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DCRP Review: Kodak
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Tuesday, October 22, 2002
Last Updated: Saturday, January 4, 2003
Kodak's EasyShare LS443 ($499) is a lot more than just a digital camera. It's a complete system designed to help you not only take, but share your photos as well. The 4 Megapixel LS443 camera does the picture taking. The innovative EasyShare software -- on both the camera and your PC -- does the sharing, courtesy of a docking cradle. It doesn't really get any easier than what Kodak has developed.
So how well is it all implemented? And how well does the camera compare with the various 4 Megapixel competitors? Find out now!
What's in the Box?
The LS443 has a very good bundle. Opening up the box, you'll find:
In what is becoming a trend with camera manufacturers, the LS443 has built-in memory, instead of bundling a memory card. The 16MB isn't much at all for a 4 Megapixel camera, so you'll want to buy a memory card right away. The LS443 can use Secure Digital (SD) or MultiMedia (MMC) cards.
The LS443 uses a battery that looks very familiar. Kodak calls it the KLIC-5000, and it's priced at a very reasonable (for a proprietary battery) $20 if you want another one (not a bad idea). I'm not a huge fan of these proprietary batteries, since if you're in a jam (read: batteries are dead) you can't just pop in any old AA battery. The KLIC-5000 has 3.8 Watt/hours of "juice", which is pretty good for a smaller battery. Kodak estimates that you can take 200-300 shots per charge.
When it's time to charge the battery, or transfer photos to your computer, you just pop the camera into the included dock (you can do both without the dock, if you want). Charging the battery fully takes three hours. Press the button (see on the right, above) and the camera will connect to your Mac or PC via a USB cable.
I/O ports on dock include USB and power
If you've installed the EasyShare software, it will prepare images you've marked for printing or e-mailing (more on that later). Here's a look at the (Mac OS X) version of the EasyShare software. I would imagine it would be similar on Windows.
EasyShare is not a substitute for something like iPhoto or Photoshop Elements. It's very basic, but well implemented. It is also seemed more stable than the programs bundled with other cameras. The screen shot above shows the main window in EasyShare. Your thumbnails are on the left, and the panel on the right varies, depending on what you're doing. The Viewer mode lets you rotate, delete, and view photos -- that's about it.
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 layouts available, including the two 4x6-inch per page prints 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.
One last thing you can do here is customize the e-mail addresses stored in the camera -- again, more on this later in the review. This too can be integrated with the OS X address book.
All in all, the EasyShare system does make it easier to print and e-mail your photos. It's definitely not a substitute for a real photo retouching program though!
Okay, enough of the software talk. The camera also works with OS X's Image Capture and iPhoto.
Since the camera has a built-in lens cover, no lens cap is needed.
Accessories for the LS443 are somewhat limited at this point. The lens is threaded, but there aren't any lens accessories available yet. In fact there aren't many accessories at all for the camera, aside from a fast battery charger and camera bag.
Kodak's camera manuals have always been better than average, and that is the case here as well.
Look and Feel
In terms of design and build quality, the LS443 is the nicest Kodak camera I used in years. It's a mix of metal and high grade plastic, and it feels very solid. It's not a small camera, and isn't really pocket sized... but it's not large by any means. It's in-between a Coolpix 4300 and a PowerShot G3 in size. The controls are well placed, and you can use the camera with one hand or two.
The official dimensions of the LS443 are 4.3 x 2.4 x 1.5 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs 245 grams (8.6 ounces) with battery and memory card installed.
Let's tour the camera now.
The LS443 has an F2.8-F9.6, Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon zoom lens. The focal range of this 3X zoom lens is is 7.4 - 22.2 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm.
You can add conversion lenses, if they were available, by unscrewing the ring around the lens.
Above-left from the lens is the built-in flash. The working range of the flash is 0.5 - 3.3 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 1.9 m at telephoto. Kodak claims a flash charging time of 7 seconds.
Over on the opposite side, just above the lens, is a first for Kodak -- an autofocus illuminator! This little white lamp helps the camera focus in low light situations. Always a welcome addition to any camera.
The clear circle with the four holes in it is a microphone.
The main feature on the back of the LS443 is also its most disappointing. That feature is the 1.8-inch "indoor/outdoor" LCD. The first issue I have with the LCD is the low resolution -- only 72,000 pixels. You can definitely see the difference if you compare this LCD to others... it's not sharp. Issue number two is the indoor/outdoor feature. I couldn't see any difference between Kodak's LCD and other ones I've used.
