Holiday gift guide: Digital cameras

With many camera's now boasting 12 megapixels, resolution doesn't matter so much now, but what does?

EasyShare C653 Silver Digital Camera

The EasyShare C653 (US$130 as of 5/10/07) is a simple, inexpensive point-and-shoot with a built-in help system. It's not the most stylish camera, though you get a lot for relatively few dollars: 6.1-megapixel imaging, a 2.4-inch LCD screen, and, most important, good-looking photos. Thankfully, there's also an eye-level viewfinder for framing your shots, because images in the LCD can be difficult to see in bright sunlight.

Operating the C653 was comfortable and trouble-free, for the most part. Startup is a very quick 2 seconds. The large shutter release button is surrounded by an easy-to-rotate mode dial with positions for auto, macro, movie, and scene mode; the last of these offers a choice of 19 shooting conditions, such as low light, sunset, and children, plus one I am unlikely to use: close-up self-portrait. There's an in-camera photo-enhancement tool called Perfect Touch, though this was hit or miss when I tried it. A dedicated delete button lets you trash photos during preview.

Perhaps the most novel feature is the camera's ability to stitch together up to three consecutive shots in a panorama. Its stitching method is really simple--the camera displays a small portion of the previous photo on the LCD to help you line up your next shot--but it limits each image to 3.1 megapixels. Processing the first two shots took about 9 seconds each; after shooting the third image, the camera took roughly 22 seconds to produce the final panorama. However, my efforts at panoramas when holding the camera by hand (no tripod) produced poor results: Differences in the exposures were evident in blue sky, and some edges did not line up properly.

As you'd expect with a low-cost camera, advanced exposure controls are few. An exposure value control on the four-way thumb button helps you compensate for difficult lighting. But you don't get automatic exposure bracketing, manual focus, or even white-balance calibration, a standard feature in most digital cameras. I was pleased, though, to find a gridline option for keeping my horizons level.

Given the camera's low price, the C653's photos came out quite well--and earned an overall image quality score of Very Good in our lab tests. My informal shots looked sharp and nicely exposed, though they suffered from a slight blue cast in a waterfront scene with lots of sky. Compared with my old 5.1-megapixel Olympus C5060, the C653 was least sharp when it was set to full telephoto.

The bundled EasyShare software is a fine image management application that automatically creates a thumbnail database of all photos on your hard disk and offers a burn CD/DVD function for backing them up. Though limited in capabilities, the photo-fixing tools are easy to use. The manual is through, but you'll have to download it from Kodak's Web site.

The C653 runs on AA batteries, which lasted just 160 shots in our tests, far less than the average of 260 frames.

The EasyShare C653 isn't a good choice for anyone who's moved beyond novice photography. But its simplicity is a perfect fit for someone who just wants to take the occasional family snapshot.

Tracey Capen

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