Product Type: Kyocera digital cameras
Newest Review: ... right pain if you're shooting wildlife or having a go at street photography. == Lens and optics == Here the Kyocera is resolutely ordinar... more
A mad lust for power
Kyocera Finecam L4v
Member Name: davidbuttery
Kyocera Finecam L4v
Advantages: Nice big screen, well made, reasonable range of features
Disadvantages: Battery life so poor as to render the camera near-unusable, fiddly buttons, very noisy at high ISO
The Kyocera Finecam L4v is an enormously frustrating and disappointing piece of kit to use, because what might have been an interesting and quite well made camera is let down enormously by one simple flaw: horrendously poor battery life. More of that later, but for a 2003 model the L4v was well specified, most notably in the shape of its 2.5-inch LCD screen. This isn't tiny even by today's standards, and was absolutely huge by those of eight years ago; Kyocera claimed at the time that the screen was the world's largest on a consumer digicam, and it wouldn't surprise me if they were right about that. If only that were what I'd thought about most while reviewing the thing...
== Looks and handling ==
I think this camera is fairly attractive. It has something of a "widescreen" feel to it that almost makes you think you should be holding it with two hands, although in fact one-handed operation (as long as you're right-handed...) is very easy; the feel of the unit in your grip reminds me of some Fujifilms of a similar vintage, such as the E500. The lens is a little off-centre, which doesn't look great, but at least it allows the rather small flash unit to be well away, thus reducing problems with shadows when taking flash pictures. Despite the large LCD, there's a small optical viewfinder in the extreme top-left corner (as you hold the camera).
The L4v's body is metal, which was a pleasant surprise, and although it's not terribly _thick_ metal it does mean that the camera as a whole feels well made and solid, with almost zero body creak of the sort that even quite posh plastic-bodied digicams usually display. My least favourite aspect of this camera's appearance is that when it's switched on a vertical stripe on the front panel lights up blue. This draws a lot of attention to the camera, which might be fun in certain social situations but which can be a right pain if you're shooting wildlife or having a go at street photography.
== Lens and optics ==
Here the Kyocera is resolutely ordinary, with a 3x optical zoom offering a 35 mm-equivalent viewing angle of 35 to 105 mm. The lens is fairly small, which as with most small zooms means that it isn't all that quiet, though the motor moves it in and out without any real fuss. Its acceptably bright (f/2,8) at the near end, but f/4.7 at full tele is nothing to write home about. Control of the zoom is by means of a rocker switch on the back: a very common arrangement, although I'm not massively keen on the rocker's notably small size. (This is actually a problem that affects the four-way pad and the other couple of control buttons, and one caused by the amount of back-panel space that big screen takes up.)
== Features and settings ==
It's probably best to think of the L4v as a "point and shoot plus" model. For example, as well as the usual automatic options it _is_ possible to select aperture - but only from two choices, one wide and one narrow. Similarly, the only control of shutter speed is via a special "long shutter" setting reached via the rather crude-looking but reasonably straightforward menu system. (Something else which reminded me of Fujifilms.) White balance including a fiddly manual setting, exposure compensation and ISO control are all on offer - though the last gives unusual options of 80, 160 and 320; and the highest ISO setting is not recommended unless you have no other choice. One feature worthy of note is on-camera sharpening level selection.
Autofocus is slow. Very slow, to be honest. If you haven't pre-focused by half-pressing the shutter, lag is _well_ over a second, which really isn't good enough even for a 2003 camera. I wouldn't bother too much with the L4v's macro mode, as it really struggles with anything closer than about 20 cm from the lens; not the best result even for a unit of this age. Movie mode is fairly feeble, but par for the course for a camera like this: videos can last up to 30 seconds at 320 x 240 pixels, or 120 seconds at the almost useless 160 x 120 resolution. Oddly, there's a specific option for recording _silent_ movies. The usual self-timer (two- or 10-second countdown) is present and correct, rounding off a mostly conventional set of extras. The one really interesting addition is a feature to resize a photo (eg for emailing) but keep the original too; this can occasionally come in quite handy.
== Photo quality ==
You can't expect the earth from a 4 mp camera, and indeed you don't get it; the Kyocera produces a mixed bag of results. I like the colours very much, especially those produced in daylight; they're clear and bright but don't overdo things so much they look unreal. Indoor photos aren't as good unless you take time to fiddle with white balance, not always possible for social shots. I was a bit disappointed with the contrast control, though: unless you make heavy use of exposure compensation, a _lot_ of shots in sunny conditions come out noticeably over-contrasty, thus losing a fair bit of detail. Sharpness is okay, but not brilliant, and as mentioned earlier the highest ISO setting (320) is pretty ugly at even modest print sizes.
== Consumables ==
And here everything not only falls apart, but collapses into such an almighty heap of junk that pretty much single-handed it drags the camera's overall score down from average to bad. Sad to say, the L4v has just about the worst battery life I have _ever_ encountered on a digital camera: if you can go 30 shots before the unit shuts down you're doing well, even with high-quality batteries. It's powered by two AA cells, but then so are innumerable other models which last vastly longer before giving up. Even allowing for the power needed to drive that big screen, this is a truly awful result, and one which on its own makes the Kyocera impossible to recommend.
There is a 3V DC socket into which you can plug a mains adaptor; a basic one from Maplin will work fine, and you'll enjoy the "luxury" of actually being able to change a few settings and study replayed photos on the camera screen without its switching off. The fact that the camera works all right with this attached makes it very clear that it's the battery circuitry that's at fault rather than any other sort of design flaw. Talking of which, the cover for the battery compartment is fiddly and annoying to use. As for memory, there's no internal storage and so you'll need a standard SD (or MMC) card to hold your pictures.
== Verdict ==
There are occasions in all review-writers' lives when they feel bad about awarding a product a poor rating but know deep down that they have no choice. Such a one is this: I would _like_ to have given the L4v three stars, since its big LCD, fair range of features and good build quality counter its lack of sparkle, hit-and-miss results and slightly awkward handling. However, I simply cannot ignore the appalling battery life. I can honestly say that I have never used a remotely comparable camera that ran out of juice so fast, and unfortunately it completely spoils the Kyocera as a viable tool. As such, there's only one rating I can fairly award: the lowest of all.
Summary: An interesting and potentially solid camera destroyed by one enormous flaw
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