-angle setting.

Movie Mode
The S3 can also capture up to 15 seconds of moving images without sound, at the 320 x 240-pixel resolution. The Movie mode is accessed through the Record menu, but highlighting the Image Quality / Movie icon and scrolling through the quality options until the small movie camera icon shows up in the upper right corner of the LCD.


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.

Kyocera Finecam S3 Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
 7.3
Slower than average.
Shutdown
 2.7
Fairly fast.
Play to Record, first shot
2.7
About average.
Record to play (max/min res)
76/2.3
Long time is for TIFF file format, immediate switch to play after shutter trip, shorter time is for JPEG formats.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.90-1.66
A bit slower to much slower than average. (Average is about 0.75) Highly variable, doesn't seem to matter if wide or tele.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.32
Faster than average.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.28
About average.
Cycle time, large/fine files
6/10
Shorter time is for first three shots, then ranges between 6 and 10 seconds. Somewhat slower than average.
Cycle time, small/basic files
4.8
Average speed.
Cycle time, TIFF files
76 (!)
TIFF mode files are huge, take a very long time to write.


Overall, the Finecam S3 is a bit slower than average. Its shutter lag due to autofocus operation was longer than average and also highly variable, with shutter delay times ranging from 0.9 to 1.7 seconds. Focusing on well-contrasting objects at a distance though, shutter delay seems to run a bit over a second. With manual focus though, shutter delay dropped to only 0.32 seconds a better than average performance. Cycle times were also a bit slower than average, at 6 seconds between shots for the first three shots, then increasing to a range of between 6 and 10 seconds. Bottom line, the S3 will be fine for casual shots, just not the first choice for sports or other fast-paced action.


Operation and User Interface
Given its tiny size, Kyocera has done a nice job of fitting most of the basic external controls around the Finecam S3's stainless steel body. The top and back panels accommodate individual buttons for Macro / Landscape, Flash, Power, Zoom, Menu, and Display buttons, plus a Mode lever that sets the camera’s operating mode to Setup, Playback, or Record. The four-way Arrow Pad is very sensitive, with four individual Arrow buttons and an OK / Select button in the middle. Most exposure settings (such as White Balance, Exposure Compensation, and Exposure mode) are activated through the Record menu, which includes three pages of settings. The first page allows you to quickly activate the Self-Timer, Image Quality, Exposure Compensation, and Movie functions along the bottom of the LCD screen, while the next two pages appear in a more conventional menu layout. The Playback menu selections are spread across the bottom of the LCD screen in two pages, each icon pulling up its own set of options. The Setup menu includes two pages of standard camera operations such as Date / Time, Format card, and Power Save timings.


Control Enumeration


Shutter Button: Located on the right side of the top panel, this large silver button sets exposure and focus when halfway depressed, and completes the exposure when fully depressed.


Power Button: Directly to the left of the Shutter button, this button turns the camera on or off.


Macro / Landscape Mode Button: Positioned at the top of the camera's back panel, just to the right of the viewfinder eyepiece, this button cycles between Normal focus mode, and the Macro and Landscape settings.


Flash Button: On the right side of the Macro / Landscape button, the Flash button cycles through the available Flash modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-In Flash, and Flash Off.


Mode Level: Located at the top center of the back panel, this dial selects the camera's operating mode. Choices are Setup, Record, and Playback.


Zoom Buttons: These two buttons are side by side in the top right corner of the back panel. Both control the camera's optical zoom, with the left button zooming to wide-angle and the right button zooming to the telephoto setting.


Four Way Arrow Pad: Directly to the right of the LCD monitor, these four buttons each have an arrow pointing in opposite directions (Up, Down, Right, Left). In any settings menu, all four buttons navigate through menu options when the Menu system is engaged. In Record and Playback modes, the Up and Down Arrow buttons switch between different information displays. In Playback mode, the Right and Left Arrows scroll through captured images.


OK / Select Button: Located in the very center of the Arrow pad, this button brings up the LCD Brightness adjustment in either Record or Playback modes. When any settings menu is engaged, pressing this button confirms menu selections.


Card Release Switch: This sliding switch is located on the right side of the back panel, and releases the door on the memory card compartment. Once opened, pushing down on the memory card pops it from its slot.


Menu Button: Positioned directly below the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, this button activates and deactivates the settings menus in Record and Playback modes.


Display Button: Positioned below the lower left corner of the LCD monitor, this button turns the LCD display on or off in Record mode.


