DCRP Review: Epson PhotoPC 3000Z
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, July 16, 2000
Last Updated: Monday, July 17, 2000

To my surprise, the review of this camera has been one of the most eagerly awaited reviews this year. Epson's good track record with earlier PhotoPC models, and a PCWorld review (which placed the 3000Z ahead of the Olympus C-3030Z and the Canon PowerShot S20) probably helped.

The only other camera from Epson that I tried out was the PhotoPC 850Z, and it turned out to be one of the best two megapixel cameras. With the $999 PhotoPC 3000Z, it looks like Epson may have a three megapixel hit on their hands as well. Find out to see if it lives up to the hype...

I want to again thank DCRP sponsor Advandig for hooking me up with this camera when the manufacturers are being less than cooperative.

What's in the Box?

The PhotoPC 3000Z's bundle is very good. It includes:

  • The 3.3 Mpixel Epson PhotoPC 3000Z camera
  • Four NiMH batteries and charger
  • 16Mb CompactFlash card
  • Shoulder strap
  • A/V out cable
  • Serial cable (Mac and PC)
  • USB cable
  • Lens cap with strap
  • Lens adapter
  • Soft case
  • Software including Sierra Image Expert
  • Manual for camera and software

I really have no complaints here -- Epson includes everything you need. After attaching the lens cap and shoulder strap, the camera is ready for anything. I wish that Epson (as well as other manufacturers) would include more than the skimpy 16Mb CompactFlash card.

Epson kindly includes rechargeable batteries and a charger right in the box. I'd recommend buying another set of batteries to be safe.

Epson has bucked the trend of removing serial support for their cameras -- the 3000Z includes serial cables for both Mac and PC. Not everyone has USB, as some manufacturers have forgotten recently.

Another nice touch is the 46-49mm lens adapter included with the camera, so you can use 49mm lens attachments, such as those from Tiffen.

Epson's manual is first-rate and well ahead of any other camera maker. There's just one language, it's well put together, and everything is easy to understand. Who'd have thought?

There's even some Epson Photo Paper (4x6") in the box, in case you have a photo printer!

Look and Feel

The PhotoPC 3000Z's design seems influenced by the Olympus C-2000/3000Z series, which isn't a bad thing. It's dimensions are 4.3 x 3.5 x 2.6 inches, and it weighs 12.9 ounces empty.

The silver body is a mix of plastic and metal, and it feels solid and well put-together. The only possible exception is the CompactFlash door, which I could see breaking off one day.

The camera fits well in the hand, with adequate room for both hands, and well-placed controls (for the most part).

Let's tour around the camera now, starting with the front (see the pictures at the top). The f2.0-f2.5 lens is equivalent to a 35-105mm zoom lens on a 35mm camera.

Ok, that's about it for the front - now the back. The optical viewfinder is good-sized, and features diopter correction -- both of which are good news for people with glasses. Just below that you can see the microphone and speaker.

The 1.8" LCD display is very good: easy to read and smooth. It's easy to smudge with both your nose and your fingers, though. Epson uses "software buttons" instead of fixed buttons, which means that those buttons around the LCD change depending on the situation. A menu on/off button (equivalent to the Display button on most cameras) turns off any info that is over the image on the LCD.

They're a little hard to see in the top right, but the zoom controls are well placed for easy thumb access. The optical zoom is responsive and smooth.

I'm going to jump to the CompactFlash slot next, to point out one of those weird things that Epson did with this camera. The previous top of the line PhotoPC, the 850Z, had a Type II slot. But for some reason, Epson only put a Type I slot on this camera. What does it mean for you? No IBM Microdrive.

That said, the CF slot is easy to get to, and cards are easy to remove.

Now we're looking at the top of the camera, where you can see one of the things that sets the PhotoPC 3000Z apart from the competition: a hot shoe. While Epson recommends the Metz 32Z-2 flash, any external flash will do.

The LCD info display makes plenty of sense: it shows ISO, white balance, exposure compensation, and flash settings, as well as the quality level, and the number of photos remaining.

The buttons just to the right let you adjust quality, flash, and self-timer modes.

