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Kodak EasyShare LS420 Zoom Digital Camera

 
Camera QuickLook
Review Date
05/21/2002
User Level
Novice
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Point-and-Shoot
Picture Quality
Good, 2.1-megapixel CCD
Memory Card Internal or MMC/SD
Print Sizes
4x6, 5x7, or 8x10 inches
Availability
May 2002
Suggested Retail Price
$299


Introduction
Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Sample Pictures
Specifications
Conclusion

Eastman Kodak Company has a long history of bringing professional imaging processes to the everyday consumer. Kodak's EasyShare System is the company's digital equivalent to its turn-of-the-century Brownie box camera, which came with preloaded film and no manual controls (once users shot all their film, they simply sent the boxes back to Kodak for processing and printing). While the first two Kodak EasyShare digicams, the DX3500 and DX3600, were much more sophisticated than a Brownie, they did feature the same "just press the button" simplicity, with fully automatic controls and an optional docking station that takes all of the guesswork out of digital image manipulation, management, and sharing. As Kodak evolved the line, they introduced more advanced cameras that do offer a few user options. The subject of the current review though, is the EasyShare LS420, a subcompact 2 megapixel design that really takes ease of use to a new level, thanks to a limited set of options, a very clear menu system and the latest version of Kodak's Picture Software.

Kodak's Picture Software is a big part of the story, so much so that I'm hoping to put together a brief article on the software itself in the near future. Especially in this latest implementation, it walks you through every step of uploading, enhancing, and emailing your photos -- and has about the most graphically intuitive interface of any consumer imaging software I've seen. It automatically sizes the images for printing or emailing, stores copies, applies simple effects, and allows you to make image corrections, such as color, brightness, and contrast adjustments. The entire line of EasyShare cameras are among the easiest and most goof-proof digicams out there, but the LS420 and Kodak's latest software take ease of use to an even higher level.


Camera Overview
As the smallest and most recent addition to Kodak's popular EasyShare line, the LS420 is really tiny and compact. The camera's slim, elongated body shape fits easily in pockets, yet gives your fingers enough camera to get a grip on. The LS420 easily fits into one hand, with a convenient wrist strap for toting and a small, padded camera case for extra protection when traveling. Like the rest of the EasyShare line, the LS420 features an uncomplicated user interface, with full automatic exposure control for simple, point-and-shoot image capture. A handful of camera settings are available through the abbreviated LCD menu system, but the camera retains control of the exposure parameters at all times. Equipped with a 2.1-megapixel CCD, the LS420 captures good quality images, definitely suitable for printing as large as 5x7 inches with sharp details. (You can certainly print its photos as large as 8x10 inches, but details will be a little soft, as the LS420 wasn't as sharp in my testing as other two megapixel cameras I've seen.) A Kodak EasyShare camera dock is packed in the box with the LS420, serving as a battery charger, AC adapter, and PC connection tool all rolled into one. Used in conjunction with the Kodak Picture Software, the camera dock makes downloading photos a snap, as you literally just drop in the camera and press a button to transfer your photos.

The LS420 features a 38mm fixed focal length lens, with a fixed aperture of f/3.9. Focus is also fixed, and ranges from 2.6 feet (0.8 meters) to infinity. Though the camera doesn't offer a true optical zoom, a 3x digital zoom option enlarges the image area when necessary. That said, it's important to remember that digital zoom decreases image quality because it enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image, resulting in a larger but softer picture.

For composing shots, the LS420 has both a real-image optical viewfinder and 1.6-inch color LCD monitor. The LCD monitor's information display reports basic camera information, including the quality setting, flash mode, and the number of images that can be stored in the camera's memory at the current quality setting. The optical viewfinder has a moderately high eyepoint, so should accommodate most eyeglass thicknesses. (I could see well enough through it, even with the eyepiece held a slight distance in front of my glasses.) However, in my studio testing, I found the optical viewfinder actually shows a bit less of the image area than what makes it into the final frame. - I therefore recommend positioning your subjects more towards the center of the frame, with some space around all four sides. (Or, just use the very accurate LCD monitor when dead-on, accurate framing is a must.)

