- Review Price: £129.98
Buying a digital camera for between £100 and £150 is a tricky business. Below £100 you know you’re not going to get much in the way of advanced features and can expect fairly ropey build quality, and above £150 is where you can expect to find features such as image stabilisation, wide angle lenses and HD video. However in the middle ground you have to tread carefully because while there are some excellent bargains to be found they are greatly outnumbered by mediocre or genuinely bad cameras. Cameras such as the Fujifilm F60d, Casio EX-Z85, Nikon S225 and especially the Pentax M60 may lack some of the bells and whistles found on more expensive cameras, but they offer good value for money.
Today’s review camera falls pretty much in the middle of that difficult price bracket. The EasyShare M380 is a mid-range model of Kodak’s mainstream consumer M-series, and as such it’s about as average as a digital camera can get. It has a 10.2 megapixel CCD, a 3.0-inch LCD monitor and a 5x zoom lens, but lack image stabilisation, a wide angle lens and advanced video recording. You can buy it direct from Kodak’s website for £129.98 or from a few online retailers for around £125. It’s available in red or black here in the UK, but other territories also have teal or purple options.
I have to admit that for the price it’s a pretty decent looking camera. The body is mostly aluminium, although with some plastic parts, and the anodised metallic red finish of my review sample is quite attractive. However on closer inspection it’s easy to see where money has been saved. The poorly labelled controls look and feel cheap, the tripod bush is a soft and easily-stripped plastic, and the non-latching battery/card hatch cover is extremely flimsy. The LCD monitor is large and reasonably sharp, but it’s not terribly bright and has a shiny reflective surface that attracts finger marks and is almost impossible to see in bright daylight. Also the menu appears to have designed for a screen with a different resolution, because the text is very blocky.
As with most budget compacts the M380 doesn’t offer much in the way of features. Shooting modes are selected via a small and rather fiddly dial on the top plate, and are limited to program auto, a list of fairly typical scene modes or the Smart Capture mode, which is supposed to be intelligent scene selection. In practice it’s actually fairly dumb though, because it seems to only ever select landscape, macro or high ISO mode. At least this time it remembers to use the flash when needed, unlike some previous incarnations of this mode.
The lack of external controls means that in the slightly more adventurous Program auto what few options the camera does offer require a trip to the rather clunky main menu. Selections include exposure compensation, macro or infinity focusing, a limited long exposure option, a very brief list of colour options, and selectable white balance, ISO and sharpness settings. Autofocus can be set to multi-zone or centre zone, and exposure metering to multi-zone, centre weighted or spot. On most cameras selecting an option from the menu either takes you back to the main menu screen or back to shooting mode, but in the case of the M380 it takes you to a completely superfluous second selection screen, even though you already made your selection. Again, this looks to me like a menu that was written for a different camera.
What features the M380 does have are also pretty weak. The 5x zoom range of the lens gives it some versatility, but this is limited by the relatively long 38mm wide-angle end. The built-in flash is very underpowered, not even living up to its claimed 4m maximum range, and it fails to light the corners of the frame at wide angle. The close range metering is also pretty poor, and flash portrait shots from less than about 1.5m away are usually over exposed. It’s hard to judge the recharge time, because the camera will take a picture even if the flash isn’t fully charged, resulting in some very under exposed night-time shots.
The video recording mode is also pretty lacklustre by modern standards, offering 640 x 480 resolution, mono audio and only digital zoom. The M380 has no image stabilisation, which is odd since the much cheaper M1093 IS had full optical stabilisation. About the only unusual feature that the M380 presents is the ability to charge the battery via the USB connection, which at least reduces the number of battery chargers you have to take on holiday.
The M380’s overall performance is about average for a cheap compact. It takes almost three seconds to start up, but the shot-to-shot time in single-shot mode is approximately 1.8 seconds, which actually seems reasonably quick until you realise that the camera doesn’t wait for the AF system to focus before taking a picture, it just goes ahead a shoots as soon as you press the button. If you wait for the autofocus to finish the shot-to-shot time is a much more likely 2.3 seconds. The M380 has no continuous shooting mode, just a three-shot burst mode that shoots in just under three seconds, but needless to say doesn’t focus between shots.