And now, a word about Epson's quality settings. They use the system much like Toshiba, with "stars". Here's what each "star" value means:

* 640 x 480 [155 per 16Mb CF card]
** 2048 x 1536, moderate JPEG compression [31 per card]
*** 2048 x 1536, low JPEG compression [15 per card]
***H 2048 x 1536 uncompressed TIFF or 2544 x 1904 HyPict with moderate JPEG compression

You can choose what ***H does in the setup menu. Keep in mind the HyPict uses interpolation to achieve that high resolution, so there will be a loss of quality. I will talk about the downsides of the ***H mode more in the next section.

Other important items on top are the shutter release button, and the mode wheel. Here, Epson has done something that I complained about on the Olympus C-2000Z last year-- they made the power button feel like the shutter release, and put them nearby. Now it's not as bad as on the Olympus, but I've still accidentally turned off the camera more than once.

The mode wheel has the following choices:

  • Setup
  • PC connect
  • Playback
  • Record with LCD off
  • Record with LCD on
  • Continuous, interval, and video capture

A few notes about Setup mode, and what you can change. The first is not surprisingly the date and time. One thing I noticed is that if you take your batteries out (to charge them), the camera will forget the date, as well as your other settings. That's annoying. In setup mode, you can also:

  • Switch Languages
  • Change auto power off time
  • Adjust LCD brightness
  • Change beep settings
  • Format CF cards
  • Set white balance, ***H mode, slow flash settings, and confirmation mode
  • Switch between Full Auto, Program, and Manual Modes
  • Color or B&W photos

One strange that about confirmation mode-- which lets you choose if you want to keep a photo after you've taken it. Well, it doesn't work very well -- you get like 1/100 sec to decide, and then it's gone. I'm thinking that this is a bug.

I found myself just setting the camera into manual mode at all times -- you can let the camera choose the settings if you don't want to set them yourself. It's easier than having to jump into Setup everytime you want to go into manual mode.

On the other side of the camera are the I/O ports, for power, A/V out, USB, and serial. They're hidden securely under the rubber cover you see above. Above that is the hook for the straps, and above that is the diopter correction knob for the optical viewfinder.

What review would be complete without a look at the bottom of the camera. The battery slot is on the left, and it stays closed. Right under the lens is the metal tripod mount. That's it!

Using the Epson PhotoPC 3000Z

I'm going to cover three areas in this section: record, playback, and movie mode.

Record Mode

Right off the bat, I realized that the PhotoPC 3000Z wasn't the fastest camera out there, taking about seven seconds to start up. By contrast, the Fuji FinePix 4700 takes around two. For most photo taking, I found the speed to be adequate. But for HyPict or TIFF shots, I found it to be downright awful. Look at this handy little chart that I found in the manual:

Image Mode Photo Processing Time (secs) Photo processing time for playback (secs) File Size
Standard 0.07 0.5 100KB
Fine 1.0 1.5 500KB
Super Fine 1.0 2.5 1.0MB
HyPict 14.0 4.0 1.2MB
TIFF 32.0 34.0 9.1MB

You read that right (or should I say write) -- it takes over 30 seconds to write a single TIFF shot to the card. During that time you might as well go take a break, as the camera is unusable. Playing a TIFF back also brings the camera to a halt until it's done processing it (just to see the thumbnail!). Now I didn't test any of the other cameras in TIFF mode, but I know they were much faster than that. Even the Fuji FinePix 4700, which has files that are similar in size to the HyPict mode, could write them in about a second (or at least the camera was operative again after a second). I'm not sure what the problem is, but folks looking to use TIFF mode regularly will want to look elsewhere. If you're shooting in the regular * modes, it's OK.

Now that I got that out of the way, I can say that I found taking pictures to be quite easy (again, as long as it's not ***H mode). Using manual mode most of the time (usually in ** mode), I'd usually leave the camera in auto exposure mode and let it do the thinking. I could still adjust exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, metering, focus, and more if I wanted to.

If you want a bit more control, drop into Aperture Priority mode, where you can choose between f2, f2.3, f2.8, f4, f5.6, and f8. Strangely, there is no shutter priority mode. If you want to change the shutter, you need to go into full manual mode, and set both the aperture and the shutter. If you're doing aperture priority mode already, why leave out shutter priority mode?

