Ordinary and automatic
The 350SE's ho-hum styling and silver-and-gray finish set the tone for what's to come. Pretty much middle-of-the-road in size and weight--12.4 ounces with the batteries and the media installed--the camera feels OK in the hand, but its overall build quality is a notch below par. Several buttons have a mushy feel, especially the crucial four-way rocker switch that controls many of the camera's functions. Activating its various features requires too much extra effort. The 350SE's control logic is also disappointing. Although some crucial settings are readily accessible through physical controls, others are buried in the LCD menu system. Exposure compensation, to note the worst of several examples, is found on the second menu page, and you have to push a button seven separate times to activate it and exit the menu.
Clearly designed with the automatic snapshooter in mind, the 350SE offers programmed autoexposure, supplemented by two Night Scene modes--Portrait and Landscape. There are no manual or semiautomatic exposure modes. You can adjust in-camera sharpening or turn the light-sensitivity setting up to ISO 400, which are both welcome features, although those benefits are partially offset by the lack of a manual white-balance setting. You can also record video clips with sound for as long as the capacity of your CompactFlash card allows, and the camera will capture 10-second audio clips without video as well.
The 3X zoom lens, like so many others on cameras manufactured in Asia, bears the name of a legendary German optics maker--in this case, Schneider. The lens showed very little distortion in our tests and zoomed smoothly. Likewise, the 1.5-inch LCD, though small, is usable in daylight and displays a sharp image. We found the optical viewfinder to be about average for this class of camera: small and distorted but also usable.
If the 350SE's design and features made us shrug, the camera's performance made us grimace. It takes eight seconds to start up and a truly frustrating nine seconds from shot to shot. Autofocus is also poky and sometimes indecisive, frequently adding up to more than a second of shutter lag. The camera's continuous-shooting mode can take up to five pictures, but at 1fps, it's hardly impressive. Even the menu system is slow to respond to commands, adding unnecessary delays to what should be quick procedures such as changing the ISO or white-balance setting.
The 350SE's picture quality is better than its performance but not dramatically so. Our test photos were reasonably sharp and well exposed, but they showed an unusually high level of noise, which gives pictures a grainy look. Color saturation was also a bit muted. That said, the 350SE's moderate image quality shortcomings won't matter much if you don't make large prints, meaning 8x10 or bigger.
Despite its lackluster showing, this Digimax could redeem itself with a great price. Unfortunately, at $549.99 (list), it doesn't have one. For the same or less you can pick up a , an , or a --all better cameras.