Kodak might not be the force it once was in photography, but it's still plugging away with its own range of digital cameras. The EasyShare M580 is one of its newest models. If you're expecting a cheap, plastic throwback, you might be surprised. This is a compact camera with one of the latest 14-megapixel sensors and an 8x optical zoom, and it sells for around £160.
Keeps it simple
That's a pretty good start, so what else has the M580 got? There's a 720p movie mode, 'smart capture' automation and 'perfect touch' image processing. You can tag content for uploading to YouTube, Flickr, Facebook and the Kodak Gallery, and... and... um, well that's it, really.
But, to be fair, the M580 never sets out to be anything more than a simple snapper, and its photos are very interesting. They're bright, crisp and colourful, and the 8x zoom lens is much better than you might expect, especially at longer zoom settings, where it maintains pretty good sharpness and contrast compared to most.
The detail rendition from the perfect-touch processing is also... interesting. It applies positively brutal sharpening, but this does create detail with real bite. Things start to go pear-shaped past about ISO 200, however, at which point noise takes over and the perfect-touch processing struggles to keep up. Up until that point, though, the M580 delivers unusually crisp, clear and vivid pictures.
Kodak's approach to image processing here is clearly different to every other manufacturer's. Today's high-resolution compact-camera sensors often deliver soft, low-contrast images in which subtler details dissolve into a feeble haze, especially with lower-quality lenses. The M580 attacks the problem with a sledgehammer, and, even though the processing is overt and verging on lurid, it works. If you stand back and admire the prints, you'll be okay -- just don't look too closely at the pixels.
The dynamic-range-expansion feature has a good stab at coping with bright skies and dark shadows, too. It certainly seems more effective than the simple shadow-enhancement options on other cameras.
Interface all in your face
The trouble is that the M580 has an interface from hell. The on-screen controls are limited to a small cluster of icons in the top left of the screen that change according to the mode you're in, and don't all respond to the directional buttons. You'll figure out eventually that the icon on the left indicates the currently selected shooting mode, and the one next to it is the flash mode, and both are set using buttons on the top of the camera.
The only mode in which you get a modicum of control is the 'P' (program) mode, and even then you have to use the menu button (no label -- just an icon) to access settings like the white balance and ISO. The text and icons are simplistic, blocky and horrible. What was Kodak thinking? This is 2010, not 2001.
The rest of the camera is a letdown too. The lightweight, plastic construction doesn't inspire confidence, and the buttons aren't great. Don't set too much store by that high-definition movie mode, either. You only get digital zooming and the autofocus is disabled, so you'll need to plan your clips with care.
The Kodak EasyShare M580 feels slightly tacky, and the interface is awful both to look at and use. Yet, against all expectations, its pictures aren't at all bad. They have a bright, seaside-postcard vividness that's actually quite refreshing, and the 8x zoom is better than you might expect, too.
Edited by Charles Kloet