The 3.2-megapixel Kyocera Finecam L3v brings the big-screen viewing experience to digital photography with a large 2.5-inch LCD. Simple enough for beginners to master, the L3v also offers adjustments for those who like to tinker. However, the camera's lack of manual shooting modes and its average image quality will disappoint more-advanced photographers.
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A simple mode dial, a power button, a microphone, and a speaker sit on top of the camera.
The L3v's sleek, brushed-metal body is well constructed. Although the rectangular camera may be a little too long for the average shirt pocket, it's otherwise compact and portable, weighing 6 ounces with a battery and media installed. And the extra length gives you plenty of room for two-handed shooting.
A retractable lens with a built-in cover eliminates the hassle of a lens cap. When you depress the shutter release halfway, a blue light on the front of the camera warns your subjects that you're about to shoot. Naturally, the big 2.5-inch LCD consumes most of the back, pushing the small but usable optical viewfinder into the upper-left corner.
Except for the flash and the macro/landscape selector, all features require a trip to the two-level menu. The initial display provides relatively quick access to most of the functions you frequently change, including white balance, exposure compensation, the self-timer, resolution, and compression level. Other settings, such as ISO, metering, and focus type, are in the second tier. The menus are clearly labeled and easy to maneuver; even beginners need only browse through the well-written printed manual to learn how the options will affect their shooting.
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On the camera back, the zoom toggle and the buttons for display and menu activation fall under your right thumb.
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We weren't crazy about the four-way controller, which provides access to flash settings, macro and landscape modes, manual focus adjustments, and menu navigation.
Our main design quibble was with the four-way pad. It felt loose, and its center button, with which you select settings, was sometimes difficult to press. And Kyocera could have made better use of the left and right arrows. They should control a feature such as exposure compensation or white balance instead of the rudimentary manual focus.
The compartment housing both the battery and the SD/MMC media is on the side, making for easy changes even when the camera is mounted on a tripod. A thoughtful two-cover design keeps the cell from falling out when you remove the card.
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The L3v comes with only 16MB of SD media, so put a higher-capacity card on your shopping list.
Designed for the casual snapshooter, the L3v is comparatively light on features, but they can make a difference in exposure and image quality. The only exposure modes are programmed automatic and aperture priority, which is limited to f/2.8 and f/7.5. Complementing those options are exposure compensation, a trio of ISO settings from 80 to 320, and three metering modes. The Chroma control lets you make stepped adjustments to sharpness and contrast. A few basic focus selections are available, as well as preset and custom white balance.
The L3v offers a typical f/2.8-to-f/4.7 3X zoom lens with a 38mm-to-115mm range (the 35mm-film equivalent). Shutter speeds don't show up on the LCD, although a red light blinks when camera shake threatens. The automatic speeds are respectable, running from 1 second to 1/2,000 of a second. The L3v also gives you long exposures of 2, 4, and 8 seconds for low-light and nighttime shots.
Some fun features are on tap, as well. You can record voice annotations, create black-and-white and sepia effects, use one of your own images on the start-up screen, and capture low-quality video with sound. Clips at 320x240-pixel resolution are limited to 30 seconds, while 160x120 will get you almost 2 minutes.
The L3v also offers resizing, a handy option that we wish all cameras had. In playback mode, you can change a shot to either 320x240 or 160x120, ideal for e-mailing or Web posting. You can also zoom and crop a picture before altering its resolution.
This camera has neither accessories nor (just as you'd expect in this class) a hotshoe, but the built-in flash's six settings are more than adequate for snapshooting.
This camera's most notable performance aspect is its LCD's outdoor viewability. Kyocera's DayFine technology provides a clear preview in bright sunlight. However, the screen is unexceptional indoors and not as good as some competitors in dim conditions. Lighting aside, large type and pictographs make the menus easy to read.
Otherwise, the L3v's performance is pretty average. The lens zooms relatively responsively and smoothly but a little noisily. Start-up is acceptable at about 4.5 seconds. Shot-to-shot time ranges between about 3 and 6 seconds, depending on whether you use the flash. Although there's no continuous-shooting mode, you can take nonflash photos while the camera writes previously snapped images to the card. We were able to fill the included SD media with nine high-res pictures separated by only 2 to 3 seconds, including less than 1 second for the autofocus.
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With the LCD on, some flash use, and an average amount of playback, the bundled CRV3 provides ample power for more than 100 shots and a minute or so of video. You can also use rechargeable AAs, a more affordable alternative.
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The optical viewfinder is small and shows only about 80 percent of the actual image, but it's still quite usable.
Focusing isn't always that swift in lower light. Although switching from spot to wide-area autofocus helps and there is a limited manual option, an assist lamp would be welcome. The built-in flash doesn't extend much beyond eight feet, but its coverage is reasonably even.
For a camera in this class, the L3v produces acceptable but below-average images. They were generally properly exposed under a variety of lighting conditions, and colors were fairly accurate. Automatic white balance worked well, and we rarely needed the custom function.
Photos came out less than tack sharp at normal focal lengths. The finer details disappeared, highlights were often clipped, and deep shadows tended to block up. Macro mode delivered the best shots in our tests, showing more detail, crisper edges, and less clipping in the highlights.
We saw occasional color fringing and haloing, but they weren't major problems except along extremely high-contrast edges. Image noise was relatively low at ISO 80, increased at ISO 160, and jumped noticeably at ISO 320.