The problem with many of today's compact digital cameras is the size of the sensor chips that are used in them. Most compacts use a minuscule 1/2.5-inch CCD that's so small even the best lenses struggle to record enough detail. The high level of noise produced by the smaller chips is also a major drawback.
So, when Kodak announced that its latest 8MP compact would use the larger 1/1.8-inch size CCD, it seemed as though the world's best-known photographic brand was finally offering a digital camera that could take great photos in low light and with superior resolution.
And do you know what? Kodak very nearly managed to pull it off, but someone must have decided at the very last minute to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by clamping a soft lens on the front and upping the JPEG compression to a dangerously high level.
The EasyShare V803 offers good specifications on paper, and in an affordable package that's about the dimensions of a medium-size bar of soap. It's even available in a range of attractive colours to suit almost anyone's personality.
To the rear there's a generous 2.5-inch LCD, while at the front there's a Kodak Retinar 3x optical zoom with a range of 36mm-108mm. Until recently, Kodak used Schneider-Kreuznach lenses on many of its compacts, but the super-sharp German glassware has been replaced with a design of Kodak's own making. Sadly, sharpness is lacking and images appear soft and mushy, particularly around the edges.
As you'd expect at such a low price point, the V803 is no leviathan, but it feels solid nonetheless in its high-impact plastic shell. The controls are easy to use and, apart from having to ensure the lens is extended even when you simply want to view your photos, it's a doddle to master. The scene modes are easy to select and the panoramic function works like a dream - it even stitches the image together for you in-camera.
Another interesting feature is Kodak's Picture Perfect technology, a post-shooting function that can adjust levels and tweak an image once you've shot it. It does take a good ten seconds to do all the computing and manipulation, but you can save the tweaked image as a copy rather than over-writing the original file.
How usable is it?
So, this seems like it could be a very usable, affordable and attractive compact camera... until you begin to examine the images it produces. Noise is the first thing that strikes you (certainly no better than a 1/2.5-inch CCD).
The second disappointment is the softness of the lens, which gives a degree of purple fringing and internal reflection. Finally, the JPEG compression ratio which is applied to the saved images is simply too high and a lot of detail is squandered. Unfortunately, unlike most digital cameras, the amount of compression can't be reduced.
Picture taking with the V803 can be a painful experience because, despite the quoted shutter delay of less than 0.4 seconds, the auto-focus mechanism has a tendency to be unreliable, slow and inaccurate. So forget about taking action shots - this camera takes us back to the early days of digital photography, when every shot had to be anticipated carefully because of the agonising delay of the shutter response.
This is almost bordering on unusable and that may have something to do with the Kodak lens... certainly, the Schneider-Kreuznach mechanisms on previous models felt snappier when focusing.
In its attempt to produce an impressive 8MP compact, Kodak has done the right thing by choosing a larger CCD sensor. However, the only aspect of the camera that's worthy of praise is the colour reproduction. Sadly it's wasted the opportunity - what's the use of vibrant colour if your pictures are soft due to JPEG compression and you miss action shots because of a slowcoach shutter?