|DCRP Review: Kodak DC215
by Jeff Keller [DCRP Founder/Webmaster]
One thing I've been wondering lately is where the digital camera market is headed. I don't mean technology-wise, either. More and more people are starting to discover the benefits of digital imaging, but they're not out buying $900 cameras -- they're buying entry level cameras that cost under $400.
The Kodak DC215 is Kodak's entry level camera, and the only one in its class with a real optical zoom lens. It addition that that 2X zoom lens, it also has 1 megapixel resolution (1152x864), CompactFlash support, macro mode, and both optical and LCD viewfinders.
What's in the Box
I should mention that there are several versions of the DC215 floating around. We tested the base model, the vanilla DC215. There is also a Millennium edition (gold body), and a "Metallic" edition (5 bizarre colors). I will note the differences below.
Inside the box for the camera, you'll find:
With the exception of leaving out rechargeable batteries on the base model, the DC215 comes with everything you need to get started. While the 4MB CompactFlash card may seem a little skimpy, keep in mind that this is a 1 Mpixel camera.
For an ever better deal, spend the extra $100 for the Millennium (or Metallic version, if you don't mind the wild colors). This will score you a 8MB CompactFlash card, as well as a USB CompactFlash card reader! I should probably mention that the base version retails for $349, while the Millennium/Metallic versions are $449.
If you're going to spring for the more expensive models, go for the Metallic - as you'll also receive a free Kodak NiMH battery kit by mail. You won't find many zoom cameras with USB card readers and NiMH batteries for this price.
Kodak also tosses in the latest versions -- both Mac and PC -- of Adobe's PhotoDeluxe and Pagemill software.
As with the DC280 we tested, Kodak's manuals are very good.
Look and Feel
In a cheap camera, I'd expect that a few corners would be cut in the design and/or user experience. But this is not the case with the DC215. The silver-colored metal case and numerous rubberized parts give the camera a solid (though heavy) feel. The doors on the CF slot and I/O ports stay closed, the lens cap doesn't fall off, and there's even a small rubber foot below the lens to keep the camera level.
The camera fits well in the hand, with places to put your fingers (note the little spot for your left thumb in the photo below), thought your right thumb may end up on the LCD if you're not careful. Luckily, your nose won't hit the LCD, at least if you use your right eye.
A few weird things before I begin the tour of the camera -- first, as you might expect, there's no diopter correction on the optical viewfinder. Also, while there is a tripod mount, it's far to the side, on the opposite side as the lens.
All the buttons on the back of the camera are well placed. At first I thought these buttons around the LCD were just for navigation -- turns out the "right arrow" button is also for setting exposure compensation/lock in capture mode. You'd never know that by looking at the camera though! The blue button is the "OK" button for the menu, and it also turns on/off the LCD while in record mode.
At the bottom, you'll see Kodak's version of the mode wheel. Your choices include capture (record), review (play), connect (to PC), and preferences. I'll go over these in more detail in the next section.
To the right of the power switch is the zoom button, which is within easy reach, and it has enough "play" to make zooming easy.
The LCD display is a bit small, and the image is both grainy and "jumpy".
Moving onto the top of camera, you can see the usual compliment of buttons. There are separate buttons for flash, macro, and self-timer. Even my $1000 Coolpix 950 doesn't have a separate button for the timer, meaning you cannot use it on a macro shot -- when you'd need it the most. My only beef about the flash button is that it takes quite a few button pushes to turn the flash off. By default, the flash is in "auto" mode. The cycle is: Auto --> Force --> Auto (redeye reduction) --> Force (redeye reduction) --> flash off.
The LCD display seems busier than most cameras, but it's mostly due to the way Kodak represents various functions. While it's hard to see, there are two little squares in the top left of the LCD -- that's photo quality (aka compression) -- ranging from one ("good") to three ("best"). Just to the right of that, there's a 4x4 matrix -- that's resolution -- your choice is limited to "high" (1152x864) or "standard" (640x480).
The other items on the display include remaining photos, flash, and battery strength. I believe that other icon (below the "19" on the LCD) blinks when the camera is writing to the CF card.
The DC215 has a nice way of storing batteries, that I hadn't seen before. Instead of shoving them into the camera directly, you put them into this little sled, and put it back in. It works for me.
On the other side of the camera, you'll find the CompactFlash (Type I) slot, as well as ports for power, video out, and for connecting to your PC. Unfortunately, the latter is a serial connection, but as I said, get the more expensive version for a USB card reader. The I/O ports have rubber covers that don't pop open, and the CF card slot is plastic, and is also locked down. Like the DC280, the camera doesn't eject the CF card out far enough.
Using the Kodak DC215
So let's fire up the camera and go through each of it's modes. I'll start with "Preferences" first.
With the exception of exposure compensation, flash, macro, and self-timer, all changes have to be made in preferences mode. So if you're in record mode, and want to change photo quality, you need to "slide" over into prefs mode. Since this camera doesn't have that many features, you don't need to do this often.
When you first enter Prefs mode, you are presented with this menu. The menus have the same annoyance as on the DC280 -- nothing is labeled. Believe it or not, that fourth icon on the photo above is for date stamp! Once you choose something to change, you hit the blue button, and are presented with another menu:
Menu navigation is easy enough -- you can move through them with ease. Here's what you can change in Prefs mode:
Skipping over connect mode (you know how that works), review (aka play) mode is pretty standard issue. One thing that sets the Kodak cameras apart is a kind of "photo browser" mode:
I know it's kind of hard to see, but in this photo browser mode, you've got three panes: The left one let's you quickly delete, zoom (a nice feature), and print (DPOF-compatible) your photos. The bottom pane shows the current photo (middle), and the previous and next photos.
If you'd like, you can have the picture full screen instead by pushing the blue button. You can scroll through your photos pretty quickly, but that's because it's loading a low-res version first. It takes about 5 seconds for the high res version to be displayed.
One funny thing is that the camera goes into screensaver mode when its idle -- one of your photos goes bouncing around on a black background.
You can only delete one photo at a time, or all of them. There's also no thumbnail mode, unless you count the photo browser I just described.
Moving on to capture (record) mode now: The camera starts up and is ready to take a photo in about 4 seconds. The LCD screen is always off, unless you hit the blue button to turn it on. If you want to save battery power, it's always a good idea to avoid the LCD whenever possible.
The zoom response was very quick -- too bad the lag between shots was so long -- around 10 seconds. A nice feature of the DC215, that most cheaper cameras don't have, is the ability to delete a photo before it's written to the CompactFlash card. Luckily, with all that time between shots, you have plenty of time to decide! There was no noticeable shutter lag on the DC215.
Aside from the buttons that control flash, macro, and timer, the only other thing you can change in capture mode is exposure compensation. By pressing the "right arrow" button once, you can raise or lower it. Press "right" again and you can lock the exposure settings, which is useful for panoramic photos. Speaking of which, there is no panorama mode on the DC215.
The one area where the camera is most disappointing is photo quality. While the colors are very accurate, the photos come out looking noisy, and very compressed (even in the high quality mode). Check out the samples in the gallery to see what I mean.
How does it compare?
The Kodak DC215 is a good choice for an entry level camera. It's pretty hard to find a camera that features a 2X optical zoom, CompactFlash, and a USB card reader for under $450. And if you look hard enough, you can find the Millenium edition for around $360!
What I liked:
What I didn't like:
As always, we advise you to head out to your local store and try the DC215 and its competitors before you buy. Since this is a Kodak camera, you can find it just about anywhere!
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