Kodak, DC220 Digital Camera
A million pixels plus powerful "Digita" scripting!
|1,152 x 864 pixel resolution|
|2X optical zoom, + 2X digital|
|Optical and LCD viewfinder|
|Removable CompactFlash memory (8MB incl)|
|Serial, IrDA, USB bus high-speed computer I/F|
|Powerful "Digita" scripting for custom
Kodak has long been a leader in digital imaging, having created some of the very first all-digital cameras as long ago as 1991. With the DC220, they extend the success of their earlier DC210, offering essentially the same sensor and optical package, but extending its capabilities significantly through the addition of FlashPoint's "scriptable" Digita operating system and increased exposure flexibility.
With deep roots in conventional photography, Kodak's digital cameras have reflected a clear sense that what people want to do with digital cameras is take pictures. With the DC220, they also seem to be offering more opportunities for third parties to integrate the camera into customized applications and workflows. As of this writing (September, 1998), details on the Digita programming language built into the camera are beginning to become more widely available, so most of our focus in this review will be upon the DC220's picture-taking abilities. (Check the links at the bottom of the review though, for sites with more info on scripting.)
Kodak rates the DC220 as suitable for producing prints up to about 5x7 inches (about 13x18 cm). While the output results will obviously depend heavily on the printer involved, we tend to agree with Kodak's assessment. (In fact, the output on lower-quality "business-grade" inkjet printers will probably look fine a bit larger than Kodak's suggested limit.)
The DC220 follows the design style established by the earlier DC210, but in size and layout is more of a departure from the appearance of film-based point & shoots. It does still look more like a camera than a computer peripheral, preserving the visual familiarity of the DC210. The DC220 is clearly not intended to be a "pocket" camera though, weighing in at a hefty 1.2 pounds (525g) without its four AA-cell batteries installed, and measuring 4.6 x 2.2 x 4.2 inches (118 x 57 x 106 mm.)
There's been a debate in the marketplace for some time now, over how best to handle the viewfinder function for digital cameras: LCD panels provide a "real-time" and generally accurate view of what the sensor is actually seeing, while optical viewfinders don't wash out in bright sunlight or gobble battery power. Increasingly, this quandary is being resolved by providing both, allowing the user to choose either, depending on the particulars of the shooting situation. Following this trend, the DC220 has both an optical viewfinder and 2-inch LCD panel, which can be turned on when the camera is in capture mode, to "preview" images before they're captured. At other times, the LCD is used for reviewing previously-captured photos, or to display menus used for setting camera status. Like all current-technology LCDs though, the view panel in the DC220 is power-hungry: Either get some good-quality rechargeable batteries, or limit your LCD usage!
The optical viewfinder of the DC220 is clear and bright, and varies its focal length to track the operation of the zoom lens. It is about typically accurate for digital camera viewfinders, showing 91% of the CCD frame at the wide angle end of the zoom range, dropping to 87% at the telephoto end. Our test sample's viewfinder was slightly biased toward the right-hand side of the scene, meaning that the camera actually captured more subject area on the left side of the subject than on the right. The viewfinder has a moderately high "eyepoint," making it usable for eyeglass wearers, although no diopter adjustment is provided to compensate for impaired vision directly. The viewfinder also has the desirable characteristic of being relatively insensitive to lateral eye position: The view doesn't change at all if your eye happens to be off-center in any direction. Finally, addressing a complaint we had with the DC210, the viewfinder and LCD panel are placed such that most folks' noses won't smudge the LCD while they're looking through the viewfinder.
We've found the LCD viewfinders on Kodak cameras to be significantly more accurate than those on most digital point & shoots, and the DC220 continues this welcome tradition: When operating in viewfinder mode, the '220s LCD is absolutely accurate, and can be relied upon to display exactly what the CCD will capture, at within the limits of the 2" LCD. The 220's big brother (the DC260) has a notably slow refresh rate on its LCD, but we found no such behavior from the DC220. While not the very fastest screen refresh we've seen, it was very usable.
As we noted in our opening overview, the DC220 appears to use the same lens and sensor as the earlier DC210. (At least, the specifications and appearance are identical.) The lens is a fixed-focus zoom design, with the focal length varying from 29-58mm. This is range runs a bit more toward the wide-angle end than most cameras, a feature that may be of interest to real-estate folks and others concerned about capturing a larger view of their subjects. The lens focus range is from 39 inches (1.0 m) in normal mode at the telephoto end of its range, and from 19.8 inches (0.5 m) in normal mode at the wide-angle end. The macro mode provides an 8 inch (20 cm) focus distance. The lens aperture ranges from f/4.0 to f/13.5 at the wide-angle setting, and from f/4.7 to f/16.0 at the telephoto end of the zoom range.