Camera Modes and Menus

Setup Mode: Turning the Mode lever to the Setup position automatically displays the following settings menu, which controls several basic camera functions:



Playback Mode: Marked on the Mode lever with the traditional Playback symbol (a triangle within a rectangle), Playback mode allows the user to review captured images, write-protect files, delete unwanted images, and set up images for printing on DPOF devices. Pressing the Menu button in Playback mode displays the following menu options:



Record Mode: Record mode is designated by a small camera icon. The Menu button pulls up the first four menu options across the bottom of the LCD screen, which are accessed by scrolling with the left and right arrow buttons. Once highlighted, the icons provide the following menu items:



Image Storage and Interface
The S3 records images to MMC (MultiMedia) or SD (Secure Digital) cards, which are currently among the smallest flash memory cards on the market (slightly larger than a postage stamp). A USB card reader and 16MB SD card accompany the camera, providing quick image downloading by simply plugging the card directly into the cable. SD cards are available from third parties in sizes as large as 64MB. (One supplier announced OEM sampling of 128MB SD cards just as this review was posted in early July, 2001.) While we're less than thrilled (an understatement) to see yet another memory card format invade the digicam space, we suspect many users will like the fact that the SD cards can be used in both a digicam and their SD-equipped MP3 music player.

The SD card features a write-protection switch, which slides downward to lock the card. Once locked, SD cards cannot be written to, nor can any information be deleted. Through the Playback menu, individual images can be write-protected, which prevents any accidental erasure (except from card formatting). The S3 saves images in folders, and allows you to create new folders through the Setup menu. When images are saved to a new folder, the file naming starts over at 0001.

The S3 offers an uncompressed TIFF file format, which saves images at the 2,048 x 1,536-pixel resolution. Three JPEG compression levels are also available, Superfine, Fine, and Normal. Both Superfine and Fine save images at the 2,048 x 1,536-pixel resolution, while the Normal setting saves images at 1,024 x 768 pixels. Movie files are saved at the 320 x 240-pixel resolution, with a maximum recording time of 15 seconds.

The table below summarizes the compression ratios and number of images, which can be stored on the included 16MB memory card with each size/quality combination.

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
Uncompressed
Super
Fine
Fine
Normal
High Resolution
(2048 x 1536)
Images 1 8 17
N/A
Approx.
Compression
1:1 5:1 10:1
N/A
Standard Resolution
(1024 x 768)
Images
-
-
-
59
Approx.
Compression
-
-
-
9:1


Perhaps due to its diminutive size, the Finecam S3 doesn't have a built-in port for connecting to a computer. Instead, there's a very compact SD card reader and USB cable packed in the box. Unlike many card readers, this is a "storage class" device, meaning that Mac OS 8.5 and higher and Windows ME computers don't need any special drivers to recognize it. We tested its transfer speed on our G4 PowerMac, and found it very fast, transferring data at 714 KBytes/second. (Most USB-connected cameras are limited to transfer speeds of about 350 KB/sec.)


Video Out
US and Japanese models of the S3 come with an NTSC video cable for connecting to a television set (European models come with the appropriate PAL cable, and the video signal is adjustable in the Setup menu). Once the camera is connected to the video source, images can be reviewed and composed using the larger screen. An automated slide show option, accessed in Playback mode, also provides presentation capability.


Power
The S3 is powered by a single, 3.6v lithium-ion battery pack, which slides into the compartment on the bottom panel of the camera. Though the S3 is somewhat reliant on its LCD menu system, it does offer a real-image optical viewfinder that allows you to compose the image independently of the LCD monitor. There's also an automatic shutoff feature that turns the camera off after a specified period of inactivity (either one, two, or six minutes). Kyocera estimates that a fully charged battery pack should provide enough power to capture approximately 140 shots with the LCD monitor on, and about 170 shots with the LCD monitor off. Continuous playback time is specified at 50 minutes. These numbers seem to agree with our own measurements, but you'd have to be awfully fast with the shutter button to snap 140 shots in the roughly 36 minutes of power-on time we estimate the battery pack will provide in that mode. (Actually, our estimate of playback time was a bit more generous than Kyocera's.) The battery pack takes around five hours to fully recharge, so we highly recommend picking up a spare and keeping it freshly charged and on-hand. An AC adapter also accompanies the camera, and serves as the in-camera battery charger as well.

Operating Mode
Power
(mA @5v)
Est. Minutes
Capture Mode, w/LCD
950 mA
36
Capture Mode, no LCD
580 mA
60
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
820 mA
42
Half-pressed w/o LCD
560 mA
62
Capture Mode, w/LCD, continuous AF
1000 mA
35
Memory Write (transient)
590 mA
n/a
Flash Recharge (transient)
810 mA
n/a
Image Playback
450 mA
77
Sleeping
240 mA
144


Based on our testing battery life looks like the Finecam S3's weakest link: It's possible there was something amiss with our test unit (production serial number 2908), but its power consumption was far higher than what Kyocera must have based its run time estimates on. Even with the LCD off, we estimate a capture-mode run time of only 60 minutes, dropping to just 36 minutes with the LCD illuminated. We calculated playback run time at 77 minutes. (We also noticed that the camera ran very warm after a few minutes of continuous operation, supporting the high power consumption we measured.)

