DCRP Review: Kodak EasyShare DX3900
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2001
Last Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2001

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Judging from recent production introductions, it's obvious that Kodak's EasyShare system is here to stay. This system uses an optional ($79) dock to allow their cameras to transfer photos to a computer with the push of a button. The EasyShare DX3900 ($449) is currently the top-end camera in this lineup - featuring a 3.1 (effective) Megapixel CCD and a 2X optical zoom lens. Is the DX3900 a good value for the money? Find out in our review...

What's in the Box?

Depending on what package you get, the DX3900's bundle can be average or very good. Here's what you'll find inside the box:

  • The 3.1 Mpixel Kodak DX3900 camera
  • EasyShare Dock ( "dock" bundle only)
  • Dock insert (fits the DX3900 into the dock)
  • 8MB CompactFlash card
  • 1 CR-V3 Lithium battery (non-rechargeable)
  • 1 NiMH rechargeable battery pack ( "dock" bundle only)
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Kodak Picture Software and drivers
  • 97 page manual (printed)

Just like with the DX3600 (see our review), the DX3900 has nifty packaging. Well, to me at least.

On to more important things now. If you don't get the dock bundle, you'll be stuck with non-rechargeable batteries. So if that's you, go buy some NiMH rechargeables. Since the DX3900 only uses 2 batteries, a four-pack will do just fine. The camera can take CR-V3 or AA batteries.

If you do get the dock bundle, you'll get a NiMH power pack, which is basically two batteries in a plastic case. You'll charge the camera in the dock -- Kodak says it will only charge their pack, and not other batteries.

Now, about that optional dock. The dock is a universal base for Kodak's DX-series cameras, so the DX3900 comes with an insert that fits the dock into the dock. To transfer pictures to your Mac or PC, you hit the button on the dock, and away it goes. You can either transfer all of them, or select the ones you want.

If you don't have the dock, you can see the included USB cable to hook up the "old fashioned way."

Like the DX3600, the DX3900 is compatible with Mac OS X.

Kodak includes a fairly skimpy 8MB CompactFlash card with the camera. Unlike some of the other EasyShare cameras, there's no internal memory on the DX3900.

The lens has a built-in cover, which eliminates the need for an external lens cap. Can't complain about that!

As far as accessories go, there are a surprising number of lenses available for the EasyShare cameras, especially considering their low price. I believe the lens has 30mm threads, so you'll need a $20 adapter to use the lenses Kodak sells.

Kodak's manuals are much better than average -- even the typeface seems friendly and inviting to beginners.

Look and Feel

The DX3900 is an attractive, plastic camera that's easy to hold. While it's made of plastic, it does seem solid. The buttons are well-placed and the camera is easy to hold with one hand. The dimensions of the DX3600 are 4.6 x 1.7 x 2.6 (W x D x H) and it weighs 225 grams empty.

Let's start our tour of the DX3900 with the front of the camera. The switch at the bottom of the photo turns the camera on and off. It's also what controls the lens cover.

Speaking of the lens, the one here is a 2X optical zoom Ektanar glass lens (F2.8 - F4.0). The focal range is 7.3 - 14.6 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 70 mm. One of my big beefs about this camera is the fact that it's only a 2X lens!

The DX3900's flash has a working range of 1.6 - 10.5 feet in wide-angle, and 1.6 - 7.5 feet in telephoto. Flash options include Off, Auto, Fill, and Redeye reduction.

Now onto the back of the DX3900. The 1.5" LCD is kind of small, and can be hard to see at times, but overall it's not bad. It's off by default, so you'll have to hit Select each time you want to use it.

The optical viewfinder is large and easy to see. There's no diopter correction for those with less than perfect vision, though.

To the right of the LCD are the four-way switch (for menus and zoom), the select button (menus and LCD on/off), and of course the menu button. The zoom control is smooth and accurate, and the mechanism is very quiet.

On the top of the camera, you can see the LCD info display, buttons for flash, macro/landscape, and self-timer, the mode wheel, and the shutter release button.

The mode wheel has three easy options: setup, playback, record. For those of you who remember the DX3600, you'll notice that there's no movie mode on the DX3900! I have no idea why.

One thing that *is* here that wasn't on the DX3600 is an LCD info display. Here it's showing image size/quality, remaining shots, and flash setting.

On this side of the DX3900, under a rubber cover, you'll find the I/O ports. That includes video and USB output. You cannot plug an AC adapter into this camera.

That silver switch you can see is what turns the camera on and off.

And on the other side is the CompactFlash Type I port, with the 8MB card shown. The eject switch is on the bottom of the camera and can really launch those cards!

