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How do you make a digital camera this compact? Well, to start, you use the smallest media and batteries available. The S3 uses Secure Digital (SD)/MultiMedia Cards (MMC) to store images and a lithium-ion battery pack, which resembles a plump stick of chewing gum. Kyocera chose not to support downloading images directly from camera to computer but includes a compact USB card reader instead.
We really liked the S3's solid, well-designed, stainless-steel body and efficient menu system. We were able to navigate quickly with the Game Boy-style control, which we found much easier to use than the numerous soft keys on some other cameras. Despite the camera's tiny size, its controls are all well located and convenient. It was a bit disconcerting that the front of the camera got quite warm when we used the LCD for an extended period. Though Kyocera warns of the heat issue in the manual, the company says that shouldn't be cause for alarm.
The S3 provides limited exposure control, with the choice of a program-auto mode or an aperture-priority mode, which offers only two settings, f-2.8 and f-6.3. There's also exposure compensation, and you can shoot 2-, 4-, or 8-second time exposures. We ended up having to use exposure compensation to get well-exposed flash images.
The camera offers three metering modes, and in our tests, we found the Evaluation (a.k.a. Matrix) mode easily fooled, with poor exposure and shifted colors as a result. We got better results by using the Spot and Center-weighted metering options. The 2X zoom lens gave us sharp images when we were careful to preset the focus on our subject by depressing the shutter button halfway. The S3 made it hard for us to shoot spontaneously; if we hadn't first set the focus, the camera paused for up to 2 seconds after we pressed the button. To compensate in this area, the S3 lets you set the lens on continuous focus, but that shortens the already paltry battery life. If you want moving pictures, you can record up to 15 seconds of silent video.
Mediocre image quality
The image quality we got from the S3 was adequate for snapshots, but we'd hoped for better. Our test images showed good color balance in properly exposed shots taken under indoor tungsten lighting and outdoor light. Under fluorescent light, however, the auto-white balance let us down, and we had to turn to the Fluorescent mode to get good results. The camera had difficulty capturing dark details against a bright background. For example, in a test shot of a child's tree house, we noticed excessive blooming and purple fringing around the leaves and branches that had a sky background. We also noticed blown-out highlights, as well as artifacts on transitions between light and dark.
We really like the size and design of the Kyocera Finecam S3, and when we took the time to correctly focus and expose our shots, the camera produced sharp images. But its limited feature set and spotty performance will keep it from competing with other 3.3-megapixel cameras in its price range.