Camera Reviews

Kodak EasyShare Z730

This is a love letter to my first digital camera, the Kodak EasyShare Z730.

My road-trip hobby drove this purchase in 2006. I was dedicated to film and had been using a Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 to document my road trips. The little Stylus came with me every time I hit the road and delivered great results every time.

As I started sharing my photos online and building a following, I only wanted to hit the road more and more. But developing all of that film sure put a pinch on my wallet, even in those days of $5 drug-store processing and scanning. I figured that an entry-level digital camera it would pay for itself in three or four road trips. Philip Greenspun listed his top recommended digital cameras every year on photo.net in those days, and the Kodak EasyShare Z730 made the list. Kodak was selling refurbished units for far, far less than list price. I love a bargain, so I bit.

Kodak EasyShare Z730

I figured I was going to be like the guy who’d owned a succession of beater cars but had just bought his first new car – basic transportation, like a Hyundai Accent. It wouldn’t be anything special, but it would seem wonderful compared to the discarded ’92 Buick that didn’t always start. After a while, it would show its true colors as an entry-level car.

I was wrong. In all the years this was my primary camera, I enjoyed it very much and made many wonderful photographs with it. True to Kodak’s mission, it’s a point-and-shoot for the masses. But for its time, it was highly competent.

Kodak EasyShare Z730

The Z730’s five-megapixel resolution was on the small side even when I bought the camera, but who really makes huge enlargements? What it lacks in resolution, it makes up for in lens; its f/2.8 Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon is very good. It’s also a bit wide, at 33mm equivalent, which is good for roadscapes. It offers a 4x optical zoom, to 132mm equivalent. Shake is a problem at maximum zoom, but if I back off a hair from max, my photos are crisp.

The Z730 is ready to shoot within a couple seconds of turning it on. The mode-selector dial, which doubles as the on/off switch, is fiddly and it’s easy to shoot past the mode you want. I’ve missed a few shots trying to turn the camera on. Its autofocus was fast enough in its day but seems sluggish today, and in low-contrast scenes it struggles to lock.

While I’m complaining, I might as well mention that the sun washes out the little 2.2-inch LCD. Fortunately, the Z730 has an optical viewfinder, with diopter control, which is fabulous for my middle-aged eyes. Also, the battery that came with the camera was good for only about 300 shots, which isn’t enough when I’m on the road. I bought a stouter battery that gives me up to 700 images. Finally, its aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual modes are limited. The Z730 is aggressively about pointing and shooting, not about giving control to the photographer.

But I haven’t needed much control to get good results with the family snapshots and roadside landscapes that make up the bulk of my photographs. Under those conditions, the Z730 does a great job nearly all the time.

I love the vibrant greens in this shot of a lonely, dead-end dirt road.

Old US 36

The Kodak EasyShare Z730 excels in diffused and indirect light. This covered bridge is in Putnam County, Indiana.

Old US 36

This camera was born to take photos of big brick buildings against the blue sky. This is the Johnson County Courthouse in Franklin.

Franklin, IN

Its 132mm (equivalent) zoom is handy to bring in details. There were times on road trips where I wished I could have zoomed deeper, to 200mm perhaps. But the Z730 zoomed enough in most cases.

Sim Smith Bridge

The Z730 does passable work in available light. I made this image inside the Hook’s Drug Store Museum on the Indiana State Fairgrounds. You can see noise in this image, but it’s not intrusive. The image is a little soft, but not terribly so.

Dentifrices

I made this image just past dusk in Logansport, Indiana. The highlights are intense, and again things are a little soft. But this is a usable image.

State Theater, Logansport

In its time, the Z730 was a terrific camera for the road-trip, built-environment photography that I do. It’s a passable camera for it even today.

Old McDonald's sign

The good results I got from my Z730 encouraged me to practice photography and get better at it. At a muscle-car auction, I shot a lot of car details. I learned a lot and got some satisfying results, such as this photo of the hood scoop on a 1970 Dodge Super Bee.

