Kodak, DC260 Digital Camera
1.5 Million Pixels, with "Pro" options like External Flash & Manual Focus
|1,536 X 1,024 pixel resolution (!)|
|External flash sync, w/manual aperture(!)|
|Optional manual focus setting|
|3X optical zoom, + 2X digital|
|Removable CompactFlash memory (8MB incl)|
|Serial, IrDA, USB bus high-speed computer
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 DC260, and its high resolution, Digita operating system, and increased exposure flexibility, they've staked out new ground at the upper end of the digital point & shoot market.
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 DC260, they seem to be addressing not only the upper end of the picture-taking marketplace (with features such as external flash sync), but also offering more opportunities for third parties to integrate the camera into customized applications and workflows. As of this writing (June, 1998), details on the Digita programming language (from FlashPoint Technology - www.flashpnt.com) built into the camera were sketchy at best, so this review will concentrate more on the '260s operation as a "conventional" digital camera.
Kodak officially rates the DC260 as capable of producing photo-quality output
up to a 8x10 print size, and we agreed, finding that even full-page 8x11 (~A4)
images hold together surprisingly well on high-quality inkjet printers.
The DC260 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 DC260 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 DC260 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 DC260 is power-hungry: Either get some good-quality rechargeable batteries, or limit your LCD usage!
The optical viewfinder of the DC260 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 DC260 continues this welcome tradition: When operating in viewfinder mode, the '260s 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. We did notice some odd behavior of the LCD viewfinder though, when panning the camera to frame or follow a moving subject: Whenever we moved the camera at all rapidly, the LCD image appeared to "split" into red and cyan-colored components, which only came back together again after the camera stopped moving. This was quite distracting, and would be an impediment to photographing moving subjects. Again, this could very likely be a problem with the "beta" unit we tested, and not present on production models. We'll update this review once our production sample arrives.
The DC260 sports a sharp 3x autofocus zoom lens, with a focal length range equivalent to 38-115mm on a 35mm film camera. Its autofocus ranges from 12 inches (0.3 m) to infinity. The aperture range runs from f3.0 at the wide angle end of the zoom or f4.7 at the telephoto end, to f22, a wider-than-normal range.
The DC260 is unique among the digital cameras we've tested, in the variety of focusing options it offers. The default is "multi-spot" autofocus, in which focus information is computed at three separate points within the field of view, and the results averaged to determine optimum focus. (The '260s documentation doesn't say though, just where the three autofocus areas are located in the frame.) A second mode provide "single-spot" autofocus, in which only the center of the frame is examined to determine optimum focus setting. In both autofocus modes, you can "lock" the focus by pointing the camera at the object you want to focus on, half-depressing the shutter trigger, and then (with the shutter button still depressed), shift the camera to achieve your desired framing. Once everything's set, press the shutter button the rest of the way to take the picture. (Note that this procedure also "locks" exposure at the same time as the focus is set.)
Besides its two separate autofocus modes, the DC260 also provides (a small drum-roll, please) manual focus control! This is worthy of special attention, given the level of recent concern with poor digital camera autofocus performance under low-light conditions. Some cameras won't allow you to take a picture, even under conditions within the range of usable exposure, simply because they can't determine the appropriate focus setting. (This can be particularly vexing in the case of flash photography, where a very low level of ambient light is common, and in all probability irrelevant to the exposure anyway.) Various methods have been implemented to address this issue, including active autofocus systems and various forms of manual overrides, but no camera in the under-$1,000 category has previously offered the option of setting focus manually. A total of 9 preset manual-focus distances are provided, spread in an approximately even logarithmic series from 1.5 feet (50 cm) to infinity. In practice, the number of steps provided is a little limited for use at maximum aperture, and the full telephoto end of the zoom range, but fine at wider angle settings and smaller apertures. By any stretch though, the manual focusing ability of the DC260 is miles ahead of most competitors.
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 DC260 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 DC260 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 DC260 at an equivalent ISO speed of 100, and available lens apertures range from f3.0-f14 at the maximum wide-angle setting, to f4.7-f22 at maximum telephoto. The autoexposure system provides exposure times ranging from 1/4 to 1/400 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 DC260 should be able to handle light levels ranging from EV 1.5 to EV 17.5, an incredible range.
Given the unusual flexibility of its focusing options, the 260's single auto-exposure mode seems limited by comparison. While the exposure lock (mentioned in conjunction with focus lock earlier) and the EV-compensation (discussed below) are helpful in dealing with difficult exposure situations, we would still like to see a spot-metering mode. While you can fudge with the EV control and exposure lock to make the best of an inaccurate autoexposure setting, spot metering will often let you reach out and expose for exactly the right part of the subject.
Following Kodak tradition, the DC260 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 1/4 second maximum autoexposure time on the DC-260. (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 12-inch minimum focusing distance. (This last has been a rarity for point & shoot cameras in the past, as they tended to badly wash-out close-up shots when the flash was used.)
A major feature of the DC260 is its ability to work with external flash units. (! - Very few digital point & shoots allow for connection to an external flash gun.) A standard "PC" connector on the side of the camera body provides the physical interface, and a special "external flash" exposure mode lets you explicitly set the lens aperture in one-stop increments between f3.0 and f22. Although we didn't test this feature quantitatively, we did plug a generic autoexposure flashgun into the PC jack and played around a fair bit with the combination. The results were very encouraging: The explicit aperture setting allowed us to regulate exposure while using the flash, and flash timing seemed well-synched with the shutter. While some digicam owners have experimented with slave-triggered external strobes, the DC260's ability to control the lens aperture independently puts its flash capabilities into an entirely different league.
