Recent years have seen Kodak shift the focus of its camera range and associated marketing towards the idea that sharing your photos is possibly even more important than actually taking them. If you live to upload your party photos to Facebook and the like, then the slim, £140 Kodak EasyShare M590 could be the compact camera for you.
Upon unboxing our silver review unit (the M590 is also available in red), we discovered a removable tag proudly bearing the legend 'World's thinnest digital camera'. On closer inspection, this bold statement had two qualifications. Firstly, the claim specifically refers to digital cameras with a 5x optical zoom and, secondly, the claim was only good up until July 2010.
If you're really desperate for the thinnest camera possible, then you'll find there are slimmer models available. But the 16mm-deep M590 is certainly highly pocketable and, therefore, easy to keep on you at all times. Its metallic body and rubbery edging make it feel surprisingly rugged too.
Unfortunately, there's no lens cover, so the outermost layer of the internal optical housing is left rather exposed. Likewise, the camera's only connection -- a multi-purpose USB/AV/DC-in socket -- is left unprotected and open to the elements, allowing fluff, biscuit crumbs and other potentially damaging detritus to get inside.
Most of the rear is taken up by a 2.7-inch LCD screen. The display doesn't have the highest resolution, and it can look rather grainy, but we've seen worse and it's perfectly adequate for casual use. There are no fancy touchscreen controls. Everything is operated via on-screen menus and a five-button strip running down the right-hand side of the LCD. It's not the greatest control scheme in the universe, and it may take a while to get the hang of.
Kodak has opted for microSD cards as the M590's storage medium. That choice may have been driven by the desire to keep the camera slim. It's a shame that people who already have a drawer full of larger SD cards won't be able to use them in this snapper, though.
The M590 switches on in about 2 seconds. Predictably for a camera in its class, your options are relatively limited when using it in the standard auto mode. You can change the ratio and resolution of your shots, for example, but there are very few manual settings or controls to speak of.
It's possible, however, to press the mode button in order to switch to one of several scene modes intended to suit specific shooting environments -- portrait, landscape, backlight, beach scenes, text and so on. In addition, there's a program mode that unlocks many of the manual settings in the options menu, although it's fairly impractical to achieve good results this way and we can't see many M590 users wanting to fiddle with the settings too much.
The M590's results aren't always as good as you might hope. We found, for example, that the autofocus is surprisingly unreliable, even in good natural light. A number of our test shots came out inexplicably blurry when using the standard auto mode. We also found that a number of our photos ended up partially obscured by close-ups of our own fingers. This is because the lens is built into the body of the unit and it's all too easy to let an errant digit stray into your shot.
When all the auto functions do their job properly and you haven't got a dirty great finger over the lens, the M590's pictures can look pretty good. Colours pop satisfyingly, without looking artificial, and you can get some decent depth-of-field effects when shooting close-ups.
But the photos aren't staggeringly sharp and you'll see some evidence of fringing on the edges of contrasting colours. Also, noise starts invading solid areas noticeably from about ISO 400 and up, which means the flash will probably be necessary when shooting indoors. As a bonus, the M590 can capture 720p high-definition video, but the quality probably won't have many camcorder manufacturers too concerned.
The much-advertised sharing feature isn't, unfortunately, as straightforward as just pressing the 'share' button. You'll need to set up your social-networking and email preferences in-camera and then connect the device to a PC in order to upload your shots. These days, it's much simpler to upload pics directly from the camera on your phone but, if you don't have a mobile that can take decent snaps or connect to online services, the EasyShare route is certainly a viable option.
The Kodak EasyShare M590 almost lives up to its name. It's very simple to use, barring its slightly quirky interface, and its size and weight alone will win it plenty of fans. Its performance, on the other hand, can be patchy. The M590 will often produce great-looking shots but, equally, it will give you a fair few duds too.
Edited by Charles Kloet