70 Dodge Super Bee

The lens is also plenty sharp, which you can see best in good light. Here’s my dear, departed friend Gracie, exhausted in the back of my car as we drove home from a long road trip. Check out this image at its full size – you can almost count her hairs.

Sleepy travel companion

In time I started using newer, more capable digital point-and-shoot cameras, first a Canon PowerShot S80 and then a Canon PowerShot S95. The S95 became my digital workhorse and I’ve shot thousands of photos with it. Since then I’ve upgraded to a luxurious Nikon Df DSLR. But none of these cameras can touch the lovely, vibrant color I get with the Z730. I still get the old Kodak out from time to time, charge up a battery, and take it for a walk. It’s especially brilliant during the height of autumn’s color.

Statue

I almost never used the Z730’s various modes, but here I did try its black-and-white mode.

Detail

I have used this camera’s macro mode a lot. It works best when the lens is zoomed all the way out, but that distorts perspective.

Coneflowers

Many modern digital cameras render purple poorly. Not the Z730.

Purple flowers

When I take the Z730 out today I’m well aware of its limitations. My newest digital cameras can get so many shots the Z730 just can’t, thanks especially to its maximum ISO of 400 and its slow autofocus. So I make sure to take it out only on the sunny days this camera was born for.

Approaching

But isn’t it true of every camera, that it is a tool for a particular job? That you have to know when a job calls for that camera?

Hats

I’ll get out the Z730 every year or two for fun, until either the battery won’t hold a charge anymore or the camera itself fails. I’ll be sad for a while when that happens.

Mailboxes

See more photos from this camera in my Kodak EasyShare Z730 gallery.

The Kodak EasyShare Z730 was a brilliant camera for its time, and still delivers gorgeous images under the right conditions today. Mine introduced me to the possibilities of photography. For that, I’ll always be grateful to it.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.

Standard
Camera Reviews

Nikon Coolpix 950

Digital cameras were new and exciting in the 1990s, but resolution and image quality didn’t yet compare to film. Nikon’s Coolpix digital line finally delivered good image quality with the Coolpix 900 and 900s, but resolution was still paltry at 1.25 megapixels. Photographers eagerly anticipated the Nikon Coolpix 950, for it would bump that up to 2.11 megapixels, enough to make prints up to 16×20 inches. It was 1999, and the point-and-shoot digital camera had finally arrived.

Nikon Coolpix 950

You could buy all sorts of strange-looking digital cameras in the 1990s as form factor was not yet settled. With the Coolpix 900 and 950, Nikon was trying out a body in two segments. You twisted the lens segment forward to take pictures, and up to slip the camera into your coat pocket.

Nikon Coolpix 950

The Coolpix 950 packs a ½-inch, 2.11-megapixel CCD sensor set behind a 38-115mm (equivalent) f/2.6-4 Zoom Nikkor lens. Its shutter operates from from 1/750 second up to 8 seconds. The 950 offers programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority autoexposure modes, but no manual exposure mode. It operates at ISO 80 by default, but you can also set it to ISO 100, 160, and 320. It focuses automatically by default, but you can set it to focus manually across a range of preset distances starting from four inches. You can frame your images using the viewfinder or the two-inch LCD on the back. The 950 stores images on a Compact Flash (CF) card. Four AA batteries power the 950.

Nikon Coolpix 950

A small LCD on the top of the 950 counts down the number of images left to store on the CF card. It also shows the battery charge level and the selected modes for autofocus, flash, image resolution, focus, and metering. Buttons atop the camera set the flash and focus modes, as well as turn on the self-timer.

Nikon Coolpix 950

The 950 offers four flash modes: automatic, red eye reduction, always on, and slow synchronized. That last mode is for poorly lit backgrounds, especially at night. There’s an onboard flash as well as a port to connect an external flash (but there’s no shoe to mount it). The 950 also offers landscape, normal, and macro focusing modes. Macro mode focuses from 2 centimeters! The 950 defaults to 256-segment matrix metering, but you can also choose center-weighted or spot metering.

The switch atop the camera lets you choose A-REC and M-REC picture-taking modes, as well as the image-playback mode. A-REC is the simplest way to make images with the 950: select it, and the camera chooses most settings for you. M-REC gives you more control over settings via expanded in-camera menus.

