DCRP Review: Kyocera Finecam S4
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, August 21, 2002
Last Updated: Sunday, September 1, 2002

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The Kyocera Finecam S4 ($625 list) is the 4 Megapixel version of the Finecam S3, which we reviewed last year. In addition to its 4MP CCD, the Finecam S4 also features a 3X optical zoom and decent amount of manual features, all in a small "micro camera" body.

Let's get right into the details!

What's in the Box?

The Finecam S4 includes everything you need to get started right in the box. Inside, you'll find:

  • The 3.95 effective Megapixel Finecam S4 camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital card
  • BP-900S Li-ion rechargeable battery
  • AC adapter
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • Wrist strap
  • CD-ROM including Pixela ImageMixer software and drivers
  • 101 page users guide (printed) plus quick start guide

Like most “micro cameras”, the Finecam S4 uses a proprietary Lithium-ion battery. The one used here has 3.2 Watt/hours of power. That’s an average amount of juice for a small camera, but the S4’s battery life is below average. Kyocera’s estimates are for just 50 minutes of power per charge, which is equivalent to 100-150 pictures.

To charge the battery, or just power the camera, you just plug the included AC adapter into the camera. Charging the camera’s battery takes a whopping 5 hours.

Kyocera includes a 16MB Secure Digital card with the camera, which is fairly small for a 4MP camera. You’ll want to buy a larger card as soon as possible. The Finecam supports SD or MultiMedia (MMC) cards. Update 9/1/02: Strangely enough, the S4 does not support SanDisk 128MB (and possibly larger) SD cards. You need to send the camera into Kyocera to make it compatible.

Also like other micro cameras, the S4 has a built-in lens cover.

I was unable to find any information about accessories for this camera.

I did not test the included Pixela ImageMixer software, so I can't comment on that. The camera works fine with Mac OS X and presumably Windows XP as well.

The Finecam’s manual is about average. Not great, but not terrible either.

Look and Feel

The Finecam S4 is a pretty standard looking micro camera, if there is such a thing. It’s easy to hold with one hand, though the popup flash gets in the way somewhat. You can slip it into any pocket.

The build quality is just okay – it’s not as "solid feeling" as other all-metal cameras like the Canon Digital ELPH.

Camera Dimensions Weight
Kyocera Finecam S4 3.8 x 2.2 x 1.2 175 g
Sony DSC-P9 4.5 x 2.0 x 1.4 206 g
Canon PowerShot S40 4.4 x 2.3 x 1.7 260 g
Konica KD-400Z 3.8 x 2.3 x 1.2 198 g
Olympus D-40Z 3.4 x 2.6 x 1.7 190 g
Pentax Optio 430 3.6 x 2.3 x 1.2 205 g

As you can see, the S4 is one of the smallest 4MP cameras out there!

The Finecam S4 features a Kyocera 3X optical zoom lens, with a focal range of 7.3 – 21.9 mm -- that’s equivalent to 35 – 105 mm. The aperture range is F2.8 – F4.8. The lens is not threaded.

Just above the lens is the flash. The S4 has one of those annoying pop-up flashes like the Olympus D-520Z. It gets in the way of your left hand, in my opinion. Also, you don't want to block it or push it down a bit while using the flash. I wish that you could put it back down if you don’t want to use it, but no such luck. The working range of the flash is 0.6 – 2.5 m at wideangle and 0.6 – 2.0 m at telephoto.

That’s about it for the front of the camera. Sadly, the S4 lacks any kind of autofocus assist lamp.

Here now is the back of the camera.

The Finecam S4 has a nice, small 1.5” LCD display, typical of these small cameras. Images on the LCD are fluid and fairly bright. LCD brightness is adjustable by hitting the center button of the four-way switch.

Just above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is also small, but that’s pretty normal for these micro cameras. There is no diopter correction knob for the viewfinder, so those of you who don’t have perfect vision may not see too clearly.

There are four buttons and one switch immediately to the right of the optical viewfinder. They include:

  • Macro/Landscape focus
  • Flash mode (Auto, Auto w/redeye, fill flash, flash off)
  • Mode switch (set-up, playback, record)
  • Zoom in/out

The zoom mechanism moves at only one speed: fast. It takes about one second to go from wideangle to telephoto.

To the right of the LCD is the four-way switch with “OK” button in the middle. It’s used for menu navigation.

Finally, below the four-way switch are the display and menu buttons. The display button toggles the LCD on and off, and the menu button is self-explanatory.

Here's a quick glimpse of the top of the camera. The only items up here are the power and shutter release buttons. You can see the popup flash, which opens when the camera is turned on, and automatically retracts when it is shut off.

On this side of the camera, you'll find the battery compartment. The plastic door was harder to open than it should be.

On the other side is the SD/MMC memory card slot as well as the I/O ports. To remove the SD card, you just push it inward and it pops out.

Let's take a closer look at the I/O ports, under a rubber cover.

USB, video out, and DC in (for included AC adapter) are the ports you'll find there.

Lastly, here is the bottom of the camera, where you'll find the plastic (I think!) tripod mount.

Using the Kyocera Finecam S4

Record Mode

The Finecam takes about 5.5 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting. The autofocus speeds on the S4 are very disappointing. Even in broad daylight, it took the S4 over 2 seconds to lock focus when the shutter release was pressed halfway. And it's pretty fussy about focusing too -- sometimes it just won't do it, indoors or out. Add about 1/2 second of shutter lag into the equation, and the Finecam turns out to be a poor choice for action shots.