My last complaint may seem kind of silly to some people, and requires a bit of explanation. Outdoors, I wear prescription sunglasses, which are polarized (as are most, I think). The LCD display is also polarized, which may be how they try to do the indoor/outdoor thing. Anyhow, with polarized sunglasses, you cannot see the LCD at all at the normal viewing position. Like all polarized lenses, if you turn the camera 90 degrees, the LCD becomes visible. This is the first time I have seen this problem.
I think that was the longest rant about an LCD ever, so I will stop now.
At the top-left of the photo, you can see the optical viewfinder. This average-sized viewfinder lacks any cross-hairs or focusing grids. It also doesn't have a diopter correction knob.
The two buttons immediately to the left of the LCD are for deleting a photo, and invoking the menu system.
To the right of that is the mode wheel, with the "joystick" inside it. The joystick, which can also be pushed inward, is used for menu navigation. The choices on the mode wheel include:
I'll have more on some of those later in the review.
To the lower-right of the LCD are two more buttons. The review button enters playback mode. The share button is part of the EasyShare system. When you press the button, the camera enters playback mode and brings up this menu:
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 that you want to e-mail this picture to. Once you connect to your computer, the pictures will be ready to be e-mailed (I don't think it happens automatically).
The final item on the back of the camera is the zoom controller. The zoom isn't all the precise, but it is fast: expect to go from wide to telephoto in 1.5 seconds.
There are just a few items up on top of the camera. The left-most item is the speaker.
The two buttons to the right of that are for drive and flash/info. The drive options are self-timer and a 3-shot burst mode. Those three shots are taken in about 2 seconds.
Flash screen info display
The flash choices include auto flash, flash off, fill flash, and auto flash w/redeye reduction. The flash button also doubles as the info button -- kind of a virtual LCD info display (I'd prefer the real thing).
The last item on top is the shutter release button.
On this side of the camera, you'll find the I/O ports under a rubber cover. The ports include DC in (for included AC adapter), video out, and USB.
The other side of the LS443 is where you'll find the slot for a Secure Digital or MultiMedia memory card. The door covering the slot is surprisingly sturdy as well.
Last but not least, here is the bottom of the camera. You can see the battery compartment (again, with a solid door), metal tripod mount, and the connector for the dock. The KLIC-5000 battery is at right.
Using the Kodak EasyShare LS443
The LS443 takes a sluggish 5.5 seconds to extend the lens and warm up before you can start shooting. When you press the shutter release button halfway, the camera locks focus in about one second, which is average. Press the button fully and the picture is taken after a short, but still noticeable lag.
Shot-to-shot speed is below average. You will wait seven seconds before you can take another picture (at the best quality setting, to internal memory). With a SD card inserted, the shot-to-shot speed was only a second faster. You have the option to delete the photo while it's being saved to the memory card.
|Update 10/23/02: Want to speed up the shot-to-shot speed dramatically? Turn off Postview in the setup menu. This will turn off the feature that shows the picture you just took on the LCD, but you'll be able to take another shot in about half the time.|
Speaking of image quality settings, here's a chart of the various image size and quality choices available on the LS443:
|Image Size||# photos on 16MB on-board memory||# photos on optional 64MB SD card|
2448 x 1632
1800 x 1200
1224 x 816
There's no TIFF or RAW mode available on the LS443.
The LS443 is a camera which is always about to take a picture. Even if you're in playback mode, you can still operate the zoom, and can take a picture fairly quickly if need be.
The camera's menu system is attractive and easy to use. One thing I don't like is how it forgets settings when the camera is turned off. Here's a look at the available menu items:
That setup menu has some interesting items, including:
The usual beep, date/time, and card formatting tools are also in the setup menu.
Let's move on to photo quality now.
If you like saturated color, the LS443 is your camera. The macro shot is way over-saturated! The reds are very red, but what really sticks out is the blue -- it's much lighter in person. There is also some noticeable noise in the shot. In macro mode, the focal range is 13 - 70 cm.
When you look at the night shot above, it looks pretty good. Upon closer inspection though, it's not nearly as nice. The image has an over-processed look that reminds me a lot of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC5 that I reviewed over the summer. That's a shame because the camera certainly took in enough light. I wonder how it would've turned out if the camera didn't lock the ISO at Auto when you do longer exposures?
