DCRP Review: Kyocera Finecam S3
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2001
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 18, 2001

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For quite some time, Canon's PowerShot S-series was the only game in town for ultra-small, zoom-equipped digital cameras. Then Casio showed up with their QV-3EX (see our review), and a few months later, Kyocera and Pentax joined the fray with the Finecam S3 and the Optio 330.

The subject of our review is the Finecam S3 ($699), billed as the smallest 3.3 Megapixel camera with an optical zoom. Unlike the PowerShot S-series, the Finecam is more than just a point-and-shoot camera -- it has quite a few manual controls. Is this the ultimate tiny camera? Find out below...

What's in the Box?

The Finecam S3 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.3 Mpixel Kyocera Finecam S3 camera
  • 16MB MultiMediaCard
  • BP-800S Li-ion rechargeable battery
  • AC Adapter / battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB card reader
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring ArcSoft PhotoViewer software and drivers
  • 90 page manual

The Finecam's bundle is so complete that it even includes support for non-US power outlets right in the box. I'm not sure where it works, but I'm sure someone out there will appreciate it. (For those of you wondering, it's a two round pronged plug, with the prongs further apart than the US plugs).

One thing that makes the Finecam fairly unique in the digicam world is its use of Secure Digital and MultiMediaCard media. These little cards aren't found in very many devices yet, but companies like Palm and Panasonic are really pushing it. If I remember correctly, I saw a microwave often with a SD slot a few years ago at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. SD/MMC cards are currently available in sizes up to 64MB.

To keep the size of the camera down (I'm guessing), Kyocera did not put a USB port on the Finecam. Instead, they've included a Microtech ZiO card reader with the camera (see above). The card reader includes a USB cable so you can react the port on your computer. The ZiO is not yet compatible with Mac OS X, but works fine on Macs and PCs (Win 98/2000/ME) otherwise.

Kyocera has also included an AC adapter which can power the camera and also recharge the battery. And that brings me to the only real disappointment in this section: the BP-800S battery. The battery is small and as thick is about 3 sticks of gum. Because of that, it only has a capacity of 800mAh. Compare this to a larger camera which could hold four 1600 mAh batteries, and you can probably tell that the battery won't last that long -- and that was my experience. Kyocera estimates that the battery will last for about 50 minutes, which seems about right.

The Finecam's manual is about average. There's a lot of information, but it's presented with lots of "Note!" boxes which makes things confusing at times.

Look and Feel

If you've read this far, you probably know that the Finecam S3 is small. Just how small? Well, take a look:


Finecam S3 shown with MiniDV cassette and deck of cards

The table below shows the dimensions and weight of the Finecam, with a comparison to the two Canon Digital ELPH models:

Camera Dimensions Weight
Finecam S3 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.2 165 g
PowerShot S100/S110 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 190 g
PowerShot S300 3.7 x 2.5 x 1.2 240 g

As you can see, the Finecam is about the same size as the PowerShot S100/S110, except it's a bit lighter.

Like those Canon cameras, the Finecam has a very attractive all-metal body, which makes it feel extra sturdy. One thing I've noticed about all these metallic cameras is that they tend to scratch very easily.

The camera is easy to hold with one hand, or two. Let's take a 360 degree tour of the Finecam S3 now, starting with the front of the camera.

The Finecam's F2.8 lens has a focal range of 7.8 - 15.6 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 76 mm. As you might expect for a little camera like this, the lens is not threaded, so no accessories are available.

Above the lens you'll see the flash, which has a working range of 0.9 - 2.5 meters. The flash strength is not adjustable.

Now onto the back of the camera. The 1.5" LCD is bright and fluid, and easy to see except in bright light. You can adjust the brightness by pressing the button in the middle of the four-way switch.

The optical viewfinder is quite small, and it lacks diopter correction, though I don't see how they could fit it on the camera.

The buttons to the right of the optical viewfinder include:

  • Macro / Landscape
  • Flash
  • Mode Switch (Set up, Play, Record)
  • Zoom out
  • Zoom in

Below those buttons is the four-way switch for menu navigation, and the unlock button for the card slot.

Below the LCD are the Display (to turn the LCD on/off) and Menu buttons.

Here's a look at the top of the camera. Like with the other micro-cameras, there's no LCD info display up there, so you'll have to turn on the LCD on the back of the camera to see remaining shots and settings.

Also up here you'll find the on/off and the shutter release buttons.

On this side of the camera, you'll find the I/O ports under a rubber cover. That includes video out and the power port. You can plug the included AC adapter in here to either use the camera, or charge the battery.

As I mentioned earlier in the review, the Finecam does not have a USB port -- you'll have to use the card reader.

Speaker of the card, that door towards the left of the photo is where you'll put the SD/MMC card. The slot is spring-loaded and the card is easy to remove.

Here's a look at the other side of the camera, where you'll find the battery compartment. You can see the BP-800S battery as well.

Finally, the bottom of the Finecam S3. The only thing you'll find down here is the tripod mount. I can't tell for sure, but I'm pretty sure that it's a metal tripod mount.