You can set the 950 to save your images at three resolutions: full (1,600×1,200 pixels), XGA (1,024×768 pixels), or VGA (640×480 pixels), all at 300 pixels per inch. You can also choose among several JPEG compression levels with decreasing image compression: Basic, Normal, and Fine. In M-REC mode you can also select Hi image quality, which saves images as uncompressed TIFFs. You make these selections by holding down the Qual button and turning the dial on the front below the shutter button.

The bottom of the LCD shows you the aperture and shutter speed, the exposure mode, and the number of images remaining on the CF card.

The Coolpix 950 weighs about 12 ounces — heavy enough for you to notice, but not so heavy as to be fatiguing to carry.

The 950 manual doesn’t say how large of a CF card the camera accepts. Some Internet photo forums said that the 950 was designed for CF cards up to either 96 or 128 megabytes, but works with CF cards of any capacity. If you insert an unformatted CF card into your 950, the LCD gives you the option to format it. You can also format your CF card on a computer, but be sure to use the FAT (a.k.a. FAT-16) file system.

I bought a 2 GB CF card to use with my 950, as well as a USB CF card reader to connect to my computer. When I tried to format my card in the camera, the 950 said the format was successful, yet the camera wouldn’t save any images to the card. One forum thread I saw claims that the 950 can’t format CF cards larger than 128 MB. I reformatted the card in my computer, and then it worked fine in the 950.

By the way: I review mostly film cameras on this site, but I have reviewed several digital cameras too. I use my Canon PowerShot S95 a lot; review here. See also my reviews of the Canon PowerShot S80 (here), the Kodak EasyShare Z730 (here), the Kodak EasyShare C613 (here), a Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87 (here), a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 (here), and the Pentax K10D DSLR (here).

I took the Coolpix 950 to the local farmers market one Saturday morning. I shot the camera using the A REC mode, at full resolution with normal compression.

Melons in the truck bed

You make an image with the 950 in the standard way: frame the shot, press the shutter button down halfway to focus and set exposure, then press it the rest of the way to make the image. The camera beeps to tell you the shutter has opened and closed. It takes several seconds for the camera to write the image to the CF card, so be patient before making the next image.

Strawberries Carrots Eggs Lettuce

The 950 focuses fast, but zooms slowly. After making and saving an image, the 950 wouldn’t let me zoom immediately. There must have been some other function the camera needed to finish performing first, but I never figured out what it was.

Apples for sale

The 950 doesn’t handle mixed lighting well. I shot this threesome under a tree’s shade with a full-sun day raging behind them and got a blown background and a little ghosting. Do I detect a little purple fringing as well?

Congregating

Once again, the bright background is blown in favor of reasonable exposure in the shadows.

Working the Farmers Market

In this shot the 950 delivered considerable lens flare. The sun was off to my left.

At the Farmers Market

The LCD washes out easily in the sun. You can change the LCD’s brightness in the menus, which probably helps, but I just used the viewfinder instead. It’s small but bright. Unfortunately, it shows you noticeably less than what the lens sees.

Flowers in barrels

Here’s a photo I made in macro mode, of the ash tree in my front yard.

Ash leaves

You can take a selfie with the 950! Just twist the lens so it’s pointing at you, and frame yourself in the LCD. You’ll be upside down, but that’s easy enough to fix in any photo editor and in most photo viewers. You’ll need to zoom out to fit yourself in the frame. This image plainly shows the barrel distortion this lens delivers at its wide end. The more you zoom in, the more this distortion goes away.

Upside-down selfie

Shadow detail is often poor. When I try to enhance shadows in Photoshop I usually find there’s not enough data there to improve the image. Even in this image of my car, I couldn’t brighten up the side and front wheel at all; there just isn’t data there for it.

My vee dub

To see more from this camera, check out my Nikon Coolpix 950 gallery.

When you consider that the Nikon Coolpix 950 is from digital photography’s infancy, it’s hard to dispute that this camera performed beautifully for its time. It’s an acceptable performer even today.

