For the past decade, compact digital cameras have consistently been among the most popular hi-tech products. Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Olympus, Kodak, Sony, Pentax, and Panasonic relentlessly field new models and the competition for consumer digicam dollars is ferocious. Today’s digicams have more features, higher resolution, and lower prices than earlier models – there’s never been a better time to buy a digital camera.
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The competitively priced V803 is targeted toward stylistas, geeksters, and gadgeteers; it may also appeal to family snap-shooters, scrap-bookers, casual photographers, and weight/space conscious travelers.
NUTS & BOLTS
The V803 doesn't feature an optical viewfinder, so all composition and framing must be done via the camera's (150,000 pixels) 2.5-inch TFT LCD screen. The V803’s LCD screen is fairly sharp, acceptably bright, relatively fluid, hue accurate, and "gains up" (brightens automatically) in dim light. The LCD is usable outdoors, but it is (like most digicams in its class) very susceptible to glare and fades noticeably as the light gets brighter.
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When the V803’s easily accessed (via the tiny jog dial) exposure compensation function (+/- 2EV in 1/3EV increments) is activated the LCD screen provides a rough preview of the effect by lightening or darkening in reaction to the degree of plus or minus exposure the user has dialed in. Additional LCD options include a rule-of-thirds grid overlay (for more pleasing compositions), a live histogram display, and a (post-exposure) blur warning.
The V803 has a basic moderate wide-angle to short telephoto (f/2.8–f4.9/36mm-108mm – 35mm equivalent) 3X zoom lens. When the camera is powered up, a built-in lens cover opens and the lens telescopes out of the camera body. When the V803 is powered down the lens is fully retracted into the camera body and the built-in lens cover slides back into place.
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Optical performance is surprisingly good – images (when they’re in focus) are sharp with good contrast. The V803's zoom displays below average chromatic aberration (purple fringing) and I didn’t notice any vignetting (dark corners). Barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center of the frame) is visible, but not significant. Typically, the V803 shows no visible pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center of the frame) at the telephoto end of the zoom. Images are acceptably sharp at the center of the frame and a bit sharper than average in the corners. Minimum focusing distance (in Macro mode) is 2.0 inches (5 cm).
(view medium image) (view large image) This "intimate urban landscape" grab-shot demonstrates how good the V803's images can be when everything comes together. Cropped slightly to remove an extraneous detail.
Auto Focus (AF)
The V803's TTL multi-zone contrast detection AF system is noticeably slower than average and occasionally (and erratically) fails to lock focus - which can be very frustrating. I counted only six steps in the zoom range from wide-angle to telephoto. Image capture with pre-focus is close to real time, but from scratch the delay can drag out to as much as two seconds. When enabled, the V803’s AF system emits a faint beep when the camera locks focus – unfortunately that faint beep is not always a reliable indicator that the camera is actually focused on the subject chosen by the shooter.
(view medium image) (view large image) This relatively simple action shot of a hand-standing skateboarder required six attempts to get the timing right. I had to keep asking the kid to try it “one more time” - which was a bit embarrassing.
The V803's tiny built-in multi mode (Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill, and Off) flash is underpowered – Kodak claims the maximum flash range is 9.8 feet (3.0 meters) – but based on my limited flash use that figure is a bit optimistic – real world maximum effective flash range is 6 to 8 feet. Very small cameras must (due to physical size constraints) crowd the lens and flash too close together (which is what causes red-eye), and the V803 is no exception. Red eye will be an ongoing problem for informal portrait photographers, environmental portraitists, and candid/street shooters. Not only is the V803’s tiny flash underpowered and prone to red eye, it is also slow to recycle/recharge.
Image File Format(s)
The V803 saves images to SD (Secure Digital) or MMC memory media. No starter card is included, but the V803 provides 32 MB of on-board image storage.
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USB 2.0 out, A/V out, and DC in
The V803 draws its power from a proprietary Kodak KLIC 7003 1050mAh rechargeable lithium-ion DC Battery. The V803’s tiny battery is charged in-camera with the included battery charger or via one of Kodak’s optional camera docks. Kodak claims a fully charged KLIC 7003 holds enough juice for 150 exposures. I completely exhausted the V803’s battery several times and my numbers ran from a high of 94 saved images to a low of 66 saved images.
The V803 is an AE (auto exposure) only P&S (point & shoot) digicam and provides no manual exposure options. The V803 does provide an impressive collection of Scene Modes (portrait, sport, landscape, close up, night portrait, night landscape, snow, beach, text/document, fireworks, flower, museum/manner, self-portrait, high ISO, children, backlight, panning, candlelight, sunset, custom, panorama, and digital anti blur). In all Scene modes the camera's CPU automatically optimizes all exposure parameters (aperture, shutter speed, white balance, sensitivity, etc.) for the specific scene type selected. Post exposure (in review mode) shooters can also utilize Kodak's Perfect Touch technology (similar to Nikon's D-lighting function) to correct slight under exposures by enhancing shadow detail.