Finally, here's the bottom of the DX3900, with the included CR-V3 battery shown. On the bottom you'll find the battery compartment, plastic tripod mount, CF card eject switch, and the connector for the dock. When the camera is not on the dock you can slide a plastic door to cover the port.

Using the Kodak EasyShare DX3900

Record Mode

The camera takes about three seconds to extend the lens and warm up before you can start taking photos. As I mentioned, the LCD display is off by default -- hit the select button to turn it on. When you depress the shutter release button halfway, the camera locks focus in usually less than one second. Depressing the button fully results in the photo being taken with just a little lag.. Shot-to-shot speed is on the slow side - over 5 seconds at the highest quality.


The LCD when you're taking a photo

Once feature not seen much anymore on digital cameras is the ability to delete the photo as it's being saved -- and I was pleased to see it on the DX3900.

The DX3900 has a number of image size and quality choices available -- many more than the DX3600. Check out the chart:

Image Quality Setting # photos stored on
included 8MB card
# photos stored on
64MB card (for reference)
3.1MP
2160 x 1440
7 64
3.1MP (high compression)
2160 x 1440
15 133
2.2MP
1800 x 1200
10 87
1.6MP
1536 x 1024
13 117
0.8MP
1080 x 720
23 196

There is also a burst mode available at the 0.8MP setting. It will take 8 photos in a row, in *about* three seconds.

The menus on the DX3900 have more options than the DX3600, but it's still pretty simple. They are:

  • Exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV, 0.5EV increments)
  • White balance (auto, daylight, tungsten, fluorescent)
  • Color mode (color, B&W, sepia)
  • Quality (see above)
  • Metering (multi-pattern, center-weighted, center spot)
  • Sharpness (sharp, standard, soft)
  • ISO speed (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Shutter speed (auto, manual [range of 0.7 sec - 16 sec])
  • Date stamp
  • Quickview (on/off) - shows photo on LCD after it's taken

The DX3900 addressed all the complaints I had about the DX3600 (no white balance, exposure compensation, continuous shooting mode). That's always nice.

Let's see how the DX3900 did on the photo tests.

The DX3900 did a very good job at the macro test. The colors are especially vivid and the image is sharp. You can get as close as 7cm at wideangle, and 25cm at telephoto.

The DX3900 also did well at the night shot test, which is a vast improvement over the DX3600. Thanks to the ability to set the shutter speed, you can easily pull off shots in low light. There certainly is some noise in the shot, but I don't think it's much worse than anything else.

I was very happy with the photo quality from the DX3900, which is again an improvement over the DX3600. The colors were usually accurate, the scenes are well-exposed, and the images are sharp. Check out the DX3900 photo gallery to judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

As I mentioned, for some unknown reason, there's no movie mode on this camera, even though the cheaper models have it. Oh well!

Playback Mode

The playback mode is pretty barebones and is kind of clumsy.

The features include slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, and zoom and scroll. The latter is clumsy -- instead of just using the zoom controls like on other cameras, you have to select it from the menu, and wait for it to process the image. You can zoom 2X or 4X into your image.

You can get some decent info about your photo by going to the menu and choosing Picture Info. It's too bad you have to navigate the menus to do this.

The DX3900 moves through images quickly -- first showing a low res image, and replacing it with the high res version a moment later.

How Does it Compare?

I am pleased to report that the Kodak EasyShare DX3900 is a vast improvement over the DX3600 I tested last month. In addition to getting a 3.1 Megapixel CCD, you get a lot more features that you come to expect from other cameras in this price class (exposure compensation, white balance), and a few that you don't (control of shutter speed). The only real negatives for me were the lack of a movie mode, and the 2X lens (I'd prefer 3X or more). The EasyShare system makes transferring photos easy -- too bad you have to shell out another $80 for it. Aside from that, the DX3900 is a great choice for the photographer who wants a point-and-shoot camera with a little more control of exposure settings.

What I liked:

  • EasyShare system convenient
  • Very good photo quality
  • Manual shutter speed control
  • Nice lens accessories available
  • Good value for the price

What I didn't care for:

  • EasyShare dock is another $80
  • A bit on the slow side
  • Only a 2X optical zoom
  • No movie mode

Other mid-range 3 Megapixel cameras I recommend checking out include the Kodak DX3700 (same as this one but no optical zoom), Kyocera Finecam S3, Nikon Coolpix 885, Olympus C-3000Z, Pentax Optio 330, Sony DSC-P5 and DSC-S75, and the Toshiba PDR-M71.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DX3900 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Be sure to read Steve's Digicams review of the Kodak DX3900.

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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