1999 was a critical year in digital imaging: it was also in 1999 that Nikon released the D1 DSLR. There had been DSLRs before it, but the D1 was a landmark camera that led the way. All DSLRs since followed the D1 idiom. Really, in 1999 Nikon brought digital imaging’s infancy to a close, and began the transition away from film photography to digital photography as the primary way images are made.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.

Standard
Camera Reviews

Pentax K10D

If the Pentax K10D isn’t a dinosaur among DSLRs yet, it will be soon: it was introduced in 2006. At 10.2 megapixels, its image resolution doesn’t compare to modern cameras. But it was good for its day and is plenty even now. It’s a competent performer in all but low light. Critically, you can buy them used for as little as $100. I bought one because it promised to take all of the manual-focus K-mount lenses I already own. Also, other owners report that its CCD sensor returns film-like color.

Pentax K10D

The K10D was aimed at the “serious amateur” market, offering features entry-level DSLRs didn’t. It is sealed against dust and weather, and automatically removes dust from the sensor on startup. The K10D also includes a shake reduction system.

Pentax K10D

It offers the usual Program, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority modes. You also get Sensitivity Priority (Sv) mode, where you dial in the ISO and the camera chooses aperture and shutter speed; and Shutter/Aperture Priority (TAv), where you set aperture and shutter speed and the camera chooses the ISO. In these modes you adjust shutter speed with the dial on the camera front below the shutter button, and the aperture with the dial on the camera back below the LCD screen.

Pentax K10D

The K10D uses an 11-point autofocus system, with 9 points clustered around the center of the frame. It offers matrix, center-weighted, and spot metering. A menu setting lets you choose the ISO range the camera will use in auto ISO mode. I set mine to 100-400 ISO, because ISOs higher than that lead to progressively noisier images on the K10D. Its ISO range is 100 to 1600.

By the way, I’ve reviewed a handful of other digital cameras: the Kodak EasyShare Z730 (here), the Kodak EasyShare C613 (here), the Canon PowerShot S80 (here), the Canon PowerShot S95 (here), the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 (here), and the Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87 (here). Have a look!

I bought the K10D to see how vintage Pentax glass performed against a digital sensor. I started with my 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M. Because the K10D’s APS-C sensor is smaller than a frame of 35mm film, a 50mm lens behaves more like an 85mm lens would on 35mm film. I liked doing close work with this lens.

Daisies

I also bought an adapter to let me mount my screw-mount Takumar lenses. It worked, and here’s one photo to prove it. I made this through my 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar lens.

Ford

I mounted my 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens for a trip to Chicago. This lens is a little too wide for me on my 35mm SLRs, but it was just right on the K10D.

Ross Trump Self-Park (with Man)

This photo from the 28/2.8 shows the brilliant color the K10D’s CCD sensor can deliver. It reminds me of shooting on color slide film.

Colorful tables and chairs

Shooting a manual lens on the K10D isn’t as simple as mount and go. You first have to go into the camera’s menus to enable the Using Aperture Ring setting, which lets the camera recognize the aperture you select on the lens. You also need to set the mode dial to M, for manual exposure. And then when you’ve framed and focused a scene, you have to press the green-dot button (next to the shutter button) to stop the lens down and meter.

It works very well. But on my trip to Chicago I soon wished for easier shooting. I started looking for a good autofocus lens for my K10D. I first found a 28-80mm f/3.5-4.7 SMC Pentax-FA lens for cheap.

Country Marathon

The lens was best with distant subjects. It struggled to find focus closer than about five feet. Also, when I shot subjects with a lot of depth in anything other than great light, things up close were out of focus.

Indiana State Road 45

The narrow end of this 28-80mm lens was mighty useful on road trips, however, where I sometimes want to zoom in on something distant. Thanks to the APS-C crop factor, 80mm is like 120mm on 35mm film.

Martinsville

Next I tried a 35mm f/2 SMC PENTAX-FA AL lens, thinking a prime would perform better. This lens cost way more than I’m used to paying for my gear. Unfortunately, with this lens mounted the K10D frequently couldn’t find enough light to fire the shutter, and the autofocus often struggled to guess what I meant the subject to be. Even when it got the subject right, it sure hunted a lot trying to focus on it. When it hit, it hit big, however, as this photo attests. Still, I sold this lens pretty quickly, for what I paid for it.

