|DCRP Review: Kodak DC280
by Jeff Keller [DCRP Founder/Webmaster]
Kodak has been in the digital camera game since the beginning. Those of us who were early adopters will no doubt remember such models as the DC20, DC40, and DC50. Back when I was using a Quicktake 150, the DC50 was really nice.
Kodak has always been one of the major innovators in digital cameras -- they were one of the first with zoom lenses, CompactFlash, and USB. As a result, their cameras are some of the most popular out there. Here at the DCRP, we've been trying to get our hands on their cameras since the beginning because of this -- and finally, we have them!
The DC280 is a 2 megapixel camera with a 2X optical zoom lens (and 3X digital zoom), USB support, and a boatload of other features that we'll cover in this review. So let's go!
What's in the Box
The DC280 has the deluxe package of goodies inside the box. Major kudos to Kodak for thinking of everything.
Inside the box for the camera, you'll find:
I'm going to get my only "what's in the box" complaint of the way right now. The good news it that Kodak includes a lens cap, and that it's already attached to the camera when it comes out of the box. The bad news is that the lens cap doesn't like to stay on. I knocked it off many, many times.
While most people are stuffing 8Mb memory cards in the box, Kodak is putting in a 20Mb card, which can hold 32-245 photos (as they proclaim in big letters on the box). Hopefully the other camera manufacturers will follow their lead.
The two Adobe products (PhotoDeluxe and Pagemill) are the latest versions for their respective platforms, which is nice.
While the camera has USB, the way you get the photos off the camera are a little untraditional. While most USB cameras mount as disks on your desktop, on the DC280 you have to boot up Kodak's Picture Transfer software to get the photos to your computer. I'm not sure why, but Kodak's USB speeds were below par: when you first start downloading photos, the software has the "prepare" which took almost a minute (on a 500Mhz G3 Mac). From there, it downloads a thumbnail first, and then the photo. While creating that thumbnail, the computer was frozen for a few seconds until it was done. You can also select a group of photos to copy (instead of all of them) -- I advise you to turn OFF the preview mode, which really slows things down. But that sort of defeats the purpose... [Update: Several people wrote in saying that on Windows systems, the camera mounts like a hard drive. I guess this is a Mac-only problem]
As I said, you get everything you need in the box. While you're eating up the included alkaline batteries, you can get your NiMH batteries charged (see photo above). Of course, you're going to need more than one set of batteries, and Kodak would be happy to sell you them. The manual says that it takes up to 8 hours to fully charge the batteries.
The manual included with the DC280 was very good.
Look and Feel
My first impression of the DC280 once I picked it up was that it was very heavy! I'm not sure why it seemed so much heavier than other cameras -- maybe the plastics are higher grade. My Coolpix 950 was definitely lighter, but the DC280 is still very useable, regardless. There are good places to put your hands without getting them in the way of anything important.
Unfortunately, the nose smudge factor is here big time, and your fingers will do a number on the LCD as well. I found the optical viewfinder to be a little tough to look through with glasses on, and it lacks diopter correction.
Looking at the back of the camera (lousy picture, sorry), there are quite a few buttons. To make matters worse, only a few of them were labeled. I had no idea that the round button to the right of the LCD is the "Do It" button until I read the manual. Luckily, the unlabeled buttons are for navigating the menus, so it's not a huge deal.
The mode dial on the far right is fairly self-explanatory. Thankfully, if you're in capture mode (where the lens is extended), and you switch to another mode, the lens stays out, unlike some other cameras we've tested.
I ran into some problems with the power button when carrying the camera around: it's very sensitive. I put the camera into a bag, and on it came. While trying (unsuccessfully) to maneuver it into a pocket, it turned on again.
I found the LCD display to be very grainy, not to mention jerky in record mode.
I don't normally take a photo of the bottom of the camera, but the DC280 deserved it. On the left, you see the release for the CompactFlash card. And let me tell you, it's spring-loaded.. I shot a 20Mb card across the room! In the middle is the tripod mount, and the batteries go on the right (I wish it had a lock so you don't accidentally open it!). But my favorite feature down here is right above that tripod mount: a brightness dial for the LCD display! Only the Ricoh RDC-5x00 series has this, and it should be on every camera.
Looking now at the top of the camera, we see the usual assortment of buttons. The LCD display has some new ways of representing resolution and compression settings. Next to the battery display, there are three little squares -- this is "best quality". There's also two squares (better), and one square (good). To the right of that is one I had to look up -- this is resolution. In the shot above, that's High resolution (1760x1168). If there were half as many squares in that matrix, it would be Standard (896x592). Why they didn't do Full and Half is beyond me, but it's easy once you read the manual!
