The Holy Grail of the digicam wars has always been a user friendly, high resolution, long zoom digital camera that's small enough to drop in a shirt pocket. The problem with this concept is that it's very difficult to build a tiny camera with a decent quality long zoom. Kodak valiantly attempts to bridge the gap between ultra-compact digicams and long-zoom digicams with the new Easyshare V610, the world's smallest (4.4 x 2.2 x 0.9 inches) 10X zoom digicam.
The auto exposure (AE) V610 features twin Schneider-Kreuznach 5X Variogon optical zooms (38mm-114mm equivalent and 130mm-380mm equivalent), dual 6 megapixel CCD image sensors (one for each lens), and a large 2.8 inch LCD screen. The V610 also provides Bluetooth (2.0 EDR) connectivity for transmitting images wirelessly to Bluetooth compliant computers, PDAs, camera phones, and Kodak EasyShare printers. If all that's not enough, the V610 also features Kodak's Perfect Touch technology, which allows users to correct images post-exposure (and view the corrected result side-by-side with the original on the camera's LCD screen), and a nifty panorama mode that permits users to seamlessly stitch together up to three sequential images via an LCD template.
Kodak's design folks really pushed the boundaries of miniaturization with this camera - it's truly tiny. The ultra-compact V610 is stylish and user friendly and ergonomics are surprisingly good for such a small camera - controls are logically placed and features are easily accessed. Image quality is noticeably (and consistently) better than expected. Kodak's new Easyshare V610 will appeal to beginning photographers, casual snap-shooters (including those just making the jump to digital), family shutterbugs, and space/weight conscious travelers. I wouldn't buy a V610 for myself (or recommend it to other serious photographers), but I would buy it for my wife and recommend it to my non-techie friends.
NUTS & BOLTS
The V610 doesn't feature an optical viewfinder, so all composition and framing must be done via the camera's hi-res (230,000 pixels) 2.8-inch LCD screen. The V610's LCD screen is bright, fluid, hue accurate, and "gains up" (brightens automatically) in dim light. The V610's large LCD can be used outdoors, but it fades noticeably as the lighting gets brighter. When the V610's easily accessed exposure compensation function (the left/right buttons on the V610's tiny compass switch provide direct access) is activated the LCD screen provides a preview of the effect by lightening or darkening in reaction to the degree of plus or minus exposure the user has punched in.
The V610 is only the second Rochester digicam to utilize Kodak's RETINA Dual Lens technology (the first was the V570). The V610 features dual Schneider-Kreuznach C-Variogon (f4.8-f5.6/38-114mm and f3.9-f4.8/130-380mm equivalent) all-glass folded light path (non-protruding) 5X zooms to deliver a full 10X zoom range.
When the camera is powered up a guillotine style lens cover slides to one side, exposing both lenses. When the V610 is powered down the built-in lens cover slides back into place. Generally, Point and Shoot (P&S) digicam lenses are pretty bad (as lenses get smaller and more complex they become exponentially more prone to imperfections, aberrations, and distortion) however the V610's dual lenses are surprisingly good.
(view medium image) (view large image) This grab shot environmental portrait of a midway worker at the Kentucky State Fair demonstrates just how well the V610's Schneider lenses handle harsh outdoor light, bright colors, and fine detail.
Schneider's Variogon design has been around for a long time and has earned a reputation for almost legendary optical performance. I suspect Schneider provided (at a minimum) some input on reconfiguring the classic Schneider formula as a folded light path optic.
The V610's twin zooms display below average chromatic aberration (purple fringing). Barrel distortion is present (and visible), but not significant with the wider (38mm-114mm equivalent) of the two zooms. The V610's longer (130mm-380mm equivalent) Variogon shows no visible pincushion distortion at the telephoto end of the zoom. What is truly amazing is the native resolution of the twin zooms - most folded light path zooms tend to produce soft images (especially in the corners) but that is not the case here. Both zooms provide acceptably sharp images in the center of the frame. Although corners are a bit softer than average, they aren't mushy looking like they are with most folded light path optics.
