As of the time of this review, the Yashica Finecam S3 is the world's smallest 3-megapixel digital camera. With the 38-76mm zoom lens retracted, it fits easily into a T-shirt pocket, though its 7 oz. weight (160 g) is noticeable.
You're not going to outdo Cartier-Bresson in capturing the decisive moment with this camera. It takes 7 seconds to turn on and snap a photo. If the camera is on but has gone to sleep, it takes 4 seconds to wake up and capture one image. If you've just taken a portrait and your subject's expression changes to perfection, you'll have to wait at least 4 seconds before taking the next picture: the Finecam S3 is busy writing the last image out to the memory card. Even when the camera is fully warmed up and unoccupied, shutter lag is substantial. If you've read my other reviews of digital cameras you'll know that this kind of speed of operation is what makes or breaks a camera as a general-purpose photographic tool.
As of January 2002, the Finecam S3 is retailing for around $500.
The Finecam S3 offers a 7.8-15.6/2.8 lens, equivalent in perspective to a 38-76mm zoom on a 35mm camera. The ISO 100 CCD sensor creates 1536x2048 pixel images and can be electronically boosted to ISO 200 or ISO 400.
The built-in flash has a meager 7-foot range at standard sensitivity and the camera includes no provisions for triggering or controlling external flashes.
There is an inaccurate zooming optical viewfinder and an accurate rear LCD display that is reasonably easy to use in sunlight.
With the camera set to macro, you can make a full-frame image of items as small as 2 inches.
The camera lacks a sensor to determine whether or not it is being held vertically. Thus all of your vertically exposed images will be incorrectedly oriented and you'll need to use an image editing program of some sort to rotate the JPEGs 90 degrees.
Image above right: outdoors in the afternoon shade the camera thought it was too dark for handholding without flash. But the camera isn't smart enough to know that the flash won't reach more than 7 feet. So the set-for-flash shutter speed proves woefully inadequate and underexposure is the result.
The overall user interface is tri-modal: setup, playback, or camera. If you're in playback mode looking at recent photos and an interesting subject presents itself, pressing the shutter release doesn't do anything. The rear LCD does not display any warning such as "Hey, you're in playback mode; flip the rotary switch to the little camera icon and then you can take pictures again." This is sad because it is unnecessary. There are digital cameras that work just fine with a playback button. This would bring up the most recent image on the screen and then you can scroll back to earlier images if you wish. With such cameras if you need to take a picture you simply press the shutter release. You never need to think about explicitly switching modes.
Speaking of playback mode, you'll be using it a lot with this camera. The image captured is displayed only very briefly on the rear LCD. With the Canon digital cameras, holding down the shutter release after exposure holds the image in the LCD for inspection. With this Yashica, however, if a split second proves insufficient you'll have to switch to playback mode. Getting back out of playback mode and capturing a photo takes 4 seconds, by which time your subject may well have moved on up the street.
Considering how insensitive the sensor is by default, it would be nice to have a faster way of cycling among the three ISO settings and a warning/confirmation on the LCD screen when sensitivity is bumped up. It requires roughly 12 keystrokes to change from ISO 100 to ISO 400. Want to check what the current sensitivity setting is? That's 10 keystrokes. On the other hand, Yashica makes it fairly easy to change the JPEG quality, something that most people seldom adjust.
One nice extra: the camera can be set either to remember or forget all adjustments after being powered off and on.
Image quality is not as high as produced by other full-size 3-megapixel cameras. Pixels are nice but so are sharpness and color accuracy. If you've been using a Nikon 995, the Finecam S3 image quality won't satisfy.
Typical digital camera results when faced with a contrasty scene, i.e., crummy.
Flash-on (fill flash). Rather overexposed background. (Our hero is a ham radio operator communicating at 47 GHz with a friend about 50 miles away. Skyline Drive/Shenandoah National Park.)
Flash-on again. More reasonable exposure.
Sunny day. Not too much contrast. Reasonably nice picture.
The Yashica Finecam S3 is small and light and includes a very small and very light lith-ion rechargeable battery. This is good for at most a half-day of photography or 30 pictures. When you're traveling you'll appreciate the fact that the charger cable plugs right into the camera; there is no need to pack a separate charger. Do plan to purchase an extra battery or two, however, if you're going to rely on this camera.
In keeping with its diminutive size, this camera uses SD memory cards. These are substantially smaller than the Compact Flash cards used by most other digital cameras. Each SD card has a mechanical write-protect switch. Overall it is a nice idea but (1) Yashica provides a card with only 16 MB of capacity, enough for 8 high-quality JPEGs, (2) even if you're a digital camera nerd, you probably don't already own a high-capacity SD card, (3) if you were to spend the big bucks on a high-capacity SD card you wouldn't be able to use it in a camera taking Compact Flash cards, and (4) an IBM Microdrive is out of the question!
Yashica thoughtfully provides a USB reader for the SD cards. Without any extra software being installed, a Windows 2000 laptop recognized the device and was able to pull photographs out onto the hard disk.
Yashica provides no explanation of why or what software they are bundling with the Finecam S3. A CD-ROM is included in the package and it seems to contain only a basic image editing program called ArcSoft PhotoImpression. In other words, Yashica does not seem to be offering any suggestions or assistance for managing an image library.
The main competition for this camera is Canon's Digital ELPH. In favor of the Canon:
In favor of the Yashica:
Neither camera operates quickly. Neither camera provides acceptable image quality in lower light. Neither camera has a useful built-in flash.
Text and photos copyright 2001 Philip Greenspun.