The DC220 (along with its "big brother" the DC260) marks Kodak's first excursion into the realm of "digital zoom" technology, whereby the camera manipulates the image digitally to increase the apparent zoom ratio. This can be a confusing term, given that two very different methods are used to implement it in various cameras. At its simplest, some cameras "zoom" simply by chopping-out the central portion of the image, and presenting it as a finished file of smaller size. The DC220 takes the more aggressive approach of having the camera actually interpolate data from the central portion of the CCD array to produce a full-sized, albeit "softer" image. (No new information is being produced in the image, what's there is just being interpolated further.) Kodak's implementation in the DC220 goes most of the competition one better though: Rather than simply an on/off 2x zoom, the '260 digital zoom operates smoothly across a 1:2 range, in a manner more akin to optical zooms. The digital zoom only takes effect when the LCD viewfinder is turned on, since that's the only way you can tell what area is being captured. With the LCD viewfinder enabled, the digital zoom picks up smoothly once you reach the end of the optical zoom range, giving much more control over framing than the simple on/off digital zoom approach. With Kodak's smooth digital zoom, you also needn't trade off any more resolution than needed to make your shot. In practice, we frequently found ourselves wishing for a way to selectively turn off the digital zoom, to avoid any loss of detail due to interpolation. While you can do this quite simply by turning off the LCD panel (which disables the digital zoom function), it would have been nice if we could have disabled the digital zoom function while leaving the LCD powered up.
Kodak rates the DC220 at an equivalent ISO speed of 140, and available lens apertures range from f/4.0 to f/13.5 at the maximum wide-angle setting, to f/4.7-f16 at maximum telephoto. The autoexposure system provides exposure times ranging from 1/2 to 1/360 seconds, although a special time-exposure mode lets you manually set exposure times from 1/2 to 4 seconds, in 1/2-second increments. (This time-exposure feature is fairly unique: Until now, noise in the CCD sensors prevented exposures this long, and Kodak deserves commendation for bringing this capability to relatively inexpensive digital cameras.) Based on its published specs, the DC220 should be able to handle light levels ranging from EV 1.5 to EV 17.5, an incredible range, although the upper end of the range is a little low for very brightly-lit outdoor scenes (white sand at the beach on a sunny day, etc).
Following longstanding Kodak tradition, the DC220 provides a welcome +/- 2f-stop (+/- 2 EV unit) exposure override capability in 1/2 stop increments, easily accessible via the top-panel buttons adjacent to the LCD screen. This does much to increase the usefulness of the camera, allowing the operator to adjust the exposure to compensate for backlighting, or light subjects against dark backgrounds. A 10-second self-timer feature lets the photographer get in the picture with the subjects.
IMPORTANT NOTE: As CCD quality has improved, long exposure times have become practical for inexpensive digital cameras. Kodak has taken advantage of this with the 1/2 second maximum autoexposure time on the DC-220. (Not to mention a 4-second time exposure!) Other cameras with similar slow-shutter capability already on the market have in some cases been criticized for poor autofocus performance in low light situations. We suspect that much of the problem stems from users trying to hand-hold the cameras during very long exposures. An experienced pro might be able to hold a camera steady for an eighth of a second or so, but nobody is going to get sharp pictures hand-holding a camera for a quarter-second exposure! Take our advice, and use a tripod when the light is dim! Above all, don't blame Kodak for fuzzy exposures in low light: They should be hailed for expanding the range of situations in which digital cameras can effectively be used. (Flame off...)
The built-in flash has an effective range of 1.0 to 9.8 feet ( 0.3 to 3.0 m). Its five operating modes include auto, red-eye reduction, fill (in which the flash always fires, regardless of the overall scene brightness), fill with red-eye, and off. In our testing, the flash performed well within its specified range, and was also able to throttle-down effectively for "macro" work, at the 8-inch minimum focusing distance. (This last has been a rarity for point & shoot cameras in the past, as they tended to badly wash-out closeup shots when the flash was used.)
