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BenQ DC E40 - Digital Camera Review
Introduction: Available in shops now from £90-100 including VAT - the BenQ DC E40 is a compact 4 megapixel digital camera, with no optical zoom lens (equivalent to 35mm on a 35mm camera), and a 1.5" TFT touch screen. The camera is made out of plastic, and records 320x240 / 25fps videos with sound. The camera is compact with the following size: 100.8 x 55.2 x 27.5mm (without protruding parts), and only weighs 125g (without the battery and SD card) Check latest prices on Amazon.co.uk

The BenQ DC E40 was first announced on the 19th of July 2004 - "BenQ announces the release of the BenQ DC E40 digital camera. Targeted at females, the E40 features an intuitive touch screen with photo framing and “scrawling” options and equipped with a 4 mega-pixel high sensitivity image sensor." Initial reaction was mixed, due to the camera being targetted specifically at women.

The Camera: It's compact and made out of shiny red and beigey / silver plastic.
(Photos of the camera were taken with the Canon IXUS 500)


Front - Camera off.


Front - Camera on, flash, lens, and led exposed.


Back - the 1.5" TFT screen, no optical viewfinder, 4-way joystick controller, 3 buttons at the bottom of the screen, usb connection, and strap hole.


Top - shutter release, on/off button, mode, led, microphone.


Bottom, under the camera there is no tripod mount.


Left Side (from back) - Speaker, TV connector, macro switch.


On this side is the battery and memory compartment.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm automatic, this camera is smaller than the Pentax.


The BenQ is a bit thinner as well.


Size comparison.

Specifications / Features:

  • 4.2 megapixel CCD Sensor
  • 1.5" LTPS LCD screen
  • 35mm (35mm film equivalent) F3.2 / F8.0 Lens
  • 4x Digital Zoom
  • 320x240 / 25fps video clips with sound
  • Voice memo / Dictaphone (continuous)
  • 30cm macro mode
  • 100cm normal mode
  • 2 (Night scene mode) - 1/1000 shutter speed
  • ISO: Auto/100/200
  • TV out

Full Specifications can be found on BenQ's site.

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery.
  • Hand-strap
  • USB Cable
  • USB Convertor
  • AV Cable
  • 8mb memory built into the camera (upgradable with SD memory cards)
  • AC Adapter
  • Software CD-Rom
  • User manual
  • Stylus (although mine didn't come with one)

Average box contents - 8mb memory is very poor - especially considering the low price of SD memory cards ie, a 128mb SD memory card is only £12!

Battery usage: The camera uses a small 3.7v 780mAh Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery made by BenQ. To charge the battery, the battery must be in the camera, and then a small convertor is connected to the camera's USB port, and then the AC adapter is plugged into the convertor - alternatively the camera can be charged through the USB cable, you simply plug it into your computer.

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the dial on the top - the dial has the following modes: Photo, Play, Video and Dictaphone.

Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown below:

The options are: Manual / Auto, Scene modes (Portrait, Landscape, Sport, Back Light, Night Scene), Timer, Continuous shooting, File size, Image compression, on the next screen: White balance, ISO, Photo effect (Normal, Black and White, Sepia, Vivid), Exposure compensation, Metering, Date Imprint (Year, Month and Date only - not time).

Setup menu options: Memory, Date/Time, Date Format, LCD Brightness, Sound, File number reset, on the next page: Video output, Power saving, Language, Default setting (reset), Software version, Touch panel calibration.

Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown below:

Playback menu options: Scrawling (lets you draw on the picture eg: picture of Heather), Frame (lets you frame the picture eg: picture of Albert Dock), Voice memo, Slideshow, Lock, Thumbnails.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of images will fit on the 8mb:

Size / Quality: Number of Photos Stored (Average file size)
  Fine Normal

6mp (2848x2136)

4 (2mb) 8 (900kb)
4mp (2304x1728) 5 (1.4mb) 11 (700kb)
2mp (1600x1200) 11 (700kb) 25 (300kb)
1mp (1280x960) 17 (440kb) 38 (190kb)
Video 320x240 25fps 45 seconds

You can fit a poor number of images on the provided 8mb memory - a larger memory card is definitely recommended, unless you want to use the lower image sizes / lower compression options. There is a fairly good choice of image sizes, and there is a good choice regarding image compression.

A larger memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at least a 128mb or 256mb memory, or larger especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the BenQ DC E40:

128mb SD memory card - £11.99 from Amazon.co.uk.
256mb SD memory card - £19.00 from Amazon.co.uk.
512mb SD memory card - £33.99 from Amazon.co.uk.
1gb (1000mb) SD memory card - £59.99 from Amazon.co.uk.

Speed, Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, quick to switch on, and quick to take photos - the camera has the advantage in that the lens doesn't have to focus (it's fixed focus). The controls on the back of the camera are fairly easy to use - the touchscreen menus quite responsive. The screen updates are quick and smooth. The camera is compact and fits very easily into pockets. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to press. The modes are very easy to access, quick and simple, as there are only 4 modes: Photo, Play, Video and Audio.

The playback mode is also quick, although it only allows you to zoom as close as 4x. In playback mode, you can either use the 4-way controller or you can use the touchscreen in order to scroll through the photos and zoom in.

Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seems to be the right amount of buttons. The buttons feel good, and are labelled fairly well. The on/off switch seems too close to the shutter button, as I often turned the camera off when trying to take a photo.

Battery usage: Battery life seems average, giving about 100 or more images per charge - a backup battery is recommended as the camera does not take AA batteries, however the battery can be charged through the usb cable, so as long as a computer is nearby you should be able to easily charge the camera. You can switch off the display to conserve battery power, although there is no optical viewfinder.

