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ePhoto 1280

PC Magazine: Crossing the Threshold (Editors Choice Winner)

CNET: Crisp! Agfa's ePhoto digital camera


Manufacturer: Agfa
Product Model: ePhoto 1280
Official Website: http://www.agfahome.com/ephoto/1280/
Resolutions: 1024x768
Zoom Capability: 3X
Auto Focus? Yes
Macro Capability? Yes
Flash? Yes
Storage Method: SmartMedia (includes 4MB card)
Storage Capacity: 6-60
LCD Screen: Yes/2"
ISO Equivalent: 100
Video Out?: Yes
Software Included: PhotoWise, PhotoVista, LivePix SE
Computers Supported: Mac/PC
Miscellaneous Notes: The lens of the camera can swivel! Camera can interpolate to 1280x960 resolution.
MSRP: $599
Lowest Price*: Visit Shopper.Com to find out now!

DCRP Reader Reviews

Steve Sanders wrote an extensive review and includes some sample images on his ePhoto 1280 page.(12/16):

Constantin Dragut compared the Olympus D-500L to the ePhoto 1280 (he has some samples on his web page):
Agfa ePhoto 1280.

  • Unusual shape and handling. Feels uncomfortable at first but once you get used to it you realize the real possibilities you have at your fingertips. The swinging lens allows you to shoot from angles otherwise impossible with a regular camera design.
  • Very high lens quality. The auto-focus works without a glitch in any light situation.
  • Very good fill-in flash.
  • Manual controls offer greater flexibility in ëcreatingí your image.
  • Even though the high mode (1280x960) is accomplished by interpolating the pixels (Agfa technicians say it is not interpolation - what is it then?), the PhotoGenie software utility that comes with the camera makes indeed magic. Picture quality rivals Oly600. For 5x7 prints 1024x768 in HQ mode offers near perfect outputs on a photo quality printer (I use HP Photosmart).
  • The control could not be easier. With a single knob you control and set everything except the zoom.
  • Like any camera that uses only the LCD for everything you need tons of batteries available in order to be able not to miss your critical shot.
  • The camera is kind of slow in both taken (and storing) the pictures as well as displaying them for preview.
  • Comparing shots taken in identical conditions with both cameras I have noticed a slight greenish cast that can be easily corrected with the supplied software.
  • The software that comes with the camera is one of the best if not the best of all Iíve tried so far. You can manipulate the image in any way you want and it is fast and fun to use. It prints multiple images on the same page (from 1 to 12, I believe) or thumbnails of your albums. You get even a little icon on your Taskbar (by the volume control) for easy access to the application. One right click and you can either see the images in the camera, open an album or PC card or download pictures and save them on your hard drive.
  • Lack of an optical viewfinder makes it difficult if not impossible (at night) to frame the picture.

Olympus D500-L:

  • Well, this one looks and feels like a regular SLR camera, though smaller and lighter.
  • Good control but it takes a while to know exactly which knob to push without reading the labels.
  • I liked the close-ups in the macro mode for being able to get that blurry background (thatís why I chose the 500 which has a 150mm tele compared with only 105mm for the 600 model).
  • Very good color balance, pleasant tint even though it is a little bit to the high side (colors too vivid).
  • Noisy tele.
  • Poor LCD quality. You cannot tell how the picture will look like just by previewing it on the LCD. The SLR doesn't help much. What you see through the viewfinder may be completely different from the final look (and it allows you to see only 95% of what the camera will actually capture - what is the SLR for then?).
  • Eats the batteries very fast (not as fast as Agfa if you don't use the LCD that much).
  • And now the main complain (heard over and over in our newsgroup): The camera is unable to focus in low light situations. Moreover it happened several times to deliver blurry pictures even in good illumination and the green light (focus lock) not blinking.

Even with a couple of shortcomings both cameras are outstanding devices (too pricey though) that mark a breakthrough in the digital photography field. So I had to make a tough decision in which one to keep (I wish I could keep both for rather subjective reasons). I finally opted for Agfa ePhoto 1280, which I believe, is a better deal. And this is why:

  • >4 MG SSFDC card instead of 2 MG.
  • More creativity due to unorthodox design.
  • Manual controls versus fully automatic.
  • Outstanding software.
  • Fits easily in a (big) pocket.
  • Comes with rechargeable NIMH batteries (instead of regular Alkaline - worthless) and a charger.
  • For the same resolution costs about $75 less than DL500 and a bunch less than DL600, with only a slight compromise in final resolution.
  • TV output ( I donít really use it but I think is nice to have it - just in case you are away from your computer and you want to show your creations to your audience - everybody has a TV).

So, after hundreds of shots and long nights spent in front of my computer and printer, the Oly is gone and the Agfa wins.

Chris Hillery (11/26):
Well, I've been playing with my new Agfa 1280 for a little bit now, so I'll share my thoughts thus far. I'll mostly cover my negative impressions first, then go on to the positive side. Let me say that on the whole I'm very satisfied with it, but there are several significant downsides which need to be considered. (Having not dealt with other digital cameras except in passing, I have no idea whether these things are worse or better, comparitively speaking.)

Speed: I can tell right away that by far and away the biggest problem I'm going to have with this guy is that it's slow. It takes several seconds to turn on, and picture recycle time (downtime while it compresses one shot before you can take another) is on the order of 15 seconds. In Play mode, where you can view the images in memory, it takes a number of seconds to scroll each one onto the screen before you can do anything else.