Jimmy

I feared that I would soon let the K10D find its next owner. Then I read somewhere that the lens that came with the K10D in its kit, the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL, worked well with this body and performed beautifully. So I bought one. Verdict: oh heck yeah.

Cary Quad *EXPLORED*

How wonderfully this light, plastic-bodied kit lens performs. It focuses quickly and nearly silently. It’s super sharp. It has a tiny bit of barrel distortion at the wide end and a tiny bit of pincushion distortion at the narrow end, both easily corrected in Photoshop. Except for that slight flaw, this lens makes the K10D almost a pleasure to shoot.

Damion

Since getting the 18-55mm lens I’ve taken the K10D on more road trips. This is a fairly heavy camera — my wife’s Nikon D3100 feels feather light in comparison. By the end of a long day on the road I definitely feel the K10D slung over my shoulder. This is why the K10D is almost a pleasure to shoot.

Eastbound on IL 64

I’m not thrilled with the JPEGs the K10D generates — for a CCD sensor, colors are surprisingly muted. Fortunately, shooting in RAW and applying a couple quick tweaks in Photoshop’s RAW editor makes the colors pop.

Talk

Purple and yellow are, to me, the big tests for color fidelity on a digital sensor. Purples too often come out as blue and yellows too often wash out. The K10D handles both colors very well.

Abandoned bridge on 37/DH

Typical of DSLRs, the K10D’s extra long battery life far outclasses my point-and-shoot Canon S95. For a full-day road trip I must bring my two extra batteries for the S95, while a full charge on the K10D’s battery is more than enough.

The George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge

Because of the K10D’s CCD sensor, you quickly reach the camera’s limits in low light. Better low-light performance was one factor that drove the industry to CMOS sensors. But so far, CMOS sensors can’t deliver the same bold color as CCD sensors.

Sunset off the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge

I don’t often use the K10D to photograph family. My Canon S95 is so much lighter and easier to handle for that kind of work. But whenever I do use the K10D with family, the images I get back richly reward me.

Lain

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax K10D gallery.

I’ve written mostly about the lenses I’ve tried and the images I’ve gotten. So let me wrap up by offering my take on the K10D under use. Its viewfinder is big and bright for a DSLR — you’ll find bigger and brighter viewfinders on plenty of 35mm SLRs but seldom on other DSLRs. All of the controls are just where you’d expect them to be, the body feels good in the hand, and the grip is perfect. It all adds up to easy, sure handling.

Despite its weight and the low-light limits of its sensor, the Pentax K10D is a winner.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Standard
Camera Reviews

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55

When someone gives me a camera, I shoot it if I can. Most of the time people give me old film cameras, but once in a great while the gift is digital. When my mom’s neighbor moved away last year he gave her a bunch of stuff, including this Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55. Mom didn’t have any use for it, so she gave it to me.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55

Sony introduced this camera in 2010. It’s a “good features for the money” camera, neither top nor bottom of the line. It features a 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor that delivers 14.1 megapixels. Its 25-150mm (35mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.5 Sony lens starts wide and zooms deep. It saves images as JPEG only (no RAW option), with maximum resolution of 4,320×3,240 pixels. It saves video files as MPEG-4, 1,280×720 at 29.97 frames per second. It offers both optical and digital image stabilization. Its LCD screen is 3 inches diagonal. Its proprietary battery is good for only about 310 photos.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55

The DSC-H55 sold for about $250 when new. At 4.1×2.3×1.1 inches and just 7.1 ounces, it’s very small and light. I slipped it into my back jeans pocket and forgot it was there.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55

This camera offers some modes, including a panorama mode where you pan the camera and it stitches the image together. I didn’t play with any of that stuff so I can’t comment on it.

