DCRP Review: Argus DC3810
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: June 30, 2003
Last Updated: June 30, 2003

Most people probably wouldn't expect a review of a camera like this on the DCRP. But, after reader requests and a strong nudge from my Macworld editor (Hi Jennifer!), I decided to go ahead and review it.

So what's the deal with the Argus DC3810? Well, for one, it's cheap -- really cheap. Just last week I saw it for $299 -- an incredibly low price for a 5 Megapixel camera. The DC3810 is often seen in advertisements without being mentioned by name. It's usually just a "5 Megapixel camera".

Is the DC3810 a bargain, or a camera that proves that "you get what you pay for"? Find out now in our review.

What's in the Box?

The DC3810 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.1 effective Mpixel Argus DC3810 camera
  • 32MB CompactFlash card
  • Four AA alkaline batteries
  • Hand strap
  • Camera case
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring PhotoImpression, VideoImpression, and drivers
  • 163 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)

Argus gives you a 32MB CompactFlash card, which is a good starting point, but you'll undoubtedly want a larger card right away. Might I suggest 256MB? Despite it's size, the camera only supports Type I CompactFlash cards -- though this isn't really a big deal anymore.

You're on your own as far as batteries go, as you get four non-rechargeable alkalines in the box. I recommend buying as least two sets of NiMH rechargeables, plus a fast charger. Argus does not provide any information about expected battery life on the DC3810.

The DC3810 has a built-in lens cover, as you can see. Another nice touch is the included camera case, though it has a really horrid stench (first time I'm put that in a review!).

I believe the only accessory out there for the 3810 is an AC adapter.

Argus includes ArcSoft's PhotoImpression and VideoImpression software with the DC3810. PhotoImpression is a pretty good photo editing product, while I suppose VideoImpression is for editing those short movie clips the camera can record. Both products are Mac OS X native.

While it's not pretty, the manual included with the camera is complete, and fairly easy to read.

Look and Feel

The DC3810 is a midsize camera made mostly of plastic. Despite its bargain price, the DC3810 doesn't feel "cheap" when you pick it up. It's easy to hold, and the important controls are easy to reach.

The official dimensions of the camera are 4.6 x 3.0 x 2.4 inches (W x H X D), and it weighs 270 grams.

Let's begin our tour of the DC3810, beginning with the front of the camera.

The DC3810 has a 3X optical zoom lens, manufactured by Ricoh. This lens is a slow one, with a maximum aperture of F3.4 - F3.6. The focal length of the lens is 8 - 24 mm, which is equivalent to 34 - 102 mm. As far as I know, the 3810 does not support add-on lenses.

To the upper-left of the lens, you'll find the 3810's built-in flash. The working range of the flash is 0.5 - 3.0 m at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 2.5 m at telephoto. There are no external flash options available for the DC3810.

The other two items of note on the front of the camera are the self-timer lamp (top-left) and flash sensor (top right). There is no AF illuminator on the DC3810.

The back of the DC3810 is a nice break from the cluttered look than I'm used to with most cameras.

The 1.8" LCD is the definition of low resolution, with just 60,000 pixels. And you can tell immediately, too. This is the worst LCD I've seen in years. In addition to being low resolution, it always seemed washed out, which may outdoor use even more difficult than normal.

At the top-left of the above photo is the optical viewfinder. The viewfinder is a little on the small side (considering the 3810's bulk), and it shows about 80% of the frame. Do note that you will see the lens barrel in the lower-left corner of the viewfinder when at wide-angle. It's not as bad as on the PowerShot G3/G5, but it's there.

To the left of the LCD are three buttons:

  • Display - toggles LCD on/off
  • Menu
  • Enter + Self-timer + Continuous shooting

The continuous shooting mode can take 13-90 pictures in a row, at a sluggish 1 frame/second. The total number of shots that can be taken depends on the selected resolution and image size.

directly above the LCD is the power switch. To the right of that is the four-way controller. In addition to its function as a menu navigator, it also does the following:

  • Up - Voice annotations + Flash (Auto, fill flash, flash cancel, auto w/redeye reduction, night mode)
  • Right - Zoom in
  • Down - Play/Pause + Focus
  • Left - Zoom out

You can add up to 10 second voice clips to an image in playback mode. The DC3810 has a pseudo manual focus mode, similar to some of the lower-end Sony cameras. You can choose from landscape (infinite focus), macro, or a preset distance: 0.5, 1.0, or 2.0 m.

