DCRP Review: Kyocera Finecam SL300R
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: March 23, 2004
Last Updated: March 25, 2004

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By looking at the Kyocera Finecam SL300R ($399), it may look like just stylish metal camera with a swiveling lens. But the "RTUNE" image processor inside the camera is what makes it really stand out from the crowd. With the right memory card, the SL300R can shoot at 3.5 frames/second until the memory card is full. If that sounds impressive, that's because it is.

That's nice and all, but how do the photos look? Is the camera easy-to-use? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

The Finecam SL300R has an very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 effective Megapixel Finecam SL300R camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital card
  • BP780S lithium-ion battery
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • Camera case
  • Hand strap
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM including Adobe Photoshop Albums and drivers
  • 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 -- and faster -- card. Why do you want a faster card? In order to take advantage of the super continuous shooting rate of the SL300R, you need to use a "high speed" SD card with a fast write speed. If you use a regular SD card (or an MMC card), the camera can't shoot at 3.5 frames/sec. Lexar, SanDisk, and Panasonic all sell high speed SD cards.

The SL300R includes the BP-780S li-ion rechargeable battery, which has 2.9 Wh of energy -- not a whole lot. Kyocera estimates that you can take about 100 photos per charge. Battery life seemed lower than average during my usage of the camera. Do note that an extra battery (which I highly recommend purchasing) will set you back $45. Unfortunately, compact cameras usually have proprietary batteries like this, so there's not much you can do about it.

When it's time to charge the battery, just plug in the included AC adapter. It takes around three hours to recharge. The AC adapter can also be used to power the camera when you're transferring images to your PC, or if you just want to save the battery.

The SL300R is a compact camera, similar in width and height (but not depth) to the Canon Digital ELPH. As you'll see a bit later, there's no lens cap for this camera, leaving the 300R's lens unprotected.

One thing that Kyocera does include is a simple carrying case for the camera and a few memory cards.

The only accessory for the SL300R that I could find was an external rapid battery charger ($49).

Kyocera includes Adobe Photoshop Albums in the box, which is nice photo viewing/organizing/printing software. It's also Windows only. Mac users will have to provide their own software (iPhoto will work fine). The manual talks about USB drivers on a CD, but they weren't on the Albums CD, so maybe they forgot to send that one with my review camera.

I'd rate the Finecam's manual as a little below average. Most of the important information is there, but it was missing some things (such as movie recording limits and camera specs), and the organization leaves something to be desired.

Look and Feel

The Finecam SL300R is a compact metal camera with a swiveling lens. The lens can rotate about 210 degrees, making it great for shooting over the heads of people in front of you (for example). You can also turn the lens toward you for self portraits.

The SL300R is not a super-tiny camera, but it will fit into any of your pockets with ease. When turned off, the camera looks like a large credit card:

One thing you need to watch out for is scratches on that metal body. My review camera has been used by other reviewers before me, and it was already scratched. So do use the case whenever possible otherwise your camera won't look so hot. Overall, the build quality on the SL300R is very good.

The dimensions of the camera (while closed) are 100.0 x 62.5 x 15.0 mm / 3.9 x 2.5 x 0.6 inches (W x H x D), and it weights just 130 grams without the battery or memory card installed.

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

The SL300R has an F2.8-4.8, 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, nor is there any cover to protect it from the elements. Watch your fingers!

Directly to the left of the lens you'll find the camera's built-in flash. The flash has a rather small working range of 0.6 - 2.5 m at wide-angle, and 0.6 - 1.8 m at telephoto. You cannot attach an external flash to this camera.

Below the flash are the self-timer lamp and flash sensor. There's no AF-assist lamp on this camera.

On the back of the camera, you'll find a 1.5" LCD display, which has 118,000 pixels. Kyocera calls this a "DayFine" LCD, meaning that it can still be used in bright outdoor light -- which is pretty important given the fact that the camera lacks an optical viewfinder. Indeed, I did find that the LCD was easier to see outdoors than your typical LCD.

As I said, there is no optical viewfinder on the 300R. This may or may not matter to you. It matters to me, so I personally would skip this camera.