If compact digital cameras appeal to you, also check out my reviews of the Canon PowerShot S80 (here), the Canon PowerShot S95 (here), and the Kodak EasyShare C613 (here). I’ve also reviewed the Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87 (here), an early digital camera that stored images on floppy disks! My first digital camera was the Kodak EasyShare Z730 (here).

I took this DSC-H55 out on a couple spring outings. I discovered right away that mine has a common fault: the LCD blanks out sometimes, turning entirely white. Since there’s no optical viewfinder, unless the screen works you can’t frame a shot. I found that pressing the buttons on the camera’s back often brought on this condition, so I used them as little as possible.

I found two ways to temporarily relieve this condition: press into the bottom right corner of the LCD, or repeatedly tap hard on the camera front between the Sony and Cyber-shot logos, until the display resets. Neither solution is great for the camera’s long-term health. But since it makes no sense to pay to repair a 2010 digital camera I did it anyway.

Sunset

Having to keep reactivating the screen was frustrating, but otherwise this camera performed well. Margaret and I made a sunset walk on a trail in a large Indianapolis park near us and the DSC-H55 delivered pleasing photos.

Margaret

Margaret was looking to practice her skill at shooting directly into the setting sun, so I did too. The lens flared, but I find the effect to be pleasing.

Margaret

The camera overexposes light colors that reflect light. I was able to tone it down in Photoshop on my wife’s jacket, above, but not on the frame of the soccer goal below.

Soccer goal

I did only a little low-light work with the DSC-H55, but I found that it tended to flatten colors that my Pentax K10D or my Canon PowerShot S95 would have captured well.

Sunset over the Toyota dealer

On gray days and when the sun is blocked, colors lose their punch in the DSC-H55. This is a sunny-day camera.

Pathside flowers

But in good light, the DSC-H55 returns accurate color. I like that. I haven’t used a ton of digital cameras in my day but among those I’ve tried I find accurate color hard to come by.

Cruze

This flower is a perfect example of the DSC-H55’s color accuracy. It perfectly captured the nuanced orange-purple gradient in this flower’s petals.

Orange flower

I also liked how the DSC-H55 could focus very close without me having to put the camera into macro mode. It’s common for digital cameras to switch to macro automatically now, but it wasn’t in 2010.

Droplets

The DSC-H55’s lens and sensor do a great job of capturing detail. Upper-tier Sony point-and-shoots boast Carl Zeiss lenses; my wife’s Sony RX100 has one and it’s wonderful. But this Sony lens holds its own.

Ash trunk

I am impressed with the camera’s depth of zoom, and its ability to get a sharp, shake-free image when zoomed to the max. I shot this early bird with its worm at maximum zoom from my front porch about 50 feet away.

The bird got the worm

I wished I could click in exact focal lengths as I zoomed, as I can on my Canon PowerShot S95. But I realize that most people use zoom to replace moving closer to the subject. I gave myself over to shooting the camera that way.

Reflecting in the pond

My one serious gripe with this camera is that the LCD reflects badly, washing out the display. In bright light, the LCD showed only my reflection, rendering me unable to compose. This is a dealbreaker.

At the pool

See more from this camera in my Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 gallery.

I’m sorry to say that I’m dropping this camera into the trash. Its white-screen problem made it more frustrating than rewarding to use. Also, its battery is nearing the end of its life as I got maybe 50 shots on a full charge. That one-two punch spells this camera’s doom.

But this is a pleasant little shooter, an easy companion for everyday photography. Except for its overly reflective LCD, it would have been a great choice in its day — capable for a good price.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Standard
Camera Reviews

Kodak EasyShare C613

Inexpensive cameras were crap during my 1970s kidhood and only slightly better during my 1980s teenagerhood. $25 would buy you a basic new camera, but most of them had limited utility and were cheaply made. By the mid 2000s you could get an entry-level digital camera for about the same money, adjusted for inflation, which works out to about a hundred bucks. And that’s what I paid for this Kodak EasyShare C613 Zoom when I bought it as a gift for my youngest son.

