Consumer digital cameras can be a quick sell in the store, but they're often slow in the field. Most are slow to start up, slow to take a picture and slow to store it -- delays that add up to a seemingly interminable wait between pictures.
Some of this so-called shutter lag occurs when the camera sets the focus, exposure and color balance for a shot. But most of it takes place after the image is recorded, as the camera moves it from its storage buffer to a removable memory card. The result is that consumer digital cameras often miss decisive moments.
Fortunately, new technology has begun to solve the delay problem, as two new Kyocera cameras illustrate. Both feature what the company calls RTUNE image processing technology to ready the camera for the next picture more quickly.
The Kyocera Finecam SL400R ($400) is a 4-megapixel pocket camera the size of a deck of playing cards, just 5.1 ounces, with a cool stainless-steel look and a 3x optical zoom. The camera's design is reminiscent of Nikon's CoolPix 900 -- a split body that rotates to point the lens at the scene while the display screen faces you.
Beyond its look and size, the SL400R's claims to fame are its three-second start-up time and -- once you push a button to switch the camera to its continuous-shooting mode -- its ability to capture more than three images per second until you've filled a high-speed SD Card. That means no longer missing the shot in basketball or the goal-scoring kick at the soccer game.
Beyond its burst mode, this shirt-pocket camera offers plenty of additional utility for style-conscious shooters -- if not hard-core photographers. At 4 megapixels, it offers more than enough resolution for business or personal use, and its 3x zoom is adequate. Our test images were properly exposed, although their contrast looked overdone while their colors seemed under-saturated.
The SL400R's rechargeable lithium-ion battery lasted us through several cycles of filling a 256-megabyte memory card, but replacements can't be bought at the convenience store and recharging it requires a cumbersome two-piece charger.
For its size, the SL400R is easy to use, though its lack of an optical viewfinder and its heavy reliance on on-screen menus can be distracting. More annoying is the lack of any protection for the edge-mounted lens beyond a piece of plastic, which makes it too easy to plant a fingerprint on the lens when you grab for the camera. We also found the LCD's varying brightness distracting.
The Kyocera Finecam M410R ($500) wraps similar electronics in a far different package. The M410R resembles a miniature single-lens-reflex model with its protruding lens, what looks like an optical viewfinder in the upper left rear and a handgrip on the right with a shutter-release button on top. It weighs 15.5 ounces but feels heftier.
But the viewfinder is electronic and the back of the camera features an LCD. This model is powered by four AA batteries, we're pleased to note. Where the diminutive SL400R is challenging to use one-handed, the M410R is a breeze: Most controls (except the manual flash release) fall under a thumb or index finger. Many settings can be changed without having to dive into an on-screen menu.
This camera takes pictures quickly, but not in quite the same way as its sibling. Entering its continuous-shooting mode requires rotating a knob to the right setting (on either camera, just mashing the shutter button should be enough). Once you learn this trick, the M410R can shoot continuously at more than three frames per second until you fill an SD Card.
The M410R sports an impressive 10x zoom. Its images exhibited deeper color saturation and more balanced contrast than the SL400R's.
Both cameras deliver on the same goal: letting people take pictures in a hurry. But they're unlikely to draw the same audience; one's made for style-conscious shooters while the other's bulk is likely to restrict it to more dedicated photographers.