Despite its availability in a curious choice of shades including silver, purple and caramel brown, Kodak's 14 megapixel, 8x optical zoom, HD video EasyShare M580 is the best looking snapshot camera we've seen from the brand in some time.
Whilst a outward dash of style, including lightweight metal construction and angular detailing will undoubtedly appeal to the pocket model's intended user base of teens and twenty-somethings plaguing social networking sites - with one-touch upload to YouTube, FriendFace (sorry, Facebook) Flickr and the Kodak Gallery courtesy of a "Share" button - it comes at the expense of usability. This is something you realise almost immediately.
The Kodak M580's oddly uneven top plate operational controls, set into the body, are uncomfortably narrow - requiring fingertip precision. Moreover they are located too close to each other.
So, for example, while our attention was on the 3-inch LCD when framing shots, our "blind" forefinger hit the shooting mode button rather than the shutter release, or the power button rather than the flash control alongside it.
Matters improve slightly with increased familiarity, but it is rather irritating - especially as the squashed positioning of power, flash, shooting mode and shutter release buttons seems to be for no practical reason. Luckily, when it comes to adjusting settings, users can conceivably just select Kodak's scene/subject recognising Smart Capture shooting mode - one of four drop-down menu options also including Program Auto, movie and "Scenes" mode - and be done with it. Alternatively the 18- pre-optimised scene options cover the usual suspects including portraits and landscapes, fireworks, snow, beach and baby modes, self portrait, sports, panorama, plus high ISO (maximum ISO 1600). Given the camera's unassuming status, HD video is actually quite good. The sound is surprisingly clear, colours are realistically rendered and transitions are fluid.
Continuing with the positives, the camera costs a modest £160. Given its headline features and metal detailing the cost at least feels fair. Dimensions are a more-than-manageable 100.8 x 59.5 x 25.6mm and the unit weighs just 150g, albeit without lithium-ion rechargeable battery and optional SD/SDHC card. Unusual given the budget price is that HDMI output is provided for hooking up directly to a flat panel telly, alongside regular AV/USB port. An actual HDMI cable is an extra expense.
As no separate charger is supplied, the battery here is recharged in-camera, with a combined power/USB lead provided in the box along with compatible mains plug.
The M580 powers up with a press of the top plate control, which needs to be pressed quite firmly for the device to respond. Once it does the lens barrel propels itself outward from the body accompanied by a mechanical buzz, rear screen bursting into life a second or so later. This process takes a sluggish 3 seconds in total. There's also a pause before the lens gets going, providing here a broader than average focal range equivalent to 28-224mm in 35mm film terms.
The camera writes a full resolution JPEG image to memory in around 2 seconds, which is slightly better. Prior to this there's a slight pause whilst focus and exposure is determined, AF point highlighted in green, and a beep signalling the shot is ready to be taken.
For a supposedly beginner friendly camera, Kodak could have illustrated the back plate buttons a little more precisely. The button with the icon resembling either a biscuit barrel or hot water bottle is actually a useful dedicated delete control. The one below it with the "three bar fire" is in fact the menu button - where the rest of the camera's essential functions are squirreled away - and the one below that, with a lower case "i", is not the in-camera help manual you presume it to be, but merely the display button, subsequent presses of which activate or deactivate the self timer and burst modes, for no conceivable reason at all.
A press of the "menu" button meanwhile summons up two folders on-screen, the first containing capture settings, the second a set-up menu.
Via the first folder the photographer can tweak picture size. Aside from shooting at 14 megapixels in 4:3 ratio, there's the ability to vary ratio and resolution in tandem. Taking photographs in a widescreen 16:9 ratio prompts a resolution drop to 10 megapixels as the camera is effectively cropping the image.
As you'd want when shooting in Program mode, ISO speed and exposure compensation can be tweaked via the same capture folder. Long(er) exposure settings are also to be found here - the shortest duration being half a second, the longest 4 seconds - which we discovered proved more effective for night time shooting than the dedicated night shooting modes amongst the scene options.
In terms of photo performance, stray above ISO 400 in Program mode and you'll see image noise. Whilst that's a not wholly unexpected let down, we found white balance uncomfortably variable from shot to shot, with colours often appearing unnatural in hue. Such inconsistency means that we can't really give the M580 a warm recommendation - more a mild critical roasting.
OK, so the M580 is no Fujifilm F80EXR or Panasonic TZ when it comes to reliability and performance, but gets away with it - to an extent - by being cheaper than both. However it's a real shame that a very classy headline specification - 14 megapixels, 8x optical zoom in a body depth of just 25.6mm, and including HD movies and HDMI output - is let down by counter-intuitive operation on occasion plus an image quality that is ultimately merely average.
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