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DCRP Review: Kodak
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: August 16, 2004
Last Updated: February 25, 2008
The EasyShare V550 ($400) and it's sibling, the V530 ($350), mark Kodak's entry into the "stylish and compact" category. I suppose you could throw the EasyShare ONE into the mix, but it still not shipped as of this writing, and it's going to be on the expensive side. Both of the V-series cameras have a 5 Megapixel CCD, 3X zoom lens, AF-assist lamp, and a VGA movie mode. The V530 has a 2.0" LCD display and no optical viewfinder while the V550 has a 2.5" screen and an optical viewfinder. The V530 comes in your choice of four colors -- pink, red, black, and silver -- while the V550 comes in only two: silver and black. The V530 is a little smaller, as well.
There's a ton of competition in this category, so the V550 has its work cut out for it. Find out how it performed in our review!
What's in the Box?
The V550 has a good bundle. Inside the box you'll find the following:
As with many of Kodak's other cameras, no memory card is included with the V550. While that holds a decent number of photos (17) at the highest quality setting, a larger card is highly recommended. The V550 uses Secure Digital (SD) and MultiMedia (MMC) memory cards, though the former is recommended. I would suggest a 256MB card as a good starter size. There is no need for a "high speed" memory card on the V550.
The EasyShare V550 uses the all-new KLIC-7001 lithium-ion rechargeable battery. This compact battery packs a measly 2.7 Wh of energy, which isn't much. This translates into poor battery life as you can see in the comparison chart below:
You don't need a graduate degree in math to see that the V550's battery life is worse than any other camera in its class. It's tied for the worst I've ever seen award along with the now defunct Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7 -- and at least that one had image stabilization!
So, if you buy this camera you should definitely buy a spare battery. Proprietary batteries like the one used by the V550 tend to be pricey -- but at $20 the KLIC-7001 isn't too horrible. In addition you can't just pop in some "regular batteries" when the proprietary one runs out of juice like you can on some other (usually larger) cameras.
Front of the dock features battery charging indicators as well as buttons for slideshows and photo transferring
The back of the dock has ports for DC-in, A/V, and USB
The V550 comes with the very stylish Kodak Photo Frame 2 dock which you can see above. This is used for charging the battery, connecting to a television, and transferring photos to your Mac or PC. Unlike some cameras which require the dock for those functions, all of the same ports can be found on the camera itself -- and that's great news. It takes about three hours for the battery to be charged while the camera is on the dock. You can also charge the battery while it's in the camera by using the included AC adapter.
The V550 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no clumsy lens cap to worry about. Also included is a fairly cheesy camera case -- it's more like a bag actually.
Besides a couple of camera cases, the only real accessories for the V-series cameras are Kodak's various camera docks. While you probably don't need their regular docks (since the camera comes with one), the V550 will work with their Printer Dock Series 3 ($150). Just put the camera on the printer dock using the included adapter and you'll get a 4 x 6 inch print in just 90 seconds.
Kodak includes version 4.0.4 of their excellent EasyShare software for Mac OS X and Windows with the V550. Please note that the new EasyShare 5.0 software is available as free download from Kodak. Both versions are quite similar, and since 4.0.4 is included with the camera, I will describe it below.
The main screen lets you import and organize your photos. You can view your photos by date taken, or you can create "smart albums" which are totally customizable (just like a smart playlist in iTunes).
On this screen you can also view your photos in a slideshow, edit or rotate them (see below), get exposure data, rotate them, burn them to a CD or DVD, or even upload them to Ofoto (now known as Kodak EasyShare Gallery) for printing.
If you want to edit your photo, there are some basic tools included. They include rotation, cropping, "instant enhancement", redeye reduction, brightness and contrast, color, exposure, and instant black & white or sepia conversion. For some edits, you can split the screen (see above) so you can see a "before and after" view of your proposed changes.
The Print at Home tab will help you print the images you select (either by marking them on the camera or in the software). There are many choices available, including the two 4 x 6 inch per page print layout you see above.
The e-mail tab works in the same way. You can compose messages to be sent along with pictures. You can send the full size picture, or have it reduced automatically to a smaller size. The e-mail system is nicely integrated with OS X's built-in address book system.
Here you can customize the e-mail addresses stored in the camera -- more on how this works later in the review. This feature is also integrated with the OS X address book (for you Mac users out there). Similarly, you can also set up albums on your camera by using EasyShare. You can then tag photos on the camera, and they'll end up in the proper album when you transfer your photos to your computer.
