Tiny digicam satisfies old shutterbug

September 24, 2001|By MIKE HIMOWITZ

When I was young and unburdened by home ownership or parenthood, I spent a lot of time taking pictures.

More precisely, I spent years lugging a bag full of camera bodies, lenses, filters, flash equipment, light meters and other gadgets to every vacation spot and family gathering.

Even more precisely, while I clambered over rocks and roamed around looking for the perfect camera angle, my long-suffering wife shouldered the overstuffed gadget bag as I fiddled interminably and occasionally committed an image to celluloid.

A lesser woman would have considered this grounds for divorce. But she stuck with me, and eventually adulthood arrived.

First we renovated an old house, which left no time for the darkroom. By the time we populated it with kids and began lugging them around, I had no patience for complicated cameras - or bulky ones. I wanted a lightweight box that would fit in a jacket pocket and deliver sharp pictures with no fussing.

That's what I still prefer, and it's one reason I was delighted by Kyocera's elegant Finecam S3. It's hard to imagine anyone packing more digital camera into a package this small.

Although it comes with a 2X optical zoom lens and captures 3-megapixel images - large enough for crisp 8-by-10 prints - this slick little snapshooter weighs only a few ounces and fits easily into a shirt pocket. In fact, the S3 is so unobtrusive that it's easy to forget you're carrying it.

Cameras this tiny are sometimes tough for ham-handed guys like me to manipulate, but I had no trouble composing through the S3's sharp viewfinder, zooming in and out, or switching from record to playback mode. A bright liquid crystal display and a pushbutton control panel on the back make it easy to review photos, erase unwanted shots and change settings.

Although most buyers will use the S3 for family gatherings and other informal occasions, Kyocera (the parent company of Yashica and Contax camera makers) has built in a variety of features for the serious hobbyist. These include exposure compensation, multiple flash modes, two aperture-priority settings, a variety of white balance and metering schemes, and a choice of color, black-and-white or sepia recording modes.

One reason the S3 is so small is that it stores photos on a diminutive Multi-Media Card (MMC), which is about the size of a postage stamp.

To transfer photos to your PC, Kyocera bundles a tiny MMC reader, similar to the Microtech Zio. It plugs directly into your computer's USB port. Your PC sees the MMC as a disk drive, so you can copy photos directly to your computer without using awkward file transfer software.

The S3's standard 16-megabyte memory card is a bit skimpy for a 3-megapixel camera. It will store 12 uncompressed, high-resolution photos (2,048 by 1,536 pixels) in JPEG format for top quality, 20 high-resolution JPEGs with standard compression, or 64 photos in low-res format (1,024 by 768).

You can also use the Finecam to capture three full-motion 15-second videos, which I consider a waste of time. It would have been more useful to include an intermediate, 2-megapixel still photo mode that would allow storage of 50 percent more images at a resolution high enough for excellent snapshot-size prints.

For additional storage, you can pick up an extra 32-megabyte MMC online for about $60.

The sharpness, color fidelity and clarity of the S3's images drew oohs and ahs from my family when I sent out prints from my first photo expedition. Under balanced lighting, it was almost as good as film cameras of the same genre. But as usual with digital equipment, contrasty scenes often produced blocked-up highlights and loss of detail in brighter areas.

I do have a couple of specific complaints, including the tiny, rechargeable lithium ion battery, which ran out of juice after a couple of digital "rolls." The flash also gives up the ghost if you're more than 6 feet from your subject, and there's no hot shoe for synchronizing with an external flash. Although its image quality is superb, the 2X optical zoom doesn't have quite enough pulling power for optimal portraits (it's the equivalent of a 38-76 mm lens on a 35 mm camera).

These limitations make the Kyocera better for casual work than serious shooting. For the Finecam's list price of $600, you can get a better flash and a more powerful 3X zoom lens if you're willing to buy a bulkier, standard-size digital camera. But it wouldn't be as much fun.

Information: www.yashica. com or 800-526-0266.

The resolution game

One of the terms that confuses new digital photographers most is "resolution." Basically, it's a measurement that determines how much detail an image contains.

When you make a digital picture, the camera breaks the image into a matrix of tiny dots, or pixels, that are too small for the eye to see individually. Each dot is assigned a number based on its color and brightness. Your computer uses the numeric value of each dot to reproduce the image on the screen or deliver it to your printer.

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