If your ride can go from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds, you're not going to complain because the glove compartment is hard to open. By the same token, the Kyocera Finecam SL300R's handful of design flaws seem trivial when you're capturing an unlimited sequence of full-resolution action pictures at 3 to 4 frames per second (fps) or shooting video clips at 640x480 pixels and 30fps.
You'll have to do without an optical viewfinder and a tripod mount. Additionally, exposure settings are limited, and the 3X optical zoom--though impressive in a camera of this size--won't please the ultrazoom crowd. However, niceties such as a swiveling lens and sensitivity settings up to ISO 800 remove some of the sting. The SL300R's image quality isn't anything to write home about, but it's generally good enough for snapshots. This Kyocera will appeal to casual photographers looking for a pocket camera to use at sporting events, as well as more-advanced photographers who'll overlook its drawbacks to take advantage of that awesome sequence capability.Weighing a feathery 5 ounces with battery and media loaded and measuring merely 4 by 2.5 by 0.6 inches, the SL300R is consummately portable. It's also stylishly and solidly contructed, with a sleek metal body that incorporates an internally zooming lens. However, this camera's tiny size comes at a cost. There's no optical viewfinder, so you'll have to hold the camera away from your eye and compose your image on the 1.5-inch LCD. The controls are quite small and--to make matters worse--have been mounted almost flush with the camera body. The shutter-release button on top of the camera and the zoom toggle at the upper left of the back panel are so close together that it's difficult to zoom with your thumb while resting your index finger on the shutter release. And you have to manipulate the four-way controller very carefully to avoid depressing the center OK button when you mean to press, say, the up arrow.
On the other hand, the menu system is more thoughtfully designed. Since the camera is too small to accommodate a mode dial, you use two arrow buttons to cycle through the clear icons on a mode panel. A separate button gives you access to programmed scene and focus modes, and the main LCD menu for changing other settings is clear and easy to navigate.
The SL300R body is made up of two segments, so you can swivel the lens and flash 120 degrees up or down. That makes it easy to view the LCD while shooting tall or short subjects, taking overhead or low-angle shots, or even grabbing a self-portrait by reversing the lens. As is common, the SL300R's electronics invert the LCD image when the lens is reversed so that the backward view appears properly oriented. The swiveling lens module is handy, but when the camera is folded flat, it's alarmingly easy to apply a fingerprint to the exposed lens when you pick up the camera.
This camera's open-ended continuous-shooting mode, capable of capturing about 3.5fps for as long as your memory card holds out, is the feature that's bound to generate the most interest. Its ability to record 640x480-pixel, 30fps video clips with sound is noteworthy, too, although a few other cameras share that talent. Otherwise, its feature set is fairly run-of-the-mill for a camera of its class.
The f/2.8 3X zoom lens gives you neither an especially wide view nor a very long telephoto reach, attempting instead to find a happy medium; in 35mm-camera terms, you get a minimum focal length of 38mm and a 115mm maximum zoom. You can focus from 24 inches to infinity, or down to 8 to 24 inches in macro mode, using either wide or spot autofocus or manual focus. Both continuous and single autofocus are available. For occasions when you're willing to sacrifice a smooth image preview to get more speed, you can set the autofocus to work faster but freeze the LCD preview momentarily. Otherwise, you can set the autofocus to function a hair more slowly but get an unbroken view.
In terms of exposure settings, only programmed automatic and a two-f-stop aperture priority modes are available, although the programmed options include a modest collection of scene modes (Sports Action, Portrait, Night, and Night Portrait). A camera with the continuous-shooting capabilities of the SL300R should also have a shutter-priority mode so that sports photography fans can choose the best shutter speed, rather than depending on the automatic Sports Action mode to make the decision. Exposure can be calculated with multiarea, center-weighted, or spot metering, and you can apply exposure compensation of up to plus or minus 2EV. Light-sensitivity settings from ISO 100 to ISO 800 lend the camera flexibility, and you can adjust sharpness and color-saturation levels too. On the other hand, there are only two JPEG quality settings, with no other image formats available.A pipelined processor that uses direct memory access to whisk images onto a speedy 10MB-per-second Secure Digital flash memory card accounts for the SL300R's outstanding shooting speed. This new technology should change your expectations about how digital images are captured. For example, we were able to grab 159 images at full resolution--the maximum our 256MB Lexar SD card could hold--in roughly 70 seconds. When the camera was set to its lowest resolution, we snapped off nearly 1,500 shots in a little more than five minutes--about 4.6fps--before our finger tired and the camera started to slow perceptibly. In single-shot mode, shutter lag times were hard to measure, averaging 0.2 second under optimal conditions and at the fastest autofocus setting, and no more than 0.3 second with a hard-to-focus low-contrast image.
One important note: That speedy SD card doesn't come in the box. If you use a non-high-speed card, such as the one included with the camera, performance will be good but not outstanding. You'll get the same fast burst rate--for only four shots. After that, you can wait about 9 seconds and take another burst; otherwise, your timing will slow to a shot every 1.5 seconds or so.
It took 4.5 seconds for the camera to warm up and fire its first shot; thereafter, there was no stopping this little gem. We were able to take single exposures at a one-a-second clip or every 1.6 seconds with flash. You're likely to run out of juice before you run out of exposures; the 3.7V 780mAh lithium-ion battery managed a middle-of-the-road 330 shots--50 percent with flash--before pooping out.
If you want to economize in favorable lighting conditions, you can switch off the LCD backlight for a dim but clear view. With the backlight on, the LCD is bright and easy to see even in full daylight. On the other hand, you may wish for an optical viewfinder if you're trying to capture your candlelit dinner in pixels. Even with the backlight and the brightness level turned all the way up, framing a shot on the LCD in very low light involves a lot of guesswork. Our test images were good for pictures from an ultracompact 3.2-megapixel camera but not remarkably so. We captured pleasing, well-saturated colors and accurate flesh tones, although we found the indoor white balance preset a bit too warm. The automatic white balance generally worked well, and flash photos were illuminated evenly to the corners of the pictures. Our shots also showed a good tonal range and fairly low noise levels at ISO 100 and ISO 200. We were pleased to see very minimal purple fringing, even in challenging scenes.
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|At ISO 100, noise is barely perceptible, but it becomes visible at ISO 200 and ISO 400, then predictably heavy at ISO 800.|
Sharpness and image detail are the SL300R's weak points, falling on the low side of average, although bumping up its sharpness setting helps a bit. As with any camera, increasing the light-sensitivity setting also increases the noise level, and at ISO 400, noise becomes noticeable enough to be problematic for larger prints. You'll probably want to reserve ISO 800 for extremely low-light situations or arty photos in which the excessive, multicolor noise adds more than a grainy look to the image.