The Kodak EasyShare Sport C123 (we'll just call it the Sport) is the most basic of point-and-shoots -- and it can survive a dunk underwater. The Sport has an average 12 megapixel resolution, a tiny 2.4-inch LCD screen, a fixed lens that doesn’t zoom, and standard-definition video (as opposed to HD quality that has appeared on nearly every other camera this year). Its only special quality is that it can dip 10 feet below water and still function afterward. At $80, it's by far the cheapest underwater cameras on the market.
Like its transition from film to digital, Kodak is a few years behind in catching onto the underwater trend. The EasyShare Sport is Kodak’s first underwater camera, announced in January 2011. It is not shock or freezeproof and therefore isn’t considered an all-weather camera; it also has a hard time getting great pictures in anything but sunny, outdoor lighting, so perhaps the Kodak Sport could be called a fair-weather camera.
Body & Design
The Kodak EasyShare Sport looks fancy from afar, mostly because of its boldly colored shimmery shell. It comes in red, gray, blue, white, and yellow. Up close, that shell turns out to be plastic, and feels like it could be crushed like a pop can. Its shiny body has a big black rubber pad on the front that keeps fingers from slipping away – a helpful feature when slathered in sunblock and swimming in the sea. The back has buttons made from the same rubber; they have just the right amount of give.
The Sport features a Kodak lens on its front. It does not zoom, but the camera provides a low-quality digital zoom that degrades images severely. The lens also shows serious distortion that is most evident when a person’s face is near the edge of the picture. It’s almost like a fun-house mirror, but less fun. Above the lens is a flash that is nicely placed, at least, though it makes shots looks spotty and sometimes overexposed.
The top of the camera has three dedicated buttons for flash, shooting mode, and power. Unfortunately, all the buttons look and feel the same and more than once, I turned off the camera when I really wanted to turn off the flash. At least the shutter release is too big to miss.
The back of the camera has a smaller-than-average 2.4-inch LCD with sub-par resolution. Like most LCDs, it's very hard to see in bright light. To its right are the typical command buttons, although made of an atypical rubber material. The icons that label them aren’t all intuitive; the Menu button has what looks like a microwave above it, and the Delete button appears to have a shopping bag above it.
Kodak always makes a big deal out of its Share button. It has a sparkly red center and can tag photos to upload to Facebook, Twitter, and other photo sharing sites, photo frames, and email addresses. The feature only works if you download the Kodak EasyShare software, which is free but comes with pop-ups advertising Kodak products. The back of the camera has four visible screws, which may dupe consumers into thinking that the Kodak Sport is durable. Don’t be fooled: It's waterproof, but this plastic camera feels like it needs a carrying case that has more cushioning than the bed in “The Princess and the Pea.”
Performance & User Experience
I test-drove the Sport for almost a month this summer, and gave it plenty of mileage in and around the water. The camera can dip to 10 feet for up to a half-hour. Despite its flimsy plastic housing, the Sport’s battery/media/connection compartment is well-sealed with a single rubber panel to keep water out. Underwater, the camera is easy to hang onto with its rubber grip and is fuss-free since there really isn’t anything to do but point and shoot. The Sport was a great camera to take to the pool, splash park, and out for some kayaking because I didn’t have to worry about water damage at all.
The Kodak EasyShare Sport is very easy to use, especially when taking pictures. There are few shooting modes on the camera: Auto, Underwater, Video, and 8 scene modes. The scene modes are not very inclusive; it does have a Portrait mode, but skips other basics like a mode for indoors or low light. In the Auto mode, you can adjust the exposure compensation and switch flash mode and that’s it. No ISO or white balance controls on this point-and-shoot.
The Sport is no speed demon. It took about two seconds to turn on and take its first shot, and at least another two seconds between each shot. Kodak throws in face detection on this low-budget model, but it doesn’t work well. It recognizes faces and places boxes around them on the LCD screen, but images are still soft and blurry. Autofocus is general just isn't very accurate.
Image & Video Quality
This Sport does best in bright outdoor lighting, snapping pretty decent shots considering the price. It'll still crank out an ugly, unfocused shot from time to time, though (check out the blurry flowers below), and it can also be inconsistent with exposure, randomly overexposing one shot and then underexposing the next. Colors pop out, but not necessarily in a good way. The greens appeared lighter than in reality, the yellows and reds are over-saturated, and blacks and grays are flat.
It's much, much tougher to get a good shot when indoors or especially at night (unless you opt to use the flash). Because high ISO isn’t available, capturing action makes for blurry shots. Unfortunately, underwater shots fall into this category. Even in sunny weather, the pictures I took of my kids swimming came out noticeably soft and blurry.
The Sport has a 12-megapixel image sensor, which is too much resolution here -- viewed at full size, there isn't much detail.
Videos aren’t any better: details are smoothed over and artifacts pop up throughout the feed. As with the pictures, the video is only as good as the lighting. Digital zoom is available, but it only degrades the quality further. The Sport captures audio with its video, but there's no playback speaker, so it can only be heard when uploaded to a computer. My kids weren’t happy about that.
The Kodak Sport would be a good camera for someone who values ease of use, rarely prints photos but frequently uploads to online sharing sites. It could be a good beater camera for beach bums, too. The $80 price can’t be beat, but its performance can be beat by just about every other camera on the market. Then again, just about every other camera costs more than this does.
The Olympus TG-310 adds shockproof and freezeproof capabilities to its 10-foot waterproofing. It has more shooting modes including a 720p HD movie mode and 3D shooting. It has a more versatile 3.6x optical zoom lens and bigger 2.7-inch LCD screen. As the low end of Olympus’ Tough series, it sells for about $149.
The Samsung AQ100 sells for about $169 and also comes with 12 megapixels and a 10-foot underwater rating. It doesn’t have the shock and freezeproofing that the Olympus has. It has a sexier flatter body that is much more pocketable. It has 12 megapixels, a 5x optical zoom lens, and HD movies to boot.