The Kodak Easyshare M580 joins a handful of low-cost, mid-zoom, compact point-and-shoots on offer this year. We're fans of similar models, like the Panasonic FH20 and Sony W370, and camera buyers seem to be as well -- at the time of writing, both have been among our top-five most-clicked cameras since early spring 2010. The M580 doesn't quite stack up to either, but it is a solid little shooter in many respects.
Design and User Experience
The M580 is nice and compact for a camera with a relatively large 8x optical zoom. It sports a solid Schneider-Kreuznach lens with an equivalent focal length of 28-224mm. Its sleek design is one of Kodak's most attractive in recent memory. It can produce 14-megapixel shots and record 720p HD video, specs that are on par with other compacts released in 2010. It's a comfortable size and weight, easily pocketable, and certainly feels like it's well-built.
The aperture of the lens is not readily available on the camera itself, but based on EXIF data, I estimate that it's f/3.2-5.6, letting in plenty of light throughout the zoom range. As you'd expect at this price range, there's no manual control over shutter speed or aperture.
All the typical shooting modes found in competing point-and-shoots are here, with 20 presets including macro, landscape, beach, night portrait, and panorama, to name a few. Program mode allows manual adjustments to a handful of settings, such as ISO and exposure compensation. There's also Smart Capture mode, which most users will probably use most of the time. It automatically determines the optimal settings for the scene, much like Panasonic's iAuto or Canon's Smart Auto modes.
Another weakness is the cramped placement of the control buttons. The shutter release button is way too close to the mode selection button and flash toggle. It's not so bad as to be a deal-breaker, but I pressed the wrong button many times in my few weeks with the camera. The shutter itself can be frustrating, as it offers little resistance when half-pressed; sometimes I ended up taking a picture when I just wanted to lock focus.
Ease of Use
Despite the clunky button layout, the M580 is really easy to use. It springs to life almost instantly when the power button is pressed. It automatically sets itself to Smart Capture mode whenever it boots up, so if you're a shooter that likes custom control, keep in mind that it resets the controls, even if it's just off for a second. But really, this is a camera for a hands-off kind of shooter, so it's not likely to be a problem for most users.
A big part of the Easyshare line's appeal is that it is, in fact, very easy to upload and share your photos. The M580 does not disappoint in that regard. Kudos to Kodak. Once the sharing software is installed and set up, uploading pictures to Facebook, Flickr, Kodak Gallery, and even directly sending shot to an e-mail address or Kodak's Pulse photo frame is a push-button affair. The camera can even automatically recognize and tag people in your photos once you've input their name in the camera, with little fuss, though it can misdiagnose faces if they're captured at unfamiliar angles or out of focus. For those who frequently share photos though a platform like Facebook, the simple sharing process is certainly the camera's best feature. It's basically fool-proof.
The M580 produces some stunning images in ample light. Like most point-and-shoots it produces a ton of noise at high ISOs. That's a pitfall of cramming 14 megapixels onto a tiny sensor. The camera will resort to those high ISOs in dim lighting, but you can work around it by manually lowering the setting one notch. It even produces some noise even at lower ISOs, though it's almost exclusively at the edge of shadows and these rarely show up in any real way when printed out. But when focus is good and light is plentiful, expect to get some beautiful, sharp images. Barrel distortion is present, but hardly noticeable except in shots of long, straight objects, like buildings, where slightly skewed angles stand out more
The M580's focusing ability is slightly below average for this class of camera. It's usually OK, though it can run into trouble indoors and in awkward lighting. It won't focus at very close distances either, so if you want to do macro shooting (flowers, coins, stamps, and jewelry documentation are a few examples of when you'd need macro), the M580 might not be for you. You could always step back an inch to achieve the correct focus. But for someone that needs strong macro, like an eBay jewelery merchant, there are better choices than the M580.
The camera takes 720p HD movies, though you might have to invest in an expensive Class 6 SDHC card. For some reason, my SanDisk Class 4 Ultra 4GB, despite having handled up to 22 MB per second movies from other point-and-shoots, was deemed too slow for high-definition recording by this camera.
Overall, the Kodak M580 is a solid bet for the price. Despite a few hitches, it performs reasonably well and can be had for quite a bit less than its medium-zoom competition. Kodak's product line has vastly improved in the last year with their top-of-the-heap Zi8 and Playsport pocket camcorders and excellent Pulse wireless photo frame. Their cameras haven't reached that level yet, but the M580 is another step in the right direction.
If a simple layout, easy sharing and good image quality are your paramount concerns and you can live with an occasionally frustrating design, then the M580 is worth a look, especially if you're already invested in other Kodak hardware (like docks or printers). It's a good idea to take a look at similar models, like the Panasonic FH20 and Sony W370 -- we still prefer both of those models over this one -- but if you can find a deal on the M580, you'll be pretty satisfied.