DCRP Review: Kyocera Finecam L3v
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: August 8, 2003
Last Updated: August 8, 2003

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The Kyocera Finecam L3v ($349 street price) may look like an ordinary 3.2 Megapixel digital camera from the front, but when you look at the back, you'll see the "big" difference: a large 2.5" LCD display. With many manufacturers shrinking their LCDs down to 1.6 and even 1.5 inches, it's nice to see someone going the other way. In addition to the L3v, there's also the Finecam L4v ($449), a 4 Megapixel version.

How does this latest Finecam perform? Find out now!

What's in the Box?

The Finecam L3v has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 effective Megapixel Finecam L3v camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital card
  • CR-V3 lithium battery (not rechargeable)
  • USB cable
  • Hand strap
  • CD-ROM including Pixela ImageMixer software and drivers
  • 105 page camera manual (printed)

Kyocera includes a 16MB Secure Digital card with the camera, which is good enough to start with, though you'll soon want a larger card. The L3v supports SD as well as MultiMedia (MMC) cards.

You're on your own when it comes to batteries, as Kyocera gives you a non-rechargeable CR-V3 battery in the box. Once that's empty, you'll want to pick up a set or two of NiMH rechargeable batteries. Kyocera estimates that you'll get about 165 photos, or spend 200 minutes in playback mode with the CR-V3 battery. Numbers will be a little lower using NiMH batteries.

The Finecam L3v has a built-in lens cover, as you can see.

The only accessory I could find for the Finecam L3v is an AC adapter (model AC-74L).

Kyocera includes an older version of Pixela's decent ImageMixer software. The version included is NOT Mac OS X native, so you have to run it in classic mode. The camera works fine with Mac OS X (iPhoto and Image Capture) and Windows XP as well.

The Finecam’s manual is complete, covering everything you need to know, but finding the information can be challenging at times. In other words, it's about average for a camera manual.

Look and Feel

The Finecam L3v is a mid-size, metal camera. The body is wider than most camera, which allows for that big LCD display. The camera is easy to hold with one hand, though you may find using two hands to be more comfortable.

The camera is a little too large to fit in the average pocket. Its dimension are 4.4 x 2.1 x 1.4 inches (W x H x D, excluding protrusions), and it weighs just 170 grams empty.

Let's begin our 360 degree tour of the Finecam L3v now!

The L3v has an F2.8-4.7, 3X optical zoom lens, with a focal range of 5.8 - 17.4 mm. That's equivalent to 38 - 115 mm in 35 mm terms. The lens is not threaded.

To the upper-left of the lens you'll find the camera's built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.6 - 3.5 m at wide-angle, and 0.6 - 2.0 m at telephoto. You cannot use an external flash with this camera.

The panel (where it says 3.2 Mega Pixels) lights up when you turn on the camera, lock focus, or connect it to a PC.

The only other items of note include the self-timer lamp and light sensor. There is no AF illuminator on this camera, unfortunately.

As I mentioned earlier, the big feature on the L3v is its large 2.5" LCD. While I applaud Kyocera for having such a large screen on this camera, the resolution of 110,000 is disappointing. I've seen 1.5" LCDs with that same resolution. The viewing angle isn't great, either. But the screen is quite bright, and images on it are fluid. You can adjust the screen brightness in the setup menu.

To the left of the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is fairly small. The viewfinder shows 80% of the frame. There is no diopter correction feature, so those of you who don’t have perfect vision may not see too clearly.

To the right of the LCD, you'll find the zoom controller, two buttons, and the four-way controller.

The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in under two seconds. You can precisely control the movement of the lens with quick presses of the button.

Speaking of buttons, the display and menu buttons are below the zoom controller. The display button toggles the LCD on and off, as well as what's shown on it.

The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, as well as for adjusting the flash (auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash off, fill-flash, night backdrop [slow sync], and fill-flash w/redeye reduction) and focus setting (macro, infinity).

