Check out an examination of photo quality from the Kodak EasyShare M580, a 14-megapixel compact with a wide-angle lens and 8x zoom for less than $170.
While the M580 certainly has its quirks, the photo quality was actually better than expected, putting it on par with other similarly featured models. Yes, photos still get noticeably softer, less detailed, and noisier at ISO 400, but that's true of most compacts regardless of price. Its Smart Capture auto mode, as noted earlier, maxes out at ISO 400, so you will in fact get reliably nice results in that mode as long as you have good light. Should you need to use the two higher ISO settings, the results will definitely not be as nice with slightly washed out or off colors and significantly softer details. The photos at ISO 800 and 1,600 are suitable for small prints or Web use at small sizes with little or no cropping, but that's about it. (View larger.)
The M580 does well in Macro mode. It's able to focus as close as 3.6 inches from a subject and as long as you have a lot of light, you'll be able to get decent sharpness and fine detail. (View larger.)
The M580's 8x zoom lens is more than you'll get on an ultracompact, but without adding too much of the bulk or weight associated with a slightly longer compact megazoom. Combined with the 28mm-equivalent wide-angle lens (top) it's flexible for shooting portraits and group shots, landscapes, or simply getting closer to your subject when you physically can't. (View larger.)
There is slight asymmetrical barrel distortion when the lens is at its widest position (top) as well as some pincushion distortion when the lens is fully extended (bottom). The lens sharpness is good and consistent edge to edge in our lab tests. However, in regular use there is some increased softness on the upper left side when the lens is at its widest position. Kodak does an excellent job of controlling fringing in high-contrast areas, with little to none visible.
Color performance is quite good--at least from ISO 80-400. Subjects look natural, bright, and vivid and colors are reasonably accurate. If you want to punch them up a bit there's a High Color setting as well as a Low Color setting should you want them a bit more faded looking. Exposure is very good as is white balance with the exception of the Tungsten setting, which is a little green. The auto white balance had the same results.