One of the most competitive, take-no-prisoners areas in photography today is centered around the $200 price point for digital cameras. It's a sweet spot for cameras with stripped-down feature sets. This is Kodak's home turf--think of the Brownie camera circa 1900--so you would expect a better-than-average entry-level camera from this company. The Kodak EasyShare C340 is a solid contender but not a trailblazer. The 5-megapixel sensor and the 3X zoom are decent features for the price, and the mostly plastic body feels sturdy and durable. Its biggest assets are easy-to-navigate menus and relatively high-quality photos. The biggest drawback is its undersized, 1.6-inch LCD screen. That might have been acceptable two years ago, but not now, when 1.8-inch screens are common on less expensive cameras. The C340 also falls short on manual controls, though given Kodak's target audience for this model, that's to be expected. Mix it all together, and if you don't mind the small screen and have no aspirations beyond point-and-shoot photos, the Kodak EasyShare C340 could be a safe choice for a budding shutterbug or a confirmed technophobe. If you prefer your camera to be large enough to provide a solid grip, you'll likely be satisfied with the shape and bulk of the Kodak EasyShare C340. Boxlike, with a slight increase in thickness for better contact with your right hand, the silver-toned body allows several stylistic flourishes. A ribbed strip along the top aids traction with your left hand. All the buttons and controls are logically placed, including the display, menu, and delete buttons conveniently positioned beside the LCD screen.
Kodak placed the flash button on top of the camera, along with a dual-function timer/burst button. For beginners who seldom use these buttons, that's probably a good call. For experienced users who assume the flash functions are associated with the four-way controller on the back--as they are with many digital cameras--it will take some getting used to. All the buttons and controls feel strong and durable. The plastic cover for the SD/MMC slot will probably be the first thing to go. When opened, it rests against the metal eyelet for the wrist strap. Push too hard and the cover could break along its hinges.
There's plenty of room on the back of the Kodak EasyShare C340 for a larger LCD screen. That makes it obvious that the undersized display is a product of price rather than available space (as if to prove the point, the pricier Kodak EasyShare C360 has a 2-inch screen). Despite the small screen size, or perhaps because of it, the menu selections are unusually large and easy to distinguish. This would be a good menu system for those with poor eyesight. The lack of manual settings also helps to keep it simple for point-and-shoot users. The Kodak EasyShare C340 is clearly aimed at people who don't want to fuss with manual settings. You can adjust the ISO setting, the focus zone, and the exposure compensation, though you'll have to drop down to the menus to change them. The ISO options range from ISO 80 to ISO 400. The focus zone options are multizone and center zone, with framing marks indicating the approximate focus area during prefocus.
The top-mounted mode dial provides access to the Portrait, Sport, Landscape, and Video modes, among others. The dial also has a dedicated scene selection for access to eight additional automated scene modes, which include Backlight, Snow, Night Portrait, Beach, and Self-Portrait. The camera supports 640x480 video captures, though only at a jerky 13fps. If you're willing to reduce the resolution to 320x240, you can increase the frame rate to 20fps, which is still subpar. You can continue recording your video until the optional SD/MMC card or the onboard 16MB of memory is full. The camera also has a macro mode that focuses down to 5 inches when the lens is set to the extreme wide-angle position.
Kodak uses high-quality Schneider lenses with many of its more expensive models but uses a lesser-quality Retinar lens with this camera. The 3X, all-glass lens is equivalent to a 34mm-to-102mm zoom on a 35mm camera. Its aperture opens from f/2.7 to f/4.6, which is relatively fast for a low-cost camera. In other words, the lens should perform reasonably well in low-light environments.
This model also has an EasyShare button on the back. It lets you tag photos for print or e-mail delivery. Once designated for print, for e-mail, or as a favorite photo, the image will display the appropriate icon whenever you view it from within the camera and will upload to the appropriate place automatically with the included EasyShare software. As with all of Kodak's EasyShare cameras, this one is compatible with an optional USB dock. Overall, the Kodak EasyShare C340 was a middling performer in our tests. On the plus side, the camera's shutter-lag time of 0.4 second in bright light and 0.6 second in dim light means you'll be able to react fairly quickly to fast-changing situations. If you see a child's fleeting smile or a developing sports play, you'll be able to snap an image before the moment passes, which is something you can't say for some competing cameras.
The camera's shot-to-shot time of 2.3 seconds was somewhat better than average. When we switched on the flash, the shot-to-shot time increased but only to 2.6 seconds, which is well above average. Knowing the flash adds only a little extra time will make it easier to fall into a consistent rhythm with shooting. The burst mode breezed through three best-resolution shots in 1.6 seconds.
We were less impressed by the Kodak EasyShare C340's wake-up-to-first-shot time. At 5.5 seconds, it was considerably slower than that of most digital cameras, which makes this model less appropriate for candid shots.
The EasyShare C340's zoom was a little jerky and allowed only four stopping points between the extreme positions. To its credit, the single-speed zoom was highly responsive and easy to nudge from one point to another. The flash was sometimes anemic unless the subject was relatively close to the camera. Occasionally, it greatly overexposed the image.
The autofocus tended to be relatively fast for an entry-level model, in both bright and dim light. It was accurate as long we paid attention to the framing marks to determine where the camera was focusing. The preshot image on the LCD screen was a close match to the captured image. The optical viewfinder, on the other hand, was noticeably out of alignment. It lopped off about 20 percent from the bottom of the image and added about 10 percent to the top.
There's no autofocus-assist lamp with this camera, which made it hard to work with in very dim environments. The small LCD screen and short flash range also limited the camera's capabilities in low light. If you plan to shoot extensively in moderate to low light, you may want to consider another camera. Most entry-level digital cameras oversaturate colors on the assumption that most people prefer heightened colors over accurate colors. The Kodak EasyShare C340 is no exception. Colors were accurate in the sense that they didn't tend to shift toward another hue, but they were consistently stronger than the true colors of the subject.
In shots where the focus and exposure were spot-on, the quality of the lens came through. Given the low price for this camera, we found the lens to be surprisingly sharp. The focus was accurate most of the time, though some of the shots revealed the limitations of the camera's autofocus algorithms. The faster processors in expensive cameras have time to carefully analyze each portion of the frame. The slower processors in inexpensive cameras, on the other hand, have to rely more on assumptions about what the owner might want. As a result, the Kodak EasyShare C340's focus was occasionally off with unusual compositions but tended to be more precise with typical compositions, such as a center-aligned portrait.
Most of our photos exhibited a wide contrast range with little evidence of compression artifacts. The darker areas showed rich detail, though we did experience some color blooming in the lighter highlights. Color fringing was well within acceptable limits. Our low-light photos exhibited obvious levels of visual noise at ISO 160 and higher.
Both of the Kodak EasyShare C340's video resolutions were jerky, especially the 640x480 at 13fps setting. The 320x240 at 20fps setting might be good enough for casual applications, such as e-mail attachments or Web-based downloads.