On the top of the L3v, you'll find the microphone, power button, speaker, and mode wheel (with shutter release button inside it).

The mode wheel is quite simple, as there are just four items:

  • Setup
  • Playback mode
  • Record mode
  • Movie mode

I'll cover those in more detail later in the review.

The I/O ports can be found on this side of the camera. They are kept under a rubber cover. The ports are USB and DC-in (for that optional AC adapter). The Finecam is rare camera, in that it does not have a video out port.

On the other side, you'll find the SD/MMC card slot and the battery compartment. The L3v uses two AA or one CR-V3 battery. The cover that protects these two slots seems sturdy enough.

Finally, here is the bottom of the camera, where you'll find the metal (I think) tripod mount. The tripod mount is neither inline with the lens, nor in the center of the camera.

Using the Kyocera Finecam L3v

Record Mode

The Finecam takes about 4 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting, which is about average.


No histogram in record mode

Press the shutter release halfway, and the L3v locks focus in about a second -- which is about average. With its lack of an AF illuminator, the camera had difficulty focusing in dim and low light.

Fully press the shutter release, and the photo is taken after a very brief delay.

Shot-to-shot speed is good, but not great. Expect a two second wait between photos, with the post-shot review feature turned off.

Here's a look at the various image size and quality choices available on the Finecam L3v:

Resolution Quality Approx. File Size # images on 16MB card
(included)
2048 x 1536 Fine 2.0 MB 11
Normal 1.0 MB 21
1600 x 1200 Fine 1.0 MB 17
Normal 500 KB 32
1280 x 960 Fine 660 KB 25
Normal 360 KB 46
640 x 480 Fine 210 KB 76
Normal 140 KB 114

The Finecam L3v does not have a TIFF or RAW file mode.

Files are named KIF_####.JPG, where #### = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even as you erase and switch memory cards.


Overlay-style menu

The Finecam L3v has an overlay-style menu, as well as a "full menu" hidden behind it. The items in the overlay menu include:

  • Self-timer (2 or 10 sec)
  • Pixels (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, incandescent, cloudy, fluorescent, preset)
  • Set details - opens the full menu shown below

Before we go on, a note about white balance. The L3v has a manual ("preset") white balance mode, so you can get great white balance even with the lighting is tricky, by shooting a white or gray card/paper.


Regular menu

Here are the items in the more traditional menu:

  • Color mode (Color, B&W, sepia)
  • Chroma [contrast] (+, standard, -)
  • Sharpness (+3 to -1, in 1 step increments)
  • WB Preset - sets the manual white balance
  • AE mode (Program, F2.8, F7.5) - allows you to set the aperture or let the camera decide
  • Focusing (Wide AF, Spot AF, MF) - see below
  • Long exposure (Off, 2, 4, 8 secs) - this is the extent of the manual shutter speed controls
  • ISO (Auto, 80, 160, 320)
  • Metering mode (Evaluation [matrix], center-weighted, spot area)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - increase your focal range by up to 2X at the expense of image quality

There are three focus modes on the L3v. Wide AF uses a wide area of the frame, while Spot AF uses a small area in the center. The manual focus mode gives you five preset distances to choose from: 0.6, 1, 3, and 5 meters, plus infinity.

The L3v has very limited manual exposure controls. You can choose from two apertures and three shutter speeds. I would've liked to see something more flexible.

There is also a setup menu on the L3v, which is accessed via the mode switch. The interesting items here include:

  • LCD brightness (+2 to -2, in 1 step increments)
  • Insert date (on/off) - prints the date on your photos
  • Power save (Off, 15 sec, 1, 3, 6 mins)
  • Mode lock (on/off) - saves settings when camera is powered off
  • Color select (Yellow, red, purple, blue) - choose the color of the menus
  • Start screen (Kyocera, custom, off) - use the standard Finecam startup screen or use your own photo.
  • Rec review (Off, 2, 4 sec) - how long a photo is shown on the LCD after it is taken
  • Language (Japanese, English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese)
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • File numbering (reset) - reset the file numbers

That's enough about menus, let's move on to our test photos now.

