The Kodak EasyShare M853 sits in the middle of the M series, a range of simple point and shoots that come in a variety of colours. It's a steal at around £79, but we quickly found that the price reflects the lack of features.
Although the M853 is eminently pocketable, it's not the slimmest camera in the world. Considering the absence of features such as optical image stabilisation, it's actually rather chunky. Despite this, the buttons manage to be too small. The screen is the standard 64mm (2.5 inches).
The camera comes in black, espresso (brown), red, silver and white colours. A silver metal band around its edge and a circle around the lens lend class to the M853's otherwise anonymous styling. It feels more solid than you'd expect a camera this cheap to be.
The mode wheel sits to the left of the shutter button, and we found it was a little too far over for the thumb to rest on it comfortably. It also doesn't go all the way around, so even though movie and favourites mode are next to each other, you have to spin the wheel all the way round in the other direction to switch between them.
One man's simplicity is another's paucity. So while we appreciate the M853 is user-friendly enough to point and shoot straight out of the box, we're still underwhelmed by the lack of features. There just aren't any, with the worthy exception of a sensor that detects whether the camera is held in portrait or landscape orientation, and rotates images accordingly.
The menus are correspondingly simple. None of the shooting options, such as they are, have a dedicated button, with the exception of the flash. All other options are accessed by scrolling through the main menu and selecting them. The setup menu, which usually has its own tab, is also an option within the main menu.
As usual with the EasyShare range, the M853 has a dedicated share button for easy printing, emailing and transferring images. One major problem is that the EasyShare software may not be suitable for some users, who choose to use different photo software such as Picasa or iPhoto. When you plug the camera into a PC the computer simply ignores it, so you're locked into using the EasyShare software to transfer your images.
Daytime performance is good. When there's enough light the camera has no problems focusing quickly, and it produces images that are vibrant and crystal clear. The 8-megapixel resolution gives sharp, detailed images and colour is lively. There is some barrel distortion in images taken at the wide end, but it isn't too noticeable.
Unfortunately, when the light isn't perfect the M853 doesn't do so well. It's been a while since we encountered a camera that suffered from serious shutter lag, the bane of digital compacts in days gone by. But the M853 has a real problem in low light. Don't expect any night-time action shots, because when the lights go down the autofocus takes its time hunting around and the shutter lag is noticeable.
If you do manage to capture your subject before they move out of frame, the image quality isn't anything to write home about. The digital shake-reduction method palmed off on us by many manufacturers is present here, with the M853 boosting ISO and shutter speed to cancel out camera shake. You end up with pictures that are pleasingly blur-free, but rendered unacceptable by hideous noise.
The maximum ISO sensitivity setting is ISO 1,250, but it's not worth using because of the noise problem. Images aren't bad at lower ISO levels, but if you're the sort of photographer who knows what ISO is and how to change it, the M853 probably isn't for you anyway.
Burst mode is another disappointment. Annoyingly, the screen goes black when you hit the shutter, so maintaining your composition when tracking movement is impossible. Still, it only takes two or three pictures at once so you don't have time for the composition to change much. Even then it still takes two or three seconds to process the images, complete with blue screen and processing logo.
On the plus side, battery life was good, with the rechargeable lithium-ion battery surviving our hundreds of lab testing photos. That said, there's no onscreen battery indicator, so we don't know just how much juice we used.
The Kodak M853 is simple and affordable, and takes pictures. There isn't much else to say about it. While we recognise the value of budget compacts, it's hard to like a camera this undistinguished. The Nikon Coolpix L11 packs features such as face detection into a similar price point, while an extra £50 outlay will buy the far superior Fujifilm FinePix F40fd.
Lacklustre speed, terrible low-light performance and a lack of features far outweigh the simplicity and user-friendliness of the M853, making it a frustration to use.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide