Kodak EasyShare C663
|Viewfinder:||Optical / LCD|
|Dimensions:||3.3 x 2.5 x 1.4 in.
(85 x 65 x 36 mm)
|Weight:||5.2 oz (147 g)|
Kodak C663 Overview
by Dan Havlik
Review date: 06/22/2006
Making easy-to-use cameras has long been Kodak's bread and butter and the new EasyShare C663 is no exception. With a simple set of controls and a simple user interface -- not to mention the camera's seamless pairing with Kodak's popular and, yes, easy-to-use Printer Docks -- the C663 appears to be yet another straightforward Kodak camera with mass market appeal. Where the 6-megapixel, 3x optical C663 breaks new ground though is in being the first digital camera from Kodak to incorporate Kodak Perfect Touch, a proprietary technology previously only offered on its printers, kiosks, or via lab processing for digital images and film. (Does anyone out there still remember film processing?) By bringing Kodak Perfect Touch to its digital cameras, Big Yellow is obviously hoping to differentiate itself from a crowded field of competitors, many of whom offer very similar features on their entry-level models. According to Kodak, at the touch of a button on the camera, Kodak Perfect Touch "creates better, brighter pictures by bringing out detail in shadows without affecting lighter areas." In this review, I'll take a look at whether those claims hold up and whether putting Kodak Perfect Touch in digital cameras might be a technology that really clicks with consumers.
Kodak C663 User Report
The Kodak EasyShare C663 is the latest example of just how far lower-end digital cameras have come. Boasting a 6-megapixel CCD sensor, a Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon 3x optical zoom lens and a generous 2.5-inch LCD, all for just under $300, the C663 offers great value for the price. Add that the C663 is the first model in Kodak's line to include its Kodak Perfect Touch technology and this digital camera seems to be a steal. There are some trade-offs though. While the Kodak C663's 6MP sensor will give you more than enough resolution to make prints as big as 11x14s -- and maybe even a little larger -- like a lot of cameras in this class, images will be noisy in low light at ISO 400 and above. Similarly, while the 2.5-inch screen is quite large, with only 115,000-pixels of resolution, the quality of the live view and image playback are worse than average. And last, while Kodak Perfect Touch seems like a great feature to bring to an entry-level model where most users will want the camera to do all the work, accessing the feature is not as easy as it should have been, and results were only hit or miss.
Form Follows Function
Small and solid, the Kodak C663 has a likeable functionality to its design that won't intimidate first time digital camera owners. Accepting either CRV3 lithium, two AA Lithium, two AA Ni-MH rechargeable or Kodak Ni-MH rechargeable digital camera batteries (KAA2HR) in a slot below the handgrip, the camera was stable and well-balanced but might feel a little hefty to consumers used to featherweight super slim models. It's a matter of personal preference but I don't mind a little heft to my digital camera as long as it has balance. You can easily "one-hand" the C663 with very little unwanted shake thanks to the ample handgrip. Without the batteries and SD Card, the camera weighs in at just 5.3 ounces. It's pretty small too, at just 3.3 (W) x 2.5 (H) x 1.4 (D) inches.
Though it's made largely of polycarbonate, the Kodak C663 has lots of nice metal accents and buttons to give it more of a luxurious feel. Controls are well-placed, and the camera includes a tiny metal joystick for easy scrolling through menus and adjusting settings. You can also use the joystick for reviewing images which is a great feature. My only gripe is I wish the joystick were slightly larger. While you obviously don't want the joystick to be so big that it's jabbing you in the leg, I did find the tip of my finger frequently slipping off in mid scroll. Don't get me wrong though -- joysticks and jog wheels on the back of digital cameras are a great step forward in camera functionality. When the four-way multi-selector is finally put to rest, I'll be a happy man.
The 2.5-inch display on the Kodak C663 is large and bright but lacks serious resolution. At just 115,000 pixels, it's hard to judge the quality of your shots, especially right after capture. During the quick Auto Review, the camera shows the image you just took as a very low-res version. Perhaps this is to speed up the review process while it gives you a quick look but it makes the images appear horribly pixelated and blown out. It's also probably not a good idea to totally trust the quality of images during regular playback since these aren't very high-resolution either. The best bet is to just pop your memory card into a reader and review them on your computer monitor -- which of course completely defeats the purpose of having a large LCD on your camera.
A Little Sluggish
The Kodak C663 is a little sluggish at start-up, clocking in about five seconds from power up to first shot. The longest part of the start-up was waiting for the opening display of the Kodak EasyShare logo screen to disappear. I dug through menus but couldn't seem to find a way to turn this opening sequence off, though it's possible do so on competitor's models. Shutter lag was also longer on the Kodak C663 than other models in this class, at about 0.41 second without pre-focusing and about 0.08 when pre-focusing. Zoom speed seemed decent but shot to shot the camera slowed to a crawl again, registering about two seconds between the first two shots, then eight seconds between each when the buffer filled (this is in single shot mode).
