Things had looked very promising for Kodak in the early days of digital cameras, when the company drove the 1990s market of DSLR development, then scored a well deserved hit with their DC4800 enthusiast compact in late 2000. Kodak’s DSLR concepts were way ahead of the pack, with the images from some of their mid ‘90s augmentations totally belying their era and producing digital photos many would still find acceptable today. And when that impressive definition, reliable metering and powerful if slightly artificial colour was packed into the little DC4800 a few years later, it looked like Kodak were about to do something really special with the digital camera.
But rather than delivering the real game-changer of a device which so many observers were expecting, Kodak dropped out of the enthusiast market to concentrate on their new Easyshare concept. Cheapish, point-and-shoot pocket cameras with supposedly idiot-proof sharing options – that was where Kodak saw their success, and there was no doubt that this was a lucrative area of the market. Indeed, after introduction in 2001, the Easyshare theme gave Kodak a rocket boost in sales just as digital cameras were really starting to catch on with large numbers of consumers.
But Easyshare wasn’t for everyone even in the early noughties, and as time moved along, the concept was inevitably going to fall prey to camera phones, which could put the ultimate sharing resource (the Internet) right at the snapper’s fingertips. Easyshare simply could not compete with a smartphone when it came to quickly and easily sharing photos. In fact, Easyshare could even prove more annoying than it was helpful. It nannied the user with defaults that were difficult to override, automatically put pictures into ‘albums’ (which could confuse on the issue of deletion and the image’s actual location on the drive), and tried to prevent users from transferring the same photo twice – even if the original had been removed from the PC.
The greatest pity about Easyshare, though, was that it seemed to completely take Kodak over, to the extent that the company looked to be sidelining all other avenues of development. Kodak’s failure to build kudos at the higher end of the market consigned them to an almost inevitable fate. It would only take one device to make photo-sharing easier than Easyshare, and the Kodak camera was in trouble. When that device arrived, in the shape of the smartphone/cameraphone, Easyshare’s market was progressively eroded as the phone’s image quality improved. By the end of the noughties, it was all over bar the shouting, and in 2012, Kodak cameras became a thing of the past.
THE EASYSHARE V1003
Announced in January 2007 and introduced shortly afterward, Kodak’s Easyshare V1003 compact epitomised Kodak’s output in the mid to late noughties. This was a truly pocket-sized camera available in a wide range of colours, and the design element was clearly very important to Kodak. However, the design wasn’t such an overwhelming priority that it stood in the way of a reasonable lens. I’ve always been wary of cameras with lenses you could barely see. There was no fear of that nature with the V1003.
Originally retailing in the UK at £199, the V1003 saw the kind of price crash for which this area of the market was renowned, and could be bought for £99 in Dixons by January 2008. This wasn’t particularly an indication that the devices were no good. It was just that the technology’s value was still in the ascendency, and when newer models arrived with better price to spec ratios, existing stock would often have to be heavily reduced to remain competitive on the retailers’ shelves.
|My black V1003 has been used extensively and with abandon.|
The V1003 is typical Kodak in image terms, producing sharp shots with well-to-heavily saturated colours, a rather unnatural blueish bias, reds noticeably shifted towards pink, and sky blues prone to shifting too far into the region of cyan. The images from the V1003 can get noisy, even at the lowest ISO settings when the camera’s in the highest resolution mode of 10 megapixels. But on the plus side, the device holds highlight and shadow detail exceptionally well, and even offers an instant, in-camera enhancement routine to produce impactive and well balanced results when the lighting conditions are less than perfect. Shooting against the light, the V1003 could outperform the majority if not all of its direct rivals in terms of greyscale dynamics, and the results you get in dull or wet conditions can be surprisingly good provided you stick with a low ISO and stabilise the camera.
The V1003 typically performs a bit better in black and white mode than in colour - mainly because removing the colour reduces the prominence of any noise, and eliminating the unnatural hues takes away the aura of cheapness which can afflict a fair volume of the colour shots. Because it’s easy to flick between a custom user preset and the camera's primary setup, though, you can optimise the camera for your favourite type of colour and black and white shots, then instantly move from one mode to the other. If you keep the resolution down at the 2.5MP setting, you get impressive-looking, sharp snapshots which can be auto-corrected without creating an excess of noise. 4.9MP is also normally a viable option, but I find the full 10MP too revealing of the camera’s flaws most of the time. You have to keep in mind that the V1003 is not meant to be a pro imaging system. The intention is for it to produce nice, easy snaps without much thought or effort, and if you can allow for its rather sluggish power-up and autofocus times, that’s precisely what it does.
The biggest problems with the V1003 were the inaccurate colour (typical across the board with Kodak’s digital compacts), and the non-existent noise management. The later Kodak Z915 manages noise very well and highlights how good the V1003 could have been with a bit of extra onboard processing. But due to its supreme handling of lighting situations other compacts just couldn’t deal with, I’ve absolutely hammered my black V1003 with use over the past five or six years. You do normally have to correct the colour and you can’t really produce massive images, but if you can understand and exploit the strengths of the V1003, it’s still a very useful tool to have in your pocket.