With its point-and-shoot design, the LS420 leaves only a few decisions up to the user. The camera controls shutter speed at all times, and doesn't report the value on the LCD monitor (aperture remains fixed at f/3.9). The LS420's shutter speed ranges from 1/1,200 to 1/2 second, and ISO sensitivity is automatically adjusted between 100, 140, and 200 equivalent settings, depending on light level. The camera also automatically controls white balance, and did a surprisingly good job interpreting a wide range of light sources throughout my testing. (It even did a good job with the often difficult household incandescent lighting). A Mode dial on the back panel puts the camera in either Capture, Movie, Playback, or Setup modes, letting you switch back and forth quickly. The camera's built-in flash operates in either Auto, Fill, Red-Eye Reduction, Night Shot, or Off modes, controlled by the Flash / Print button on top of the camera. A short information screen appears on the LCD monitor as you scroll through the available flash modes, showing an icon and description of each. A Movie recording mode captures moving images (with sound), either for preset durations of 5, 10, or 30 seconds, or "unlimited", meaning as long as you have memory space available to hold the file. Available movie resolutions are 320 x 240 and 160 x 120 pixels. The LS420 also features a 10-second Self-Timer mode, activated through the LCD menu. The timer counts down from 10 seconds when the Shutter button is fully pressed, giving you just enough time to zip around in front of the camera. (The timer also works in Movie mode.)

The LS420 has eight megabytes of internal memory, meaning you can snap a few pictures without needing a memory card. The camera also has an SD / MMC memory card slot, for accessory memory cards in larger capacities. I recommend picking up a larger capacity memory card right away though, as the LS420's built in memory can only hold about 12 of its 1,752 x 1,168-pixel maximum resolution images. SD cards are currently available separately in capacities as large as 128MB, and memory prices are low enough these days that there's really no reason not to purchase a 32 or 64MB card. - Trust me, you'll be glad of the extra space!

The camera uses a lithium-ion battery pack for power, which inserts into a slot on the side of the camera. A Kodak EasyShare lithium-ion battery comes with the camera, and the included camera dock charges the battery in-camera when connected. As always, I highly recommend getting an extra battery pack, and keeping it freshly-charged and on-hand. (Digicams obey Murphy's law, and always run out of battery power at the worst possible instant.) That said, the LS420 does better than most subcompact digicams when it comes to battery life. It automatically shuts itself down to conserve battery power after a brief period of inactivity, a feature which can't be changed or disabled. (It also puts the LCD to "sleep" after about a minute of idle time.) Even in its worst-case power consumption mode (capture mode with the LCD turned on), a fully-charged battery should last for just a bit less than two hours of operation. With the LCD off, the camera should stay running for a good 6 hours or so.

The LS420 connects directly to the included camera dock, and the battery charges whenever it's plugged in. (Provided of course, that the dock is plugged into its power adapter.) With the dock connected to a computer, and the Kodak Picture software installed, you can download the photos from the camera by just touching the button on the front of the dock, certainly one of the easiest-to-use computer connections out there. A software CD accompanies the camera, loaded with the newest version of Kodak's Picture Software, compatible with Windows 98/98SE/ME/2000/XP and Macintosh OS 8.6-X, a useful, easy-to-follow tool for managing and editing images.

For connecting to a television set, the LS420 has a Video Out jack and comes with the appropriate video cable (NTSC for US and Japanese models, PAL for European models). Additionally, the LS420 is DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible, with a Print button on top of the camera that accesses a menu of print settings.


Basic Features

  • 2.1-megapixel CCD.
  • 1.6-inch color LCD monitor.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • Aspherical glass, 38mm lens, with a fixed aperture of f/3.9.
  • 3x digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control.
  • Automatic ISO rating of 100 to 200.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/1,200 to 1/2 second.
  • Built-in flash with five operating modes.
  • Optional SD / MMC memory card or internal 8MB memory storage.
  • Power supplied by one lithium-ion battery pack, or AC adapter via camera dock (all included).

Special Features

  • Movie with sound recording mode.
  • 10-second self-timer.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB cable and camera dock for connection to a computer (driver software included).
  • Video Out jack for connection to a television set.


Recommendation
It isn't a camera for the "enthusiast" crowd, but this is one that novices will love. With fully automatic exposure control, a compact size, and a 2.1-megapixel CCD, the LS420 is a great match for active consumers who don't want to fuss with all the details of exposure and color balance. The camera controls everything, so you only have to select the file size you want to use, and choose whether or not to use the flash or digital zoom. The LS420's highly portable design is great for travel, and built-in memory means you can snap a few impromptu images without running after a memory card (perfect for those unexpected shots). The 2.1-megapixel CCD captures snapshot quality images, best for printing to 5x7 inches, though you could go as large as 8x10 inches without too much loss in quality. Combine all this with the unparalleled convenience of the EasyShare camera dock and Kodak Picture Software, and the LS420 is a great option for novice consumers who still want great-looking pictures.


