The typical ultracompact digital camera often has your back up against a wall when equipped with a wide angle that affords no better than the equivalent of a 35mm-to-39mm view. Eastman Kodak has a better idea: including a second, ultrawide 23mm (35mm-camera equivalent) fixed-focal-length lens that broadens your viewpoint when faced with tight spots or breathtaking panoramas. The stylish Kodak EasyShare V570 mates this wide-angle lens with a separate 39mm-to-117mm 3X zoom lens. Each lens has its own sensor, thanks to a folded optical path that accommodates a 5-megapixel pair. The ultrawide lens is the perfect complement for the V570's in-camera panorama-stitching feature, which can capture a full 180-degree vista with only three shots.
Unfortunately, only average picture quality, a lack of manual controls, and a few ergonomic glitches take some of the shine off the V570's innovation luster. And the camera doesn't really offer the 5X optical zoom capability that Kodak claims; in our book, this is a 3X zoom camera with a supplemental wide-angle lens. But those who fall in love with this ultracompact's wide view, high-quality 2.5-inch LCD, 22 automatic scene modes, and included USB dock will probably be happy to overlook its shortcomings. The Kodak EasyShare V570 gets high marks for style. Its sleek, 4-by-2-by-0.8-inch, 5-ounce black body, with chrome accents and back panel, looks sharp from any angle. You'll need a two-handed shooting stance to hold the camera a comfortable half-arm's length away for composing images, as it's virtually impossible to suspend the index finger of your shooting hand over the shutter release while thumbing the vertically oriented zoom tab. Indeed, this odd control makes repeated in-and-out zooming awkward at best. The most comfortable way to operate it is with your thumb resting on either the top half to zoom in or the bottom half to zoom out.
With the V570's dual Schneider-Kreuznach C-Variogon lens configuration, the optics remain recessed in the camera, behind a retracting silver cover that also shields the focus assist lamp. The ultrawide lens gets the upper bunk on the front, while the 3X zoom takes the lower. A prism behind the front element of each lens deflects incoming light toward the right (when viewing the camera from the front), where additional optics focus the image onto separate 1/2.5-inch CCDs.
The zoom process itself is entertaining the first few times you try it out. An odd combination of optical and digital zoom bridges the gap between the two lenses, giving you the impression of zooming seamlessly from 23mm to 117mm and beyond. The digital zoom takes you from the 23mm lens to the wide 39mm end of the zoom lens, then hardware takes over and zooms optically from 39mm to 117mm, where an additional 4X digital zoom takes over again. You can also turn digital zoom off entirely, in which case the camera's zoom jumps directly from 23mm to the 39mm-to-117mm range. A yellow-and-red-striped indicator bar on the LCD shows what zoom range you're using.
There's one problem with the system: a parallax change when switching from one lens to the other. At relatively close distances, the framed area alters noticeably when the digital zoom takes you from one lens to the other.
Although most of the controls are sensibly laid out and easy to use, the zoom button isn't the only source of problems. There are five tiny buttons on the top surface of the camera, and when hurried, we often pressed the power button instead of the shutter release or the Scene mode button instead of the similar Motion Picture or Favorites buttons. In addition, the very small four-way joystick on the right side of the back panel navigated with lightning speed through menu options, but it was easy to accidentally push this key, selecting a setting we didn't really want. When not zipping around menus, the joystick adjusts the LCD information display (up), shifts between macro and normal focus (down), and applies exposure compensation (left/right, for plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV steps). Aimed at snapshooters who want versatility in addition to style, the Kodak EasyShare V570 offers scene modes galore, including Portrait, Panorama Stitch, Sport, Landscape, Close-up, Night Portrait, Night Landscape, Snow, Beach, Text, Fireworks, Flower, Museum, Self-Portrait, Party, Children, Backlight, Panning, Candlelight, Sunset, and a Custom option. That last mode saves the current settings when you turn the camera off, for later retrieval when you next use the Custom scene mode.
The ultrawide 23mm (35mm-camera equivalent) lens makes the panorama feature a blast to use. Select either left-to-right or right-to-left panorama scene mode and the camera shifts into 3.1-megapixel-per-shot resolution. As you work, an edge of the last shot taken appears at the side of the LCD, making it easy to line up the next image. When all three are exposed, the camera automatically assembles the photos into one 180-degree image, even if your alignment isn't perfect.
