posted by Jean-Baptiste Queru on Wed 21st Sep 2005 16:29 UTC
IconAs a photographer, with some high-end equipment, I used to look down on point-and-shoot digicams, putting them in the same category as camera phone, i.e. not capable of taking any picture worth keeping. I was wrong. My experience with a Kodak CX7220 (sells for about $70), graciously provided by Geeks.com, turned out to be unexpectedly positive.

Kodak CX7220 About 6 years ago, back in 1999, I was at the peak of geekdom. I had quite a few geek toys, and digital cameras were the next big thing. Kodak's $900 2MP DC290 was competing with Nikon's $900 2MP 950, which drove the price of Kodak's 1.6MP DC265 down. That's the one I bought. It cost me over $600. It was big and heavy compared to current small cameras. It ate so much power that you could burn yourself taking the batteries out. There was no infrastructure in place for a consumer to get good prints out of digital pictures. The worst part about the DC265 was that the image quality was questionable at best. $600 didn't buy much digital camera at the time.

Fast forward a few years, I bought a traditional 35mm film SLR, with a couple of lenses. I scanned the film on a flatbed scanner, printed on a basic inkjet printer, and suddenly started to get pictures worth hanging on my walls. That part was certainly exciting. I played with some specialized film bodies, and then took the plunge and bought a digital SLR (which made me throw away my brand loyalty for Nikon and move over to the Canon side of the fence). Image quality was good. I bought some high-end lenses, upgraded my printer, and image quality went higher. I recently pre-ordered the newest camera out there, which should be yet another big step forward and will likely require yet another printer upgrade.

The cost of such high-end equipment can reach dizzying heights, because its capabilities are far above what most consumers will ever need. So can the size and weight. Those constraints mean that most of the time I don't have a camera with me. I have a very good compact film camera, but I find that having to shoot entire rolls of film is annoying. That's exactly the reason why a small digital camera suddenly seemed ideal, even though I was afraid of the kind of results I would get.

Geeks.com gave me a golden opportunity to see for myself what a current low-end digital camera can do. I got my hands on a Kodak CX7220, which is Kodak's absolute entry-level camera today. Retailing for about $70, it barely costs more than a similarly featured film camera, and obviously has no film costs.

One of my Kodak CX7220 pictures So, what can the CX7220 do? It has a 2MP sensor, which on paper should be more than enough pixels for 4x6 prints, assuming that the image characteristics are decent. A 2x zoom that covers the entire "normal" range in 6 steps (39-78mm in 35mm-equivalent angles). Besides a fully-automatic mode, it also features special modes for portraits (blurry background), night (long exposure), landscapes (infinity focus) and macro (close focus). It has a self-timer, and the flash can be forced on or off. It provides exposure compensation. It has a tripod mount. The focus and exposure behaviors are actually documented.

The camera comes with manuals, software (I didn't test the software), a USB cable, a wrist strap, a CRV3 battery, and an adapter plate for the Kodak EasyShare docks and printers.

Kodak obviously paid attention to its target market: consumers who aren't necessarily computer-savvy, or maybe who don't even have a computer. Comsumers who might feel at ease with an interface that's as close to point-and-shoot as possible, with as few controls as possible to get in the way. There's a reasonably clear separation between the photography controls and the digital controls, even though unfortunately some photography controls are buried into menus (I was surprised to see that the self-timer didn't have a dedicated button, and that using the screen as a viewfinder requires to go two menus down).

The interface is non-modal, meaning that buttons always do the same thing (except obviously for the directional controls). At any time, you can take a picture by pressing the shutter release. At any time, you can review pictures by pressing the review button. At any time, you can go to the menu by pressing the menu button. It's a very pleasant interface, which takes few button presses to get things done.

The CX7220 has 16MB of built-in memory, so that you will be able to take about 40 pictures even if you forget your memory card at home. While Kodak doesn't recommend it because of concerns for battery life, it runs fine on standard AA batteries. Kodak claims that it will take up to 500 shots on a single CRV3 lithium battery, which is actually quite impressive.

Kodak's EasyShare system allows to attach the camera directly on top of properly equipped printers, or on a computer-connected dock. I do not have the proper hardware to test those features, but obviously printing or e-mailing pictures can be done without having to touch anything on the computer, or without requiring a computer at all. It looks like a very nice system, and actually seems easier to use than a number of other consumer electronic devices that are scattered throughout the house. My mom could use it.

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