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Kodak EasyShare M381 review: Kodak EasyShare M381

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MSRP: $169.95

The Good Good photo quality up to ISO 200; easy to operate.

The Bad Cheap feel; no optical image stabilization; narrow lens compared to the competition; noticeable photo quality drop-off at ISO 400.

The Bottom Line Though it's missing a couple of key features for its price, the Kodak EasyShare M381 is a capable and uncomplicated ultracompact camera.

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6.0 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6
  • Image quality 6

As point-and-shoot ultracompacts go, the attraction for the Kodak EasyShare M381 lies in its simplicity. Beyond its 5x zoom, 3-inch LCD, and quite consistent Smart Capture auto mode, the M381 has little to offer. Look at the glut of competition at its price and it's a tough sell. If you can find it for lower than its $170 MSRP, the M381 is a sound choice for casual snapshooters; others will want to keep looking--even within Kodak's other M-series models.

Key specs Kodak EasyShare M381
Price (MSRP) $169.95
Dimensions (WHD) 4 x 2.3 x 0.8 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 5.6 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 230K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 5x, f3-4.8, 35-175mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/Motion JPEG (.AVI)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 3,968x2,976 pixels/ 640x480 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Digital
Battery type, rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 310 shots
Storage media SD/SDHC cards

Available in red, black, and blue-gray, the M381 is small enough to slip in a pants pocket or a small handbag. The body is comfortable to use, but the plastic controls have a decidedly cheap feel to them. On top is a tiny Mode dial and flash, power, and shutter release buttons. The back has a thumb rocker for the 5x zoom, a vertical row of buttons (Delete, Menu, Info, and Play), a four-way control pad, an OK button for setting and menu navigation, and Kodak's Share button, which lets you tag photos as favorites, as ones to upload to a favorite Web site for sharing, or both when the camera is connected to a computer.

Kodak's menus are attractive and generally easy to navigate. None of the shooting options is obscure; however, should you come across a setting you don't understand, a press of the Info button brings up a text description of what the feature does.

For its price there are a couple things missing from the package that you can find on competitive models from both Kodak and other manufacturers. There is no optical or mechanical image stabilization, for one, only electronic blur reduction. Also, the 35mm-equivalent lens is narrow; wide-angle lenses are easy to come by in its class. It doesn't do HD video capture either, but that's less of an issue than the other absent features.

General shooting options Kodak EasyShare M381
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Open Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent
Recording modes Smart Capture, Program, Scene, Sport, Blur Reduction, Panorama, Movie
Focus modes Multi AF, Center AF, Macro, Infinity, Continuous AF
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Natural, Sepia, Black & White, High, Low
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 3 photos

Kodak's Smart Capture auto mode is, again, one of the highlights on the M381. It integrates scene and face detection, optimized (and conservative) auto ISO, and a broader dynamic range among other things, so you truly don't have to worry about a setting to take a decent picture. This mode also applies Kodak's Perfect Touch technology to help improve detail and contrast. There's a Program mode if you want to take control over ISO, focus, light metering, and sharpness, or use the color effects. There are 18 scene modes to pick from including Snow, Beach, Text, Fireworks, and Backlight, but nothing too unusual. The Mode dial also has spots for Sport and Blur Reduction modes that boost ISO and shutter speed, as well as Panorama (shoot two or three photos and the camera will stitch them together) and a basic Movie option.

Shooting performance is mixed from the M381. Start-up to first shot is a bit long at 2.6 seconds. Shot-to-shot times are very good, though, at 1.1 seconds without the flash and only 1.5 seconds with. And although the camera's burst mode is limited to three shots at a time, it takes them quickly at 2.1 frames per second. The biggest issue is shutter lag in bright conditions at 0.6 second. It does well in dim lighting, however, at 0.7 second.

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