Two shots from record mode, where you can see various options that you can change. It's in macro mode right now.

Some of the options you can change in record mode include ISO (100/200/400), metering (matrix or spot), focus (auto, 3ft, 10ft, infinity), and white balance (auto/manual). There are no white balance presets (e.g. sunlight), so you have to use auto (which was very good), or set it manually yourself.

Other features in record mode include macro and panorama modes, continuous shooting at 1-2fps and interval shooting (ranging from 10sec - 24hrs).

I found the macro mode to be quite good -- the above shot is handheld!

I found low light shots to be very good as well -- I've got a gallery full of fireworks pictures, in fact!

The thing that really stood out to me was the photo quality on this camera -- colors were bright and accurate, and lighting was always good, with little grain.

If you desire, you can add a ten second audio clip to each photo you've taken. Keep in mind these sounds take up additional space on the memory card.

There's around a second of lag before the camera locks focus, and less than that before it takes the picture.

Playback Mode

Playback mode on the 3000Z is pretty much the same as on other cameras. Slideshows, thumbnails, DPOF, zoom and scroll-- all there.

A look at playback mode. After hitting "Menu Change", you can select "Info", which gets the screen on the right.

Zoom and scroll allows you to zoom in just once (2X), and the scrolling is a bit jumpy.

Speed between photos, as mentioned in the previous section, is fair in most cases, and awful if you're viewing a ***H mode photo.

If you haven't done so already, you can add an audio clip to your photos. This is also the way to playback your movies, though you have to hit "menu change" and "movie" to do so.

One rarely seen feature these days is the ability to delete selected photos (instead of just one, or all) -- and you can do that on the 3000Z.

Movie mode

One feature that I enjoy is movie capture, and the 3000Z can do this too -- with sound. You can capture 25 second videos in Motion JPEG format, and then view them on your PC using Quicktime. They're recorded at 320 x 240 resolution at 15 frames per second.

The only sample I have is above, from my Canada trip. All I know is that there's too much green in this video, and what's with the vertical lines?

How Does it Compare?

The Epson PhotoPC 3000Z is in the area of digital photography with the toughest competition: 3 Megapixel cameras. When you have to compete against the likes on Nikon, Sony, Olympus, and Toshiba, you've got your work cut out for you.

In most cases, the 3000Z keeps up with the rest of the crowd, and in some cases, is at the top (like in photo quality). The real downer is the slow processing of HyPict and TIFF images, and the lack of a shutter priority mode. I'd recommend the camera, but take a careful look at the competition first before you buy it.

Some users have brought up some issues with aperture settings, "fringing", and focusing issues that you should read before you decide -- Steve's Digicams has a summary that you shouldn't miss.

What I liked:

  • Great photo quality
  • Well designed and easy to use
  • Good manual and accessories included with camera
  • Manual controls, mostly
  • Uncompressed TIFF mode
  • Hot shoe for external flash
  • Movie mode with sound

What I think needs work:

  • Horribly slow in HyPict and TIFF mode
  • What happened to shutter priority mode?
  • What happened to the Type II CompactFlash slot?
  • Questionable quality in movie mode
  • Reported issues with focus, aperture, fringing

If you're a regular user, this is a decent choice for a 3 Megapixel camera. If you're shooting for print, or require TIFF mode often, you might want to consider something else, as the slowness will really get to you. Other cameras to consider include the Nikon Coolpix 990, Olympus C-3030Z, Toshiba PDR-M70 (no TIFF mode), Sony DSC-S70 (we have not yet reviewed this), and perhaps the Fuji FinePix 4700 and Canon PowerShot S20 (no TIFF mode for either).

As always, we recommend heading to your local reseller to try the camera before you buy! Remember that this review is just one person's opinion, and yours may differ!

Photo Gallery

It's our biggest photo gallery ever! Check out the Pac Bell Park gallery, the fireworks gallery, or the Canada gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Check out Steve's Digicams review of the PhotoPC 3000Z! And be sure to read his conclusion for some interesting notes.

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

 

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