All-in-all the EasyShare package is pretty darn good for bundled software, especially if you've seen the stuff that some other companies give you.
Kodak does a nice job with their camera manuals, with long descriptions and not a lot of fine print. While the manual seems short (and the font is huge), the information you need is all there and it's well presented.
Look and Feel
The EasyShare V550 is a compact (but not tiny) camera made entirely of metal. It feels very solid in the hand and it's size allows it to go just about everywhere. The controls are well-placed (though not necessarily usable) and the camera can be used with just one hand.
Here's a look at the dimensions and weight of the V550 versus some of the compact competition:
As you can see, the V550 fits right in the middle of the pack in terms of size and weight. Even so I never found it to be a burden to carry around.
Okay, enough numbers for now, let's start our tour of the camera now!
The EasyShare V550 features an F2.8-4.8, 3X optical zoom Schneider-Kreuznach lens. The focal range of the lens is 6.2 - 18.6 mm, which is equivalent to 36 -108 mm. The lens is not threaded.
To the upper-right of the lens is the viewfinder, with the light sensor to the right of that. Switching to the other side of the lens you'll find the AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations.
Continuing to the right we find the V550's built-in flash. The working range of the flash is 0.6 - 2.4 m at wide-angle and 0.6 - 1.6 m at telephoto, which is a bit below average. You cannot attach an external flash to the V550.
The first thing to notice on the back of the V550 is a beautiful 2.5" LCD display. While some LCDs this size skimp on resolution, Kodak did not -- there are 230,000 pixels on this screen. The LCD is viewable in bright outdoor light and in dim light as well. In darker rooms the LCD "gains up" automatically so you can still see your subject.
To the left of the LCD you'll find an oddly placed optical viewfinder and four buttons. The viewfinder is fairly small, and its location takes some getting used to. The four buttons are for:
That red-colored Share button activates Kodak's famous EasyShare system. When pressed the camera enters playback mode and the following screen is displayed:
In share mode, you can do three things:
Let's say you want to mark an image for e-mail. Here's what you'll see:
You can select a person or persons to whom you want to e-mail this picture. Once you connect to your computer, the EasyShare software will send the pictures to the chosen recipients.
Selecting photos to print later is just as easy. Just select the photo and the number of copies, and the next time you dock with a printer, it'll prompt you to make those prints. This works with both the Kodak Printer Dock as well as the scores of PictBridge-enabled photo printers on the market.
At the top-right of the photo you'll find the zoom controller. This moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in three seconds, which is on the slow side. I counted six steps throughout the 3X zoom range.
Below the zoom controller you'll find what I'm calling the worst four-way controller of the year (in a tie with the Olympus Stylus 800). While pushing the controller in its four available directions is okay, pushing that tiny OK button is nearly impossible. The bottom line is that thing is too small for big fingers. Rants aside, the controller is used for menu navigation and also for:
On top of the camera you'll find even more buttons. Those four buttons on the top are flush against the camera and have snazzy blue lighting when they're selected. They are for Auto, portrait, scene, and movie modes. The V550 has tons of scene modes, including:
The custom option stores your favorite settings, though unfortunately the flash setting is not stored, so you have to adjust that each time you turn on the camera.
The next button over is the power button, following by buttons for flash setting (choose from auto, fill flash, auto w/redeye reduction, and flash off) and shutter release.
The only thing to see on this side of the V550 is the DC-in port which is where you'll plug in the included AC adapter.
On the other side of the camera you'll find a switch for moving between normal shooting and favorites mode. In favorites mode you'll only see photos tagged as your favorite, either on the camera or by using the EasyShare software.
Below the switch and the wrist strap attachment is the A/V + USB out port (one port for both functions). The V550 supports the USB 2.0 Full Speed standard, which is NOT the same as the High Speed standard that you really want. It's just as slow as USB 1.1.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find the memory card and battery compartment, a metal tripod mount (partially hidden here), and the speaker. The door covering the memory card and battery slots is of average quality, and its proximity to the tripod mount means that you won't be swapping memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.
The included KLIC-7001 battery is shown at right.
Using the Kodak EasyShare V550
The EasyShare V550 starts up quickly, taking just 1.6 seconds to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.
