Contax SL300R T* Review

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Steve's Conclusion

The Contax SL300R T* is simply a re-labeled Kyocera Finecam SL300R. The cameras are made from the same pool of parts. The most noticeable difference is the lens. These stylish cameras house the same 3.2-megapixel imager, but the SL300R T* sports a new Carl Zeiss 3X zoom lens with T* anti-reflection optical coatings. The SL300R T* provides several modes of operation including Record, Movie, and Playback. There are 7 Scene modes available (Standard, Sports, Portrait, Night View, Night Portrait, Macro, Landscape), covering a wide range of shooting conditions. The point-n-shoot automation of Standard Mode can be altered using the camera's menu system, allowing you to set White Balance, metering mode, focusing mode, exposure compensation, ISO, sharpness and color saturation. Therefore, the SL300R is suitable for the beginner through intermediate photographer.

The SL300R T*'s shooting performance is exceptional by consumer digicam standards. From power-on till the first image was captured measured under 3 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, was 2/10 second when pre-focused, and 1 second including autofocus time; the LCD viewfinder contributed about 1/10 second to the shutter lag results. Shot-to-shot delay averaged about 2 seconds, while continuous shooting mode captured 4 frames per second with the number of shots limited only by the remaining free space on the cameras SD memory card. This remarkable performance is enabled by the RTUNE™ (Rapid Tuning Technology), claimed by Contax (Kyocera) to be the world's fastest continuous capture mode. These timings were obtained using a SanDisk 512MB Ultra II SD memory card, with the camera set for an image size of 2048x1536 at Fine quality with flash off, and include viewfinder delay, photographer response time, and image capture. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, media, etc. Importantly, its LCD viewfinder remained usable during continuous shooting, allowing you to follow the action while capturing images.

The image quality in 2048x1536/Fine mode was average. The zoom range of 38-115mm in 35mm-equivalence provides plenty of flexibility for shot composition, and produces sharp images throughout its range. The color balance was a bit off with most of our test shot having a green tint. We did notice a typical amount of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in high- contrast area in the telephoto range of the zoom lens. Indoors, your shooting will be limited to small rooms and portraits of small groups because of the moderately-wide 38mm focal length of the lens, and the limited range of the tiny flash. Although the SL300R T* has a self-timer, you'll have difficulty including yourself in group portraits because it has no tripod mount. The SL300R T* has a macro mode, but the optical zoom is fixed at wide-angle in this mode, limiting your ability to compose macro shots. Although it has no focus-assist lamp, the SL300R T*'s autofocus system works well in marginal lighting conditions with the zoom lens at wide-angle; autofocus is less effective indoors with the lens in the telephoto range. The SL300R T* offers a manual focusing mode that's useful when autofocus can't be achieved, allowing you to choose from focus distances of 2, 3, 10, and 16 feet, or infinity.

The SL300R's movie mode offers 640x480 AVI movies at 30 frames per second, with options for 320x240 and 160x120 and a frame rate of 15 fps to conserve memory. Movie clips are limited in size only by the amount of available memory on the camera's SD card. The optical zoom lens can be used to compose before shooting the movie, but the zoom can not be changed during recording. All movie modes include sound.

The SL300R T*'s swiveling lens body design is not unique, but it does offer certain advantages. First, it folds flat, allowing it to easily fit into a pocket or purse. Secondly, the swiveling lens body provides flexibility in shot composition, allowing overhead and waist-level shooting; it even allows you to take a self-portrait while previewing the image on the LCD viewfinder. Although the camera's small size has a limited area for its various buttons and switches, they are organized and spaced well, allowing even those with large hands to use it without much difficulty. The only physical issue I had with the camera was the absence of a lens cover; I frequently found my own fingerprint on the lens as I prepared to shoot, so make sure to carry a lens cleaning cloth.

Combining a 3 megapixel imager with a 3x zoom lens in an extremely compact, durable and stylish body, the Contax SL300R T* makes an attractive package. With an average image quality, excellent shooting performance, and versatile shooting modes, many style conscious people will find it a perfect answer to their digicam needs. With a street price of $499, the SL300R T* is priced a bit higher than its competitors, but maybe its unique size, style and performance justify that difference to many prospective buyers.





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