Thursday, July 7, 2011

24 Hours with a Kodak M583

Had a day to play with a Kodak M583 camera, described in the previous post. A quick summary:

  • Image quality: pretty good, edge-to-edge. Nice handling of low-light/twilight images at 28mm wide-angle. At 224mm full zoom, however, subjects looked softer. OK for general snapshots and travel images in bright daylight.
  • In very low light, the camera could not lock focus on a table candle.
  • Image stabilization (optical) worked well. Camera selected a moderately low ISO 125 for a portrait shot in twilight, and didn't fire its flash, making for nice skin tones and no blowouts.
  • Menus are now so heavily layered that you're really forced to choose your settings in advance, because there's no quick-set beyond the basic "Smart Capture" function.
  • Camera uses a micro SD card, which big-fingered hands will find hard to load and unload.
For me, the most challenging feature were the microscopic buttons on the right side of the LCD screen (see the red camera, above). They access menu flash, delete and other functions. They are impossibly tiny, and make for an unhappy user experience if your fingers are anything but dainty.

In contrast, consider the button layout on this Canon 790is:

The buttons are actually flush "tabs" above and below the four-way selector. Even a big-fisted football player can easily depress these buttons without bumping up against another function.

Camera designers, take note: the Kodak M583 and its GE clone would give a far more satisfying user experience if the buttons didn't require a jeweler's screwdriver to press.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Separated at birth, sort of

Can you spot the difference between these two digital cameras?

The black camera is a new Kodak M583, a 14-megapixel compact with a Schneider lens, 8X optical zoom.

The red camera is a GE Power Series E1680W, with 16 megapixels and an 8X optical zoom.

To me, they appear to have come off the same assembly line, someplace in Asia. Their prices are nearly identical, too. At the moment, Kmart is offering the GE camera at $20 under the Kodak.

On the other hand, 16 MP on a 1/2.3 sensor will probably result in less than satisfactory images.

GE is one of those drugstore brands that hardly any camera review website takes seriously. Kodak, on the other hand, said earlier this year that they would re-strategize their camera business to sell only profitable cameras. I'm thinking this meant sourcing some cameras from GE's General Imaging business, just as Hewlett Packard appears to have done.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Can you publish a photo from 2004?

You shot some pretty decent digital photos in the Bahamas in 2004. In fact, they might be useful in a book on travel photography. Can you use them?

Maybe, maybe not. If you used a Nikon D70 -- one of the leading digital SLR cameras sold at that time -- you have some pretty sharp files. Six megapixels isn't bad.

However, if you went back to Marsh Harbor in 2011 to shoot additional photos, you'd be using a 12- or 14-megapixel camera, likely with a better image processing algorithm. Your 2011 photos will have more detail. And your 2004 photos will pale, in some ways, when compared with your new photos.

Documentary photographers who spend years capturing images for a project frequently encounter this issue. Digital advances turn their earlier digital photographs into, well, yesterday's photos. But photos captured on film in 2004 have exactly the same resolution as those captured on film today. Negatives and transparencies from years ago can be scanned into high-resolution digital files today. This makes photographic film, in many ways, more future-proof than many digital imaging systems.

I learned this while interviewing photographer Damaso Reyes (in striped shirt, at left) for a Kodak Close-Up podcast. Have a look.

Monday, June 20, 2011

This week's camera: Canon Multi-Tele

I'm a sucker for stretching the limits of 35mm negatives. And, with a little creativity, I get some nice rewards.

This week, I'm shooting with a rarity: the Canon Multi-Tele, a 35mm automatic film camera that captures either full-frame or half-frame images. Depending on how you set the selector, you can grab either 24 x 36 or 18 x 24 mm pictures. So a 36-exposure roll of Kodak Portra VC 400 becomes a 72 exposure roll.

Why do this? 18 x 24mm is roughly the same size as the sensor in digital SLR cameras, and I'm curious to see if the half-frame images come out with any more clarity or detail than the same-size JPEGs from a Nikon D60. Besides, I get the added satisfaction of driving the photo lab a little bit crazy, as the half-frame adapter required to print "normal-size" prints from the smaller negatives is rarely found. (You can easily create acceptable prints by editing a scan or digital negative).

Downsides: the Canon Multi-Tele uses a loud, spring-loaded lens that literally pops out from behind a porthole on the front of the camera. It's jack-in-the-box annoying. You cannot sneak up on a subject without them knowing you're shooting a photo. Although relatively compact at the time of introduction in 1988, the Multi-Tele is part of Canon's Sure Shot line, and physically larger than any point-and-shoot digital camera built after 2005.