Using the Kyocera Finecam S3

Record Mode

The Finecam takes a sluggish 7 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can begin shooting. Depressing the shutter release halfway results in locked focus in a second or less. There's a slight amount of shutter lag when you fully depress the button, but nothing abnormal. Shot-to-shot speed is decent -- about 3 seconds between shots at Fine quality. The controls for the 2X optical zoom controls are quick and precise.

There are four quality modes on the Finecam, each with a letter (shown below) that I had trouble remembering. The chart below describes these resolution/quality choices:

Quality Resolution Approx. File Size # photos on 16MB card
TIFF-RGB (T) 2048 x 1536 9.1MB 1
Super Fine (S) 2048 x 1536 2MB 7-9
Fine (F) 2048 x 1536 1MB 15-19
Normal (N) 1024 x 768 280 KB 54-64

As you can tell, the Finecam supports TIFF mode, unlike any of the PowerShot S-series cameras. Unfortunately, it locks up the camera for eighty seconds writing the file -- so you probably won't be using it much. From my experiences with digital cameras, the highest quality JPEG mode is close enough.

Pressing the Menu button first invokes an overlay-style menu, with four choices at the bottom of the LCD screen. This includes:

  • Self-timer (2 or 10 sec)
  • Quality (see chart above; also for entering movie mode)
  • Exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • More Menu Items:
    • Color Mode (Color, B&W, Sepia)
    • White Balance (Preset, Auto, Sunlight, Tungsten, Cloudy, Fluorescent)
    • AE Mode (Program, F2.8, F6.2)
    • Focusing (AF, MF)
    • Long Exposure (Off, 2, 4, 8 sec)
    • Sensitivity AKA ISO (Standard, x2, x4)
    • Metering (Evaluation, Center, Spot Area)

A few comments are in order for some of those. Yes indeed, the Finecam supports manual white balance (called "preset" here), and a little control of the aperture and shutter speed. None of these features are available on the Powershot S-series.

For those of you unfamiliar with manual white balance, it lets you shoot a piece of paper (or whatever you want to be white) to get correct color in almost any lighting.

While the manual exposure controls are limited, it's nice to have the ability to take night shots on this little camera.

And that brings us to the photo samples.

The Finecam did a "fine" job (if you excuse the pun) in our macro test. I was able to use auto white balance and still get accurate color. I did boost the exposure compensation up a notch to brighten things up a bit. You can get as close as 6 cm in macro mode on the Finecam (at full wide-angle).

The Finecam did a pretty good job at our night shot test. That blurry thing you can see towards the bottom left of the photo is the ledge that I put the camera on to get the shot. There are no unnatural stars in the sky, due to "hot pixels", a type of noise.

Overall, I was happy with the photo quality from the Finecam S3. The photos were sharp and the colors vivid. Check out the Finecam photo gallery to see for yourself.

Movie Mode

The Finecam can record up to 15 seconds of video at a resolution of 320 x 240. The frame rate is 15 frames per second. Unfortunately, you can only use the digital zoom while filming movies. No sound is recorded with the movies, as there is no microphone.

Below is a sample movie I recorded recently -- sorry it's a bit "bouncy".


Click to play movie (AVI format, M-JPEG codec, 2.2MB)

Playback Mode

The Finecam S3 is probably has the fastest playback mode of any camera I've ever used. It screams before photos -- you hit the button to switch and it's done before you let go.

The zoom and scroll feature is here, and it's pretty fast too. But you can only zoom in 2X so there isn't much "scrolling" to do.

Other features in playback mode include slide shows, DPOF print marking, 9 thumbnail mode, image rotation, and image protection.

You can find out more information about your photo, including exposure settings, date, and filename by pressing the "up" button.

How Does it Compare?

There's lots to love about the Kyocera Finecam S3, and very few things to dislike. The camera is ultra-small and portable, for one. It takes quality pictures, and gives you more manual controls than any "micro camera" I've used. The downsides include the poor battery life, no sound in movie mode, and the limitations of the 2X optical zoom. How does it compare to the Canon PowerShot Digital ELPH line? Very well, I'd say -- perhaps its even better. If you're in the market for a very small camera, I'd look closely at the Finecam S3.

What I liked:

  • Tiny, good-looking metal body
  • Decent control of shutter/aperture
  • Fast processing speeds (esp. in playback mode)
  • Good photo quality
  • Manual white balance

What I didn't care for:

  • Proprietary, low capacity battery
  • Slow startup times
  • Wish it had a 3X zoom
  • No sound or zoom in movie mode

Other "micro cameras" include the Canon PowerShot S20, S110 Digital ELPH, and S300 Digital ELPH, as well as the Casio QV-3EX and Pentax Optio 330.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Finecam S3 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? How about a third?

Be sure to read Steve's Digicams review of the Kyocera Finecam S3. If that's still not enough, the Imaging Resource Page has one too.

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 personal camera recommendations.

 

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