Kodak EasyShare C613

This camera was introduced in 2007, the same year as the iPhone. That first iPhone’s camera couldn’t hold a candle to this Kodak, but as we all know smartphone cameras soon became good, even brilliant in some ways, and put an end to the entry-level digital camera. While there is no substitute for a wafer-thin camera that’s always with you and connects seamlessly to social media, I do regret the loss of Kodak’s digital camera business. You see, no other camera maker renders color as appealing as Kodak. Oh, I know appeal is subjective. Hang in there with me; photos from this camera follow. You’ll see.

Kodak EasyShare C613

On the surface there isn’t much to the C613. You get a few modes, 3x optical zoom, and built-in automatic flash. It’s meant not to confuse the casual snapshooter. That’s definitely what my youngest son was when I bought it for him. But it’s been a reliable performer all these years.

Kodak EasyShare C613

The 6-megapixel C613 packs a 36-108mm f/2.7-4.8 Kodak AF Optical Aspheric lens. (If you’re a Millennial or younger, you’re probably chuckling that this lens is Kodak AF.) Most users probably just left the C613 on Auto, but this camera also offers an image-stabilization mode, a macro mode, and a host of scene modes such as snow, beach, and sports. It also takes 640×480 QuickTime video. If you dig into the menu, you’ll find a surprising amount of control including the ability to set ISO (80, 100, 200, 400, 1250); adjust white balance; choose among multi-pattern, center-weighted, and spot metering; and choose multi- or center-zone autofocus. The C613 stores images on an SD card, but also offers limited built-in storage. Two AA batteries power it.

In 2009 I borrowed this camera from my son for a day. My church had a concert in its parking lot and I was on the crew. I wanted to photograph the event in spare moments, but my comparatively bulky Kodak Z730 wouldn’t fit into any of my pockets. My son’s svelte C613 did, though.

And then wow, did this little camera perform! It delivered excellent sharpness and candylike color. This is Nancy, who organized and hosted the event.

Praise and Music Festival

We rented this stage. The C613’s lens was probably at its widest angle, 36mm equivalent, which added good drama to my easy camera angle.

Praise and Music Festival

In spare moments I pretended to be a concert photographer, even though I’m sure I looked ridiculous with this little plastic camera. This bassist went along with the charade, deliberately posing for me as he casually fingered his instrument.

Praise and Music Festival

That concert was a remarkable experience for reasons that have nothing to do with the C613. I told that story here.

Eight years on my youngest son is preparing to leave for college and I’m preparing to move in with my new wife. These big transitions for both of us made it necessary to clean out his childhood room. We sorted his things into three piles: keepers, things to donate, and things to pitch. He put the C613 onto the donate pile, thanks to a capable camera on his Android phone.

I palmed this little camera and later installed a spare SD card and fresh batteries. I first photographed flowers in my yard in macro mode. But the C613 often struggles to focus in macro mode, especially when the lens is at all zoomed. I frequently had to do a little dance with the C613, repeatedly adjusting framing and pressing the shutter button halfway in hopes the autofocus system could grab onto something. Sometimes it simply wouldn’t. And of course you have no control over depth of field. But when it manages to focus, it does lovely work.

Basket o' flowers

The autofocus system works best on high-contrast subjects, like this yellow flower on a dark green background.

Yellow

Most of the time I shot the C613 at the wide end of its zoom range simply because that’s where it goes when you turn it on. 36mm is a great focal length for everyday walk-around photography. Or drive-around photography, as is the case in this photograph.

Wrecks

But shooting wide reveals the C613’s fatal flaw: barrel distortion, gobs of it. These two photos are certainly not interesting in and of themselves, but the first shot shows this barrel distortion well. The second shot shows it corrected, which I did easily enough in Photoshop: open the RAW editor, set distortion to 14, set scale to 104%. At 36mm, those settings worked every time.

Window awaiting painting
Window awaiting painting

That distortion goes away more the farther out you zoom. None is evident on this max-zoom (108mm) photo off my deck.

