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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!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 7/10/2001

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.)

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