A live histogram is shown in record mode
The V550 focuses quickly for a compact camera, with typical wide-angle focus times of 0.2 - 0.4 seconds. At the telephoto end of the lens, or when the camera has to "hunt" for focus, it may take a bit longer. Low light focusing was above average thanks to the camera's AF-assist lamp.
I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.
Shot-to-shot speeds were excellent, with a delay of just over a second before you can take another shot. The post-shot review feature apparently cannot be turned off, but you can interrupt that to another shot quickly by halfway pressing the shutter release button.
You can delete a photo immediately after taking it by pressing the delete button.
There are just a few image quality choices on the V550. There's no "fine" or "normal" quality here -- just these options:
There's no TIFF or RAW mode available on the V550, nor would I expect one.
The camera names files as 100_####.JPG (where # = 0001 - 9999), and remembers the numbering even if you switch cards or delete photos.
As with all of Kodak's cameras, the menu system on the V550 is simple and very easy-to-use. Navigating the menus was a bit of a pain thanks to the clunky four-way controller the I mentioned earlier. Here's a list of all the items in the record menu:
The burst mode on the V550 takes five shots in a row at 3 frames/second -- not too shabby. Unfortunately the LCD blacks out during shooting, which makes it pretty hard to follow a moving subject -- good thing there's an optical viewfinder!
The V550 can shoot at all the usual ISO sensitivities, plus there's an ISO 800 mode available too. The catch is that the resolution is locked at the 1.8 Megapixel setting when shooting at ISO 800. Here's a quick comparison of two photos:
(Image reduced to 1.8MP before cropping)
View Original Image
As you can see, the ISO 800 shot is quite a bit worse than the one at ISO 80, which shouldn't be a surprise. I printed the ISO 800 sample at 4 x 6 and the noise was very noticeable. You could certainly clean it up using something like Noise Ninja or NeatImage, but straight out of the camera ISO 800 is not great for prints.
There are two "AF control" choices available on the V550. Continuous AF is always focusing, even when the shutter release is not held down. This reduces the delay when you want to take a picture. In Single AF mode, the camera only focuses when you halfway press the shutter release.
The only real manual control on the camera is the long time exposure, which lets you manually select a slow shutter speed. This will come in handy for the night shots that you'll see in a moment. But do note that the ISO sensitivity is locked at "Auto" when using this feature!
Now here's what's in the setup menu:
Okay, let's move on to our photo tests now!
As was the case with the last Kodak camera I reviewed, the EasyShare V550 had white balance problems with my quartz studio lamps. Our usual subject has a slightly greenish cast, and since there's no custom white balance option you have to live with that. If you shoot under more normal lighting (read: not studio lamps) this isn't an issue. If you shoot in more unusual lighting then you may want to find a camera with custom white balance. I was able to fix the image by adjusting the color balance in Photoshop.
Aside from the color cast things look very good. The subject is nice and sharp, and there's no noise or grain to be found.
The focus range in macro mode is 5 - 70 cm at wide-angle and 40 - 70 cm at telephoto. That's not too bad.
The night shot turned out pretty well, except for that pesky summer fog. The camera brought in enough light thanks to its Long Time Exposure feature, and there's no purple fringing to be found. Noise can be seen, however, especially in and around the fog.
The only way to do long exposures like this is to use the aforementioned Long Time Exposure feature. This locks the ISO at Auto, so noise levels may be higher than you'd like. With this in mind, I was unable to do the ISO tests that I normally have in this part of the review.
Once again Kodak has delivered a camera without a redeye problem. I don't know how they do it, but they should be commended for it.
The distortion test shows very mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens, and no signs of vignetting (dark corners) or blurring.
Overall I was quite pleased with the EasyShare V550's photo quality. Pictures were well-exposed, with saturated colors (maybe a little too saturated at times) and low noise and purple fringing levels. I thought photos were a little soft at default settings, and if you agree you can adjust the in-camera sharpening to "high".
Don't just take my word for all this, though. View our photo gallery, and print the images just like you would if they were your own. Then decide if the V550's photo quality meets your expectations.
The EasyShare V550 has an excellent movie mode. You can record 640 x 480 video at 30 frames/second (with sound) until the memory card is full. If you desire, you can also preset the length of your movie in the record menu. You can fill up the 32MB of internal memory with just 48 seconds of video, so buy a larger card for longer movies. A high speed memory card is not a requirement to use this movie mode. A lower resolution 320 x 240 (30 fps) mode is also available for longer recording times.