A few other notes: After you shoot a picture with the timer (top left button), it turns off again. I've had some other cameras that do that too, but I wish it would stay on. Also, I found that the rocker switch for zoom could have a little more range of movement. Minor quibbles, again.
Here's the left side of the DC280. You can see the power input, video output, PC connect, and CompactFlash doors. The three on the left are rubber, and stay in place nicely. The CF door is plastic, and definitely won't open accidentally!
Using the Kodak DC280
The mode dial on the DC280 is simple enough: Record, Play, PC connect, and Setup. Let's go through each, backwards.
In the setup menu, you can edit the following things:
There's not much to talk about in PC connect mode other than what I mentioned in the first section, so let's go onto Review (play) mode. The DC280 is pretty quick at scrolling between photos, probably since it uses the same trick that my Coolpix 950 does. It loads a low-res version of the photo first, and then draws a high res version over it a few seconds later.
The user interface on the DC280 is a bit strange, and in Review mode, it takes some getting used to. To zoom in, delete, start a slideshow, etc, you hit the menu button. This brings up a three pane interface, as you can see below:
Here, you can move between photos (which are shown in the bottom pane) using the left and right buttons under the LCD. If you want to delete a photo (in this example), you'd move the cursor in the left pane using the up/down buttons below the LCD, hit the "Do It" button, where you are presented with a choice of "[One] Picture, Exit, All Pictures".
One nice feature in play mode is the Picture Info screen, which is further down on the left pane of the menu. It tells you file name, directory, capture date/time, flash, aperture, shutter speed, quality, and resolution settings.
Zoom mode lets you zoom in, and scroll around in real-time, which is a nice feature. The camera also supports DPOF (direct print order format), which lets you choose which photos (and how many of each) you want, if you're hooked into a photo printer.
Moving onto Capture (record) mode now: The camera is very quick to start up, on par with the best cameras in its class. The LCD display is off by default, to save batteries. You can hit the "Do It" button to turn it back on. As I mentioned, it's quite grainy and choppy.
There is noticeable shutter lag time of around a second after you push the shutter release button. After you take a photo, you have the option of deleting it before it's written to the CompactFlash card.
In the menu, you have a few options other than those I mentioned in the Setup mode section.
Earlier in the review, I mentioned something about "borders". Well, I'd never seen these before, and they are interesting to say the least. You have your choice of about 10 different borders that you can have around your photo. When you turn on a border, you see it on the LCD. You just put your subject inside the frame, and that's it! On the left, you can see the "Wedding" border (click on it to blow it up). The other borders are: Carefree (hard to describe), Classic (gray picture frame), formal (silver picture frame), fun (painted hands, love (hearts), new baby (rubber ducks, hearts, etc), party (balloons), wedding (see left). It takes a while for the camera to save these to the CF card, for some reason.
Here are some things that this camera does not have:
A few other issues: I wasn't impressed with the macro mode on this camera. It seemed to have some trouble focusing where my other cameras took great photos. I'll continue to work on this one.
The other issue is that the camera is terrible at taking pictures in low light. I recently took four cameras to the top of Twin Peaks here in San Francisco. This included the DC280, the Casio QV-2000UX, Olympus D-450Z, and the Coolpix 950. Every single one of these cameras outshined the DC280. Take a look:
On the left, you see the DC280, with exposure compensation at +2.0EV. The right photo is from the Coolpix 950, 8 sec shutter, no exposure compensation. These were taken in the exact same spot, within minutes of each other. I thought this result was just a fluke, but then I took the DC280 around town at dusk and got similar results. According to the manual, the ISO sensitivity is 70, which could explain this.
How does it compare?
Overall, the Kodak DC280 is a winner. Everything you need to get into serious digital photography is in the box, and the camera has all the features that most everyone will need. However, enthusiasts may be scared off by the lack of manual controls, and the lousy low-light shots.
What I liked:
What I didn't like:
With a street price in the $600 range, the DC280 is definitely a camera worth considering. As always, we suggest that you try out the camera in a local store before you make any purchasing decisions! Other cameras that you should compare the DC280 against include the Nikon Coolpix 800, Ricoh RDC-5300, Canon PowerShot S10, Epson PhotoPC 850Z, and the Toshiba PDR-M5 (gotta catch my breath!).
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