While exposure adjustments other than exposure compensation can't be set manually, you can choose from multipattern, center-weighted, and center-spot metering, as well as shift sensitivity from ISO 64 to ISO 400, plus ISO 800 when the camera is set for 1.8-megapixel resolution. In full Auto mode, the camera limits the ISO between 64 to 160. The EasyShare V570 combines a fixed f-stop (f/2.8 for the ultrawide lens and f/3.9 or f/4.4 for the zoom lens) with shutter speeds from 8 seconds to 1/1,448 second. Experimenters will find buried in the menu system an option for manually set time exposures ranging from 0.5 to 8 seconds.
There's lots of flexibility built into the autofocus system, although no manual focus is available. You can choose multi- or center-zone autofocus, as well as switch between single autofocus (the camera locks focus when the shutter release is partially depressed) and continuous autofocus (the camera keeps changing focus as required when your framing or subject moves once the shutter release is pressed halfway). You can focus as close as 2 inches with the zoom lens but no closer than 2.6 feet with the ultrawide lens. That's a shame because we would have liked to turn off the barrel-distortion correction and try out some semi-fish-eye effects with the 23mm lens from a few inches away.
Movie buffs will love the 640x480-pixel, 30fps movie capabilities, with built-in digital image stabilization. You can edit or split your MPEG-4 videos in-camera, and each clip can be as long as 80 minutes. You can also extract individual frames as low-res stills or print them in 4-, 9-, or 16-up composites.
The EasyShare V570 comes with Kodak's Photo Frame Dock 2 for picture transfer, battery charging, and slide shows. With the exception of shutter lag, which was minimal at 0.6 second under high-contrast lighting and 0.7 second under low-contrast conditions with a boost from the red LED focus-assist lamp, most of the Kodak EasyShare V570's performance figures were right in the middle of the pack. Time to first shot was 3.45 seconds, and thereafter, we were able to snap off pictures every 2.11 seconds (2.48 seconds with flash). Burst mode clocked in at a hair less than 2 shots per second for a total of four images per burst at both full resolution and the 1.8-megapixel setting. Unlike some other Kodak cameras we've tested recently, this one has an LCD screen that doesn't black out between sequential shots.
The LCD itself is the kind of display you pray for on a camera that has no optical viewfinder: big, at 2.5 inches; sharp, with 230,000 pixels; and bright enough to use in direct sunlight outdoors. The LCD image gains up nicely under dim illumination, too, making it easier to tolerate some ghosting when the camera or subject moves.
As you might expect from such a small camera with a 720mAh lithium-ion battery, the electronic flash is on the anemic side. Fortunately, Kodak has optimized coverage for the 23mm ultrawide lens, as many users will be using this wide-view optic indoors, where the flash provides even lighting out to 10 feet at ISO 200. A lot of the available flash illumination is lost with narrower views; the speedlight is good only to 6.2 feet at the 39mm setting and 7.2 feet at the telephoto end, both at ISO 200. Because its unique lens setup's versatility is the hallmark of the Kodak EasyShare V570, we'd hoped for better image quality. The 3X zoom lens offered about the same image quality you'd expect from a run-of-the-mill 5-megapixel camera, while the fixed-focal-length lens performed about the same, except with that impressive ultrawide view. Both lenses suffered from purple fringing and a touch of blooming. While the 23mm lens's optional barrel-distortion correction did a good job, its faux zoom function provided too much of a quality penalty to be used seriously; we quickly switched digital zoom off completely.
A limited dynamic range, manifested by highlights that were easily blown and shadows that were often too dark, was accompanied by abundant JPEG artifacts. Our images also showed noise that became easily noticeable at ISO 400 and more objectionable at the ISO 800 setting that can be used when the camera is set to 1.8-megapixel resolution.
However, we liked the colors this camera produced. Blues and reds were fully saturated and brilliant, and flesh tones had only a slight reddish cast. The camera's red-eye-prevention preflash eliminated most--but not all--of the red glow in human pupils.