The V803 allows users to capture video clips (up to the capacity of the memory card installed) at 640X480 @ 30fps with monaural audio. In playback mode, shooters can utilize the V803's basic editing options, frame-by-frame advance, and select (and save as still images) single frames.
TTL Auto (Multi-pattern), Center weighted averaging, and center spot.
(view medium image) (view large image) The V803’s default multi-pattern metering did a pretty good job with this demanding back-lit daffodil shot.
White balance (WB)
The V803's Auto WB system is one of the most accurate I've seen on any compact P&S digicam - it will competently handle most of the lighting situations this camera's target audience is likely to encounter. WB options include: TTL auto, daylight, tungsten, fluorescent, and open shade.
TTL Auto (ISO 80-ISO 160) and user selectable settings for 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600 ISO
In-Camera Image Adjustment
The V803 provides only very basic in-camera image adjustment options, including: Color - high color, natural color (default), low color, sepia, and B&W (monochrome). Sharpness: sharp, normal (default), and soft. Exposure compensation: +/-2EV in 1/3EV increments.
CONTROLS, DESIGN, & ERGONOMICS
The Kodak Easyshare V803 is an attractive minimalist design metal alloy bodied, point & shoot, auto exposure-only digicam that can be used easily by just about anyone. The eminently pocketable V803 is available in a rainbow array (pink bliss, red shimmer, cosmic blue, mystic purple, golden dream, white glaze, silver essence, slate gray and java black) of "hot" colors. Most users will have no difficulty using the V803 right out of the box. The V803, like it’s "V" series predecessors, will appeal to casual photographers, snap-shooters, weight/space conscious travelers, and bar hoppers, and party goers who value style and compact size.
Dedicated controls are easily accessed, but un-intuitively placed (across the top of the camera and along the left side of the camera's rear deck). The V803 relies too heavily (white balance, image quality, AF mode and ISO sensitivity) on its menus. Some users (especially those with big hands and/or thick fingers) may complain about the V803’s tiny jog dial, but I liked the fact that it offers direct access to the camera's exposure compensation function - allowing users to marginally increase or decrease exposure. The V803’s delete function is (like the V610 I tested last year) a bit wonky - it erratically and intermittently jumps back one image in the review sequence or sometimes skips back to the first image on the card - and the delete OK/cancel screen completely covers up the image that is going to be deleted - making it easy to delete an image you wanted to keep.
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V803 purchasers may have to accept a few trade-offs, but image quality won't be one of them. The V803's images are actually quite good - (when they're in focus) - sharp with an acceptable dynamic range. Colors are bright, vibrant, and hue accurate - the V803, like most cameras in its class, suffers from what veteran photographers call "consumer color interpolation" - typically over-saturated (especially red and blue) colors and slightly hard contrast. Shadow and highlight detail are both nicely rendered, even without Kodak's Perfect Touch Technology.
(view medium image) (view large image) This veggie still life perfectly demonstrates the V803's consumer color interpolation - red is unrealistically intense.
Image noise is noticeably higher than average. Noise is well controlled but visible at ISO 80/ISO 100 and rises slightly at ISO 200. Noise is noticeably worse at ISO 400 with detail beginning to blur and colors beginning to fade. ISO 800 may be useful for small prints or VGA resolution e-mails, but ISO 1600 is objectionably noisy and essentially useless. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is very well controlled, but chroma/luminance noise is above average. Most of the V803's image quality shortcomings can be traced to the camera's aggressive JPEG compression (8 megapixel image files at the highest quality setting average just over 2MB) and consumer color interpolation.
The V803 is slower than average in every category; start-up/boot-up cycle (about 4 seconds), zooming from the wide angle setting to the telephoto setting (2.5-3.0 seconds), shot to shot/write to card times (2.0-2.5 seconds), AF lag (0.5-1.0 second), and shutter lag (0.5 - 1.0 second).
A Few Concerns
Shorter than average (for its class) battery life may be a problem for moderate to heavy shooters, plus the V803 has a weak flash which may cause some minor misery for formal/informal portrait shooters.
The V803 is slower than average in every performance/timing category.
The V803's delete function is unreliable - it is much too easy to delete an image you wanted to keep.
The V803's AF is not only slow; it is also slightly erratic and occasionally produces blurry images that should have been sharply focused.
An ultra-compact eight megapixel P&S digicam for two hundred bucks is very tempting, but the Kodak Easyshare V803 has a couple of shortcomings that make it one of the most frustrating digicams I’ve ever used. The V803’s images (when they're in focus) are very good and for those to whom style and compact size are more important considerations than performance and functionality, the V803 may be an acceptable option.
Pros: Cheap, 8 megapixels
Cons : Mediocre battery life, frustrating AF system, wonky delete function, weak flash, slow, above average image noise
KLIC 7003 lithium-ion battery, AC Adaptor – Battery Charger, USB and A/V cables, 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, and a variety of camera cases, skins, and wrist straps
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