For all their advantages over film, digital cameras still can’t match 35mm SLRs in one key area: speed. Nearly every digital camera has some degree of shutter lag, the annoying and often excruciating pause after you press the shutter button and before the camera actually snaps the picture. In some cases this can be as long as a few seconds, which is more than enough time to lose the perfect shot — particularly if your subjects are athletes, race cars, or small children.

Fortunately, digital camera makers feel your pain. Kyocera is one of the first to come to the rescue with a consumer camera that cuts the lag down to size. The Finecam SL300R snaps pictures within half a second after pressing the shutter button; in many cases it’s much faster (around a tenth of a second). The lag is still perceptible, but it’s getting much, much shorter. The camera also turns on quickly, taking just about a second and a half to power up.

For action photography, the Finecam excels. In rapid-fire mode it can shoot full-resolution images at a rate of 3.5 shots per second, without pause, until the SD card fills up. (Many other cameras need to stop and think after six or seven shots.) It’s also got the ability to record VGA-quality video, with audio, at 30 frames per second.

Image quality is excellent: The Finecam takes big, saturated pictures, and in automatic-exposure mode it adapts well to a variety of lighting conditions. The flash is powerful, and if you’re less than 5 feet away from your subject and shooting in standard mode, the flash will tend to wash out faces, overexposing them slightly. Switching to portrait mode easily fixes this problem. Still, we’d rather have a flash that’s slightly too bright than one that’s too dim. A 3x optical zoom falls short of telephoto capabilities but lets you frame and compose images without losing image quality, as you would with digital zoom.

There are also plenty of settings you can adjust manually, including exposure, white balance, and sharpness.

Transferring photos to a PC is reasonably fast over the included USB 1.1 cable. We were able to upload 30 full-size pictures totaling 26.7MB in 49 seconds, for a transfer rate of about 4.4Mbps.

The Finecam fits easily in a shirt pocket and, at just 5 ounces, its weight doesn’t feel like it’s tearing your shirt off. The plastic-and-metal casing is attractive, with a subtle concentric-circle-brushed design on the aluminum faceplate. The oddest feature of the Finecam is the split-body design — its left half, housing the lens and flash, twists forward or backward so that it’s perpendicular to the plane of the LCD when shooting a picture. Although this offers a minor convenience (being able to point the lens at yourself while looking at the LCD), this design also adds a second or so to the process of taking the camera out, turning it on, and getting it ready to shoot. Also, the clear plastic cover over the lens easily smudges with fingerprints during this process. (There’s no other lens cover, and this clear filter is not removable.)

The controls are easy to use and responsive, and the Finecam’s menu system is straightforward. You could take great pictures for weeks without once getting into the menus, though, and that’s a testament to this camera’s usability and the quality of its preset modes. Add that to the Finecam’s zippy performance, and you’ve got a camera that we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Snaps pictures in less than half a second
Worst Feature: Awkward split-body design leads to lens smudges

Kyocera Finecam SL300R
Weight: 5 ounces
Size: 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.6 inches
Specs: 3.2 megapixels; 3x optical zoom; 1.5-inch LCD; VGA AVI; integrated flash; SD card slot (16MB card included); USB 1.1

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Link: Kyocera Finecam SL300R

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