Operation and User Interface
The user interface and operation of the DC220 is easily one of its most distinguishing characteristics, and probably the feature most likely to spark debate as well. As the one of the first two cameras incorporating the "Digita" camera operating system and scripting language (the other being its big brother the DC260), the DC220 opens up new capabilities for modifying the camera's behavior to suit specific applications and worfklows. Kodak has always maintained an excellent interface for third-party developers, but the release of the Digita operating system extends this further than has ever been the case before. (There are already some neat third-party scripts showing up on the 'web - check the links at the bottom of this review!)
As the DC220 has acquired more computer-like capabilities though, it has also acquired some computer-like behavior: Like a computer, the '220 now needs to "boot up" prior to use, in order to set up and initialize the various elements of its operating system. This process takes on the order of 15 seconds, meaning you can't just whip the camera out to snap a quick picture - its use requires some forethought. Likewise, the camera can take a few seconds to shut down, ranging from 5 seconds if it has been sitting idle for a while, up to 40 seconds if you've just taken a couple of pictures that need to be processed before power-off.
The ability of the DC220 to process images "in the background" is a both wonderful and vexing feature. On the one hand, it allows you to take two maximum-resolution images (or 6 "standard" resolution ones) with essentially NO delay separating them. On the other hand, the camera will then be unavailable to take the next shot for a variable time after that: The camera indicates when it is busy processing prior images and not ready to acquire another by flashing the green LED next to the viewfinder. The indication of when it has completely finished all pending processing is more subtle: With the LCD viewfinder powered up, a small thermometer bar display shows current memory status: Its normal "as empty as I get" position is about mid-way up the scale. When the memory status hits that level, you have full memory available for capturing new pictures. We don't want to complain too much about the uncertainty we felt over the camera's memory status, as the ability to take two images with no delay at all is very useful. Overall, we'll take the uncertainty as to the timing of the third and fourth shots, in exchange for the ability to get the first two off very quickly.
As you doubtless gathered from our earlier comments, the DC220 is a very flexible device with many options (time exposure, time-lapse photography, etc). It should come as no surprise then, that the user interface needs a fair number of screens and menu options to manage all this functionality. Kodak has created a very clear series of screens and menus to control the camera, but the result is still a "deep" interface that can take a little while to navigate. Fortunately, the most-frequently accessed controls can be reached through the top-panel LCD and pushbuttons, which provide a much shorter route to the desired functions. (Top-panel controls available in capture mode include flash functions, +/- EV compensation, still/burst/time-lapse enabling, compression level selection, and self-timer enabling.)
Camera setup is effected through a combination of a back-panel mode-select rotary switch, a 4-way rocker button located inside of the mode-select ring, "display" and "menu" buttons to the left of the LCD panel, and three unlabeled "soft buttons" arranged along the bottom of the LCD. Extensive use is made of the LCD panel for displaying menus and option choices, which are then selected through a combination of the various buttons and controls.
Overall operation of the DC220 is divided into four modes, of which only 3 actually affect camera operation. The four modes, selected by a back-panel rotary switch, are Capture, Review, Connect, and Info. These are fairly self-explanatory, except perhaps "Info" mode. Presently, selecting "Info" displays a screen on the LCD panel showing the camera's firmware version, and directing you to a web location (www.kodak.com/go/dc220) for the "latest info". We suspect this Info screen may be used to greater effect with the Digita scripting system, as a place to put other script-driven menus, etc.
Setup controls (Back-panel menus)
Camera setup is controlled via the back-panel controls. Pressing the "Menu" button brings up a scrolling list of menus, each with several choices. We'll step through these menus in the order they're presented on the camera. In general, you move between menus by using the "<" and ">" keys, and select items within the menu by using the "v" and "^" keys to highlight the appropriate entry, and then pressing the "Select" soft key to choose that menu option. Within the sub-menus, the "v" and "^" keys generally move you between options, and the "<" and ">" keys select settings for each option.
The Picture Type menu has three sub-options, labeled "Still," "Burst," and "Timelapse." The Still option screen allows you to choose the pixel dimensions of the image to be captured (1,152x864, or 640x480 pixels), as well as the default compression setting (Good, Better, or Best). The compression setting can be overridden by the top-panel picture-taking controls, and may also be set via the Capture Mode screen, while picture size is available only through the back-panel Still or Capture Mode screens, and not via the top-panel controls.
Burst mode allows the camera to take a number of images in rapid sequence, to the limit of the camera's temporary buffer memory. In the case of the highest-resolution images, "bursts" are limited to two images, while up to eight 640x480 images can be captured in a single burst exposure. Settings available on the Burst screen include the resolution images are to be captured in, the number of frames per second to be captured (ranging from 12 fps to 0.1 fps), and the number of images per burst. (Note that the image size selected and amount of available memory can restrict both the maximum capture rate and the number of images that can be acquired.)
The Timelapse menu option lets you configure the camera to capture images over extended periods of time. You can specify between-shot intervals in 16 steps, ranging from one minute to 24 hours. (For longer-interval exposures, the camera will appear to power-down between shots, but will wake back up again when its time for the next frame.) As a side note, this is a pretty cool feature - if you can put the camera down for a few minutes, time-lapse photos of clouds racing across the sky are great for drawing oohs and aahs from friends. (You'll need some sort of a basic animation package to string the raw pictures together into a "movie" though...)
Album Settings (not on 220)
The CF storage cards used by the DC220 are available with very large capacities (as much as 48 megabytes at this writing, in mid-1998). This means you could potentially have hundreds of images in the camera's memory. If you needed to navigate through this many images, the simple "filmstrip" interface could become a bit unwieldy. The upscale DC260 provides an "Albums" option to deal with images in groups, but Kodak left this feature off the DC220, doubtless as a way to further differentiate between the two. It would be nice to have some sort of more-rapid preview function available in its absence (like a 4- or 9-image thumbnail view, as provided by some cameras), but we never found this to be an impediment, at least when working within the constraints of the included 8 MB memory card.
The Script menu provides access to scripts written in the Digita programming language that have previously been created on a host computer and downloaded to the camera. As we write this (July, 1998), information on scripting in Digita's FlashPoint language was just starting to be found on the web - check the links below, and/or sign up for Kodak's software developer kit for the camera. To demonstrate the usefulness, Kodak has begun pre-loading several scripts on the shipping units of the camera, including ones for automatic bracketing, and a cute one called "One More Picture", that automatically calculates the picture quality and compresson settings needed to squeeze one more picture into the space available on the memory card.
White Balance Settings
The DC220 provides for a variety of lighting conditions, via its white-balance settings. Options include Auto, Daylight, Fluorescent, Tungsten, and None. In automatic mode, the camera attempts to remove any color cast in the image automatically. As with any digital camera, the automatic function can be a little hit or miss, in that the camera doesn't know what it's looking at: If a scene is composed only of varying shades of red, the automatic white balance will try to subtract-out most of the red, leaving the colors dull and lifeless. Most of the time, auto white balance is quite effective, so you may not need to use the other settings. In practice, we found that the "manual" settings tended to leave a little of the color cast of the lighting in the shot (perhaps deliberately, to preserve some of the original picture's mood). This was particularly evident with the tungsten setting, so it is possible we were simply seeing the difference between common household lighting (typically a color temperature of ~2700K), and professional tungsten lighting (with a color temperature of 3200K). We were a little puzzled by the "none" setting, as it isn't clear what the camera would be assuming as a light source if not one of the three standard light sources. For what it's worth, images shot with the "none" setting came out a little warmer-looking than those taken with the "daylight" option, making it more suited to open shade or overcast skies.
Both the 220 and its big brother the 260 provide a unique customization option, that of "watermarking" images. In most cases (and all the time with the 220), these watermarks will simply consist of either the date and/or time, or a text message. This information can be positioned anywhere in the picture area by specifying offsets from the upper left-hand corner, and can have any of a variety of text and background colors (including transparent/no background). Date and time stamping is nothing new (although usually the location within the frame is fixed), but the DC220 goes one better, allowing you to create a watermark of your logo or other graphic information that can be applied to every picture, the same as the text or date message. Logo watermarks are applied using special ".lgo" formatted files, which must be uploaded from the host computer. Kodak provides a utility for converting standard PNG (portable network graphics) files to the .lgo format, although we didn't explore this option as part of this review. We can imaging the logo watermark capability being used by realtors and others wishing to "brand" their images to indicate origin.
Advanced Exposure Modes Settings
As we discussed earlier, the DC220 supports an "advanced exposure mode": Long Time Exposure, allowing exposure times from 0.5 to 4.0 seconds. (On the DC260, this menu also includes settings for the external flash option.)
The preferences menu system allows you to set a variety of camera defaults, including the date/time, camera name, and several Capture Preferences. Capture Preferences include the file type used to store images (JPEG or FlashPix), the duration of the "Quickview" image review after each image is captured, whether the auto-rotate function is enabled, whether system sounds are enabled (the little clicks and beeps associated with camera operation, menu selection, etc), and the duration of the sleep timeout. (Timeout values of up to 5 minutes can be selected from the on-camera menu system. Different intervals can be set for AC power through the host computer software, up to 10 minutes - strangely, no provision is made for continuous operation, even under AC power.)