The zoom controller moves the lens at a glacial pace: it takes 3 seconds to go from wide-angle to telephoto.

Up on top of the camera, you'll find the microphone, speaker, shutter release button, mode wheel, and yes -- even an LCD info display. If the el-cheapo camera can have one, why can't other cameras? Of course, the info display doesn't show very much, but hey, it's better than nothing.

There are four items on the mode wheel:

  • Record mode
  • Playback mode
  • Movie mode
  • Setup

On this side of the camera, you'll find three I/O ports hidden deep under a rubber cover. Let's take a look:

The ports are USB (1.1), DC-in (for optional AC adapter), and A/V out.

On the other side of the camera, you'll find the CompactFlash slot. The slot is protected by a plastic door that seems sturdy enough. This is a Type I slot, so no Microdrives -- though, with high capacity Type I cards out there, you really don't need one anymore.

The included 32MB memory card is also shown.

Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. You can see where you'll put the four AA batteries used by the 3810. The door over the battery didn't close as tightly as I would've liked, though this may have just been my particular camera.

The tripod mount, which I believe is metal, is mysteriously located right next to the battery compartment.

Using the Argus DC3810

Record Mode

The DC3810 has one of the slowest startup times that I've seen in a long, long time: over 7.5 seconds.

Once the camera is ready, you can expect some major league autofocus and shutter lag. It takes the camera one second to lock focus, and that's in good light. If it has to "hunt", expect a longer wait. In terms of shutter lag, it's there, and very noticeable -- I'm guessing it's about 1/3 of a second. This is not a camera for action shots!

Shot-to-shot speed is equally bad: expect the camera to be locked up for 6 seconds while the image is saved to the memory card.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the 3810:

Resolution Quality # Images on 32MB card
Full
(2560 x 1920)
Fine 13
Standard 26
Economy 52
Large
(1600 x 1200)
Fine 30
Standard 60
Economy 90
Half
(1280 x 960)
Fine 50
Standard 100
Economy 175
VGA
(640 x 480)
Fine 175
Standard 290
Economy 340

Images are named SIMG####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is NOT maintained, so you will have big problems with duplicate file names after you erase a card.

In case you haven't noticed so far, slow is the best word to describe the DC3810. The menus continue this trend -- they are so slow that it is painful. If they were more responsive, I wouldn't have any issues with them, but sadly this is not the case. The menu items include:

  • P/A/S/M mode
    • Programmed auto: camera chooses shutter speed and aperture
    • Aperture priority: you choose aperture (F3.4 - F15), camera chooses shutter speed
    • Shutter priority: you choose shutter speed (10 - 1/650 sec), camera chooses aperture
    • Full manual: you choose both shutter speed and aperture; same ranges as above.
  • Focusing (Central, spot)
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Drive mode (Single shot, continuous, continuous w/AF, self-timer)
  • Image size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, light bulb, fluorescent, cloudy, preset)
  • Exposure
    • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
    • Area (Full, central, spot) - why these isn't called metering is beyond me
  • LCD brightness (0-9)
  • Default (yes/no) - reset the camera to default settings

Most everything up there should be familiar if you've read a few of my reviews. The two continuous shooting modes different in only one area: auto-focusing. Normal continuous shooting will use the same focus (from the first shot) on all the subsequent shots. Continuous AF mode will re-focus with each photo, which slows down the already sluggish shooting speed even more.

The 3810 has manual white balance, so you can shoot a white or gray card to get perfect color every time.

Two other really annoying things about the DC3810: #1, when you shut off the camera, the current settings are lost. This, as you might imagine, can be frustrating. #2 is that every time you want to change the shutter speed or aperture while in manual mode, you must do so through the sluggish menu system.