Macro images are very sharp with good contrast and excellent color - and as an added benefit the V610's Macro Mode extends from the wide-angle end of the zoom range to the telephoto end of the zoom range. Unlike most P&S digicams which provide macro capability only at the wide angle end of the zoom, the V610 provides close-up shooters with more creative options (closest focusing distance: Wide - 5 centimeters/2 inches Tele - 70 centimeters/28 inches) and a bit more stand-off room which aids greatly in capturing striking images of skittish butterflies, dragonflies, bees, and similar subjects.
Optical performance is surprisingly good, and that makes the V610's lack of image stabilization (which is almost ubiquitous anymore) especially puzzling - since it is a universally accepted truth that it is very difficult to hold a camera steady enough to avoid camera shake at the long end of the zoom.
Hold down the telephoto side of the zoom rocker switch and a scale appears on the left side of the LCD screen. Once the indicator reaches the mid-way point on the scale, zooming stops until the user releases the rocker switch. Press the telephoto side of the rocker switch again and the V610 shifts from the shorter zoom to the longer zoom. There is a 16mm gap between the two lenses, zoom travel is moderately slow (6-8 seconds from 38mm to 380mm), and I only counted 12 steps for the full 10X range. Both lenses are prone to flare (due to all the shiny chrome surrounding them and the dished front elements).
Auto Focus (AF)
The V610's TTL multi-zone/center-spot contrast detection AF system is relatively fast and generally accurate. Image capture with pre-focus is essentially real time and from scratch the delay is less than a second. Occasionally the V610's AF mysteriously fails to lock focus - which can be frustrating when you are trying to capture frame filling shots of super skittish insects or mid-air shots of skateboarders, BMXers, and rollerbladers.
The V610's built-in multi mode (Auto, digital Red-Eye Reduction, Fill, and off) flash is controlled by a small top deck button thoughtfully located between the shutter release and the on/off button. Flash operation is simple, but effective - If the V610's CPU determines flash is needed, the flash will fire, automatically. Very small cameras must (due to size constraints) crowd the lens and flash too close together (which is what causes red-eye), but Kodak's engineers have managed to somewhat ameliorate this problem. The V610's digital red-eye reduction mode (the V610 utilizes a two step redeye reduction system that combines pre-flash with dedicated CPU input) is noticeably better than average, and that is remarkable considering the tiny footprint of this micro-cam. Kodak claims the maximum flash range is 3.4 meters/10.2 feet.
Image File Format(s)
The V610 saves images to SD/MMC memory media. No starter card is included, but Kodak does provide 32 MB (28MB usable) of internal memory.
USB 2.0 out, Bluetooth, A/V out, and DC in
The V610's Achilles' heel is its low capacity (2.7 Wh) battery. The V610 draws its power from a proprietary KODAK KLIC 7001 lithium-ion battery pack. The battery is charged in-camera with the included AC adapter/battery charger. Kodak claims the V610's tiny battery holds enough juice for 135 exposures, but based on my experiences that number is a bit optimistic. I completely exhausted the V610's battery several times and my numbers ran from a high of 81 images to a low of 54 images. Some of the V610's competitors (Nikon S4/S5 - 240 exposures, Panasonic TZ1- 250 exposures) do a substantially better job in the power management department. Potential purchasers should factor the cost of a back-up battery and a 256MB (or larger) SD card into their final cost calculations.
The V610 is an AE (auto exposure) only P&S digicam with no manual exposure capability. Generally, AE only cameras average all exposure parameters to determine exposure and that formula often produces less than stellar images. The V610's AE system does more than just average out the exposure data - and it shows - images are consistently better than average.
The V610 also provides a staggering collection of scene modes including: portrait, panorama, sport, landscape, close-up, night portrait, night landscape, snow, beach, text, fireworks, flower, manner/museum, self-portrait, party, children, backlight, panning, candle light, sunset, and custom (users choose the exposure parameters).
The V610 allows users to capture video clips (up to the capacity of the SD card installed) at 640X480 @ 30fps and the twin Schneider zooms can be used during video capture, but the 16mm difference between the two zooms will cause the video to "jump" a bit jarringly at the gap.
TTL Auto (Multi-pattern), Center weighted averaging, and spot
White balance (WB)
The V610's Auto WB system is one of the most accurate and usable that I've seen on any P&S micro-cam - it will adequately manage exposure in most of the lighting situations its target audience is likely to encounter. WB options include: TTL auto, daylight, tungsten, fluorescent, and open shade.
TTL Auto and settings for 64, 100, 200, 400, and 800 ISO equivalents.