Picture-Taking Controls (top panel)
When you're actually taking pictures with the camera, you probably don't want to be bothered fiddling with complicated back-panel controls, menus, and buttons. Recognizing this, Kodak has made the most important picture-taking controls accessible via a top-panel LCD display and three buttons. Functions controlled from here include flash, exposure compensation, picture type (still, burst, or time-lapse), and quality (compression level). You cycle through icons representing each of these by pressing the "Scroll" button, and choose settings for each by pressing the "Select" button until the correct value appears. As an aid to interpreting the icon meanings, the LCD display has an alphanumeric region built into it that shows English-language translations of the current icon setting. For convenience, the top-panel options are arranged in approximately the order of likelihood you'd need to access them, with flash settings given highest priority, followed closely by exposure compensation. The third top-panel button, located to the right of the LCD display, turns the camera's self-timer function on or off.
Compared to camera setup, Review mode operation is fairly simple. In Review mode, the camera initially displays the most recently-taken picture on the screen, along with the consecutive frame number, date and time of capture, type of image (single vs. burst), and a "delete" label assigning that function to the leftmost soft key. Initially, the image is displayed at lower resolution, gradually filling-in a higher-resolution view over the course of about 10 seconds for maximum-resolution images. You can step forward or back through images stored on the CF card by using the "<" or ">" directions on the rocker-switch, without waiting for the high-resolution image to display. (It takes 1-2 seconds to move between successive images.) When the camera has completed "drawing" the high-res image, the word "Magnify" appears over the middle soft key. Pressing this key will zoom the image up so that its pixels are at 100% size relative to those of the display screen. You can then scroll your viewing window smoothly around the larger image file by using the rocker-switch like a joystick. Pressing the center soft key reduces the image back to its normal size. Individual images can be deleted at any time with the Delete soft key.
You can move rapidly through all the images in the camera's memory by pressing and holding the "Display" key for two seconds. This displays a "filmstrip" of 3 consecutive images along the top of the LCD screen, with the center one highlighted and also displayed as a slightly larger thumbnail below. The rightmost soft keys are labeled "Delete" and either "Mark" or "Unmark" depending on the status of the current image. In this mode, you can scroll between images very rapidly (at about two images per second), and mark or unmark selected ones for deletion. Pressing the "Delete" button then clears all selected images. Alternatively, you can use this mode to quickly locate a specific image to view in greater detail. Once an image appears as the current selection, you can view it full-sized by pressing the "Display" key again, and (if desired), choosing the Magnify function.
Review Mode Menu Options
When in review mode, the back-panel menu system on the DC220 offers 2 menus for setting configuration options: Review Preferences, and Camera to Camera.
Several options are controlled via the Review Preferences menu. The Overlay entry allows you to turn the soft key labels on or off. (While turning the overlay off lets you see more of the picture, it could make operation a bit confusing.) This function will be very useful for slideshow presentations, where the normal overlay information would be distracting.
The Slideshow sub-menu lets you set the duration individual images are to be shown for, whether attached sounds are played during a show, and whether the show is "looped" to provide continuous playback.
Of the two remaining sub-menus, "Video" lets you choose NTSC or PAL output, and "Play Settings" lets you control how rapidly Burst, Timelapse, and Album pictures are played during full-screen display. (Similar to the interval adjustment for slideshows, but applied only to the specific picture types mentioned.) The Play Settings mode lets you specify playback intervals as short as 1 second per image, but we were never able to get the camera to move the images around that quickly. We thought at first this might be an effect of displaying the images on the built-in LCD screen (slower due to re-sampling needed to fit the image onto the small screen), but the result was the same on an external NTSC monitor: Several seconds per frame was the fastest it would play back. (Note again that ours was a "beta" unit, so the production models may be able to play back faster.)
Camera to Camera
We're not sure just where you'd use this feature, but the DC220's IrDA port allows you to "connect" two cameras together & transfer images between them! Use the Camera to Camera menu on both to set one to "send" and one to "receive", point them facing each other, and let 'em rip. - Any files you've "marked for action" on the sending unit will be transmitted to the receiving one.
To download images from the camera via the serial port, USB, or IrDA ports, you must turn the camera on and put it into "connect" mode. In this mode, all on-camera controls other than the power and mode-select switches are disabled, and the camera is placed under the full control of the host PC. As with many current-generation digital cameras, the DC220 can be completely controlled from the PC via the computer connection. (More on host connections in the next section following.) From a user interface standpoint, all that need be done to connect the camera is to plug it into the computer, power it up, and set the back-panel mode dial to "Connect."
Image Storage and Interface
The DC220 has no "hardwired" permanent memory, relying instead on removable "Kodak Picture Cards," which are tiny (1 3/8 x 1 5/8 inch) (35 x 41 mm) flash memory cards conforming to the CompactFlash (CF) standard. An 8-megabyte (MB) Picture Card ships with the camera, and additional cards ranging in size from 2 MB to 48 MB(!) can readily be purchased on the open market. A standard PC Card adapter lets you read images directly from the Picture Cards into computers equipped with PCMCIA slots or PC card readers (see the notes below on "finished file format"). Depending on the image size and quality setting chosen, an 8 MB card will store anywhere from 26-120 pictures. We've found removable storage a very nice camera feature, as it allows longer sojourns away from the computer. Given the current low cost of memory, we heartily recommend a second memory card as an accessory for digital cameras that support removable storage.
The DC220 ships standard with interface software and cables for Windows '95/98 systems: Macintosh users will either need a CompactFlash card reader, or an accessory software/cable kit sold by Kodak. (A USB-based kit for the new Apple iMac is also available.) All of our testing here was performed with a Pentium 233MMX computer running Windows '98.
Standard RS-232 serial port technology is beginning to show its age badly in digital camera applications, simply taking too long to move the 200-600 Kbyte files that have become common. Recognizing this, the DC220 also includes USB and IrDA ports for much higher-speed data transfer. Support for both USB and IrDA is rather spotty under Windows '95, but should improve dramatically under Windows '98. In our case, our much-modified, elderly Pentium 233 machine lacks any IrDA capability at all, and its grafted-on USB ports were misbehaving when we had the DC220 in-house for testing. We fortunately got the USB working when we received our production-model DC260, and so report on those results here. (The operating system and computer interface of the 220 and 260 are identical.)
This was our first experience with a USB-connected still camera, and it was a real eye-opener to the potential of USB! Data transfers that would have taken minutes via the serial port literally took only seconds with USB! (A note in passing: Our computer (and we suspect most others) has two USB ports on it. They are NOT equivalent: The Kodak driver software would only recognize the camera when it was plugged into port "0". - Hopefully this may save some of our readers a bit of fumbling that we needlessly went through.)
Assuming you have a machine that's fully Windows98/USB equipped and compliant, the Kodak driver software works quite intuitively: With the camera set to "connect" mode via the back-panel rotary switch, the computer will automatically recognize it as soon as it's plugged into USB port 0. What's more, Kodak's "mounter" software makes the camera appear to Windows as a storage device, allowing you to just drag and drop images from it into hard drive folders via Windows Explorer.
As we mentioned, data transfer speed was very impressive, after having become accustomed to the leisurely pace (we're being polite) of serial connections: A single 444K image file transferred to the computer in only 6.6 second! Twenty files occupying about 3.1 megabytes of space took 83 seconds to transfer. Mathematically-inclined readers will doubtless note the discrepancy between these two sets of figures: The 3.1 megabytes as 20 files took much longer, proportionately, than the single 444K file. It turns out that the camera/driver/Windows takes a 2-3 seconds to get started at the beginning of each file transfer. Thus, if you have many small files, you'll end up with a slower overall transfer rate than you would with a few larger files. Regardless, the transfer rate and convenience of the USB connection are fantastic!
We did notice a few quirks with the mounter software and Windows however: When you first connect the camera to the computer, it takes six or seven seconds for Windows to recognize it, establish the connection, and mount the camera on the desktop. Unfortunately, it appears that virtually any change in the Explorer display (clicking up to a higher level in the folder hierarchy, for instance) causes Windows to repeat this process twice, resulting in a delay of nearly 12 seconds. We found this rather annoying in practice, and soon learned to plug the camera in, quickly transfer the images with a minimum of fiddling around in Explorer, then disconnect it again.
Another minor inconvenience is that the mounter program is read-only: It won't let you write files to the camera's memory card. This means you can't delete images from the camera memory, and prevents you from right-clicking on images in the camera, to "move" rather than "copy" them to your hard drive. Likewise, it also means that you can't use the mounter to load scripts onto the camera - You need to rely on a CF card adapter in your computer for this.