Design
The LS420 is easily the smallest member of the EasyShare line, with a thin, elongated body small enough for shirt pockets and evening bags. A combination of metal body panels and resilient structural plastic make for a camera with a more solid "feel" than most of the rest of the EasyShare line as well. I happen to like thin/long profile cameras like this, as I think they do a good job of fitting into a pocket, while still providing enough camera for your hand to grab onto. Measuring 4.3 x 1.1 x 1.8 inches (109 x 28.5 x 45.5 millimeters), the LS420 is also very light weight at only 5.64 ounces (160 grams, without battery or memory card). The camera fits well into the hand, and comes with a wrist strap and padded case for travel.

 

 

The LS420's front panel is fairly smooth, with no real protrusions to catch on pockets. Across the front are the flash, self-timer LED, light sensor, lens, optical viewfinder window, and microphone. A sliding metal lens cover slips out of the way whenever the camera is powered on, eliminating the need for a lens cap. The fixed-focal-length lens doesn't extend when the camera is powered on, maintaining the smooth profile.

 

 

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the back) are the memory card and battery compartment. A hinged, plastic door covers the compartment, and simply flips open to reveal both slots. The battery and memory card slots line up side-by-side, and the battery slot features a small, brown lever that holds the battery in place when loaded.

 

 

The left side of the camera holds the A/V Out jack and an eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.

 

 

The Shutter button, Flash / Print button, and Power switch are arranged across the top panel of the LS420. A green LED backlight surrounds the Power switch, producing a "throbbing" green glow when the camera is first switched on. (Serving no purpose really, but it does look pretty cool.)

 

 

The few remaining camera controls are on the back panel, along with the LCD monitor and optical viewfinder eyepiece. An LED lamp next to the viewfinder eyepiece reports camera status, indicating when the flash is charging, or exposure is set. (The LED lamp flashes green while an image is being saved to memory, yellow while the flash is recharging, or red to indicate a problem with exposure.) A large Mode dial selects the camera's operating mode, with a large tab that makes turning it easy. Instead of the four way arrow pad or rocker toggle found on many cameras, the LS420 features a unique joystick control in the center of the Mode dial, which navigates through menu settings and controls digital zoom. I really liked the feel of this control, as it was very natural and intuitive when adjusting settings, and seemed to be much more sure-acting than the rocker toggle controllers used on some cameras.

My one quibble about the layout of controls on the LS420 is that they encourage gripping the camera with both hands, so your left thumb can operate the mode dial and joystick. The problem with this is that the lens and viewfinder window on the front of the camera are so close to the left side that there's a great tendency for your index finger to obscure one or the other view port. (You'd think that after all these years in the photo business, Kodak would have figured out about people putting their fingers over the lens when they shoot. ;-) Not a huge problem, but something to watch out for.

 

 

The LS420's bottom panel is pretty flat, with only slight protrusions. A threaded plastic tripod socket rests slightly off-center from the lens, almost all the way over to the left side of the camera. - This can cause the camera to tilt slightly on a tripod mount, although that's easily corrected by tilting the tripod head itself. Also on the bottom panel is the connector jack for the camera dock.


Camera Operation
Offering only a few control buttons and a very limited LCD menu, the LS420's user interface shouldn't take long to master. Flash and digital zoom are about the only exposure options, and are controlled externally, though file size is adjusted through the LCD menu. The LCD menu itself is limited to only a few choices, and quick to navigate. A Mode dial on the rear of camera quickly changes operating modes, and the Menu button instantly displays the available menu options. Even without reading the instruction manual, it shouldn't take the average user more than a few minutes to learn the basics of the LS420's operation.


External Controls


Shutter Button: This smooth, silver button sits in the far right corner of the camera's top panel. Pressed halfway, it sets the exposure. A full press fires the shutter.


Flash / Print Button: Directly to the left of the Shutter button on top of the camera, this button controls flash operation in Still Capture mode. Repeatedly pressing the button cycles through the options on the flash mode menu, offering Auto, Fill, Red-Eye Reduction, Night Shot, and Off flash modes.

In Playback mode, this button displays the DPOF print settings menu, with options to mark specific images for printing and set the number of copies to be made. (The Print menu is only available for images saved on an SD memory card.)


Mode Dial: Located on the left side of the back panel, this large dial features an extended tab to make turning easier. The Mode dial controls the camera's main operating mode, with the following options available:

  • Still Capture: Sets up the camera for capturing still images. Exposure is automatically controlled, with the user in charge of digital zoom, flash mode, and file size only.