Above the LCD are two buttons, which control what "mode" the camera is in. The corresponding mode lights up in the display directly above the buttons. The five modes on the SL300R are:

  • Setup
  • Playback
  • Single-shot record
  • Continuous record
  • Movie mode

I'll have more on all of those later in the review. But first, I wanted to mention the camera's stellar continuous shooting mode. You can shoot at 3.5 frames per second until the memory card is full. The big caveat is that you must use a fast SD card -- cheap cards won't do it. Kyocera included a fast card with my review unit, and I can confirm that this feature works as advertised -- it's pretty amazing.

Above the mode buttons are two more buttons, this time for display (toggles LCD info on and off) and scene. The scene modes on the 300R include:

  • Standard - normal shooting
  • Sports action
  • Portrait
  • Night view
  • Night portrait
  • Macro
  • Landscape

Just pick the "scene" you're shooting and the camera picks the best settings for the job.

To the right of those two buttons is the zoom controller, which moves the lens from the wide-angle to telephoto position in about two seconds. Don't expect to be able to precisely position the zoom, though, as the lens only has 5 steps across the whole focal range.

To the right of the LCD is the menu button and four-way controller. The controller is used for menu navigation as well as for adjusting the flash setting (choose from auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash off, fill flash, fill flash w/redeye reduction).

Here's a look at the top of the camera, with the lens in the "closed" position. Up here, the only things to see are the power and shutter release buttons.

Nothing to see here...

On the other side you'll find the I/O ports. These include USB and DC-in (for included AC adapter). There's no video out on this camera.

Finally, we reach the bottom of the camera. Down here, under a fairly sturdy plastic door, you'll find the battery compartment and SD/MMC card slot.

One thing missing from this camera is a tripod mount. Like the optical viewfinder, this may or may not be a dealbreaker for you.

Using the Kyocera Finecam SL300R

Record Mode

With no lens to extend, the SL300R starts up very quickly -- in just 2 seconds.

Sorry these are so bad... but there's no video output on this camera

In good lighting, autofocus speeds were good, with the camera taking about 0.5 second to lock focus. Low light focusing was not good, due to the lack of an AF-assist lamp.

At fast shutter speeds, shutter lag was not an issue. At slower speeds (where you should really be using a tripod), it's noticeable.

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent. You can shoot another shot in a second or less. And don't forget that awesome burst mode that I described earlier!

There's no way to delete a photo after it is taken. You must enter playback mode.

Here's a look at the various image size and quality choices available on the Finecam SL300R:

Resolution Quality Approx. File Size # images on 16MB card
2048 x 1536 Fine 1.6 MB 9
Normal 800 KB 18
1600 x 1200 Fine 1.0 MB 15
Normal 500 KB 30
1280 x 960 Fine 600 KB 23
Normal 300 KB 46
640 x 480 Fine 160 KB 90
Normal 70 KB 170

The Finecam SL300R 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.

The Finecam SL300R 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)
  • Image size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, incandescent, cloudy, fluorescent, preset)
  • Set details - opens the full menu shown below

Before we go on, a note about white balance. The SL300R 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.

Here are the items in the more traditional menu:

  • Sound (on/off) - whether sound is recorded in movie mode
  • Color mode (Color, black & white, sepia)
  • Chroma [saturation] (+, normal, -)
  • 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, 100, 200, 400, 800)
  • Metering mode (Evaluation, center-weighted, spot area)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - increase your focal range by up to 2X at the expense of image quality

The very limited manual focus feature

There are three focus modes on the SL300R. 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 SL300R has very limited manual exposure controls. You can choose from just two apertures and three slow shutter speeds. Although most point-and-shoot cameras lack even these limited manual controls, more would've been nice.

There is also a setup menu on the SL300R, which is accessed via the mode switch. The interesting items here include:

  • AF mode (SAF, CAF) - single AF focuses only when you halfway press the shutter release button; continuous AF is always trying to focus.
  • AF method (Speed, frame) - in speed mode, the LCD freezes while the camera is focusing; in frame mode, it does not.
  • Bright control (+2 to -2, 1 step increments) - LCD brightness
  • Backlight (Bright, low power) - LCD backlight strength
  • Date/time (set)
  • Insert date (With date, without date) - prints the date on your photos
  • Format card
  • Power save (Off, 1, 3, 6 mins)
  • Mode lock (on/off) - saves settings when camera is powered off
  • Beep (Off, 1-3)
  • Shutter volume (Off, 1-3)
  • 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)
  • File numbering (reset) - reset the file numbers
  • Mode reset - return camera to factory defaults

That's enough about menus, let's move on to our test photos now. Since the camera lacks a tripod mount, I can't perform all of my usual tests.