The L3v did a decent job with the macro test shot. The colors are accurate, and the exposure was good. The image is a little soft, and I also noticed "jaggies" on many of the edges. In macro mode, the lens is locked at the wide-angle position. The focal range is 20 - 60 cm.

Manual shutter speed controls allow you to take night shots like the one above. I don't care for the choices of 2, 4, and 8 seconds though -- I want more flexibility. The shot above isn't wonderful -- it's somewhat noisy and has a real "digital look" to it.

Much to my surprise, the Finecam L3v did a great job with the redeye test. No complaints.

The distortion test shows moderate barrel distortion at wide-angle, and no vignetting (dark corners).

Image quality on the L3v is good, but not great. Color and exposure were both good, in most cases. My two biggest complaints are that images have a soft look to them, and that many edges are jagged, rather than smooth. Cranking up the in-camera sharpening would fix the first problem, but it may worsen the second one. Purple fringing did make an appearance, but it wasn't a major problem. Overall I'd rate the L3v's photos as average for the price.

Don't just take my word for it -- have a look at the photo gallery and decide for yourself!

Movie Mode

The L3v has the same movie mode as the Finecam S5 (the last Kyocera camera I reviewed). You can record up to 30 seconds of 320 x 240 video, or 120 seconds at 160 x 120. Sound is recorded as well, if you want.

If you turn on sound recording, the zoom lens cannot be used during filming. Turn off sound recording, and zoom away.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (2.7MB, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Finecam has a good playback mode, with the familiar features all present. Those include slide shows, thumbnail mode, DPOF print marking, and image protection. You can attach 30 second voice clips to your images as well.

The usual "zoom and scroll" feature is here too. Unfortunately, it's pretty limited, as you can only zoom in 2X.

Two other nice features include image rotation and resizing. Images can be resized to 320 x 240 or 160 x 120. You can trim (crop) images as well.

By pressing the display button, you can get more information about your photo, as you can see above. There's no histogram, though.

The L3v moves through images with incredible speed. It's instantaneous as you move from one to the next.

How Does it Compare?

In a crowded field of 3.2 Megapixel cameras, the only thing that really makes the Kyocera Finecam L3v stand out from the others is its large 2.5" LCD. Even then, the LCD's resolution isn't great, and it has a limited viewing angle. The camera takes good pictures, though jaggies and softness are noticeable in most of my test shots. The L3v has some manual controls, but they are limited (see the manual focus and shutter speed discussions above). The movie and playback modes are also looking a little outdated. The camera did do a nice job with the redeye test, though its poor low light focusing required me to use manual focus to take the shot. I'd take a look at the Finecam L3v for sure, just closely consider the competition. Don't forget, if you like the L3v but want more pixels, check out the Finecam L4v.

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality
  • Large 2.5" LCD display (but low resolution)
  • Some manual controls
  • Good redeye test performance
  • Nicely designed body

What I didn't care for:

  • Some jaggies, softness in images
  • LCD resolution and viewing angle not great
  • Limited "zoom and scroll" feature in playback mode
  • Movie mode looking a little outdated
  • Shutter speed, aperture, focus controls too limited
  • No AF illuminator or video out port
  • Poor bundle (no rechargeable batteries, outdated software not OS X native)

Some other 3 Megapixel / 3X zoom cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot A70, Casio Exilim EX-Z3, Fuji FinePix A210, Kodak EasyShare CX6330, Minolta DiMAGE E323 and Xt, Nikon Coolpix 3100 and SQ, Olympus Stylus 300, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC33, Pentax Optio 33L and S, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P72 and DSC-P8.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Finecam L3v and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

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

Want a few more opinions?

Read another review at Steve's Digicams.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.

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