These run times are a good bit shorter than average for the 3 megapixel category. Battery power is a frequent issue for ultra-compact digicams, due to the small amount of space available to stuff a battery into. The S3's power drain is above average (albeit not by a huge amount), while it's 3.6v 800mAh battery has less than half the power capacity of a set of premium NiMH AA cells. The net result is rather short battery life. Even more than we usually do, we strongly advise purchasing an extra battery when you buy your S3.


Included Software
A software CD packaged with the S3 contains ArcSoft’s PhotoImpression, Apple QuickTime, and USB driver software, for both Windows (98/2000/ME) and Macintosh (OS 8.6-9.1) platforms. PhotoImpression provides minor image correction and enhancement utilities, as well as printing capabilities, while QuickTime allows movie playback.


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 Finecam S3'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 S3 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

Overall, the S3 produced good-quality shots, with a fairly accurate color balance the majority of the time. The camera's White Balance system handled a variety of light sources well throughout our testing. We noticed that the Manual setting often resulted in a greenish image, and as a result most frequently chose the Auto white balance. That said, the Manual setting produced very accurate results in our Indoor Portrait (without flash), without producing any strong color cast in response to the (very yellow) incandescent lighting. Color balance looked pretty good on our Davebox target, though the S3 overexposed the shot slightly, which washed out color. The S3 also produced purplish blues in the flowers of our Outdoor and Indoor portraits, and produced slightly magenta skin tones in both Outdoor shots. Despite these minor concerns, the S3 did pretty well in the color department.

The S3 performed fairly well on our "laboratory" resolution test chart, though a notch below other three megapixel digicams we've tested. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. However, we found "strong detail" out to at least 1,000 lines, a very good number. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,150 - 1,200 lines. The S3's images were marked with a slight softness across the board, but this appeared to be more an issue of the in-camera sharpening rather than a fundamental optical shortcoming.

Optical distortion on the S3 was about average at the wide angle end, where we measured an approximate 0.76 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared a little better, as we measured a 0.47 percent pincushion distortion, although this is more pincushion than we're accustomed to seeing in digicam lenses. Chromatic aberration was low, showing about two or three pixels of coloration in the far corners.


The Finecam S3 did surprisingly well in our low-light tests, producing usable images all the way down to the limit of our test of 1/16 foot-candle, or 0.63 lux, although there was a fair bit of noise in the photos shot that dark. In the past, we've generally prefocused the cameras for this test, to produce the sharpest possible images. We're contemplating a change in procedure though, which we began with the S3, where we simply let the camera do the best it could as a way of determining how sensitive the camera's autofocus system is. In the case of the S3, we found that it focused reliably at light levels of 1 foot-candle (11 lux) and above. For darker conditions, you'd need to use the manual focus option. (A nice feature, unusual to find manual focus in such a compact digicam!) For comparison, 1 foot-candle is roughly the light level on an average urban street at night, under streetlighting. - Darker than that and you'll need to use manual focus. A good performance.

The S3's optical viewfinder is a little tight, showing approximately 86 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 90 percent at telephoto (though at the telephoto setting, our top measurement line is cut off). The LCD monitor fares slightly better, showing approximately 89 percent of the image area at wide angle setting, and approximately 92 percent at telephoto. We generally like to see LCD monitors closer to 100 percent frame accuracy though, so we felt the S3's optical viewfinder came up a little bit short.


Macro performance was very nice, with the S3 capturing a minimum area of just 2.24 x 1.68 inches (57.01 x 42.76 millimeters). Resolution, detail, and color all looked good, although we picked up some corner softness from the lens when shooting that close. At closest approach, the flash only partially illuminated the macro area, resulting in a heavy shadow at the bottom right corner, and a slight overexposure in the top left corner. The flash did much better in macro mode than those on many digicams we've tested though.

Despite some color limitations, the S3 performs very well for its tiny size. Though resolution isn't the best we've seen in a three megapixel digicam, it still managed to capture a nice level of detail in most of our test shots. Partial manual exposure control provides some flexibility in exposure, making the S3 well-suited to most average shooting situations.


Conclusion
Though its Lilliputian dimensions are the tiniest we've seen, the Finecam S3 packs a lot of power into its small size. Pocket and handbag friendly, with a rugged, all-metal case, the S3 offers a whopping 3.3-megapixel CCD, for a maximum resolution size of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels. Partial manual exposure control provides a good deal of flexibility (with the Aperture Priority and Long Exposure modes), though a fully automatic Program AE mode keeps picture-taking hassle-free when that's what you want. The additional color and exposure adjustments are a nice bonus, making the S3 more than just a cute and compact digicam option. We'd seriously like to see better battery life, but the battery itself is tiny enough that packing along an extra won't be much of a burden. If you're shopping in the "digicam as fashion accessory" or "too cool for words" digicam categories, the S3 is a sure bet, besting even Canon in the ultra-compact design game. Kudos to Kyocera, the S3 is a huge step forward in capability, style, and features from anything that's gone before. Good job, guys!


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