LCD Display (Photo mode / Playback mode):

LCD display in photo mode: The screen is a fairly decent resolution, and updates smoothly - the colours appear accurate. Shown above - it shoes flash, mode, macro mode, picture size, remaining pictures, battery life.

Playback mode: The camera shows the file size, and number, but little else. Scrolling through the photos is very quick. The zoom is quick from 2x - 4x, and easy to use. Playback menu options are discussed above.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the new gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower Group Photo

Inside: The camera struggled with the usual test photo of Heather and the flower picture, but in other situations, the camera did an okay job taking indoor photos, as long as the subject was not too close. The camera has a decent flash, and copes quite well with group photos - in darker conditions noise is quite visible.

Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels (with a range between 100 and 200), as well as manual ISO settings: 100, and 200. To demonstrate the effect of the different ISO levels on this camera I have taken these pictures, and cropped an area of the image to show you at 100% what the noise looks like.

 
Noise Test Photo
ISO100 - 100% ISO200 - 100%

Noise levels at ISO100 are fairly high - at ISO200 noise is horrible.

Outside:

Unisys Building VW Golf

Outside, the camera had decent colour, with good contrast, saturation. Although detail was lacking, noise was quite high, and images did seem quite dark. I didn't notice jpeg artefacts in the images.

Zoom: This camera has no optical zoom and a built in 4x Digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below simply to show what these features do.

Wide-angle 4x Digital Zoom

Lens noise and zoom: Not applicable.

Other Image Quality issues: I did not notice any Chromatic Aberrations / Purple Fringing.

Macro: To use this camera in macro mode, you must move the switch on the side of the camera, this allows you to take close up photos with the subject 30cm away from the lens. The camera does not let you use the flash when you are in this mode.

Normal Macro Actual Pixels (100%)

The macro mode is very poor - you can't get very close at all - it's more like a 'close-up' mode rather than a normal macro mode, and it's especially lmited because you can't use the flash, meaning for close-up photos of people it's not very useful unless you're outside on a sunny day.

Movie: 320x240 / 25fps with sound - you can't use the digital or optical zoom whilst recording a video or before. The movie is recorded as an .ASF file. Length is limited only by the size of the memory card.


Kitten - Download 320x240/25fps movie
Click here. (right click, save target as, 6 seconds, 944kb ASF - saved as a Zip file)

The quality of the movie(s) is quite good, colour is quite good, 320 x 240/25fps with sound is slightly better than average.

Conclusion

Image Quality: The images have okay colour, saturation and contrast. Images show quite a lot of noise. Images aren't very sharp. Purple fringing was not noticable. There is a good range of image sizes and compression options - the 6 megapixel interpolated mode is fairly pointless, yes it creates a bigger image, but doesn't create a better picture in any way. The macro mode is very poor, it doesn't let you use flash, and is more of a 'close-up' mode rather than what I would call a macro mode. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be okay, although some images were a bit dark. The movie mode is slightly better than average, at 320x240/25fps with sound.

The touch screen: It's an interesting idea, it's being tried by Kodak in the Kodak Easyshare One, with it's huge 3" screen, and it's been tried before by Toshiba (in the PDR-T30, T20 and T10), it appears to have been fairly unsuccessful in the past. Currently on the E40, due to the small screen size it does seem a bit difficult to use, and of limited use - for example, I can only write one word clearly, and two words at a push. With the BenQ DC E41, there is a 2" screen which should make it much easier to write or draw on the screen, it should also make it easier to use the screen controls. I think the touch screen will have quite limited appeal, but will probably be most popular with the younger generation, by this I mean kids.

Reaction: In my very limited "research" I had mixed reactions from my friends, my male friends who I asked weren't really interested in being able to write or draw on the images, and seemed more interested in it being a camera capable of taking good quality photos. A female friend, seemed very impressed by the ability to write or draw on the pictures in theory.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The design is good, the camera is quite small, and pocketable, the camera is fairly stylish depending on your tastes. The 1.5" screen updates quite smoothly and has accurate colour and makes it easier to view and compose your pictures. The camera is very easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there are is a good layout of buttons and controls. There is an okay choice of options and features, however there are no scene modes. The camera speed is seems okay in use.

Alternative compact digital cameras: This is where I would normally list similar cameras available, but as this is currently the only widely available touch screen digital camera, apart from the BenQ DC E41, I recommend you have a look at my review list to see what alternative digital cameras are available. Check amazon.co.uk / kelkoo.co.uk or amazon.com for the latest prices.

Summary: The BenQ DC E40 is a compact 4 megapixel digital camera with a 1.5" touch-screen. The camera records unlimited length videos with sound. The camera is easy to use, but produces average images with high noise, low detail, and slightly dark images. The camera's touch screen is an interesting idea, but poorly executed with a small screen. For around £100 (UK) this camera offers good value for money, and is quite unique in having a touch screen that could be quite fun, but the camera could definitely be much better. Check Latest Prices on Amazon.co.uk

If you like the look of the BenQ DC E40, but you would like a bigger screen, then have a look at the big brother, the BenQ DC E41, with a larger 2" screen.

What I like:

  • The camera can be charged using the USB cable.
  • 25fps video mode with sound.
  • Touchscreen menu is easy to use.

What I don't like:

  • Small 1.5" screen makes it a bit difficult to write on.
  • Poor macro mode / flash disabled.
  • Very noisy images regardless of lighting.
  • On/off button too close to shutter button.

Remember to have a look at the test photos in the new gallery.