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Kodak V550 review

As one of the tiniest cameras Kodak have ever produced, the 5-megapixel EasyShare V550 is the top of the line in their Pocket Series cameras. Slimmer than a deck of cards with the jacks and queens taken out, this extremely pocketable camera sports an all-glass Schneider Kreuznach 36-108mm (equiv.) 3x optical zoom lens with aspheric elements, a huge 2.5-inch LCD screen, VGA movie mode and 17 (!) scene modes. All this in a stylish package that is extremely user-friendly and versatile and could prove to be a strong competitor for other compact manufacturers.

front of the Kodak V550 back of Kodak V550

Using the camera

The Kodak EasyShare V550 is finished in black with a stainless steel strip running along the side of the camera. This gives it a very classy and trendy exterior. Along the top are four controls for various picture taking modes, together with the shutter control, on/off switch and flash control button. The four mode controls are flush against the camera body and light up in bright electric blue when selected. Their functions are Auto, Portrait, Scene and Movie mode. Scene mode is probably the most impressive as the V550 has no less than 17 scene modes including Snow, Beach, Backlight, Panning and even Museum, which is used for quiet occasions. With flash and sound disabled, this mode allows for unobtrusive picture taking. Custom scene mode stores your favourite camera settings, although flash setting cannot be stored and is set to automatic every time the camera is switched on again.

Down the right hand side you will find an AV/USB 2.0 port, a tiny button to switch between normal shooting and viewing favourites and a small eye for attaching a wrist strap. Please note that the V550 uses the USB 2.0 Full Speed Standard, which is not the same as the High Speed Standard. The former happens to be just as slow as the old USB 1.1. On the camera's base we find a decent metal tripod mount, a connector to place the camera in the Kodak EasyShare dock along with SD/MMC memory card slot and battery compartment.

sample image of the Kodak V550 sample image of the Kodak V550 sample image of the Kodak V550 sample image of the Kodak V550 sample image of the Kodak V550

On the back of the camera there is a huge 2.5" LCD screen with a good resolution of 230.000 pixels and a wide angle of view, which is brilliant enough even in bright outdoor conditions. To assess picture quality you can zoom in 5 times and when taking pictures in dark conditions the LCD "gains up" automatically so you can still see your subject when framing or focusing.

A tiny viewfinder is placed to the extreme left of the camera. Its arguably odd location could prove to be quite convenient actually. Its location, on the extreme left of the camera about a centimetre down from the top, means that your nose won't touch the LCD screen, when using it. With conventional viewfinders located just above the LCD screen, left-eyed photographers especially, can't help pressing their noses against the screen, getting it all greasy. The finder's unusual location on the V550 means your nose is now below or to the left of the camera and this will take away the need for frequent LCD cleaning.

To the left of the LCD below the viewfinder are four controls for deleting pictures, accessing the menu, reviewing images and the Share button which activates Kodak's famous EasyShare system. To the right of the screen is a small zoom switch and a tiny 4-way controller which is really too small for big fingers. This is especially true for the OK button in the centre, which can only be pressed by using your finger nail. A nice touch is that pushing the 4-way control left or right provides immediate access to exposure compensation over +/- 2 stops in 1/3 EV steps.

In all the Kodak V550 feels very solid and comfortable in the hand with well-placed controls which make it possible to capture images with one hand. We are pleased to see Kodak's attention to detail in including an AF-assist lamp on the front, a metal tripod mount at the bottom, a histogram to view picture brightness and a real viewfinder for those who dislike photographing with stretched arms.

Power on time is quite good. The camera is ready for taking pictures in less than two seconds. With a burst mode of five images at 3fps, mild action shots - such as the kiddies at play - are surely an option but you shouldn't expect to capture more demanding speed sports, as there is no manual control over shutter speeds or aperture at all. Focusing is quick and positive and the camera swiftly locks on to most subjects. There is no noticeable shutter lag and thanks to the green AF-assist light low light focusing is above average.

The V550 is a fully automatic point-and-shoot camera designed with the beginner in mind. Although the camera can be customised in many ways, the only control over exposure you have is by selecting the usual flash modes or applying exposure compensation in certain lighting conditions. Although the 17 scene modes provide a wealth of optimum settings for a wide variety of image situations all other decisions are made for you by the camera. The only other manual exposure setting is in night shots, where it is possible to manually select a slow shutter speed between 0.5 and 8 secs, but then again ISO is locked at Auto.

