Kodak EasyShare M863 digital camera review

3.5 out of 5
£99.99

For

Easy to use, price, image quality at lower sensitivity, styling

Against

Sluggish performance, overly boosted colours, noisy images at higher ISOs

Kodak’s latest M-series model is the stylish little M863, a small snapper that features face detection AF and Perfect Touch technology. So, it looks nice and has some nice features but is it any good? Let’s find out.

Kodak’s range of new models grows apace and the Kodak EasyShare M863 represents the mid-range in its M-series of compact models. Available in three liveries: red, black and silver, it is small and stylish to look at and hits the shop shelves at an attractive £99.99.

It is standard fare otherwise, with an 8.2-megapixel sensor and Face Detection AF, which certainly works well enough on those directly facing the camera, but I found it struggled with faces in profile for example. However, the AF system as a whole is actually rather good using five selectable zones, a 5-zone multi setup or you can pick just the central AF zone for subjects that prove slightly more challenging, such as when shooting macro subjects.

However, it’s quite slow, particularly in macro mode but once focused it proved reliable in most situations. Only low contrast and very busy subjects, such as cluttered fencing or tree branches, for example, caused it to hesitate or refuse to play ball.

In terms of overall handling though, the camera’s small size makes it very portable and it’s light weight, chiefly achieved through the camera’s predominantly plastic build, means it’s very pocketable.

However, the mode dial on the top plate is tiny, almost impossible to use with gloves, as the knurled edges are so small. The dial is used to select the camera’s main shooting options such as auto, scene (or subject program) modes of which you get 18 modes in all and that include all the usual suspects: portrait, landscape, fireworks, text and museum modes, to name a few. There’s a macro mode (for subjects closer than 28cm) and you get to the digital anti-shake mode here too.

The latter simply bumps up the ISO to the top ISO 1600 setting, so watch out for image noise, more on this later. The shutter and flash buttons sit next to the mode dial while on the back a small lens zoom switch moves the optics through the 3x 34-102mm focal range. A fast F2.8 to F5.2 maximum aperture range looks good but the aperture control is a simple two-step affair – you either use F2.8 or the minimum F5.1 setting.

The camera’s menus are large and simple to follow, each set of menus is separated into three tabs and the large 230k-pixel screen makes both the menu size nice to use and of course the quality of image playback when you’re snapping. The so called “indoor/outdoor” LCD is sharp and colourful and is surprisingly nice to use, even outdoors but it has a reflective surface which can become frustrating at times in direct lighting.

Start up takes around 2 seconds, then another second for the camera system to “wake up” so all average so far. The camera’s sluggish AF system compounds the slight shutter lag problem, which takes a while to get used to, once there though, you can work around it but again, at this level of the market, this is not overly bad.

In terms of other controls, there is a modicum of manual settings such as exposure compensation (in auto modes but not in scene modes) of +/-2EV, the usual array of semi-automatic white balance (WB) settings (tungsten, daylight, etc.) as well as a fully auto WB mode of course.

Sensitivity settings are comprehensive with an ISO 64 to ISO 1600 range, metering provides a TTL, centre-weighted and spot options, so providing a useful amount of controllability in varied or difficult lighting conditions.

Controls on the back include a circular four-way jog button that can toggle the screen’s display (you can have framing guides, shot images and the like displayed – or not) and you also get a central “OK” button to select a choice in a menu or to display an image if browsing within the thumbnails view.

A handy direct delete button does exactly that, while menu and playback buttons also slip in alongside the display. A Share button allows you to email the image, print or mark it as a favourite image to display when you pick the favourites option on the small mode dial on the top plate.

Image quality is actually rather good at lower ISOs although colour performance is oddly vivid, even at the default settings; colours are very bright indeed, too bright. Noise at higher ISOs makes its presence felt above ISO 400 while detail is also quickly stripped away by the image processing as Picture Perfect Technology kicks in.

At lower ISOs, things are much better with both Picture Perfect and noise processing not having such an impact. Detail is much better and overall, below ISO 400, the Kodak makes the most of its eight million pixels.

Verdict

The Kodak EasyShare M863 provides just enough in terms of features and shooting prowess to make this a neat and inexpensive snapper worth a look if you’re on a tighter budget.