If your computer has either a PC Card (also called PCMCIA) slot, or a PC Card reader, you'll really appreciate the "Finished File Format" feature of the DC220: Files are stored on the Picture Cards in the final format needed by your computer. This means that when you plug a Picture Card (in the optional PC Card adapter) into your computer, you can immediately read, view, or copy the images on it either from the computer's desktop, or directly from within your favorite image-handling software. This is a welcome departure from Kodak's previous use of proprietary file formats for removable camera storage, ending with the DC120: A many-minute serial-cable transfer takes literally seconds with the Picture Card plugged directly into your computer! Given the large file sizes the DC220 can produce, we strongly recommend purchasing the optional PC-card adapter, and equipping your computer with a PC Card reader if it doesn't already have one.
The DC220 can also display on-board images directly on TV monitors, supporting both American (NTSC) and European (PAL) signal formats. This makes the camera a very useful presentation tool, particularly when equipped with a higher-capacity storage card. Some cameras support playback of images modified in the computer to add titles or other markings, but others do not. As noted above in the "interface" section, the DC220 does not allow bidirectional image transfer. We did experiment some with copying images from other sources onto the Picture Card though, directly via a CF adapter in our laptop. What we found was that the DC220 can readily display unmodified images shot with some other cameras (we tried a couple of images from the Nikon CP900, the file size of which doesn't even match any of the DC220's normal modes), but not images we saved from Photoshop. Having thus proved that neither exact file dimensions or file-naming protocols are important, we suspect the issue has to do with strict adherence to the EXIF JPEG standard, which Photoshop 4.0 may not provide. If we develop additional information (or if a reader emails us with it), we'll add it here for general edification. Bottom line: The DC220 can display images from other sources: They only need to be in the correct format.
By the way, don't think the video-out capability is restricted to business uses! -- A slide show of a business trip can do a lot to help reconnect the harried business traveler to his or her family upon their return. Even better, "real time" slide shows of family get-togethers can be great fun as well. Overall, you may find yourself getting more use out of the TV output than you initially think...
That's right - sound! The DC220 contains both a microphone and speaker, so you can attach sound directly to any image file. You can record sound for a picture anytime the picture is being displayed: Either during the "review" display in capture mode, or while viewing the image in review mode. To record, you press the small black "record" button on the left-hand side of the camera back, and speak in a normal tone of voice. You can review what you've recorded, and either save it or delete it and record a new copy. Once saved, sounds stay with the picture files, unless you explicitly delete them. Images displayed during a slide show will play their sound clip as well. The manual makes no mention of how long a sound clip can be attached to each image: In our experimentation, we could record a maximum length of 45 seconds, quite a bit of talking!
When downloading files to the computer, attached sound data can be saved to disk as separate .wav files, either with the same name as the main picture, or under a different name altogether.
Power for the DC220 is provided by 4 internal AA batteries, or by an optional AC adapter than can significantly extend battery life if you're doing a lot of downloads via the serial port. As we mentioned earlier, LCD panels on digital cameras can really "eat" batteries, and the DC220's is no exception. If you plan to use the LCD very much, we highly recommend the optional NiMH rechargeable battery/charger accessory kit (Kodak part number 807-6341). Note that while Kodak doesn't specifically prohibit any battery type in their documentation, the do particularly caution against operating the unit with the LCD panel on for more than 30 minutes when using Lithium batteries, because they could "heat up significantly." (You'd better believe it!) Although Lithium batteries have very high power capacities, we don't recommend them in high-power cameras like the DC220. - Save yourself a lot of grief, and buy a couple of sets of good NiMH batteries and a quality charger.
When we received our production test unit of the DC260, we also got a look at Kodak's software bundle that ships with the DC220 as well. It's a pretty complete package, including Kodak's own all-around consumer-imaging behemoth "PictureEasy", as well as the PhotoDeluxe image-editor and PageMill web-page creation programs from Adobe. The Adobe programs are common enough in the marketplace that we won't spend our time here discussing them: See Adobe's web site for details. Besides the application software, Windows users will find the "mounter" application described earlier for Windows 95/98 and NT, that allows the camera to appear on the Windows desktop as if it were a disk drive. Also included is a TWAIN acquire module to interface the camera to any TWAIN-compliant software.
Kodak's PictureEasy is the third version of their all-in-one imaging program, intended to provide a single application from which to acquire, adjust, organize, print, and even email your pictures. Given all its capabilities, it should come as no surprise that it needs a substantial "footprint" on your computer's hard drive, about 70 megabytes(!).
