If you want a camera that takes great photos and has a larger-than-normal optical zoom range, the 8X-optical-zoom Kodak EasyShare M580 ($170) fits the bill. It’s one of the best point-and-shoot cameras we’ve tested this year in terms of exposure quality, and it’s incredibly easy to use. Its ease of use and sub-$200 price, however, come at the expense of manual controls and exciting in-camera features.

The lens of the 14-megapixel M580 starts at 28mm for wide-angle and zooms all the way up to 224mm at full telephoto. The M580 is completely built for automation, and the camera does a good job of it. The Smart Capture mode identifies the scene automatically and adjusts the camera’s settings for the situation. When you attempt to shoot a macro, it automatically turns to the macro scene mode, and in general it’s smart enough to choose the best scene mode to handle your shot.

You have 20 scene modes to choose from; they also correspond to the presets that the camera selects from in Smart Capture mode. It’s a good thing that the scene-mode selections are so extensive, because you don’t get manual control over the aperture or shutter; in Smart Capture mode, shutter speeds range from 8 seconds to 1/1400 of a second. In Program mode, you can manually select ISO settings (from 80 to 1600), exposure compensation steps, and white-balance presets.

One notable in-camera extra is the EasyShare M580′s Share button, which tags photos or video for immediate transfer to Facebook, Flickr, Kodak Gallery, YouTube, or an e-mail address as soon as you connect the camera to a computer. It’s well implemented for what it is, and it’s a nice convenience for snapshooters who like to organize photos for sharing while they’re still on the camera. That said, since you still need to connect the camera to your computer in order to make the Share function happen, it won’t save much time for most users. Don’t expect an immediate wireless upload to the sharing sites of your choice.

Image and video quality
In the Macworld lab’s subjective evaluations for image quality, the M580 was a standout performer in exposure quality, turning in one of the best scores we’ve seen this year for a point-and-shoot camera and earning a rating of Superior in that category. Color and sharpness in test images taken with the M580 achieved scores of Good, while distortion levels received a less-impressive score of Fair.

However, when we used the camera while out and about, the M580 tended to suffer from shaky or blurry images. Kodak lists this camera as having "image stabilization" but doesn’t specify whether it’s optical, mechanical, or digital stabilization. From the looks of the pictures, we’re guessing it’s digital stabilization, as that’s normally the least-effective form of in-camera stabilization.

Although the M580 handles video well, you can’t use its optical zoom while shooting. The camera captures 720p high-definition video at 30 frames per second, saved as .MOV files. In our lab’s subjective tests for video, the camera bested most of its pocket-megazoom competition, turning in a video-quality rating of Very Good.

Here are the sample clips we recorded for our subjective video evaluations, under bright light and low light. Select 720p from the drop-down menu in the lower-right corner of each player to see each clip at its highest resolution.

The 3-inch LCD screen on the EasyShare M580 is big and bright enough for you to see and compose shots in sunlight; it’s nice to have that big a screen, too, if you use the in-camera Share tagging features. The camera itself is made of a semidurable plastic, weighing around 6 ounces with a battery and SD Card inserted. Considering the camera’s dependence on Smart Capture mode, it’s surprising how many buttons are present. You’ll find four buttons on the top: a power button, a flash button, a still/video selector, and the shutter release. A rocker switch on the back of the camera handles the zoom controls. Also on the back of the camera are five more buttons (delete, menu, information, playback, and the Share button) and a four-way directional pad.

 

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