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Size matters in electronics, and smaller often tends to be better. Thick, heavy gadgets fit poorly into pockets, feel uncomfortable to carry around, and simply aren't sexy. In the last year, I can count on one hand the number of snapshot cameras I've reviewed that measured more than an inch across. That's why the Kodak EasyShare C653, Kodak's super-low-budget 6-megapixel shooter, confounds me so much.
At 1.4 inches thick, its chunky, blocky body refuses to fit comfortably in all but the largest jacket and shirt pockets. With two AA batteries and an SD card, it weighs a hefty 6.9 ounces. Even the cheapest budget cameras today can be built small and light, making the C653's bricklike form feel downright anachronistic. I took it to a barbecue, and my friends marveled at the fact that it was a new Kodak; they first thought it was a camera from 2001.
The camera includes a 6-megapixel CCD and a 3x optical, 36mm-to-108mm-equivalent lens, both standard ingredients in a budget shooter. Its 2.4-inch LCD leaves enough room for a small optical viewfinder, a welcome provision on any camera. Besides an Automatic shooting mode, the C653 offers 20 different scene presets for various situations. You can also adjust the camera's white balance and ISO sensitivity, an increasingly rare option on budget cameras. Like all Kodak EasyShare cameras, the C653 works with Kodak's EasyShare docks and photo printers. The camera's sadly deficient Movie mode feels like another relic of the past; while most inexpensive digital cameras offer 30fps VGA movies, the C653 can only shoot at 10 frames per second, rendering video jerky and ugly.
After taking 3 seconds to start up and capture its first JPEG, the camera could fire off a new shot every 1.7 seconds with the flash turned off. With the onboard flash enabled, that wait increased to 2.4 seconds. The shutter lagged only 0.5 second with our high-contrast target, and 1.4 seconds with our low-contrast target. Finally, the camera could take a burst of 3 full-resolution stills in 1.1 seconds for a speedy rate of 2.8 frames per second. Unfortunately, Burst mode is locked at three stills at a time.
While the C653 performed adequately in our lab tests, a strange quirk raised our eyebrows. If you press the shutter release down quickly, the camera will take a shot immediately, without getting a focus lock. Unless you want most of your photos to come out blurry and out of focus, you have to press the shutter release down halfway until it focuses, then press it down completely to take the picture. We've seen this before in several of Casio's Exilim cameras as a "feature," but in those cameras it could be disabled to allow for normal shooting. The C653 doesn't offer such a choice.
Photos taken with the C653 look good enough for e-mails, Web sites, and 4x6 prints. Unfortunately, their flaws become quickly apparent as soon as you try to use them for anything bigger or more complex. At its lowest sensitivity settings of ISO 80 and ISO 100, we saw only minimal ISO-related noise, but did see other image artifacts that caused some curved lines to become jaggy and often created off-color pixels on edges between two different colors. ISO-related noise becomes apparent at sensitivity settings as low as ISO 200. This grain becomes even more prominent at ISO 400, and by the camera's maximum sensitivity of ISO 1250, photos become a blurry, faded, noisy mess. Besides noise, the C653's photos suffer from extreme levels of fringing. Harsh, bright purple-pink auras appear around many white and near-white objects shot with the camera.
Between its ugly, chunky design and disappointing image quality, the Kodak EasyShare C653 is disappointing even as a budget snapshot camera. Five years ago, this 6-megapixel shooter might have barely passed muster, but today it's simply unacceptable. If you want decent pictures, you should seriously consider doling out the extra cash for a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W35 or an Olympus FE-230 instead of this Kodak. For just a little more cash, you'll get a sleek, small, 7-megapixel camera that produces far nicer photos. The C653's sub-$150 price might look appealing, but it's simply not worth it.
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