The LS443 did a nice job with the redeye test. There's almost no red at all in this picture! I was a little nervous about how it would turn out since the flash was pretty close to the lens, but I guess I didn't need to be! Note that I blew up this shot a bit so you could see details.
Photo quality on the LS443 was kind of a mixed bag. Usually, I was impressed with the good, saturated color that it produced. Sometimes, it was too much, as the macro shot as well as some of the gallery shots illustrate. Chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) were noticed occasionally, but were minor.
The bigger problem with photo quality is that they look over-processed and blurry, which I really noticed when doing my LS443 vs. Coolpix 4300 shootout. I offer this crop of a palm tree, taken at the same time, same place, as evidence (taken from the last picture on the shootout page):
Nikon Coolpix 4300
Added 1/4/03: There are a number of conspiracy theorists that think the palm tree example is unfair and/or rigged. It was either the wind (at 1/125 sec on a still day, I don't think so), or post-processing in Photoshop, they say.
To silence the critics (I hope), I offer two more crops, taken from the respective galleries for each camera. Photos were taken at the same time.
Kodak LS 443
View Full Size Image
|I can assure you that the building was not blowing in the wind. For more examples of over-processed images, see the galleries at Steve's Digicams and Imaging Resource.|
I don't think I really have to say anything else about sharpness. I think most people will find the photo quality acceptable, especially for e-mailing and smaller-sized prints. Those who want a very sharp image will probably want to look elsewhere.
Don't just take my word for it though. Have a look at the photo gallery as well as the Nikon Coolpix 4300 / Kodak EasyShare LS443 Shootout and judge for yourself!
The LS443 has a pretty nice movie mode. You can record movies, with sound, for as long as your memory card will allow. That's 70 seconds on the 16MB of built-in memory. Buy a 128MB SD/MMC card and you can record for over nine minutes!
Movies are saved in QuickTime format at the unusual resolution of 309 x 206.
Since sound is recorded, the optical zoom cannot be used during filming.
Here's a sample movie for you. If this movie is any indication, the quality of the movies isn't great.
Click to play movie (2.8MB, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Kodak LS443 has a pretty nice playback mode.
The basic features that we all know are here: slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll.
Zoom and scroll lets you zoom in 2X or 4X into your photo, and then scroll around in the enlarged image. Too bad it's so slow doing the magnification! This was especially shocking after using the same feature on a cheaper Canon camera that was instantaneous.
Not surprisingly, the LS443 lets you copy images from the internal memory to a memory card, and vice versa.
One not-so-exciting feature is the picture info menu item. What you see above is all the info you get... not even shutter speed or aperture?
The LS443 moves through images quickly. A low resolution image is shown instantly, followed by the high res version about one second later.
How Does it Compare?
The Kodak EasyShare LS443 is probably the best (consumer) camera produced by Kodak in recent years. In terms of built quality, performance, the inclusion of an AF-assist lamp, and a long recording movie mode, Kodak tried very hard to compete with the best cameras from Canon, Nikon, and Sony. In many ways, they succeeded, and perhaps surpassed the others, when you look at their EasyShare system (for printing and e-mailing photos), the simple to use interface, and the low price.
At the same time, they're still behind in one very important area: image quality. There are many people who like "Kodak color", which is on display in the galleries on this site. Images are very saturated -- perhaps too much so in some cases. But what got to me more was the noise and loss of detail in many of the images. Details like trees and roof tiles in my tests are over-processed -- it's very obvious in the palm tree example shown here. Those who are printing 5x7's or below, or resizing for web or e-mail probably won't be bothered by this. Those people who print at 8x10 inches and want the best resolution possible, could do better with another camera.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other midrange 4 Megapixel cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot S40 (replaced by the S45 outside of the U.S.), Casio QV-R4, Fuji FinePix F601 Zoom (I suppose), HP Photosmart 812, Konica KD-400Z, Kyocera Finecam S4, Minolta DiMAGE F100, Nikon Coolpix 4300, Olympus D-40Z, Pentax Optio 430RS, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the EasyShare LS443 and it's competitors before you buy!
Want another opinion?
Read a review of the LS443 at Steve's Digicams.
Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.
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