With these features in mind, you can say the L-400 is aimed at the general consumer who wants no fuss when it comes to operation. In use, the L-400 is very much a point and shoot camera and echoing this fact is the general lack of more sophisticated funtions, and the ‘playful’ sounds that can be assigned to certain processes. For instance, I can make the focus lock bark like a dog but I cannot manually assess and set my own white balance. There’s no RAW or uncompressed TIFF image mode, or aperture and shutter priority settings, nor is there a fully manual mode. That said, you can manually set the ISO speed to 100, 200 or 400, adjust the exposure from –2EV to +2EV in 0.5 increments, and record short AVI movies with sound.
Movies are limited to 120 seconds at a resolution of 320 x 240 or 300 seconds at 160 x 120 and bear in mind that you cannot zoom while recording. The quality of playback is fuzzy in both resolutions, which somewhat ties in with the quality of the still images, which I’ll come to in a minute.
On the face of it though, the L-400 feels like a quality digital camera. It has a 3x optical zoom that can be bolstered a further three times digitally. The zoom lens covers a 35mm equivalent focal range of 34-102mm, which is decent enough and the menus are easy to navigate using the well-positioned buttons and the four-way control pad. The 1.5in active matrix TFT screen is clear and responsive too. Not sure if I like the gimmicky blue light on the front that glows every time the camera is switched on, but that’s not a worry when you consider the L-400’s questionable photographic results.
If you look at the indoor test results, you will notice immediately how noisy the pictures are. Any combination of resolution and/or compression level made little difference to the results and each image still looked noisy. For comparison, the same scene was shot with a well-used 3.3-megapixel Canon PowerShot G1 and the results are noticeably better. Outdoors, it was clear that the L-400’s CCD has some problems with defining detail, especially along straight edges and in areas of strong contrast. The branches of the trees are not well resolved and there’s a noticeable mottling effect across darker parts of the image. Close-up images tend to fair better in terms of digital noise, but you can still make out the fuzzy edges to the apple. Colours are acceptable but a little oversaturated in areas.
With questions over definition and noise, the L-400 is difficult to recommend. It’s not the cheapest at £287.13 and when compared with, for example, Canon’s PowerShot A70 that can be purchased for almost £55 less at the time of writing, then I can see little reason to go for the Epson L-400.
While I believe that many consumers want a well-built, easy to use point and shoot digital camera with a certain degree of user control and some interesting printing features, I doubt that they would want one with image quality as poor as this.