Back yard

I checked the flash’s performance in a few photos. It appears, appropriately, to be optimized for shots across a room in your house, such as of your kid on his birthday. This photo of my Kodak Monitor is about as close as you dare get when using flash. Any closer and the flash washes out the subject and creates a spotlight effect. This post is already too long or I’d show you that flash also did a good job illuminating a shadowy close-up subject against a well-lit background. The C613 sets flash to “auto” every time you turn on the camera and guesses when flash is needed. Sometimes the C613 guesses well, other times not. More than once I shot a scene twice because the C613 thought I needed flash when I really didn’t.

Monitor

I did take these recent photos into Photoshop to correct distortion, fix little exposure sins, and tweak color to my liking. But every one of the photos I’m sharing here were plenty usable right out of the camera. The concert photos far above had no post-processing and look great.

View through the hosta

This shot of the oak in my front yard is my favorite from my test. Sure, I had to notice this scene and the subtle light play to be able to photograph it. But the C613 captured it well.

Oak

You can see more shots from this camera in my Kodak EasyShare C613 Zoom gallery.

The C613 a passable little digicam. It’s not perfect — on top of the barrel distortion and fussy macro-mode autoexposure, the screen washes out entirely in direct sun and its color fidelity is terrible, so you are never sure you got the shot. But compared to any camera of this inflation-adjusted price class forty or even thirty years ago it’s a stunning performer. I would have died and gone to heaven as a kid for a camera this good at this inflation-adjusted price.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.

Standard
Camera Reviews

Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87

Although I love film, I don’t hate megapixels. I shoot digital all the time. I just don’t collect digital cameras like I do film cameras. But when my parents found this 2001 Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87 at a rummage sale for a few dollars, they thought of me and bought it.

Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87

It seems hard to believe now, but consumer digital photography was still pretty new in 2001. Cameras had only recently passed the one-megapixel barrier, giving them enough resolution for a decent 4×6 print. Many early digital cameras had unusual form factors compared to conventional 35mm cameras – they looked weird, like this tall and wide Mavica.

This Mavica’s specs are probably competitive with other digital cameras of the time. It features an f/2.8 lens that zooms digitally from 39-117mm (equivalent). Its 1.3-megapixel sensor offers a maximum resolution of 1,280 x 960 pixels. It focuses and sets exposure automatically. There’s no viewfinder, but you can frame and review your shots on the 2.5-inch screen on the back. There’s a built-in flash and a few exposure and focus modes.

Amusingly, this Mavica writes photos onto 3.25-inch floppy disks. At maximum resolution, only a handful of photos fit onto a single floppy. Sony sold a floppy-shaped adapter that let you use Sony’s Memory Sticks, but my camera is not so equipped. Fortunately, a bunch of floppies came with the camera. I had to buy a USB-powered floppy drive to read them on my computer, though. Yes, you can buy such a thing.

Another not-so-amusing feature of this Mavica is its proprietary battery, because my yard-sale find came with no charger. Unbelievably, this Mavica can be plugged into the wall, and that’s how I used it. The eight-foot range that gave me would normally be a non-starter, but given that my goal was to satisfy curiosity rather than to create art, I made it work. Here, then, are some photos of things I could reach within that radius of my living room’s south wall. First up, the Native American wedding vase that sits on my coffee table, taken in available light on a sunny afternoon. The detail, sharpness, and color fidelity are all pretty good.

Native American wedding vase

When your subject is mostly one color, this Mavica tends to tint the whole photo toward it. This photo has a brown caste. It also displays the lens’s inherent barrel distortion.

Framed

This photo of my car’s nose has a blue caste. I took this from my front stoop, and zoomed in to the max. There’s noticeable pixelation in the image, which you can best see along the door seam at full resolution.

Matrix wheel

At the lens’s wide end, however, the camera registers good detail. The Mavica offers no macro mode, but it let me get pretty close anyway.

Brick in the door jamb

And just for grins, here’s a portrait of sorts that my son took of me in my parents’ home shortly after they gave me the camera.

Selfie

See a few more photos from the FD87 in my Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87 gallery.

This Sony Mavica is little more than an amusing footnote in digital photography’s history. Given its bulky body, its low image resolution, and its floppy-disk image storage, curiosity is the only good reason for using this camera. But it produces usable images, which was kind of a big deal in 2001 when digital photography was just starting to gain its legs.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.

Standard