Operation and User Interface
Note: Our test unit was a late "beta" model, and as such, may not represent the capabilities of final production models in all respects. In talking with Kodak though, it appears that most of the information in this section of our review will apply to the commercial units as well.
The user interface and operation of the DC260 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 little brother the DC220), the DC260 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.
As the DC260 has acquired more computer-like capabilities though, it has also acquired some computer-like behavior: Like a computer, the '260 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 DC260 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 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 doubtless gathered from our earlier comments, the DC260 is an unusually flexible device with many options (external flash, time exposure, time-lapse photography, multiple focus modes, etc). It should come as no surprise then, that the user interface needs a lot 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 DC260 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/dc260) for the "latest info". We suspect this Info screen may be used to greater effect with the Digita scripting system, to step users through pre-programmed processes.
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 (1,536x1,024, 1,152x768, or 768x512 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 ten 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.)
The CF storage cards used by the DC260 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. This large a quantity of images could be very unwieldy, if your only option were the scrolling filmstrip interface we describe below under Review Mode. To handle such situations, the DC260 provides an "Albums" option, by which you can define and manipulate groups of images. Once one or more "albums" are defined in the camera's memory, you can send any new pictures captured to the album of your choice, or select "No Album" to let new images accumulate in the general storage area. (Recognizing the dual home/business usage of many digital cameras, "Albums" can be a great way to separate family images from those captured for business.)
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. At the time of this writing (mid-June, 1998), details on the Digita language were very sketchy, as the developer kits hadn't yet been released. For now, the best we can do is refer readers to http://www.kodak.com/ to search for more info on their own.
White Balance Settings
The DC260 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 260 and its little brother the 220 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 DC260 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 hadn't exercised this option as of this version of this review. (Windows '95 system problems had generally bollixed-up serial communications on our PC, forcing us to postpone coverage of interface issues to a later date.) We can imagine 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 DC260 supports two "advanced exposure modes": Long Time Exposure, allowing exposure times from 0.5 to 4.0 seconds, and External Flash, which disables the camera's on-board flash, and permits the manual selection of lens apertures in one-stop increments ranging from f3 to f22. (Well, OK, the step from 3.0 to 4.0 isn't a full f-stop, but you get the idea...)
Advanced Focus Modes Settings
This is the menu used to control the three focus modes we mentioned earlier in the review: Multi-Spot Auto Focus (the default), Single-Spot Auto Focus, and Manual Focus. (Not much else to say, as we discussed these modes in depth earlier.)
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 offers 3 menus for setting configuration options: Move to Album, Review Preferences, and Camera to Camera.
Move to Album
As you'd expect, this allows you to move images from main storage to an album, or between albums. Images to be moved are "marked" in review mode, and then the Move to Album menu brought up to effect the transfer. A new album can also be created at the same time.
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 DC260'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 DC260 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 DC260 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 13-83 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.
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 DC260 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 elderly Pentium 133 machine lacks any IrDA capability at all, and its grafted-on USB ports were misbehaving as we "went to press" with this review. We have some hope of getting the USB ports working by the time we receive our production sample of the '260, so hope to be able to report on the blazing speed of this interface at that time. (Probably mid- to late-July, 1998.) While Apple has announced both USB and IrDA support in some of their products, these are yet to hit the streets. In the meantime, Mac users will need to purchase an accessory Mac cable and connection kit when they become available. (These were delayed slightly beyond the initial release of the camera, although Kodak has assured us that they intend to support the Mac platform for the '260.)
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 DC260: 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 very large file sizes the DC260 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 DC260 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. Due to the system problems on our Windows host machine, we weren't able to verify whether we could move images bidirectionally on the DC260 or not. 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 DC260 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 DC260'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 DC260 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 thought...
That's right - sound! The DC260 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 DC260 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 DC260'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 DC260. - Save yourself a lot of grief, and buy a couple of sets of good NiMH batteries and a quality charger.
In this early version of this review, we haven't yet dug into the DC260's software package. It looks very similar to that for the earlier DC210, so you could get some idea of what's offered by reading that review. We will update this review to include a discussion of software when we receive our final production test unit of the DC260.
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 DC260 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. (We posted extensive comments about the DC260 test results on the pictures page. We'll eventually get around to summarizing them here, but for now, please refer to the pictures page for detailed information on our test results.)
The Kodak DC260 breaks new ground at the high end of the point & shoot digital camera market. Features such as manual focus setting and external flash sync (with manual aperture setting) make it more suited to professional applications than others in its price range. The computer-like capabilities it incorporates give it unique power for vertical applications, but at some penalty in shot-to-shot cycle times and startup/shutdown speed. We predict it will find many applications in studio shooting, but probably few in the sports arena. The "Digita" scripting language appears to open new possibilities for vertical applications such as real estate and insurance claims handling. Overall, the DC260 is a powerful handful, both literally and figuratively.
Interview with the Kodak DC260 Engineering Team!
A while after this review was first written, Kodak offered us an opportunity to interview two members of the DC260's engineering team! We were able to get answers to a number of frequent questions that had been floating around the newsgroups. If you're interested in the DC260, and some of the tradeoff decisions that went into its design, we think you'll find this article very interesting!
See what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about the DC260, or add comments of your own. (Read what's here, then add your own!)
Do you have a DC260 camera? If you'll post an album of your samples on one of the photo-sharing services and email us at [email protected], we'll list the album here for others to see!
View the test images from the DC260