Sensor #1 (38mm-114mm)
Sensor #2 (130mm-380mm)
CONTROLS, DESIGN, & ERGONOMICS
The V610 is a stylish, ultra-compact, metal alloy bodied, point & shoot digicam with a difference - a 10X zoom. Most long zoom digicams (Canon S2 IS, S3 IS, Panasonic FZ7, FZ30, FZ50, Kodak Z612, P712, Sony H5) are substantially bulkier than the pocket-sized (and similarly endowed) V610. All the V610's controls are logically placed and easily accessed and camera operation quickly becomes intuitive. Usability is excellent - shooters can (among other options) marginally increase or decrease exposure (via the exposure compensation function) and review/delete captured images without resorting to the menu.
The V610 is a great choice for anyone who wants a camera that can be taken along everywhere and used in just about any (excluding extreme climates, combat/emergency, and underwater) environment.
Some folks will probably complain about the V610's tiny compass switch (4 way controller) but I really liked the fact that that L/R buttons offer direct access to the exposure compensation function (+/- 2EV in 1/3EV increments).
KLIC 7001 lithium-ion battery, AC Adaptor - Battery Charger, USB and A/V cables, velour camera bag, wrist strap, software CD, Kodak dock inserts, user's manual (printed)
Kodak EasyShare Camera Dock, Kodak Easyshare Printer Dock series 3, Kodak digital Photo Frame 2.
V610 purchasers won't have to trade image quality for compact size; this long-zoom micro-cam changeling's images are consistently very good to excellent.
Colors are bright, vibrant, hue accurate, and well saturated -- without being garish. Images show surprisingly good sharpness from edge to edge. Contrast is balanced and shadow and highlight detail are both nicely rendered. Image noise is slightly above average, but well controlled. Noise is visible at ISO 64 and ISO 100 and rises slightly at ISO 200. Noise is noticeably worse at ISO 400 with detail beginning to fade. ISO 800 may be useful for shooters who witness a UFO landing or stumble across Sasquatch in the woods. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing is very well controlled, but chroma/luminance noise (blotching) is slightly above average.
The V610 is very quick, especially for an ultra-compact digicam. The boot-up cycle (less than 2 seconds), shot to shot times (1-2 seconds), and write to card times are all quicker than average (for micro-cams). AF lag (with pre-focus) is essentially real time and less than half a second from scratch.
A Few Concerns
Much shorter than average battery life will be a problem for moderate to heavy shooters, but nothing that can't be fixed with the purchase of a back-up battery. Like most compact digicams, the V550 has a weak flash and that could cause some distress for those looking for a good bar/party/indoor camera.
The V610's delete function caused me some real heartburn - it erratically and intermittently jumps back one image in the review sequence - so if users are not very careful they may delete the image before the one they actually want to delete.
The V610's Schneider lenses are both very slow and that means this tiny digicam won't win any prizes indoors or in dim/low light.
Virtually all currently available long zoom digicams feature image stabilization (IS) because it is very difficult to avoid camera shake when shooting handheld at night or at the long end of the zoom. The V610 eschews this very useful feature - I hope Kodak will reconsider this decision when they update the V610.
(view medium image) (view large image) I've shot the lights at Louisville's newest entertainment venue with dozens of digital cameras - and this is the worst result I've gotten, to date. Shot at the wide end of the zoom range (at the V610's f4.8 maximum aperture) this image would have been much sharper (camera-shake) with image stabilization.
The Kodak Easyshare V610 is in a very small club - micro-cams with 10X zooms. So the major question facing potential purchasers is this: does the V610 really offer a pocketable alternative to a bulkier long zoom digicam like the Canon S3 IS, the Panasonic FZ50, or the Sony H5? The answer, if Kodak had included IS, would have been a resounding YES.
Since Kodak chose not to include IS the answer is a bit more complicated. The V610 is a truly unique camera and it will offer many users a level of convenience, capability, and pocketability that is available almost no where else, but this micro-cams pitifully weak battery and Kodak's failure to include image stabilization land the V610 solidly in the "could have been" category.
Pros: World's smallest 10X zoom digicam, Bluetooth connectivity, very good to excellent images, and lots of scene modes
Cons: Pricey, short battery life, weak flash, no IS, above average noise, slow lenses
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