  • Movie: Records moving images with sound, for as long as the memory card or internal memory has available space. Exposure is again under automatic control, and the user can choose one of two resolutions.

  • Playback: Lets the user review captured images and movies on either the SD card or internal memory. Images can be erased, played back as a slide show, or set up for printing on DPOF compatible devices. You can also copy images from the internal memory to an SD memory card. (Note that, while the LS420 records movies with sound, there's no internal speaker, so playback on the camera is silent. Rest assured though, the sound will be there when you play the movie back on your computer.)

  • Setup: Displays the main camera setup menu.

Joystick Control: Directly in the center of the Mode dial, this joystick controller moves freely in any direction. In any settings menu, moving the lever up or down navigates through menu options. Pressing down on the stick when it's centered confirms menu settings.

In Capture mode, moving the stick to the right increases the digital zoom, while moving back to the left decreases the zoom, eventually returning to the normal view. Pressing down on the center of the stick in Capture mode turns the LCD display on or off.

In Playback mode, moving the joystick left and right scrolls through captured images and movies. When an image has been enlarged, moving the stick in any direction moves around within the enlarged view.


Menu Button: Diagonal from the lower left corner of the LCD monitor, this button pulls up the settings menu in Capture, Movie, and Playback modes. A second press of the button dismisses the menu display.


Camera Modes and Menus

Still Capture Mode: Designated on the Mode switch by a small camera icon, this mode sets up the camera for capturing still images. The user can adjust the flash mode and digital zoom, or change the file resolution setting. Pressing the Menu button displays the following options:

  • Self-Timer: Turns the 10-second Self-Timer mode on or off.
  • Picture Quality: Sets the still image resolution to Best (1,752 x 1,168 pixels) or Good (876 x 594 pixels).
  • Image Storage: Designates where captured images will be stored. "Auto" tells the camera to store images on the SD card if one is inserted, or the internal memory if one is not. "Internal Memory" means that images till only be saved to the 8MB internal memory.
  • Date Stamp: Activates a time and date stamp to be recorded and displayed with each image.
  • Quickview: Enables the instant image review function, which displays the most recently captured image for a few seconds on the LCD screen, immediately after capture.

Movie Mode: Indicated by a movie camera icon, this mode records moving images with sound, for as long as the SD card or 8MB internal memory has available space. The following menu options are available:

  • Picture Quality: Specifies the recording resolution as Best (320 x 240 pixels) or Good (160 x 120 pixels).
  • Image Storage: Designates where captured images will be stored. "Auto" tells the camera to store images on the SD card if one is inserted, or the internal memory if one is not. "Internal Memory" means that images till only be saved to the 8MB internal memory.
  • Self-Timer: Turns on the 10-second Self-Timer mode, or disables it.
  • Video Length: Designates how long the camera records once the Shutter button has been pressed. Options are Unlimited, or 5, 15, or 30 seconds. Even if a longer fixed interval is selected, you can stop the recording at any time by pressing the shutter button a second time.
  • Quickview: Enables the instant image review function, which displays the most recently captured image for a few seconds on the LCD screen immediately after capture.

Playback Mode: the traditional playback symbol (rectangle with a highlighted triangle) marks this mode on the Mode dial. Here, users can review captured images on the memory card or in the camera's internal memory, as well as erase them. If images are saved to an external memory card, the user can set the number of prints to be made later on a DPOF-compatible printer. The Menu button offers the following selections:

  • Magnify: Enlarges the current image display to 2x, so that you can check on fine details.
  • Delete: Erases either the current picture, or all images, from the memory card or internal memory. There is an option to cancel.
  • Image Storage: Designates where captured images will be stored. "Auto" tells the camera to store images on the SD card if one is inserted, or the internal memory if one is not. "Internal Memory" means that images till only be saved to the 8MB internal memory. (The camera will only display images from the selected memory location during playback.)
  • Protect: Protects the current image from accidental deletion or manipulation in any way (except for card formatting, which erases the entire memory card).
  • Slide Show: Plays back captured images automatically. You can adjust the display interval anywhere between five and 60 seconds.
  • Copy: Copies images from the internal memory to an SD card.

