By Michael Patrick Brady,
Editor, Digital Camera HQ.
One of the perks of being the editor of a website like Digital Camera HQ is getting to read all the reviews submitted by our readers. Sometimes, they're pleasing, when it's clear that a person has found the perfect camera for them, and is happy enough to contribute a five-star review and recommend it to others. Occasionally, they're extremely entertaining, like the first-person narrative of how a faulty camcorder spoiled the documentation of a user's vasectomy (see "Black Screen of Death or Lens Cap On (2/8/06)"). Every once in a while, they are loaded with colorful expletives that, no matter how justified they may be, I am unfortunately forced to censor. This is a family site, people!
In the midst of all these different types of reviews, however, there's one that I always make a special note of: "I will never buy from this manufacturer again." Zelda, who had a bad experience with a Nikon 3200 will never buy from Nikon again. William, whose Sony M1 wouldn't recognize his memory card will never buy Sony again. A busted LCD convinced Patrick never to trust Fuji, while the Kodak LS443 was so terrible it not only convinced Van to avoid Kodak, but to "spread the word about their poor products and customer support." I could go on, but the gist of it is, every single manufacturer, from the vaunted Canon to the lowly Pentax, has created a camera that completely disillusions consumers to the point of swearing off the entire brand. There are literally hundreds of these reviews, and sometimes I wonder if eventually, enough people will have sworn off enough brands to completely undermine the digital camera market.
This drastic methodology is flawed, however. Because of his solitary bad experience, William is missing out on the Sony H5, a camera that has inspired so much gushing praise, it's almost embarrassing. Van's vow of avoidance is keeping him from discovering the Kodak V610, one of the last year's most interesting and highly reviewed cameras. If you were to read through every negative, "never buy from this manufacturer" review, you'd get the impression that there weren't any digital cameras worth picking up at all. We know that's not the case, and so do plenty of users, but some people are still stumbling on land mines in their search for a good camera. While it's easy to get upset, we urge spurned users not to write off an entire brand. Make a fuss to customer service and by all means, voice your extreme displeasure, but realize that sometimes a camera is just a dud. If you really want to find the right one for you, you'll examine them carefully on a camera by camera basis.
Now, we understand that we're leaving out legions of low-quality no-name cameras that are, almost certainly, extremely terrible cameras. There's no sense in beating up on obviously bad cameras like the Saitek Credit Card Digital Camera or a Concord Eye-Q. The cameras you'll find below are all from manufacturers who should have known better, and from whom a higher standard of quality is expected. At best, they are examples of neglect and a lack of thoughtfulness. At worst, they are mendacious con-jobs taking advantage of trusting consumers. We at Digital Camera HQ hope that readers are able to see where these cameras went so horribly wrong and how those who bought them were mislead or confused, so as to avoid the same fate.
The Canon PowerShot A70
Yes, it may be hard to believe for users of the Canon A620 or SD700 IS, but Canon made a really bad camera. The Canon A70 had a very auspicious start, garnering 4 and 5 star reviews from eminent professionals like CNET and Imaging Resource. At the end of an exhaustive and comprehensive technical review, Steve's Digicams called it "a great camera for the point-and-shoot crowd." On the strength of these early reports, and the general strength of Canon cameras in general, consumers flocked to buy the A70, and it became a very successful and widely-used model.
What nobody knew at the time was that there was a little gremlin lurking deep within the A70 that would result in one of the biggest digital camera disasters we've ever seen. Like clockwork, after about a year of picture perfect operation, users began experiencing problems with their cameras. Strange purple lines began appearing across the LCD screen, obscuring the display. Photos became fuzzy and blurred, and often distorted with unusual colors. Then the dreaded "E18 error" made itself known, causing the camera's lens to become stuck while extending. User A. Meza gives a good timeline in their review, saying "This camera was great for about 1 year. For the 2nd year it had the purple lines across the screen which were recorded with each picture rendering it useless. It stopped working altogether with the e18 error after a year and a half."
Eventually, the noise being made by angry users grew so loud, that Canon was forced to do the right thing, and offered a free repair for the A70. Note however, that their service notice seems to only address the malfunctioning CCD sensor, and not the E18 error. The number of reviews we have received regarding this camera and its problems is tremendous, and the volume is so great that we've had to choose only a select few to display so as not to clog up the page. Much of what isn't visible, however, can be easily summed up by user Lionel, who said, "You can bet that I will never purchase another Canon product."
Sea Life DC500
The Sea Life DC500 is a testament to what some really good PR work can do for an otherwise abysmal digital camera. We first took notice of this camera about a year ago, when Time Magazine named it one of the "The Most Amazing Inventions Of 2005." It seemed a tad suspicious. For one, there wasn't anything about the camera that we felt truly qualified as an "invention." It was a digital camera with some underwater housing. Sure, it was pretty small, and relatively affordable, but it seemed like a rather strange choice for the Time feature.
