Kodak V550 Review
Easy is the operative word in Kodak's EASYSHARE family of digital cameras, and that was not forgotten in the top of the Pocket Series line for 2005, the V550. Designed with the beginner in mind, it combines point-n-shoot simplicity with a 5-megapixel imager, brilliant 2.5-inch LCD and 36-108mm optical zoom lens into a very stylish, pocketable body.
The V550's trendy black metal body is both attractive and functional. Equipping such a small body with a 2.5-inch LCD left little room for the camera controls, but Kodak positioned them well. With no room for a mode dial, the V550 has a set of surface-mounted switches on the top of the body to select shooting mode; they worked well. The rest of the controls are arranged around the LCD, well positioned to avoid accidental activation. Because of the control layout, using the V550 is a two-handed operation.
The V550's 2.5-inch LCD display was a pleasure to use, brilliant enough to be usable outdoors even in bright sunlight and providing enough "gain-up" to be usable in dim lighting. In review mode, the LCD's wide angle of view was very effective when sharing your shots with friends. 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 V550 used its small battery efficiently, capturing nearly 200 shots with full time use of the LCD before its capacity was exhausted. Because the V550's Li-ion battery is a proprietary design, I suggest that you obtain a spare, keeping it fully charged to avoid the disappointment of finding a dead battery during a unique photo op.
The V550's SCHNEIDER-KREUZNACH lens has a 3x zoom range typical for this class of cameras. At its 36mm wide angle extreme, it provides a field of view useful for interior and landscape shots, while the V550's 108mm 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. The lens and AF system combined to produce images that were sharp from corner-to-corner throughout the zoom range.
The V550's shooting performance was fairly responsive except for its buffer speed. Power up to first image captured measured 2 seconds. Shutter lag measured 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 3/10 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 second intervals, with subsequent shots coming at 5 second intervals. With flash, the capture interval ranged from 1 to 2 seconds depending on subject distance. Burst mode captured 5 images at 3 frames per second, with subsequent images at 4 second intervals as the camera's buffer remained full; it took a whopping 28 seconds to clear the full buffer. The LCD viewfinder goes blank during burst image capture; you'll prefer to use the optical viewfinder in this mode. All test were done using a SanDisk Extreme III 1GB 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 V550 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. Those settings can be saved and later recalled only by using the V550's Custom scene mode.
I was happy with the V550'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. The V550's AF system worked quite well in low ambient light with the help of its focus assist lamp. The V550 controls its flash well at close range, making it a good choice for producing images of small objects for online auction listings.
The V550's movie mode suffers from aggressive compression. At 640x480 and 30fps, the V550's movies consume about 500-kilobytes per second, efficient from a memory perspective, but the resulting moving images have a very noticeable graininess caused by compression artifacts. While you can use the optical zoom during movie recording, the audio track will contain some very unusual noises of the zoom mechanism at work; it's best to compose your movie before, not during recording. Unique to the V550 is its saving of a still image index of every recorded movie. And in review mode you can create a still image from any frame of the movie.
The Kodak EasyShare system is a tempting solution for families wanting point-n-shoot simplicity and ease of home printing. The V550's automatic and scene modes produce pleasing 5-megapixel images without any fuss, while complementing your personal image with its stylishness. 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. The V550 is a bit pricey at an MSRP of $400, but if style matters to you as much as simplicity and image quality, the V550 is a reasonable value. Combined with Kodak's Printer Dock Series 3, it will produce a lot in terms of quality and fun for under $550.
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