There is also a setup menu on the DC3810, so let's take a look at interesting items there:

  • Power save (1, 3, 5, 10, 30 min)
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • Language (English, German)

Not many interesting setup items, as you can see! Let's move onto the photo tests now, shall we?

While the macro test subject is nice and sharp, something is not right here. If you've read our other reviews, you know that Mickey's robe is not orange -- it's red. That's the only color that's off here... the blue hat, black ears, and brownish shoes look fine.

The focal range in macro mode is 8 - 40 cm. A 6 x 4 cm subject will fill the frame.

The night test shot is interesting for a number of reasons. The good news is that the DC3810 was able to capture enough light, thanks to its manual shutter speed controls. Now, the bad news: there's a lot of noise, since the camera has no noise reduction. The second issue is a strange one: the left side is blurry, the right side is not. The focus was set to infinity so I don't think that's the problem. Weird.

The distortion test shows two things. First, it shows minor barrel distortion -- notice how the lines on the outside of the frame are not straight. The second thing it shows is vignetting, or darkened corners. You'll see this in some of the pictures in the gallery as well.

The DC3810 produces moderate redeye in our flash test shot. The photo was taken with the redeye reduction feature turned on, after spending a few hours using the camera (can't you tell?). Redeye can be reduced fairly well in software.

Don't expect miracles in terms of photo quality on the DC3810. Noise levels were higher than I would've liked, and they were often under-exposed, but they'd make decent prints. Colors were sometimes washed out, and blooming (I think that's what this is) was apparent. The photos don't compare to the best 5 Megapixel cameras out there -- though they aren't bad considering the price of this camera.

Movie Mode

The DC3810 has an average movie mode. You can record 320 x 240 video, with sound, until the memory card is full. The video resolution is 320 x 240, with a frame rate of 15 frames/sec. Actually that's not completely true -- the actual video is more like 315 x 220, so expect borders around the movie.

Movies are saved in AVI format.

As is typical with cameras that record sound with movies, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming.

Here's a short sample movie for you. The quality is dreadful. I had two other cameras with me when I took this video, and they did much better.


Click to play movie (3.8MB, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The DC3810 has a pretty bare bones playback mode. You can do slide shows, DPOF print marking, folder management, thumbnails, and zoom and scroll. THere is no image protection feature.

The zoom and scroll feature enlarges your image by a factor of 2, in which you can scroll around. The scrolling is smooth, but I wasn't impressed with 2X being your only zoom option.

When it comes to deleting photos, you can get rid of a group of photos, a folder, or the whole card with ease.

Don't expect to get a whole lot of information about your photo in playback mode. What you see above is all you get.

When you move between photos, a low resolution version shows up almost instantly, with the high res version following about four seconds later.

How Does it Compare?

The Argus DC3810 is a camera that could pretty good if its features were not implemented so poorly. After all, it has full manual controls, a 5 Megapixel sensor, endless movie mode, and a Ricoh zoom lens. But the camera is so incredibly slow that I quickly grew tired of using it. From startup speed to menus to shutter lag, the 3810 is the worst performing camera I've used in years. The LCD is low resolution and very hard to use. There's no AF-assist lamp. To top it off, both the still and movie quality leave much to be desired. While it may be hard to resist buying this camera for $300, I strongly encourage you to do so.

What I liked:

  • Low price
  • Full manual controls
  • Can record movies until memory is full

What I didn't care for:

  • Poor still, movie quality
  • Incredibly slow performance in all areas
  • Camera does not store settings when powered off
  • File numbering lost when memory card is erased
  • Slow, clumsy menu system
  • Slow (in terms of aperture) lens
  • No AF illuminator
  • Low resolution LCD

Other full-featured (and more expensive) 5 Megapixel cameras to check out include the Canon PowerShot S50, Casio QV-5700, Fuji FinePix S602 Zoom (uses 3.3MP SuperCCD), HP Photosmart 935, Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi, Nikon Coolpix 5400 and 5700, Olympus C-5050Z, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F717 and DSC-V1.

And there are many more point-and-shoot models out there, so check out our Reviews & Info section.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DC3810 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

None.

Feedback

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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