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Kyocera Finecam SL400R


With the Finecam SL400R, Kyocera has added 1 million pixels to its groundbreaking sequence shooter, the Finecam SL300R. Not a lot else has changed. There's still the blazing burst-mode performance that yields 188 full-resolution frames in less than a minute at a clip of more than 3 frames per second (fps). The Finecam SL400R retains the tiny 4-by-2.5-by-0.6-inch, 5-ounce body, with its swiveling lens/flash module that rotates up or down 120 degrees. It also has the LCD-only viewing, 3X optical zoom, and easy automated operation of its predecessor. This new version adds a lens hood that twists off to accept filter accessories. It will appeal to action photographers and others who plan on taking a lot of pictures very quickly and want to be able to tuck their sequence shooter into any pocket.

The Kyocera Finecam SL400R's pipelined processor uses direct memory access to hasten images through the buffer directly onto an SD memory card at an amazing rate. We shot full-resolution photos at better than 3fps for as long as our 256MB high-speed Lexar card held out. With a reduced resolution of 640x480 pixels, the camera held on for a finger-numbing 14 minutes, during which we managed more than 2,800 pictures, enough to analyze the most leisurely of golf swings.

To really love this camera, you'll need to overlook a few quirks and flaws. For example, there's neither a socket for a tripod or monopod, nor any optical viewfinder at all. You compose your shots on the 1.5-inch LCD, which is serviceable but not ideal in direct sunlight, even when you boost the optional backlight's brightness. The camera's tiny dimensions complicate the ergonomics, too. Normal-size fingers will still fumble over the control keys, particularly the four-way cursor pad. It's easy to press the wrong button when you're hurried, and working the shutter-release button and the zoom level simultaneously can be problematic. The lens, flush with the body surface, was a fingerprint magnet in this camera's predecessor, and the new lens hood reduces but does not eliminate the tendency to smudge the glass every time you pick up the camera.

On the plus side, the Finecam SL400R keeps control-button fiddling to a minimum. You change modes by using a pair of left/right keys to switch from setup to playback, shooting, burst, or movie mode. The LCD menus provide reasonably fast access to the self-timer, the quality and compression settings, the exposure compensation, the white-balance selections, the metering modes, and the ISO adjustments.

The 3X optical zoom provides a 38mm-to-115mm (35mm-camera equivalent) range. The only true manual control is manual focus, which you'll need only for special effects, since the Finecam SL400R's wide and spot autofocus systems (your choice) do a good job of providing sharp focus down to 8 inches. You can select single autofocus to lock in focus only when you partially depress the shutter release, or continuous autofocus--which is activated automatically when the Sports scene mode is selected--to follow fast-moving objects. Other scene modes include Portrait, Night, Night Portrait, and Landscape.

Programmed exposures--with multi-area, center-weighted, or spot metering--are de rigueur, but this shooter also has a limited aperture-priority mode that lets you choose either f/2.8 or f/7.5, with the camera providing the optimal shutter speed from 1 second to 1/2,000 second. Unfortunately, it lacks the logical alternative for an action-oriented camera: shutter priority. It's also possible to set light sensitivity manually, up to ISO 800, and to apply exposure compensation to plus or minus 2EV in 1/2EV increments.

Aside from the blazing burst mode, this Kyocera's performance figures weren't especially impressive: It took 3.2 seconds to wake up and report for duty, and shot-to-shot times averaged about 2 seconds with the flash turned off, or 5.2 seconds using flash. Shutter lag was relatively short but not outstanding at 0.65 second under contrasty lighting and 1.1 seconds in low-contrast lighting situations, where the autofocus had a few problems. The Finecam SL400R's lithium-ion battery pooped out after only 246 shots, half with flash.

Image quality, even with the upgraded 4-megapixel sensor, has not been Kyocera's strong suit. Our test shots had only average sharpness and lots of JPEG artifacts, although colors were vivid. If you shoot action with this camera, you'll want to try out the ISO 800 option first to make sure the high amount of noise at that setting is acceptable. For most situations, you'll want to stick to ISO 200 or less.



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