- Review Price: £287.00
Epson has been keeping a low profile in the world of digital cameras but as this market always heats up during the run up to Christmas, it would seem that Epson wants a piece of the action with its recent release of the PhotoPC L-400.
At first glance, I was suitably impressed because I am always a sucker for products constructed from metal rather than plastic. The L-400 is almost entirely encased in an aluminium and steel body making the camera feel solid in the hand as well as cool to the touch.
It also has some weight to it, which always makes a camera handle better. With the batteries installed, it weighs approximately 278g and feels well balanced. There is little in the way of a grip, but the case does curve outward on the right side to help you maintain a firm purchase. There’s also something very familiar about the design. In fact, there are some similarities between it and some of the earlier Ixus’ from Canon, although it’s a bit chunkier.
Inside the box, you get four AA batteries to get you shooting straight away. No rechargeable lithium-ions here, so once you’ve taken about 500 shots, it’ll be time to buy some more or resort to using the supplied mains adapter. The door to the battery compartment is located on the base and it’s one of those sliding flip-up types. Behind this, are not only the battery slots but also the slot for the 16MB SD memory card. Ok, that already raises two issues for me.
First, I’m one of those users who would rather avoid installing the questionable software you often get with such devices and basically pull out the memory card and slip it into my multi-card reader. Of course now I have to open the battery compartment every time I want to do this, which requires a certain level of manual dexterity to prevent the batteries from falling out at the same time.
The second point is one of memory size. 16MB. Isn’t that a bit mean for a four-megapixel camera? Well I think it is, since you can only store eight 2,304 x 1,728 resolution images at the ‘fine’ jpeg compression setting. You can of course store more if you lower the resolution to either 1,600 x 1,200 or 640 x 480 and/or increase the jpeg compression by selecting the ‘normal’ mode, but then you begin to compromise on print size and quality. So, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be forking out for more memory soon after purchase, especially if you want to take advantage of one of the L-400’s key selling points – the direct printing process.
This allows you to print directly from the L-400 to a compatible Epson printer without going through a computer. Whether or not you will use this is debatable, but it’s clearly an attempt to make things easier and more fun for the family. The camera also comes with a Print Image Framer (P.I.F.) mode, which can literally be used to apply frames (including some Disney themed ones) around your images, either as you take them or afterwards. However, images taken using this must be printed using the direct printing process.
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.
Close up – The colour of the apple is a tad over-saturated, but generally is ok. However, the edges are fuzzy.
Epson PhotoPC L-400 – The same indoor shot using this 4 megapixel camera (using the same settings).
Canon PowerShot G1 – An indoor shot using this 3.3 megapixel camera. (ISO 100, max resolution, lowest jpeg compression)
Outdoors – This image has been cropped out at 100% from a larger photo. The definition is not the finest I’ve seen.
Score in detail
Image Quality 4
|Camera type||Digital Compact|
|Megapixels (Megapixel)||4 Megapixel|
|Optical Zoom (Times)||3x|