Though the Kodak C663's Sports Scene Mode did a surprisingly good job of freezing the action of a basketball game at New York's legendary West 4th Street Courts, the "First Burst" continuous mode which shoots at 2 frames per second for up to five shots had trouble keeping up with the action. Even worse, because the LCD screen totally blacks out during the First Burst mode, you have no idea what you're shooting after the first shot if you're looking at the display on the back, making the whole sequence a "Hail Mary." Thankfully there's an optical viewfinder to use in this mode. The same is true for the Last Burst mode which can take up to 30 pictures continuously while the Shutter button is pressed, saving the last four shots when it's released. This feature is great for special events like a child blowing out the candles at a birthday party when you're not quite sure when the perfect moment will be.
Good Color, Sharp Lens
In daylight situations, image quality on the Kodak C663 is excellent, especially when shooting in the Natural Color setting. The camera captured very accurate skin tones which is a big plus for a models in this class which typically produce inconsistent results. Credit should be given to the Kodak Color Science processing chip for performing well in bright conditions. In lower light on ISO 400 it was another story however, with skin showing some mottling along with serious noise in the shadow detail. The camera also suffered from some purple fringing, especially in shots of tree branches against the sky, which is the true test. In regular conditions though, purple fringing was limited to distant objects on the far end of the zoom, which is fairly typical of cameras in this class. The Kodak C663's 3x optical Schneider lens performed well overall, maintaining decent sharpness all the way to the corners. Most surprisingly, as mentioned earlier, was that the camera did a such a good job of freezing action in its Sports Mode setting, capturing a frenzied sequence during a basketball game with very little blur. Sports settings on most consumer cameras can be a bit gratuitous, usually only able to keep up with a child's soccer game, at best. While certainly not fast enough to compete with even an upper level consumer digital camera, the C663 is very functional at fast shutter speeds.
Switching between the various settings and modes on the Kodak C663 is not the speediest process and takes some getting used to if you're more familiar with higher end models. Rather than have a dedicated on/off switch, like most cameras, the C663 puts the "off" setting on the Mode dial. There's no specific "on" setting, just a series of modes on the dial that automatically turn the camera on. So, if you want to just review pictures, you first have to switch the dial to Auto and then hit the Review button on the back of the camera. Kudos to Kodak for the labeling the playback button simply as "review." While most anyone who's handled a digital camera knows that the little green or blue triangle usually symbolizes playback, new users might not be familiar with the icon. Calling the button "Review" seems like a no-brainer and it's surprising Kodak's the only manufacturer I know of to name it so plainly. The same goes for the Kodak C663's menu button which is named "menu," the delete button which is named "delete" and the share button which is named, you guessed it, "share."
For more hard-core digital camera users there is some welcome manual control on the Kodak C663 under the P/M setting on the mode dial. Under P, for Program, you can control exposure compensation with the camera automatically selecting shutter speed and aperture based on the lighting. Under Program, you can also pick an ISO setting from 80 to 400. In Manual, you can set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Exposure compensation acts as an exposure meter recommending a proper combo of aperture and shutter speed to produce a decent exposure. While I liked the manual options offered on the Kodak C663 as well as the logic of the selections on the mode dial, after a couple of days of shooting with the camera, I found that constantly having to turn the dial to adapt to various shooting conditions to be a bit cumbersome. Furthermore, waking the camera up after it had gone to "sleep" in one of the various modes is a chore, involving turning the dial back to "off" and then flipping it back to an "on" setting.
Also more difficult than it should be is finding the Kodak Perfect Touch correction technology on the Kodak C663. Instead of having a dedicated button on the camera labeled, for instance, Kodak Perfect Touch, you need to fire up the menu to find it. To access the feature, first select a picture that looks underexposed in Review mode and hit the menu button. Then scroll down to the icon that says "Perfect Touch Tech." and press in the joystick. The camera will take about three seconds to process the image, showing you an hourglass symbol on a blue screen as you wait. Once it's completed, the Kodak C663 will then present two images side-by-side -- the original image on the left and the enhanced image on the right. Pushing in the joystick again will let you save the enhanced image while also keeping the original.
For anyone who's used recent versions of Photoshop, Perfect Touch basically acts as an automatic version of the "Shadows" adjustment, cranking up the brightness in the dark areas while maintaining adequate exposure in the lighter sections. My results using the feature were mixed, with Kodak Perfect Touch doing a decent job of adjusting exposure on images in need of minor tweaking in the shadows. In pictures that had severe contrast -- especially those shot at ISO 400 -- increasing the exposure through Kodak Perfect Touch also increased noise considerably, rendering several shots I took in a dark bar with adequate lighting on the subject, practically unusable. Will consumers see the benefits or Kodak Perfect Touch, let alone, find the feature on the Kodak C663? It's a good question. Including a dedicated button on the camera for the technology would be a good idea. Spotlighting the feature more in the materials that come with the camera would also be smart. I found no mention of Kodak Perfect Touch on the Kodak C663's box or in its QuickStart guide. Aside from a single mention on page 35 of the manual, consumers might not know it exists on this camera at all. I suspect Kodak will highlight this feature more heavily in future models when it's rolled out across the line.