With a working range of 0.6 to 2.4m at wide-angle and 0.6 to 1.6m at telephoto, the reach of the built-in flash is a bit below average. What we missed among the usual flash modes was a slow sync setting. In automatic or forced flash mode, shutter speeds seem to be in the region of 1/60 to 1/100, leaving the background quite dark. The only way to get a slow sync effect in order to get significant background detail would be to switch to Night Portrait, one of the 17 scene modes. This could prove to be quite laborious as you have to press more buttons and it will take some time before you have located Night Portrait among its 16 companions. There is a red-eye pre-flash which seems to work quite well and according to the manual, the camera automatically corrects red-eye, even if the red-eye pre-flash is set to off. You cannot attach an external flash on the V550.

The Kodak V550 has a clearly laid out and easy to use menu system. It offers control over picture size, ranging from 5Mp to 1.8Mp; continuous or single AF with Multi-zone or Centre-zone focusing and ISO speeds between 80 and 800 (the latter only available in 1.8Mp picture quality as the amount of noise at this setting makes it fit for emergency use only). Automatic white balance is the default setting and daylight, tungsten, open shade or fluorescent settings can be selected when required. Colour and sharpness can be set over three steps ranging from High to Low or you can take black and white or sepia images. Exposure metering is by multi-pattern (default), centre-weight or centre-spot metering. Other menu options control image storage on SD/MMC card or 32Mb internal memory; setting album names; determining video length or setting motion image stabilisation to improve video stability.

A special menu option allows users to customise camera settings by choosing sound effects and volume; LCD brightness; auto power off time; image orientation; blur warning or the option to imprint the date on pictures. In typical Kodak tradition, pictures can be tagged for inclusion in albums, as favourites or for (direct) printing and emailing.

In the box

Apart from the Kodak EasyShare V550, Photo Frame Dock 2 is bundled with the camera in certain markets. It can act as a live photo frame, displaying all images in camera as a continuous slide show but it is also used for convenient downloading of your images to a computer. Placing the camera in dock automatically charges the battery. A printed manual of 66 pages is included in three languages (English, French, German). Besides the usual array of USB, AV cables and wrist strap you get a nice soft pouch for storing your camera while on the move.

The Easy Share V550 uses the all-new KLIC-7001 lithium rechargeable battery. With 720mAh of power this should be good for about 120 pictures, which isn't much by today's standards. Most pocket cameras nowadays will capture 200 plus images before a recharge is needed. Good advice would be to buy a second battery to keep as a spare for when you really get into the picture taking mood. A memory card is not included as the camera has 32Mb of internal memory which can store about 17 still images at the camera's highest resolution or 48 secs of video at 640x480. Our advice as always would be to buy the largest SD/MMC card you can afford. A 512Mb card for instance will hold about 320 images which will certainly keep your occupied for some time.

 

Image quality

The Kodak V550 is equipped with an all glass f/2.8-4.8 36-108mm (eq.) Schneider-Kreuznach lens with aspheric elements and a 3x zoom range, which is quite common in this class of camera. We were quite pleased with the performance of this lens as it shows only very mild barrel distortion at wide angle and no signs of vignetting or blur at all. Images were sharp from corner to corner and well-exposed with nice saturated colours. In bright lighting conditions saturation might prove to be a bit much, but if you prefer more subdued colours you could set colour mode to Low for more realistic results. Noise was not a problem at low ISO settings and even at 400 ISO it should be possible to get prints without too much visible grain. An 800 ISO setting is provided but this can only be used at the smallest resolution (1.8Mp) and noise levels are too high even for standard print sizes.

Colour Mode Low Colour Mode Normal Colour Mode High Sepia

The camera does not show too much information about the shots you have taken. It is not possible to call up information about shutter speeds or aperture, but we have to keep in mind that the V550 is aimed at the beginner who would probably have no need for this kind of information (yet). There is a blur warning which shows when the risk for camera shake might present itself. You can call up a histogram on screen and when reviewing shots the LCD shows image size, file name and date.

Conclusion

With its catching design and compact size the Kodak EasyShare V550 is a true photo companion to take with you at all times. Although its features show that it is designed with the beginner in mind, it provides flawless picture taking possibilities which, even in the hands of the inexperienced, will deliver perfect shots every time. Overall we were pleased with the results we got from this little point-and-shoot camera. The large LCD screen makes framing and reviewing images very convenient even to those with less perfect eye-sight. It is viewable in bright outdoor light as well as in dimly lit rooms. With plenty of scene modes there is ample choice to find a mode that reflects the scene your are capturing and when you subsequently get home it is dead easy to share your pics with friends and family, whether by direct printing or e-mail.

If you want an easy to use compact that combines a stylish body with perfect performance we would surely recommend the Kodak V550. We are sure you will not be disappointed - but remember to keep that spare battery ready to avoid running out of power when you are enthusiastically enjoying the camera to the full.


Additional information: Kodak V550 product details and other reviews
October 21, 2005

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