By Bryan Young
Easy is the operative word in Kodak's EASYSHARE Point and Shoot Series of digital cameras, and that was not forgotten in 2005's top of the line C360. Designed with the beginner in mind, it combines point-n-shoot simplicity with a 5-megapixel imager and 34-102mm optical zoom lens into a stylish, pocketable body.
The C360's body is well designed. Despite the camera's small size, the extra width provided at the grip makes it comfortable to hold. Its controls are well positioned to avoid accidental activation, but fall easily within the reach of your right thumb. I found only 1 minor issue with the camera's controls: if the C360 enters auto power off, it can not be awakened by simply touching the shutter button - you must turn the camera off then on using the mode dial.
The C360's 2-inch LCD display was a pleasure to use, brilliant enough to be usable outdoors in bright sunlight and providing enough "gain-up" to be usable in dim lighting. When using exposure compensation, the LCD viewfinder previews the result, darkening or brightening the live image in response to the degree of under/over exposure you've set. A small optical viewfinder is also provided, useful in extreme lighting conditions or to save battery power. The C360 was remarkably power efficient, capturing more than 300 shots on a pair of 2500 mAh NiMH batteries with full time use of the LCD.
The C360's lens has a 3x zoom range typical for this class of cameras. At its 34mm wide angle extreme, it provides a field of view useful for interior and landscape shots, while the C360's 104mm maximum telephoto focal length is effective both for portraits and to bring your distant subjects closer. The lens exhibited moderate amounts of chromatic aberration (purple fringing in highlight areas) and barrel distortion at wide angle, but no pin cushioning at the telephoto end of the zoom range. Although the corners were somewhat soft, the lens and AF system combined to produce images of acceptable sharpness throughout the zoom range.
The C360's shooting performance was fairly responsive except for its buffer speed. Power up to first image captured measured 3.7 seconds. Shutter lag measured 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 4/10 of a second including autofocus; add 1/10 second to those times when using the LCD viewfinder because of the delay in presenting the live image. Rapid shooting in single shot mode captured 5 images at 1.5 second intervals, with subsequent shots coming at 5 second intervals. With flash, the capture rate slowed to intervals of from 1.5 to 8 seconds depending on subject distance.
The C360 provides 2 modes of continuous shooting, First Burst and Last Burst. First Burst captured 5 images at 1/2 second intervals, with subsequent images at 6 second intervals as the camera's buffer remained full; it took a whopping 38 seconds to clear the full buffer. Last burst captures images continuously at 1/2 second intervals while the shutter button is depressed, but saves only the last 4. The LCD viewfinder displays the last captured image, not the live image, during both burst modes; you'll prefer to use the optical viewfinder if your subject is moving. All test were done using a SanDisk Extreme 512MB SD card, using 5MP image size. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
While it is clearly targeted to the beginner, the C360 allows the photographer some control over its otherwise automatic operation; exposure compensation, white balance, ISO speed, color mode and sharpness can be set via a simple but effective menu system. I was disappointed, however, that those settings were forgotten when the C360 powered off or its mode dial was rotated. Users frustrations will grow when they have to re-set ISO, for example, after each time the C360 automatically powers-off.
I was happy with the C360's image quality. Outdoor shots were consistently well-exposed and richly saturated, and auto white balance reproduced colors accurately. Indoors, the limited flash range will restrict your shots to small rooms or small group portraits. The camera's red eye reduction flash mode was effective on most subjects. Although it has no focus assist lamp, the C360's AF system worked fairly well in low ambient light. The C360 controls its flash well at close range, making it a good choice for producing images of small objects for online auction listings.
The C360's movie mode suffers from aggressive compression. At 640x480 and 24fps, the C360's movies consume less than 500-kilobytes per second, efficient from a memory perspective, but the resulting moving images have a very noticeable graininess caused by compression artifacts.
The Kodak EasyShare system is a tempting option for families wanting point-n-shoot simplicity with ease of home printing. The C360's automatic and scene modes produce pleasing 5-megapixel images without any fuss. Combine it with the EasyShare Printer Dock, and you'll produce photo lab-quality 4x6 prints, and do it without using an image editor or photo printing application. With a combined street price of under $400, the C360 and Printer Dock Series 3 combination represents a very good value, demanding little in terms of your knowledge and dollars, but producing a lot in terms of quality and fun.
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