Although the camera has a live histogram display, the LCD does not show shutter-speed and aperture settings. If the EasyShare V550 did provide this information, we'd know whether we wanted to manually increase the ISO to gain a faster shutter speed. The camera's approach to ISO settings is somewhat tricky: it limits automatic ISO to between 80 and 160, which in some ways is a good thing -- these settings keep visual noise under control. You can manually set the ISO as high as 800, but that's available only at the lowest (1.8-megapixel) quality setting. However, in QuickView, the camera provides a colour-coded onscreen blur warning to indicate the most appropriate picture size for the sharpness of the image. As long as you understand the colour coding (explained in the manual), this can be a very helpful feature.
With the EasyShare V550, you can take up to 80 continuous minutes of MPEG-4 video with sound. The zoom operates in video mode, although it's just barely audible on the soundtrack. The V550 also has image stabilisation that is of some, although minimal, help for shaky footage. You can even print thumbnails and snapshots from video clips. And of course the EasyShare system seamlessly integrates transferring pictures and storing, sorting and preparing images for email.
With only a few exceptions, the Kodak EasyShare V550 performed at or above the standards set by its competitors. Start-up to first shot took about 1.5 seconds, and autofocus was fast even under low-light conditions. Continuous autofocus worked reasonably quickly, although we had better accuracy with the single-autofocus option.
Continuous-shooting speed was impressive at almost 3 frames per second (fps) at high resolution and 3.5fps at low resolution, with a maximum of five shots regardless of resolution. But the LCD goes black in continuous-shooting mode, so you have to rely on the tiny and inaccurate optical viewfinder.
Although the V550 clocked only a 2.26-second wait time between photos when shooting with a flash (2.17 seconds without flash), the buffer would occasionally choke. In those cases, the LCD would remain black, and the shot-to-shot time would increase by a couple of seconds.
During extended use with the LCD on, the camera became warm to the touch, although the heat caused no problems besides discomfort. But the LCD was usable under most lighting conditions -- even bright sunlight -- and gained up nicely, albeit with sepia tones, in low light.
The built-in flash provided generally even coverage, although its reach was limited to 3.2m at wide angle and only 2.2m at telephoto.
The Kodak EasyShare V550 delivers the vivid colour that most consumers crave and, for the most part, does so correctly, too. It accurately and smoothly reproduced even the changing oranges and yellows on a ripening tomato. Some test shots, however, displayed exceptionally high contrast, which affected colour reproduction. In one high-contrast test scene, greens in bright sunlight looked blown out and almost Day-Glo, while those in the shadows looked more pleasing.
Most of our test shots came out relatively sharp, but the EasyShare V550 didn't always deliver the crispness we've seen from some competitors. Details, regardless of focal length, were visible but not as well defined as we had hoped.
While the camera has only preset white-balance options, they were usually more than adequate for moving between lighting conditions. The flash proved a little too powerful for some close-ups and for use as a fill, resulting in clipped highlights. Overall, however, we found it sufficient for most situations.
Image noise remained at bay at lower ISO settings but got very nasty at ISO 800, rendering images generally unusable. High-contrast edges showed some purple fringing, but the problem was not excessive.
Edited by Aimee Baldridge
Additional editing by Nick Hide