I had a heck of a time getting a decent macro shot out of the SL300R. First, it wouldn't lock focus until I was well back from the subject. And the subject itself just doesn't look great.

The minimum distance to the subject in macro mode is 20 cm. The lens is locked at the wide-angle position.

No tripod mount means no night shot or distortion tests!

I do have a redeye test, though. As you can tell, there's plenty of redeye -- which is common on small cameras like this. I had to crank up the ISO a notch to compensate for the weak flash. That adds noise to the image, which you can see here.

Overall image quality was good, though colors seemed dull to my eyes. Noise levels were a bit above average as well, probably due to the strong in-camera sharpening. Purple fringing did not seem to be a major problem. But don't just take my word for it -- have a look at the photo gallery and decide for yourself!

Movie Mode

While it's not state-of-the-art, the SL300R's movie mode is pretty good. You can record 320 x 240 video at 30 frames/second, with sound, until the memory card is full. A slower frame rate is also available (15 fps), as well as a lower resolution (160 x 120).

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. I apologize for the wind noise -- it's one of those many things that I can't control.

Click to play movie (6MB, 320 x 240, 30 fps, 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. You can zoom in 2, 4, or 8 times into your photo, and then scroll around the zoomed-in area. This feature is well implemented on the SL300R.

Two other nice features include image rotation and resizing. Images can be resized to 320 x 240 or 160 x 12, and you can trim (crop) them, 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 SL300R moves through images with incredible speed. It's instantaneous as you move from one to the next.

How Does it Compare?

The Kyocera Finecam SL300R is an interesting-looking camera whose big claims to fame are its swivel-lens design and incredible burst mode. Otherwise it's just an average 3 Megapixel / 3X zoom camera. The SL300's lens can rotate 210 degrees, which is great for ground-level shots, or for shooting over the heads of the people in front of you. By gaining that rotating lens, though, you lose the optical viewfinder. That may or may not matter to you (it does to me). At least the 1.5" LCD is good quality -- it's sharp, and viewable even in bright outdoor light. The other nice feature about the SL300R is its burst mode -- you can take photos at 3.5 frames/second until the memory card is full, assuming you have a fast SD card. It's pretty amazing, and great for action shots, or just keeping up with kids that don't stop moving.

There are quite a few things that irked me about the SL300, though. In addition to missing an optical viewfinder, the camera also lacks a tripod mount. Again, this may or may not bother you. Low light focusing was not good -- an AF-assist lamp would've been nice. While I appreciate the SL300's manual controls, they're pretty limited. Along those lines, zooming can be frustrating, with just five steps available. Expect quite a bit of redeye on the SL300, as well. Finally, I found the battery life to be below average, so be sure to buy a spare.

If you want a compact camera for outdoor action shots, the SL300R is worth a look. If you shoot indoors in dim lighting, or require a tripod mount or optical viewfinder, you'll want to look elsewhere.

What I liked:

  • Amazing continuous shooting mode
  • Swivel-lens design
  • LCD is usable in bright outdoor light
  • Some manual controls
  • Above average movie mode

What I didn't care for:

  • Colors seem dull
  • Poor low light focusing; no AF-assist lamp
  • No optical viewfinder
  • No tripod mount
  • Shutter speed, aperture, manual focus, zoom controls too limited
  • No video out port
  • Below average battery life
  • Redeye
  • No lens cover
  • No Mac software included (unless mine was missing)

Other compact 3/4 Megapixel cameras I recommend looking at include the Canon PowerShot S410 and SD110, Casio Exilim EX-Z40, Minolta DiMAGE Xg, Nikon Coolpix 3200 and 3700, Olympus Stylus 410, Pentax Optio S4i, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T1 (5MP).

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Finecam SL300R 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 & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

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