Making the Connection
There's no denying that one of the biggest appeals of Kodak's EasyShare cameras is the easy way they connect to Kodak's EasyShare Printer Docks. When hooking up to the current model, the Printer Dock Plus Series 3, the Kodak C663 can make a 4x6-inch print at home in as fast as 60 seconds which is a big plus for novices in a hurry. As with the Kodak Perfect Touch technology though, you can probably get better results with just a little imaging and printing know-how, but that's not the point of this camera, nor of Kodak's entry level products in general. They're designed to get the job done as simply and quickly as possible while maintaining a good standard of quality. For entry-level users who want those basic attributes plus the benefits of a decent 6-megapixel sensor, a very good 3x optical zoom lens, a fine movie mode, and enough effective programmed scene modes -- 17 in all -- to handle a variety of situations, the Kodak C663 is a great choice. If its Kodak Perfect Touch technology fails to fully impress, there's enough to like on this camera to keep even picky point-and-shooters content.
- 6.0-megapixel CCD delivering images as large as 2,832 x 2,128 pixels.
- Real-image optical viewfinder.
- 2.5-inch color LCD monitor.
- 3x, 34-102mm (35mm equivalent) Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon lens.
- 15x digital zoom.
- Auto, Landscape, and Close-up shooting modes, plus 14 additional preset Scene modes.
- White Balance with five settings.
- Maximum aperture of f/2.7 to f/4.6, depending on lens zoom position.
- Shutter speeds from 1/1,600 to eight seconds, depending on exposure mode.
- Built-in flash with four modes.
- 32MB internal memory.
- SD/MMC card storage (optional, card not included).
- Power supplied by one Kodak EasyShare Ni-MH rechargeable battery pack, one CRV3 battery, two AA type batteries, or optional AC adapter.
- Compatible with Kodak EasyShare Picture and Printer docks (plastic dock insert included).
- Kodak EasyShare software included for both Windows and Mac platforms.
- Kodak Perfect Touch technology.
- VGA (640 x 480) Movie mode with sound at 24 fps.
- Two burst photography modes.
- Auto Exposure Bracketing mode.
- Program/Manual modes.
- Black and White and Sepia color modes, as well as three color settings.
- Adjustable ISO from 80 to 800, with an Auto setting. (Auto varies from 80-160 as dictated by the lighting conditions. ISO 800 only available in 1MP picture size.)
- Two- or 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
- Image sharpness adjustment.
- Two AF area modes, plus Single and Continuous AF modes.
- Macro (close-up) lens setting.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge compatibility.
- USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).
In the Box
In the box are the following items:
- Kodak EasyShare C663 digital camera.
- Wrist strap.
- Getting started kit with software CD-ROM.
- Kodak NiMH rechargeable battery pack.
- USB cable.
- A/V cable.
- Plastic camera dock insert.
- Operating manual and registration card.
Kodak C663 Recommended Accessories
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. (These days, 128 - 256 MB is a good trade-off between cost and capacity.)
- Additional battery pack.
- AC adaptor.
- Small camera case.
- EasyShare Camera or Printer dock.
Based on ease of use alone, Kodak's EasyShare digital cameras are a beginning photographer's dream. While that simplicity has long been Kodak's hallmark, some of its latest models have been upping the ante with new features and functions not seen on entry-level models. The Kodak C663 is a good example of a camera with some kick. Offering a substantial 6-megapixel sensor, a sharp Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon 3x optical zoom lens, good color and accurate skin tones, increased manual control and Kodak Perfect Touch technology -- which is new to Kodak's digital cameras and is designed to improve brightness in the shadow areas of images without blowing out the highlights -- the Kodak C663 is definitely not your father's entry-level digital camera. For the most part, these improvements are a great upgrade, putting the Kodak C663 in the same league as cameras like Canon's hugely popular A-Series which have done a great job of balancing ease-of-use with advanced control.
Where the Kodak C663 stumbles is in the details. Kodak Perfect Touch is a great concept that helped improve some of my images with low-light problems but finding and using the feature is harder than it should be. Also, it didn't always perform up to snuff, particularly in images with high contrast shot at ISO 400 and above. Similarly, the camera struggled with low-light shooting in general, with lots of noise and softness in images captured at the high ISO sensitivities. There was also an overall sluggishness to the camera, from its start-up time, to its shot-to-shot capabilities, to accessing the various features via the mode dial. Having to constantly switch the mode dial back to "Off" and then to one of its settings every time the camera went to sleep was also frustrating. Having said all that though, the camera produced some excellent imaging results in daylight, capturing unusually good color and accurate skin tones. The Kodak C663's Schneider lens also performed well, with a good range of sharpness even in the corners of my pictures. Since the imaging sensor offers impressive resolution for a camera in this class, making prints up to 11x14 or 8x10 resulted in very little degradation of the images. And if you're printing 4x6s with one of Kodak's easy-to-use Printer Docks, you should get excellent results. Despite a few shortcomings, the Kodak C663 is a great camera for both a first-time user and for someone who wants a little more creative control of their pictures.
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.
Top 3 photos this month win:
1 Canon PIXMA PRO-100
2 Canon PIXMA MG6320
3 Canon PIXMA MG5420