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Digital camera review: Several days shared with the Kodak EasyShare M381, point-and-shoot camera

Kodak EasyShare M381 Point & Shoot Digital Camera - Black - 12.4 Megapixel - 16:9 - 5x Optical Zoom - 5x Digital Zoom - 3 Color LCD
The M381 in black

I have always been a huge fan of Kodak cameras.  My first point-and-shoot was from the Kodak EasyShare series, and I've kept up with the product line throughout it's evolution.  The M381 has a MSRP of $169.95 at the time of review, so it is inline with most of the 12 megapixel offerings currently available.  Upon receiving the EasyShare M381, I was anxious to see how it held up to my ever-increasing and stringent standards of what a point-and-shoot should deliver.

The General Features of the EasyShare M381

  • 12.4-megapixel resolution
  • 5x optical zoom
  • Smart Capture mode to automatically identify the scene type and adjust settings
  • 3-inch LCD screen
  • Stitch panoramic mode
  • SD/SDHC support

Technical details of the Kodak M381

  • Optical Sensor Technology: CCD
  • Maximum Aperture Range: F/3.0-4.8
  • Optical Sensor Size: 1/2.3"
  • Light Sensitivity: ISO 100, ISO 800, ISO 400, ISO 200, ISO 64, ISO auto (64-1600), ISO 1600
  • Image types: JPEG
  • Scene Settings: Candle, Beach, Snow, High sensitivity, Landscape, Portrait mode, Text, Close-up, Museum, Back light, Night portrait, Self-portrait, Children, Fireworks, Night landscape, Flower, Panning, Sports mode, Sunset
  • 4" wide x 2.4" high and 4.7 ounces

So the features and technical details out of the way, how does the Kodak EasyShare M381 work?

One thing that is consistent with every Kodak digital camera I've experienced - they are simple to use and ready within seconds of powering on.  The M381 was no exception.  After a quick charge of the included lithium battery and insertion of my SDHC memory card, I was snapping pictures in the smart capture mode.  After taking about 10 pictures, I decided to check them out on my computer.  I noticed that several of the pictures taken right after each other were of varying quality, and I became slightly frustrated with the smart capture mode.  Fortunately the scene selection setting on the Kodak's is very intuitive, and after switching to that mode, I was much happier with my results.  The image quality when using smart capture wasn't BAD, it just varied quite a bit between shots, and ultimately, I decided it was worth the extra effort of picking the scene type.  The image below was taken with smart capture, so again, the quality certainly isn't bad.

Smart capture mode

General usage observations

With a 8GB SDHC, the camera reported 2144 images available at the highest quality.  As for battery life, I can't really comment, other than it seems as good as any other I've used.  I've taken about 200 pictures now, and the battery bar barely has a dent in it, so it is safe to assume that it will certainly get through any situational photo shoots.  The time in between shots was a little bit slow, but not a show-stopper.  Also, the shutter lag isn't great in low light scenarios.

Panoramic

What I liked

  • Intuitive and user friendly interface - I think this is now expected from all Kodak products
  • Panaromic mode - Kodak has mastered the stitch style panaromics, and I highly recommend everyone experiment with the feature (the picture above was a quick panoramic in my backyard)
  • Available scene settings - with 18 different scene types, you can find a preset for most situations
  • Megapixels/Image quality - really, anything about 5 megapixels will get you a good 8x10 picture, so 12 is just getting into the insane category

What I didn't like

  • Smart capture mode seemed to have a lot of variance in picture quality
  • Time between photo/shutter lag seemed a little slower than I was used to

Overall the Kodak EasyShare M381 is a pretty solid point-and-shoot digital camera.  I'd be happy paying the MSRP of $169.95, but I just found it this morning over at Buy.com for $124.95 with free shipping (link below), and that I consider to be a steal.  You get a great compact camera, backed by an even better company, so the M381 is definitely a strong contender for those looking for a new digital camera.

Kodak EasyShare M381 Point & Shoot Digital Camera - Black - 12.4 Megapixel - 16:9 - 5x Optical Zoom - 5x Digital Zoom - 3 Color LCD

For more info: Read more at Kodak.com

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