Nevertheless, there was buzz, and we gave users an opportunity to let us know what they thought of the DC500. Our suspicions were more than confirmed. The Sea Life DC500 had made some very grand claims, and by presenting itself as a good camera for the high-pressure (no pun intended) arena of underwater photography, there was a lot more at stake than with the typical mainstream camera. The disappointment is palpable in this review from user Martha Pearson. "I just spent a week in the Bahamas, and saw my first Lionfish ever. Unfortunately; only two of 10 shots I took are "in color" because the flash didn't work. I didn't expect to see Lionfish, and I doubt I ever will again because I normally dive in the Caribbean, so thanks to Sea Life for ruining my big opportunity." Martha also notes that the camera "locks up every other dive and can't be "unlocked" under water." Not exactly a well thought out design by Sea Life.
Were it not for the gargantuan amount of hype generated by the story in Time, the Sea Life DC500 would have been just another terrible, no-name camera. Instead, many users were swayed by the opinion of what they thought was a reputable publication, and wound up with a frustrating piece of jetsam.
Kodak EasyShare One
Nobody should feel bad about falling into this trap. Two years ago, when the first edition of the Kodak EasyShare One debuted, it looked like it was going to be an absolute blockbuster. 4 megapixels was adequate back then, and when combined with the slim design and huge 3.0-inch touch-screen LCD screen, it was hard to resist. On top of all that, the Kodak One was the first digital camera to feature support for Wi-Fi image transfers, another feature that surely lured in a fair share of early adopters.
In the end, it seems that Kodak cared more about superficialities than substance, and the EasyShare One turned out to be aptly named. It received quite a few one-star reviews from our users. All the potentially positive aspects of this camera are buried beneath layers of annoying interface, and even if they weren't, the sub-standard photo quality it provides completely invalidates the camera. "Very poor quality product overall," says user Michael, "we've had problems with lens extend/retract, lens cover sticking." Stuck lenses, broken battery doors, and other issues with the camera's housing seem to be common.
The Kodak EasyShare One was a failure because it tried to get by on looks and flashy gimmicks while completely ignoring the basics of what makes a good digital camera: an attention to photo quality and the ease-of-use typified by the EasyShare line. In the years since, Kodak has cleaned up their act, and the wireless Kodak V610 is now one of our best reviewed cameras on Digital Camera HQ.
A lot of readers write to us asking why we don't cover certain brands. In the case of Polaroid, it's because they are so terrible at making digital cameras, they're not worth writing about (unless we're specifically talking about terrible cameras). It's a true shame to see the once king of instant photos fall by the wayside and be completely shattered by digital photography, but it's their own fault for clinging to an outmoded style and technology for too long. Plenty of people were suckered into buying Polaroid digital cameras, with happy memories of their film models, and were completely and utterly disappointed by the shoddy designs and poor performance.
Something didn't seem right about the Polaroid PDC-5080. How could they sell a 5.1 megapixel camera for $90 when similar models from other brands cost 4 or 5 times as much? The answer is: it's a cheap, horrible camera that can't really take 5.1 megapixel photos. The PDC-5080 earns a place on this list for sheer audacity. It's the kind of marketing boondoggle that makes the increasing marginalization of Polaroid a lot less upsetting. At the time of this publication, the Polaroid PDC-5080 is a high ranking Google result for the phrase "worst digital camera ever," closely followed by our next entry.
Pentax Optio E10
It may be because it's a more recent camera than the others, but I'm tempted to officially name the Pentax Optio E10 the worst digital camera ever. It debuted in January of 2006 with claims of how easy to use it was and how affordable it was, and for a while it looked like the E10 might be a decent, economical 6-megapixel ultracompact for simple use. Since then, an unmitigated stream of vitriolic, hate-filled user reviews have deluged the Pentax E10's product page. "It says 6mp but it looks like a 2mp image stretched and interpolated," says Eli, "I have seen $20 cameras outperform this piece." Greg offers a familiar refrain, saying "I'll NEVER buy Pentax again, and will actively discourage anyone I know from buying one as well!" Perhaps the most succinct summation of how people feel about this camera comes from Jon, who explains that the Optio line is really an acronym for "Oh, please turn it off!"
What's Your Take?
If reading about the worst digital cameras ever has left you a little depressed, take a look at our holiday guide for 2006, where we round up what we think are the most promising and most interesting new cameras, cameras that most likely won't end up on a page like this any time soon. On the other hand, if this article has filled you with rage and dredged up bad memories about your own terrible digital camera, please join us in our Questions and Answers section, and describe your own terrible experience here. We want to hear from you.