The autofocus system is reasonably quick in good light, but fails dismally in even a room lit by a 60W bulb, in other words light in which you can read a newspaper. It has no AF assist light, so it’s useless in the dark, however it will happily take a photo anyway even though it will come out as a dark burry mess. I had more disappointing low light shots from the M380 than from any other camera that I can recall.
The camera’s overall image quality is pretty poor even for a camera in this price range. The lens is very soft right across the frame, and although it avoids excessive wide-angle distortion the corners of the frame suffer from visible chromatic aberration. Exposure metering and automatic white balance are both erratic, and colour rendition, something for which Kodak once had a good reputation, is terrible. Darker saturated colours are blotchy, brighter ones are over-exposed and both lack detail.
The M380’s biggest problem is one that has plagued other recent Kodak cameras. Most 10MP cameras produce image files of between 3MB and 4.5MB, a compression ratio of around 7:1 to 10:1. The M380 produces shots averaging around 1.5MB, a compression rate of around 20:1, and as a result fine detail is lost, images are riddled with compression artefacts, and overall image quality suffers. Sure, it can fit over 300 shots on a 1GB card, but really what’s the point of putting a 10MP sensor in a camera if you then cripple it with tiny file sizes? It’s not like multi-gigabyte SD cards are particularly expensive.
The Kodak EasyShare M380 is a reasonably cheap camera considering its specification, but it’s far from being good value. Indifferent build quality, a very limited range of poorly implemented features, non-existent low light performance and shoddy image quality make it one to avoid.
”Over the next few pages we show a range of test shots. On this page the full size image at the minimum and maximum ISO settings have been reduced to let you see the full image, and a series of full resolution crops have taken from original images at a range of ISO settings to show the overall image quality. These pictures were taken indoors using reflected natural light ”
This is the full frame at 80 ISO.
Colour rendition isn’t too bad at 80 ISO, but compression artefacts and some noise reduction effects are visible.
Much that same result at 100 ISO.
The red colour is starting to look blotchy at 200 ISO, and there is visible noise all over.
Detail is lost at 400 ISO, and image noise is slightly worse.
Colour rendition is failing at 800 ISO, and the image is very noisy.
At the maximum 1600 ISO the red channel looks like a pointillist painting.
This is the full frame at 1600 ISO.
”A range of general test shots are shown over the next two pages. In some cases, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it to show the overall image quality. Some other pictures may be clicked to view the original full-size image. ”
Here’s the usual detail test shot of the West Window of Exeter Cathedral for you to compare with other cameras. See below for a full res crop, or click to see the whole picture.
Despite good lighting the image lacks contrast, and detail has been lost to the excessive file compression.
The lens doesn’t produce much wide-angle distortion, but then it only goes to 38mm.
The centre of the frame is soft and lacks detail.
The corner of the frame is even more blurred and shows chromatic aberration.
”Here are some general test shots to help evaluate the camera’s overall image quality, including the zoom range of the lens. Some pictures may be clicked to download the full size original image. ”
The wide angle end of the zoom is equivalent to 38mm.
the telephoto end is equivalent to 190mm, a good medium telephoto.
The 10.2MP sensor lacks dynamic range. Shadows and highlights both lack detail.
Darker colour are blotchy and noisy, while brighter colours are burned out and lack detail.
Score in detail
Image Quality 6
Build Quality 6
|Camera type||Digital Compact|
|Megapixels (Megapixel)||10.2 Megapixel|
|Optical Zoom (Times)||5x|
|LCD Monitor||3 in|
|Flash modes||Auto Flash, Flash OFF, Flash ON, Red-eye Reduction|
|Video (max res/format)||640 x 480|
|Memory card slot||Secure Digital (SD) Card, Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) Card|