Generally speaking, photo quality from cameras in this price range drops off above ISO 200, so it's not a surprise that it happens with the M381. What's odd is just how much it drops off at ISO 400. Noise reduction hits hard, dramatically softening fine detail and shifting colours that were otherwise very good at ISO 200 and below. Things get worse as you go up in sensitivity to ISO 800 and ISO 1,600. In other words, don't consider this camera for low-light or indoor shots without a flash. The files appear to be very compressed, too, averaging less than 2MB per photo. That's about half the size of a typical 12-megapixel photo, and there's no adjustment for quality in the camera.
Colours are generally very good at ISO 200 and below. They're accurate for the most part, although blues and violets look pumped up slightly. The auto white balance is good, but it's rather warm under fluorescent lighting. Also worth noting is that the camera's perfect-touch system, while very reliable overall, will occasionally over-correct, washing out photos. Thankfully this shows on the display, so you can always opt to take a shot in program mode and apply the perfect-touch adjustments in playback.
The M381 shoots VGA video only, which is behind the 720p HD movie modes on some of the competition. The quality is fine for quick clips for posting to video-sharing sites. You don't get use of the optical zoom, though -- only the digital zoom.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The Kodak EasyShare M381 has its good points -- mainly that the smart-capture auto mode is good for put-it-there-leave-it-there photographers. The 5x optical zoom is welcome, but the competition pairs it with a wide-angle lens and optical image stabilisation. It's also not the most polished camera for the money. That said, if you just need a reliable auto mode for shooting in bright conditions or with a flash, the M381 is certainly an option.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet