A rugged, waterproof camera that's great for kids. For adults, though, the image quality of this £60 compact may disappoint.
This camera's two biggest selling points - funky colours aside - are its size and waterproof case, the latter of which justifies the 'Sport' in its name. It also explains the kid-proof construction. The question is, how does so small a snapper perform in day to day use? We ran the 12 megapixel EasyShare Sport C123 through our regular rigorous tests to find out.
There's nothing subtle about this camera. It's small, sure, but the back is a screwed in panel housing the small 2.4in screen, the rear-mounted buttons are rubber and the chunky handgrip is home to two AA batteries. Kodak supplies a pair of cells to get you started, but they're not rechargeable.
The lack of a bespoke battery pack isn't the only compromise, either: there's no optical zoom, only a 5x digital version, and the shutter release doesn't pause at the half way point to meter the scene. You might wonder why you'd want to do this on a camera with a fixed focus lens as it obviously doesn't need to shuffle about the glass to fix the focus. But it would still be good to have the option to meter the light directly off something that isn't in the centre of the field of view and then re-frame before shooting. This is a 'point and shoot' in the most literal sense.
In the image below, for example, the trees in the background have lost a considerable degree of detail. Lighter trunks are subsumed into the background at the points where the sun crosses over them, as the EasyShare Sport metered for the logs in the foreground. Admittedly this meant that we ended up with a well exposed log pile, but even when dialling in a high level of recovery in post production we were unable to recover much of the lost information.
The C123 has three metering modes -- multi pattern, centre-weighted and face priority -- and eight scene modes to choose from, and although we performed our tests with it set to auto, there are dedicated options for portrait, sunset, backlight and fireworks, among others.
In regular use, the shutter speed can sit anywhere between 1/4 and 1/4000 of a second. This is selected by the camera as manual controls are few and far between. However, you can manually set a 'Long Time Exposure' in the menu (we'd prefer to have access to this directly from shooting mode) that lets you fix 0.5, 1, 2, 4 or 8 second exposures.
The lens has a focal length equivalent to 35mm in a 35mm camera. This is a good choice, putting it fairly close to the middle of the range of consumer dSLRs' frequently-bundled 18 - 55mm kit lenses. The images' metadata revealed them all to have been shot with a fixed aperture of f/4.5, which is a decent compromise between the wide apertures that would produce an unnaturally shallow depth of field in non-marco, non-portrait shots, and the narrower measurements that would be ideally suited to landscapes but start to impact shutter speeds.
So, how did it perform?
We started out in some woods to see how well it coped with areas of high detail, such as a leaf-covered floor, and striking contrasts, such as tree trunks passing across both foliage and bright skies. There was certainly plenty of detail in the fallen leaves, and even inside the shelter seen in the image below made from stacked branches. Although this appears dark in the unedited photo, increasing the exposure in post production revealed plenty of detail within the shadows.
As the subjects recede, though, and we move towards the back of the frame, the level of definition becomes poorer. The leaves on the floor become a general texture and the green branches towards the top of the frame take on a sketched appearance.
With no half-press position on the shutter release, the Easyspare Sport doesn't indicate when your subject is in focus, which can make it difficult to frame. This image of a mushroom, for example, lacks detail as it's too close to the lens, despite laying around 30cm from the camera. The leaves in the background, however, are focused. Unfortunately the lens' actual focal distance is not detailed on the Kodak site, the bundled user guide sheet or the downloadable extended user guide PDF.
When shooting in brighter conditions, such as the grassy hillside seen below, the EasyShare Sport had a tendency to fudge middle- and far-range detail. When zoomed to 100%, the well-illuminated grass looks like it's been smeared, with much of its texture lost in a general green spread. Further back, detail is also lost in the trees that fill the valley.
We saw similar problems in the image, below, of trees reflected in a lake. Again, this scene was evenly lit in fairly bright sunlight, and when zoomed out it looks clean, but zooming to 100% reveals that in this case the trees' foliage is characterised by a geometric, woven pattern that suggests a strong level of compression has been applied to the image as a whole, borne out by the fact that this 12 megapixel shot consumes just 2.3MB of disk space. The same image taken using the 12 megapixel EasyShare Max Z990, for comparison, is 4MB.
Its performance was underwhelming, too, in our internal still-life test, in which we shot a collection of everyday objects with differing surface colours and textures under studio lighting, ambient light and using the camera's onboard flash. Most of the objects in our scene, which stretches around 50cm from from front to back, were too close to the lens to appear in focus, although the backcloth of our light cube was focused, along with the rear of the bean can.
However, even under studio lighting, in which most cameras perform their best, the EasyShare Sport turned in a disappointing result. Although it kept its sensitivity down to ISO 80 under these conditions the results were grainy. When using studio lights it kept the shutter open for 1/100 second, but when we switched them off and instead relied on the ambient light it slowed this to 1/20 second while simultaneously increasing sensitivity to ISO 160. Although this didn't greatly increase the level of noise in the image it did increase the contrasts, and those parts of the image that were more brightly lit were better exposed due to the slower shutter speed.
Forcing the flash to fire led to greatly improved results. Much of the noise was eliminated from the scene and although there was obviously no change to the overall level of focus in the image due to the positioning of our subject relative to the lens, the results were clearer overall when viewed in full screen.
The EasyShare Sport records movies at an underwhelming 640 x 480 pixels. This is low by modern standards, with even many mobile phones shooting higher resolution footage.
Although colours were accurate and it coped well with changing light levels as we moved the camera within the scene as we shot, it picked up a lot of extraneous noise, which we can only put down to fingers moving slightly in the case, despite the fact that we kept our hands as still as we could, relative to the camera body.
The mono microphone also recorded a poor soundtrack in which the audio sounded boxed in.
We were disappointed by the EasyShare Sport. Although it's not expensive, we don't feel that the low price sufficiently compensates for the poor results we achieved in many of our tests. We like the body colours and love its compact size, but the quality of its output leaves us unable to recommend it when there are other sporty, waterproof cameras on offer. (See, for example, the £230 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3.)
If, however, you were looking for a first camera for a young child then the EasyShare Sport may well suit. It's rugged, has no moving external parts to scuff or snap off (a long zoom, for example) and should withstand being left out in the rain or dropped on a dewey lawn.