Shot-to-shot speed is pretty average. You'll wait about five seconds before you can take another shot, at the normal image quality setting.

Speaking of image quality settings, here's a chart of the various image size and quality choices available on the Finecam S4:

Quality Resolution Approx. File Size # photos on 16MB card
Super Fine (S) 2272 x 1704 2.3 MB 6-8
Fine (F) 2272 x 1704 1.2 MB 14-17
Normal (N) 1280 x 960 370 KB 41-60

On the Finecam S3, there was a TIFF mode, but not here. As you can see, that 16MB SD card is way too small.

The Finecam S4 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)
  • Quality/Movie - switches between the three quality modes and the movie mode
  • Exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, fluorescent, preset)
  • Set details - opens the full menu shown below

Before we go on, a note about white balance. The S4 has a manual white balance mode, so you can get great white balance even with the lighting is tricky.

Now, the full menu items:

  • Color mode (Color, B&W, sepia)
  • WB Mode (set) - sets the manual white balance
  • AE mode (Program, F2.8, F9.6) - allows you to set the aperture or let the camera decide
  • Focusing (AF, MF) - in manual focus mode, you use the four-way switch.
  • Long exposure (Off, 2, 4, 8 secs) - this is the extent of the manual shutter speed controls
  • Exposure sensitivity (Standard, x2, x4) - this is the same as ISO. Standard is equal to 100, and so on.
  • Metering mode (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • Rec review (on/off) - whether or not image is shown on LCD after it is taken
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - effectively doubles your focal range at the expense of image quality


Manual focus mode

In the manual focus mode, a gauge is shown on the LCD so you can see the approx. shooting distance. Unfortunately, it's impossible to tell the difference between the focus distances on the LCD! So this feature isn't really useful. If you could blow up the center of the frame, like on some other cameras, it would be better.

There is also a standard-issue setup menu on the S4. The most interesting thing here is the mode lock feature, which stores your settings in memory, so they don't go back to defaults after the camera is turned off. You can also change the color of the camera menus.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of menus. Let's talk photos now.

The Finecam did a nice job with our macro test. I had to bump up the exposure compensation two stops in order to get it bright enough. The subject is nicely focused -- even the nose is in focus, which usually does not happen. In macro mode, the S4 has a focal range of 17 - 60 cm at the wideangle setting.

The night test shot came out pretty well. One thing that I don't like about the S4's limited shutter speed controls is how exact they are. This shot had a shutter speed of 1 second. I would've liked to go just a bit slower, but the next step is 2 seconds, and those images were way overexposed. Still, the image looks pretty nice and noise is very low.

The S4 turned did a pretty good job at redeye reduction as well. There's definitely a reflection of the flash, but it's not the demonic red color that most people are familiar with. One big reason why Kyocera uses that pop-up flash is to get it away from the lens, this reducing the redeye phenomenon. (Note that this was blown up a bit so you can see the details.)

Overall, the Finecam S4 took average quality photos. It tended to blow out the highlights in tricky lighting situations (see the tree shots in the gallery). Noise levels were higher than other 4MP cameras, though, and the images had somewhat of a soft look to them. Take a look at the gallery and see for yourself.

Movie Mode

The Finecam S4 has an unimpressive movie mode. If this was the year 2000, it would be okay, but other manufacturers have come up with better movie features that make the S4 pale in comparison.

Movie clips are limited to 15 seconds, without sound. They are saved in AVI format at the usual 320 x 240 resolution. You can at least use the zoom lens during filming.

My sample below is a bit different that normal. Here, I recorded part of the Fantasmic! show at Disneyland, which is at night. If you want to see a movie taken during the day, I refer you to Steve's Digicams, who has one for you. Anyhow, this sample really isn't impressive (doesn't do the show justice!) but here it is:


Click to play movie (3.5MB, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

I should add that movie files were unusually large considering that no sound is recorded. 3.5MB for a 15 second slient clip is pretty huge!

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.

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.

By pressing up on the four-way switch, you can get more information about your photo, as you can see above. No histogram feature, however.

The S4 moves through images with incredible speed. It's instantaneous as you move from one to the next.

How Does it Compare?

By reading the spec sheet, the Kyocera Finecam S4 sounds like a great, 4 Megapixel micro camera. Unfortunately, in real life the S4 turned out to be disappointing. Generally it took good pictures, though the noise levels were higher than average. What bothered me the most was its very slow autofocus, shutter lag, and poor battery life. Those first two items really make a big difference when you're trying to take a picture of the kids, who just can't stand still. The movie mode was very basic as well. Two bright spots were the amount of manual controls (for a point-and-shoot camera) and a nice playback mode. The S4 isn't a bad camera by any means, but I don't think it's the best choice for your money.

What I liked:

  • Very small, metal body
  • Good picture quality
  • Nice playback mode
  • Large number of manual controls for a point-and-shoot camera

What I didn't care for:

  • Slow and unreliable autofocus
  • A bit of shutter lag
  • Higher than average noise in images
  • Pop-up flash gets in the way
  • Lackluster movie mode
  • Worse than average battery life
  • Included 16MB SD card too small

Here are some other lower cost 4 Megapixel cameras to check out: Canon PowerShot S40, Casio QV-4000, Kodak DX4900, Konica KD-400Z, Minolta DiMAGE F100, Olympus D-40Z, Pentax Optio 430RS, Sony DSC-P9 and the Toshiba PDR-M81.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Finecam S4 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?

In case you're still not convinced, have a look at Steve's Digicams and Imaging Resource for more reviews.

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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