For several years Kodak has been hoeing a tough row in trying to get its point and shoot cameras up to snuff. Plagued by unfriendly designs, poor build quality, and poor image quality, they've gradually become a brand to avoid in a crowded marketplace. Some of their recent offerings, however, look to make good on the legacy promise of their brand name. The EasyShare V1273 is one of these: a very compact point and shoot with a 12-megapixel sensor, an optically-stabilized Schneider lens, and a very sexy touchscreen interface. Over the last few weeks I took it for a spin to see whether Kodak's finally breaking the mold, or just sealing it more tightly.
Design and Interface
In terms of design mentality, the V1273 is shaped around a single gimmick: the touch-screen LCD panel that distinguishes it from the older, cheaper V1073. And, all kudos to Kodak, it's a pretty nice screen. It boasts 230,000 pixels over a 3.0" diagonal width, and leaves the back of the camera sleek and near-featureless. The screen is fairly sharp thanks to its high resolution, and displays photos with realistic color and vibrance, though the on-screen display icons and text are a bit on the fuzzy side.
Menu navigation is as simple as could be asked for in such a device. The back of the camera features only four buttons, each neatly flush with the case on the right hand side: a zoom control, a playback mode button, and menu and additional info buttons. Once accessed, all menus are controlled via the touch-screen, which is intuitive and fluid to use.
Outside of the camera's "program" mode, nearly all of the setup options are found on a single menu page. As you may have guessed, this means that that V1273's manual controls are quite limited. The aforementioned program mode provides the few user-adjustable variables, which include exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity (64-3200), white balance settings, sharpness, and metering settings.
On the top edge of the camera you'll find the shutter release and power buttons (the former raised and the latter recessed), while the DC-in power input jack resides on the right side. This power jack is for the optional (aka: not included) 5-volt travel power adapter. In a fairly brilliant design choice, the included USB data cable is also used for AC charging. This means that the camera charges using your PC's power supply when plugged in to transfer pictures and video. An AC wall adapter is also included for non-PC charging.
The bottom edge of the camera sports an off-center (but centered on the lens) tripod mount, which is next to the rather oddly-placed speaker. On the other side of the tripod mount is the USB connector, which is itself next to the battery and memory card compartment. This compartment is secured by a rather flimsy plastic door that slides out and lifts. Aside from the lens face, the entire camera body is made of this cheap-feeling matte plastic. When paired with the simple brick shape and stark lack of controls, it unfortunately gives the camera a toy-like feel.
Shooting For Something
The V1273's photographic performance is something of a mixed bag. In automatic ("Smart") shooting mode, the camera shows a tendency toward overexposure, especially when shooting landscapes in bright light. The washed out, strong contrast tone of these pictures has retro disposable camera ambiance, which is far from the deeply saturated look that most digital point & shoots produce. In some cases this tendency produces interesting looking shots, but mostly it's a disappointment.
Indoors and with flash, the camera fares better. Like most point and shoots in its price range, it struggles mightily with low light shooting, producing photos that are badly mangled by image noise. Photos taken using the flash are generally quite well exposed and manage to avoid most of the problems that come with flash photography (red eye, flat colors, floating white spots).
In general, it seems that the V1273 only truly struggles when confronted with a large dynamic range—in other words, with situations where one part of the image is very dark and another is very bright. Shooting a sunset is a futile affair with this camera, unfortunately, but at the same moment you can turn so that the sun is to your back and take lovely shots utilizing that golden-orange glow. It's also worth noting that in some of these high dynamic range situations, the camera's JPEG compression is quite visibly evident—you can quite clearly make out color banding around extremely bright light sources.
To take things one step further, it's my impression that this banding and much of the low-light noise problems are due to overaggressive JPEG compression. The 12-megapixel photos taken by the V1273 tend to stay around two megabytes, whereas many 5-megapixel cameras that I've used consistently produce JPEG shots at three to four megabytes. This means that there is a substantial loss of detail in the shots the V1273 produces, since fine changes in color and tone are what produce larger file sizes. In other words, in order to save space the camera is "smoothing out" the details of your photos.
That said, the sharpness of the pictures is somewhat salvaged thanks to the quality Schneider lens. While the lens's optical zoom capability is only 3x (37-111mm), this is still plenty for the sorts of situations in which a point and shoot like the V1273 will be used. If more range is needed, it also offers an additional 5x of digital zoom, though at the usual cost of image degredation. The lens is also optically stabilized, which works in tandem with the relatively short zoom to ensure that you're going to get very few shots that are blurred due to hand movement.
I was quite impressed with the V1273's video capabilities, at least to the extent that I was able to test them. A malfunction with the review model I used meant that I was unable to use the HD 720P HQ shooting mode, and was restricted to the non-HQ 720P variant. Even so, the lower quality videos looked stunning on my LCD computer screen and HDTV alike. In dim lighting it suffered from the same image noise issues as the camera's still photos did, but you'll be hard pressed to find a point and shoot camera with HD video capabilities that doesn't. The lack of stereo sound and these persistent image noise problems mean that the V1273 isn't a HD camcorder replacement, but given the camera's price point and size it's still a surprisingly able performer.
While the V1273's performance is generally snappy across the board, in my brief time with it, I did experience a few worrying bugs that aren't attributable to user error. While these are subjective experiences, they are nevertheless something to take under consideration when approaching a prospective purchase.
Most worrying is the fact that the review model I used refused to accept three separate SD cards. I tried cards that had been used in another camera, that had been formatted by Windows, and that were new out of their packaging. With each I had the same result—the V1273 said that the card's format was not recognized and requested permission to reformat. When I allowed the camera to format the card, it attempted to do so until the screen faded to black, at which point it returned me to the "card must be formatted" menu.
I would have entirely chalked this up to a defective unit except that, inexplicably, the camera worked with one card for approximately an hour before returning to the same "card must be formatted" error screen. Subsequent attempts to get the same card working again have failed. Googling the problem indicates that it is not restricted solely to the V1273, but is common to a number of Kodak point and shoots.
While any retail model affected by this bug would undoubtedly be replaced by Kodak, the fact of the bug's existence in multiple models spanning a several year release schedule indicates that there is a pervasive quality control issue ongoing within the company. Another bug that I encountered while reviewing the camera similarly points to lax standards. After recording a video, with the screen displaying the video playback option, I plugged the USB cable into the camera. The result: a hard lockup of the camera's software that rendered it unresponsive to button presses, touch-screen touches, and even the power button. In the end, I was forced to remove and re-insert the battery to get it working again.
Though it is not without problems—cheap-feeling materials, over-compressed photos, and questionable quality control—the EasyShare V1273 is nevertheless quite a cool device when it works. By the end of my time with the camera, the touchscreen had won me over—it's truly intuitive and fluid to use. The camera is responsive and capable of taking quality pictures and videos under the right circumstances. Given its problems, I can't give the V1273 a great grade, but it's certainly evidence that change might be afoot at Kodak. Let's all keep our fingers crossed.