Also on the subject of speed, there is a delay between pressing the shutter button and the photo actually being taken. This is even if you press the shutter halfway to allow it to autofocus and so forth before pressing fully. This is a huge pet peeve of mine; it's certainly not unique to the Agfa, and seems to be endemic amongst digital cameras and indeed some non-digitals (my APS compact has a similar issue). It's intensely frustrating when trying to take pictures of subjects that are moving unexpectedly at all, like say people or animals.

Oh, one other significant annoyance - I can't see a way to delete a photo from memory quickly. In fact, you have to twiddle out of Record mode to Playback (which has to go through Off, so you have to wait for it to come back on), wait for an image to display, select the image you want, wait for IT to display, then delete and confirm twice. Very awkward if you know you just took a bum shot and just want to reclaim the memory.

Build: The camera itself feels mostly quite solid. It's got a good weight and the twist assembly feels rugged. However, both the lens and the LCD screen are unprotected; you really must invest in a soft case. (The lens/flash assembly DOES come with a cover, actually, but it's a ridiculous little Tupperware-looking thing that doesn't really stay on very well.) A screw-on UV filter to protect the lens would be a very good idea also. Also, the little door which covers the input and output plugs has an annoying tendency to flop open.

Features: Now, the good news. User control is simply excellent, and the EasyPilot interface to control things (basically an on-screen display with menus and the like) is quick and intuitive. (It's not quite as speedy as dedicated controls for all these features, but it's much easier to figure out - there are only 5 buttons on the whole camera!) It allows several selections of focus, white balance, aperture and shutter speed, and you can select any combination desired. It does surprisingly well with macro focus and even indoors takes pretty good pictures with no flash. (It is only rated as ISO 100 equivalent, however.) With-flash pictures also come out very well, although on extreme close-ups the fill-in flash tends to overexpose the nearest parts of the subject.

The 3x zoom is quick and responsive, and in my opinion a zoom lens is an absolute requirement for any real work - picture composition is needlessly complicated by its absence. The lens is, as alluded to earlier, threaded (46mm), allowing additions of a variety of external filters and small lenses.

Image quality: As advertised, picture quality is excellent. I should have some photos at my website soon, although frankly as I'm just getting started with photography these may or may not be compelling. While the CCD resolution is 1024x768, Agfa's "PhotoGenie" software can interpolate this up to 1280x960, with generally superb results. Colors seem very true-to-life, although they are marginally less vivid than some Kodak samples I've seen. (I couldn't say conclusively whether this was a fault of the Agfa or whether the Kodak was a little too vivid.)

Form factor: I like this design, although it's certainly not going to sit well with everyone. It's definitely going to take some time to get used to - no viewfinder, rotating LCD display window, vaguely Sharp ViewCam-like. Since it doesn't rest on your face you have to be more careful when snapping the shutter to avoid camera shake. But you can take some very interesting shots by holding the camera in different places that would be very difficult with a normal configuration. Since the lens and flash are on the same part of the body, the flash always points in the right direction. It is a little hard to hold in a portrait orientation, however.

The lens can twist all the way around to take self-portraits; the image on the LCD screen thoughtfully inverts when the lens is twisted beyond a certain point so you don't have to frame yourself upside down. Oddly, the on-screen display doesn't work when the image is inverted. The picture quality of the LCD screen is quite high.

Included goodies: The camera comes with a set of 4 AA NiMH rechargable batteries and a full-featured although rather cheesily constructed recharger (complete with amusing Engrish instructions). I can't comment much on the recharger as mine doesn't work. Battery life is on the order of 90 minutes of LCD screen time per charge; as always, invest in a couple sets of batteries to keep rotating through. Investing in a one-hour charger might be nice too. (Actually, the included charger claims to charge at around 2 hours, so that's not so bad.)

The PhotoWise software for downloading, viewing and tweaking the photos from the camera is clear and functional, and does the few things it does quite well. Also included is LivePix 1.1 SE (photo manipulation) and PhotoVista (panorama "stitching" software), neither of which I've really played with. One sort-of sad note: The documentation for both the camera and the software is all online in the form of .pdf files; the camera documentation in particular seems to be rather terse about something.

Random notes: Comes complete with video out, with an included cable. Connecting this disables the LCD screen, and everything that would normally appear on it goes to the TV instead, so you can in fact use this as an odd camcorder (with an external VCR).

Accepts the new compact flash SSFDC cards; comes with one 4MB card which can hold anywhere from 60 "low-quality" 640x480 pictures up to 6 1280x960 pictures.

Has a standard tripod screw mount. Forgot to check, but I believe this screw mount is plastic like the rest of the body, so conceivably this could wear over time.

Can synchronize with external flashes. Not exactly sure how this works, but it's a feature some people seem to want...

That's about all for now. As I said, on the whole I'm very satisfied, and I don't know of any other camera which meets my requirements (zoom, flash, LCD preview/delete screen, 1024x768 or better, lots of tweaky settings, and very good image quality). About the only one that seemed to stack up was the Kodak DC120, which I eventually decided against primarily based on the Agfa being newer technology and of a somewhat more interesting form factor; the sample images from both led me to find the Agfa more pleasing also. The DC120 is a fair bit cheaper, however, and allows long exposure times up to 16 seconds (the Agfa tops out at 1/8 second). Hopefully in a year or two manufacturers will have come out with a model that does all this faster and at an even better price point...

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