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Kyocera Finecam S5 review: Kyocera Finecam S5

Kyocera Finecam S5

Rob McGee
6 min read
As of late, Kyocera has been more associated with cell phones than with cameras. Perhaps a desire to change this perception fueled the company's high ambitions in designing the Finecam S5; the 5-megapixel, 3X-zoom model is beautifully styled, with an ultracompact body that evokes those of Canon's popular digital Elphs. Alas, the S5's middling image quality and poky speed suggest that Kyocera still has some catching up to do in the digicam field. This model's ease of use might suffice, but given its poor shooting performance and mediocre photos, this simply isn't a camera that we'd rush out to buy. The ultracompact S5's cigarette-pack profile and light weight--7 ounces with the long, thin, rechargeable, lithium-ion battery and Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard media in place--combine to make this an eminently shirt-pocketable camera and, thus, one that you're more likely to tote for spur-of-the-moment shooting. This Finecam is also stylish, thanks to an attractive, brushed-metal housing with sporty, black accents. When the S5 is turned off, both the zoom lens and the pop-up flash fully retreat into the camera's body.

The navigation rocker switch is easier to use than most.

You can quickly navigate the S5's rather spare menu system.
We also like the feel of the five-way rocker switch used to navigate the LCD menus. You rock this switch in any of the four compass directions to scroll the cursor, then depress the center to make a selection. The rocker's up and down positions do double duty as controls for flash and macro. Though many cameras employ this type of switch, they too often require such a deft touch that thick-fingered users end up cursing in frustration after accidentally exiting a submenu for the umpteenth time in a row. This Kyocera's rocker is slightly larger and a little looser than those found on most digicams and is thereby substantially easier to operate.
Unfortunately, the S5's design pales in comparison to the annoyance of its stupidly placed shutter and power buttons. These controls are right next to each other, and some may find them hard to distinguish by feel, which can make for plenty of frustrated cussing after all. A final small gripe about the physical controls: While we like the one-touch access for flash settings and macro/infinity-focus modes, we'd prefer to access the self-timer via a button rather than through menus. We'd also like to see controls for exposure compensation and white balance on the body in a camera of this class.
On the other hand, we have no significant complaints about the menu itself, apart from the mystifying Chroma option, which should have been labeled contrast. If you have even modest prior experience with a digicam, you should be able to use the S5 without even cracking the spine of the well-organized and complete owner's manual.

Rather than make it a menu option, Kyocera gives the S5 a mode specifically for changing camera settings.
Though it offers a relatively good range of slow shutter speeds for its class--up to eight seconds--much about the S5's feature set barely makes the cut. Its 35mm-to-105mm (35mm-camera equivalent) zoom lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8, which is typical but is the narrowest that we'd recommend at that end of the range. The zoom lens is fairly noisy, but more significantly, it goes from wide to maximum telephoto in just two discrete steps: 2X to 3X. This obviously limits the degree of creative control that you have when composing shots. Similarly, you can choose from only two aperture settings to control depth of field. The S5's f/9.6 setting brings both the foreground and the background into sharp focus, while f/2.8 allows you to capture a crisp subject against a blurred background for artistic effect. It's a welcome creative control, although it's less versatile than the multistep aperture settings found on competing models.
The rest of the S5's capabilities are pretty typical. They include manual white balance, in addition to auto and four presets; three metering options; a seven-step manual focus, which is helpful when you're shooting a subject behind glass or in low light; and selectable ISO settings of 100, 200, and 400. A few options under the Setup menu are worth pointing out. Mode Lock lets you choose whether settings such as white balance are saved or restored to the default when you power off the camera. Volume controls for beeps and shutter sounds will spare your neighbors some irritation if you're taking snapshots at a school play.
As with many digital cameras, Kyocera supplements the basic still-photo functions with a movie mode that captures motion video at one of two Web-friendly resolutions. The S5 gives you the option of recording movies with or without audio; selecting the silent-film mode lets you zoom during video recording, while the zoom lens is disabled for talkies. There's a pragmatic reason for this: the lens motor is loud.

This 1,000mAh battery keeps going and going and going.
The Finecam S5's biggest flaw is its performance; this is a molasses-slow camera. We clocked it at more than five seconds from power-on to first shot--an eternity when you're trying to take a quick, candid photo--while shot-to-shot time came in at about seven seconds in 5-megapixel mode. Since this problem occurs with or without the flash activated, the apparent culprit is a skimpy internal-buffer memory.
We welcomed the S5's manual-focus capability when shooting indoors under ambient light because when the illumination drops below a certain level, autofocus performance gets a little spotty. For example, with late-afternoon sunlight filtering through drapes, the same subject might be sharply focused in one exposure but blurry in the next. Outdoors, the autofocus tends to be consistently on target.
Not all performance news is bad, however. For instance, the battery lasts a long, long time; we gave up trying to drain it after 450 shots taken with a variety of flash and LCD settings. Plus, the cell expires gracefully, still allowing for plenty of shots after the low-battery indicator appears. We also like the bright LCD, which we found usable even in direct sunlight, albeit with some squinting. You'll definitely want to rely on the LCD when composing close-up shots, as the CCD's actual area of coverage is 20 percent larger than the optical viewfinder suggests. So how do the S5's photos actually look upon close inspection? Mixed. We first suggest boosting the in-camera sharpness level by a step or two, as the default setting is just a little soft for our tastes. We also recommend experimenting with the white-balance options a bit. For instance, under incandescent light, the bright-sunlight setting actually gave more pleasing results than the incandescent mode, which tended to be excessively cool. We had similar trouble with the weak sunlight of a late January afternoon.

Automatic white balance ably tackled this difficult tungsten lighting.
Given those adjustments, the S5 takes satisfactory snapshots. Outdoor photos under bright sunlight show true-to-life, appropriately saturated colors. And at this Finecam's full resolution, images are detailed enough that we could easily make out the inch-high letters of a sign on the other side of a wide city street. But the camera's pics are significantly noisier than those produced by competing 5-megapixel cameras, and they have a compressed dynamic range, with occasional clipping in the highlights.

Shots taken at the ISO 400 setting display excessive noise.
High-contrast shots of bare tree branches against a bright sky are typically difficult for midrange digital cameras; purple fringing is a common problem. To the S5's credit, we saw very little of this chromatic aberration in our test shots.

Images look soft for a 5-megapixel camera, and even shots at ISO 100 show a lot of noise in the dark reds.
Indoors, Kyocera's estimated flash range of 8.2 feet is about right, and after fiddling with the white-balance as mentioned above, we got nice-looking flesh tones. If you're shooting a still-life subject, it's definitely worthwhile trying out the slow-shutter mode with some sort of improvised tripod since the results display less noise than those shot with a higher ISO setting. Colors also have a warmth and naturalness that's difficult to obtain with a flash.

Kyocera Finecam S5

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 6Image quality 6