Given its ambitious objectives, Kodak has done a creditable job of delivering the desired level of capability and integration in PictureEasy, although even novice users are likely to want more in the way of image manipulation than PictureEasy 3.0 provides. (Hence, undoubtedly, Kodak's inclusion of PhotoDeluxe.) The one area we find to fault PictureEasy on though, is its speed: Even fairly simple operations seemed to take a long time to execute, and the program seems to need to pause and "re-think" what it's doing after every step. Some operations, such as assembling pages of photos to go to the printer, could benefit from some re-architecting: We found ourselves waiting a long time for the program to process the images and show us how they were laid out on the page. Why couldn't it quickly give us a low-res "proxy" to check the layout, and then build the pages in the background? (In fairness to the program though, it does seem to cache the low-res thumbnail once it's initially processed an image, and subsequent usage of the same image proceeds much more quickly.)
We do feel that our reaction to the software should be moderated and disclaimed somewhat, given our "power user" comfort and familiarity with higher-end imaging programs like Photoshop: For most novice users (and particularly those with newer Pentium-II machines), the program's easy-to-use interface should more than balance any slowness of operation.
In every Imaging Resource product review, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed: Explore the links at the bottom of this page, to see how well the DC220 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying. You're also welcome to download the images (for personal use only) to see how they look when output on your own printer.
Overall, the DC220 produced very pleasing pictures, with the excellent, highly-saturated color rendition we've come to expect from Kodak. (Even though it apparently uses the same sensor as the earlier DC210, the DC220 produced images which were sharper and had less image noise than its predecessor.)
Detail and resolution were quite good, approximately 700 line pairs per picture height both vertically and horizontally with the ISO 12233 (formerly referred to here as the "WG-18") test target. Like the '210 though, the fixed-focus zoom lens optics on the '220 was sharpest at middle distances, going somewhat soft at infinity. Also, in common with its "big brother" the DC260, the '220 appears to flatten detail somewhat in areas of subtle contrast, apparently due to a somewhat aggressive use of image compression.
Viewfinder and flash accuracy in the DC220 were both excellent. The optical viewfinder follows common practice of showing slightly less that 100% of the final scene, in this case about 11% less vertically and horizontally. As we've found with other Kodak cameras we've tested though, the LCD viewfinder is deadly accurate, showing exactly what the CCD is looking at. (Surprisingly, this is a rarity among digital point & shoots.)
The DC220 does moderately well in macro mode, capturing an area of 4.1 x 5.5 inches (10.5 x 14 cm) at its fixed macro focus distance of 8 inches (20cm). While we didn't post an image showing it, the flash works fairly well this close also, "throttling back" effectively enough to keep it from washing out the highlights.
We found that the DC220 has a good tonal range, preserving highlight details very well, while still doing a good job in the shadows. (We did notice significantly increased compression artifacts in the extreme shadows though.)
Overall, as we noted at the outset, the DC220 produces very attractive pictures, and achieves a slight but noticeable improvement over the earlier DC210 in most image-quality parameters.
With the inclusion of FlashPoint's Digita architecture and scripting language, Kodak's DC220 opens new possibilities and applications in the upper mid-range of the digital point & shoot world. The computer-like capabilities it incorporates give it unique power for vertical applications (such as real estate and insurance claims handling), but at some penalty in shot-to-shot cycle times and startup/shutdown speed. As we write this, users are already beginning to experiment with Digita scripts to add useful capabilities and explore "hidden" camera features: We expect to see much more of this in the near future. Overall, the DC220 extends the functionality of the predecessor DC210 in interesting and useful ways, while leveraging the sensor and lens technology Kodak had already developed for the earlier camera. Image quality and resolution are very similar to the DC210: If all you need is a basic digicam, the 210 will work well. On the other hand, if you want to get into a scriptable "Digita" platform cheaply (or, want the high speed afforded by a USB connection), the DC220 is the camera for you.
See what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about the DC220, or add comments of your own. (Read what's here, then add your own!)
Do you have a DC220 camera? If you'll post an album of your samples on one of the photo-sharing services and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we'll list the album here for others to see!
View the test images from the DC220
View the DC220 data sheet
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about Kodak DC220, or add comments of your own!
Top 3 photos this month win:
1 Canon PIXMA PRO-100
2 Canon PIXMA MG6320
3 Canon PIXMA MG5420