Believe it or not, you can actually use the optical zoom during filming. The catch is that the noise from the zoom motor will be picked up by the microphone. The camera can focus once (at the beginning of the movie) or continuously if you'd like. A digital image stabilizer is available as well for reducing "camera shake" that make make your videos a little nausea-inducing.
Along with your movie, the camera also saves a nine-shot collage of frames from the movie. You can see a sample above.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format using the MPEG4 codec.
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting. Enjoy!
Click to play movie (6.2 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
As you'd expect from Kodak, the V550's playback mode is attractive and easy-to-use. The basic features that we all know are here: slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
Zoom and scroll (called Magnify here) lets you zoom into your photo by up to 8 times (in 1X increments), and then scroll around in the enlarged image. Everything is nice and smooth! A crop feature lets you trim unwanted parts out of your photos.
An album feature lets you organize your photos into albums before they ever hit your computer. That's pretty cool. You can also tag photos as Favorites for easy viewing on both the camera and the computer.
The V550 lets you copy images from the internal memory to a memory card, and vice versa. If you've got a memory card inserted, you must switch to the internal memory using the menu if you want to view the pictures stored there.
The camera doesn't show you too many things about your photos. You can see a histogram on this screen, while another shows the image size, file name, and the date it was taken. Some exposure information would've been nice.
The camera moves between photos instantly.
How Does it Compare?
Though not without its flaws, the Kodak EasyShare V550 is a point-and-shoot camera that I can recommend to anyone who wants an easy-to-use compact camera.
I like most of the V550's design, especially its large, high resolution LCD that's visible in bright outdoor light as well as in dimly lit rooms. While most cameras in this class are missing an optical viewfinder, the V550 still has one (though it's oddly placed). I like how Kodak puts all the necessary I/O ports on the camera, instead of making you use the dock for everything like some other companies.
The V550 has quite a few features, though they're geared more toward the beginner than the enthusiast. There are plenty of scene modes, the menus are all easy to use, and sharing photos via e-mail or prints is a snap. The only real manual control on the camera is a long shutter speed option, though it locks the ISO at the Auto setting which can lead to extra noise in your photos. Speaking of ISO, there's an ISO 800 option on the V550, though it's limited to the smallest resolution and the noise levels were too high even for 4 x 6 inch prints. The camera could definitely use a custom white balance option, as you saw in my macro test photo. After years of mediocrity, Kodak finally has a camera with a nice movie mode. You can record VGA-sized video at 30 frames/second until the memory card is full. Movies are saved using the MPEG-4 codec, and sound is recorded as well. You can actually use the zoom lens during filming, though a very noticeable amount of noise from the zoom motor will be picked up by the microphone.
Camera performance is very good for the most part, with two exceptions. The silly exception is that the zoom moves pretty slowly, while the serious exception is the really crummy battery life. This is one camera for which you will definitely want to buy an extra battery. The camera focused well in low light situations thanks to its AF-assist lamp.
Photo quality was quite good, with the camera producing colorful pictures with low noise and purple fringing levels. Images were slightly soft to my eyes, though that can be remedied by increasing the in-camera sharpening. Much to my surprise, Kodak has managed to produce a compact camera without a redeye problem. Amazing!
I've already mentioned most of the things I didn't like about the V550, but here are a few more. The LCD turns off during continuous shooting, which forces you to use the optical viewfinder to track a moving subject. The camera supports the sluggish USB 2.0 Full Speed standard instead of the much faster High Speed option. And that's about it!
If you want a small camera that's really easy-to-use, then check out the EasyShare V550. Kodak's really made some good cameras in recent years, and this one competes quite well with other cameras in this class. Just remember that extra battery!
To save a few bucks (fifty to be exact) you might also consider the EasyShare V530, which has an even more compact body, a smaller LCD, no optical viewfinder, less internal memory, and additional color choices.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other compact cameras worth checking out include the Canon PowerShot SD400 and SD500, the Casio Exilim EX-Z57 and EX-Z750, Fuji FinePix F10 and Z1, HP Photosmart R817, Konica Minolta DiMAGE X60, Nikon Coolpix 5900 and S1, Olympus Stylus 500, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX8 and DMC-FX9, Samsung Digimax i5, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P200 and DSC-T5.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the V550 and it's competitors before you buy!
Want a second opinion?
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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