Despite being one of the older cameras on the market the Epson is a classy looker that exudes an executive feel as soon as you pick it up. Unlike many of its rivals, this does not have a polycarbonate plastic body - it has a metal casing that cools your fingers as you pick it up. It's small, but that's because it doesn't have a zoom lens, just a fixed wide-angle.
You can tell this camera is designed to be used every day, too, because of its batteries. The camera takes two AA cells, but Epson supplies four rechargeable nickel metal hydride cells and a separate charger. When one pair is in use the second set can be topped up with power. The amount of money you could save on batteries through this arrangement will be significant to anyone using the camera daily.
The camera is supplied with an 8Mb CompactFlash cart that slots in under a flip-open cover on the base. This allows you to store 13 images at the highest native resolution that can be drawn from the 1600x1200 CCD. However, using HyPicT interpolation technology the camera squeezes in 11 1984x1488 pixel pictures. A novel feature is a panoramic mode that allows you to save valuable memory space when you know you're not going to need the top and bottom parts of the frame.
The camera does not use a fancy menu system, but is still one of the easiest cameras to use. Instead of having to delve into sub-menus, the rear LCD screen has seven soft-keys around it., each with a separate function which is described on the screen itself. It is a very intuitive system, and means that you can switch from to manual exposure, say, without the palaver needed on some cameras.
The manual controls are surprisingly extensive. As well as AF, you are give three manual distance settings that you can toggle through - a facility that is particularly appreciated when dealing with moving subjects, where AF can mean missing that perfect moment. The manual exposure facilities are more extensive than you would find on an SLR - there are only two aperture settings, but you have a ridiculous range of shutter speeds to choose from; there are 60 settings from 1/2sec to 1/750sec. To take real advantage of these you need to shoot the picture to check whether you have the right exposure on the LCD screen - and unfortunately the confirmation shot only stays for a second or so, giving you only the briefest look at it and choose whether to delete it immediately. However, the range of exposure settings does open up the chance of producing creative shots - blurring the image, restricting depth of field, or freezing fast-moving subjects. There is also an aperture priority mode - but this again only allows f/8 and f/2.8 iris settings.
The camera comes with USB connections - allowing you to hot-plug the camera into the latest PCs and Macs without the need to reboot. However, for those with older computers, Mac and PC serial leads are also supplied as standard. A very nice extra is the soft fleece bag that snuggles the camera when not in use.
The Epson Photo! 3 software used for downloading images to the computer is a dream to use - offering a very self-explanatory user-interface (the same software is used on the Pentax EI-200). Also supplied is Adobe PageMill and Presto! Mr Photo.
The most impressive thing about the camera is the picture quality. Even without using the interpolated setting, the resolution delivered by the camera was cracking. The colour balance was also outstanding - delivering natural looking shots without any need to start twiddling with your manipulation package. The 1600x1200 JPEGs were impressive - particularly as the Epson is able to squeeze so many into the 8Mb cart.
The only disadvantage of the camera is the lack of zoom lens - but with such a sweet little package as this, it is a sacrifice well worth making
- Small size & impressive looks
- Manual overrides
- Range of connectors
- Spare rechargeable batteries
Test by Chris George