A bright and usable 64mm LCD occupies most of the EasyShare V550's rear real estate. A supertiny optical viewfinder resides in the upper-left corner, but it looks more like a control button than a viewfinder. No matter: the LCD works well under most lighting conditions, so chances are you won't want to use the optical viewfinder.
The delete, menu, review and share buttons are aligned on the left side of the LCD, while the zoom lever and the square four-way controller are on the right. You press the up arrow on the controller for display options, the bottom for macro and landscape focus modes, and the left and right buttons for exposure compensation. There's a centre Set button, too -- by using it, you'll quickly find out if this camera is too small for your hand. One cool addition is a tiny switch on the outer right side of the camera that selects between Auto and Favorites modes.
Between Kodak's clear and understandable menus, onscreen scene-mode descriptions, EasyShare software and included Photo Frame Dock 2, the EasyShare V550 is quite easy to use. The Photo Frame Dock 2, when combined with the camera and its bright blue lights, looks very cool and almost Roswellian. But even if you're not a UFO believer, the Dock will snazz up your desktop.
The Kodak EasyShare V550 is clearly aimed at make-it-easy-please point-and-shooters. It offers a long list of scene modes ranging from the standard Portrait and Landscape to Text, Candlelight and even a custom mode for saving your own settings. Well-written scene-mode descriptions that appear on the LCD helpfully explain how the camera will adjust settings. For example, when you select the Manner/Museum scene mode, you'll find out that the camera will turn the flash and sound off. This way, you can decide whether a given mode will indeed work for your current shooting conditions.
In addition to scene modes, the EasyShare V550 offers control over colour (High, Natural, Low, Black & White, and Sepia), sharpness (High, Normal and Low), and exposure metering (Multiweighted, Center-Weighted and Spot), as well as multiweighted, centre-weighted, continuous and single autofocus. There's a long-exposure setting with nine options ranging from 0.5 to 8 seconds, but other than this feature and the scene modes, you get no control over shutter speed and aperture.
With a focal-length range of 36mm to 108mm (35mm-camera equivalent), the 3x Schneider-Kreuznach C-Variogon lens offers a good compromise between wide angle and telephoto, so you won't feel cramped when shooting in enclosed areas. The lens is relatively fast, too -- f/2.8 at wide angle -- although we noticed some distortion at both extremes.
As is typical of Kodak consumer cameras, the EasyShare V550 has no separate compression option. You choose resolution only by megapixels: 5, 4.4 (3:2 ratio), 4, 3.1 and 1.8. The camera doesn't come with a media card, and the internal memory holds only 17 high-resolution images, so you'll need to add a high-capacity SD or MMC card to your shopping list.