Setup Mode: The final position on the Mode switch, this mode displays the camera's settings menu, with the following options:

  • Display Brightness: Lightens or darkens the overall LCD display.
  • Date/Time Set: Sets the camera's internal calendar and clock.
  • Video Out: Sets the Video Out signal to NTSC or PAL timings.
  • Video Playback Display: Specifies whether the date and/or time displays over captured images, and offers several display formats.
  • Language: Sets the camera's menu language to English, Japanese, Chinese, German, Spanish, French, Italian, or Portuguese.
  • Image Storage: Designates where captured images will be stored. "Auto" tells the camera to store images on the SD card if one is inserted, or the internal memory if one is not. "Internal Memory" means that images till only be saved to the 8MB internal memory.
  • About Camera: Displays the camera's firmware information.
  • Format: Formats either the internal memory or SD / MMC memory card, which erases all files (even protected ones).

 

Sample Pictures
See our sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of our test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

Outdoor
Indoor
Indoor Flash
 

 

Not Available 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy


Specifications
See the specifications sheet here.


Picky Details
Information on shooting speed, battery life, etc. can be found here.


Test Results

  • Color: Despite the LS420's lack of white balance and exposure adjustments, it produced very good color throughout my testing. The automatic white balance system handled most of the test lighting well, producing nearly accurate color even under the difficult incandescent lighting of the Indoor Portrait. Color and saturation looked good both in the studio and under outdoor lighting, with only a slight magenta cast present in some cases. The large color blocks of the Davebox target were about right, with good saturation, and skin tones looked very good as well. Overall, an excellent job.

  • Exposure: The LS420 again did a good job here, accurately exposing the test targets in most cases. Though images were slightly high-contrast, midtone and shadow detail were good. The camera picked up the subtle tonal variations of the pastel tones in the Q60 target of the Davebox well, a difficult area for some digicams.

  • Sharpness: Details were a little soft in most shots, more so than many competing two megapixel cameras. The photos the LS420 captures will be usable for prints as large as 8x10 inches, but they'll be noticeably soft at that size. They should look fine up to 5x7 inches though.

  • Closeups: The LS420 has no Macro shooting mode, and its minimum focusing distance of 2.6 feet prevents anything but rather wide shots. - Not the camera to get if you need closeup photos of small objects!

  • Night Shots: The LS420 performed about as I expected it would here, given its maximum 1/2-second shutter speed. The camera captured bright, clear images at light levels only as low as four foot-candles (44 lux), which is about four times as bright as average city street lighting at night. Color was good here, with moderately low noise, but you should plan on using the flash for any pictures after sunset.

  • Battery Life: The LS420 shows surprisingly good battery life for a subcompact camera. In its worst-case operating mode, with the LCD turned on, it should run for a bit less than two hours. With the battery off, it'll stay running virtually all day. - I still strongly recommend buying an extra battery with it though, keeping it charged, and packing it along on extended outings as a spare.


In the Box
The LS420 arrives with the following items:

  • Wrist strap.
  • Soft camera case.
  • EasyShare camera dock.
  • EasyShare lithium-ion battery pack.
  • USB cable.
  • NTSC video cable (US and Japanese models, PAL for European models).
  • AC adapter.
  • Software CD.
  • Instruction manual, software guide, and registration kit.


Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SD / MMC memory card.
  • Additional lithium-ion battery.


Conclusion
Unusually tiny and lightweight, Kodak's EasyShare LS420 is great for travel and snapshots, as it can tag along just about anywhere. Full automatic exposure control gives it truly point-and-shoot operation, and its surprisingly sophisticated automatic white balance and exposure systems deliver good-looking photos under a wide range of lighting conditions. Its 2.1 megapixel CCD means you can make prints as large as 8x10 inches, but I found its images a little soft compared to competing models. While 8x10 prints from it will probably satisfy most users, plan on really sharp prints only up to about 5x7 inches in size. To my mind, the biggest missing feature on the LS420 is a true optical zoom lens. While the 38mm focal length lens (a slight wide angle) is a good compromise for snapshots, I always feel that the added flexibility of a zoom lens is worth the extra cost. If you don't feel you need a zoom though, the LS420 could be a good choice for you. Other limitations are that the LS420 has no macro option for closeup photography, and its low light capabilities are rather restricted. Those few shortcomings aside though, the LS420 looks like a great camera for novice photographers, who might otherwise avoid digicams because of their complexity. Taken as a group, Kodak's EasyShare line of cameras are some of the easiest to use on the market, and the LS420 is one of the simpler models within that line. While "enthusiast" photographers may turn up their noses at the LS420's simplicity, paucity of features, or modest resolution, it's just what the doctor ordered for the legions of "happy snappers" who just want a basic camera that takes good pictures. If you're in the latter category, you should really check out the LS420!

 

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