One of the great things about the switch from film to digital photography is that it has allowed camera makers to produce models that are slim enough to fit in a pocket but still take excellent pictures and come packed with features. Chips and sensors take up much less room than rolls of film.
But there are limitations imposed by small, slim camera bodies that even digital wizardry hasn’t been able to overcome. These mainly involve the lenses. Lenses with better-than-average telescopic and wide-angle capabilities tend to be too bulky to fit on a pocket-sized camera body.
Now, Eastman Kodak has come up with a concept that promises to make more versatile lenses available on the slimmest digital cameras. The company has introduced a pocket-sized camera with two lenses, each designed for different kinds of shots.
The company’s new EasyShare V570 camera couples a fairly standard lens — the 3x optical zoom that is typical on slim digital cameras — with a second, specialized lens for taking ultrawide-angle shots. Together, these all-glass lenses have a 5x optical zooming capability, unusual in a small camera. A single lens with the combined range of the V570′s two lenses (the equivalent of 23 millimeters to 117 millimeters) would be too large for the camera’s body. But by splitting the work between two physically smaller lenses, Kodak has made it fit.
The camera doesn’t zoom in any better on distant objects than most others in its class. But it does do a much better job of capturing all of a group of people — or a building or a landscape — in a single shot, without requiring you to move ridiculously far back.
Better yet, the user doesn’t need to manually switch between the lenses, or even to be conscious of them. The camera’s processor merges them into one virtual lens, and the zooming button on the back automatically switches lenses as you move from the widest to the most telescopic setting. An indicator on the screen tells you if you have switched lenses and are using the ultrawide-angle one.
Kodak’s EasyShare V570 camera
Kodak has placed both lenses entirely within the camera’s body. Even when the main lens zooms, it never protrudes from the camera. Both are protected by a single built-in lens cover that opens instantly, with a satisfying snap.
The $399 V570, which has a resolution of 5 megapixels, isn’t a one-shot deal. Kodak plans more small cameras with multiple lenses that employ digital technology to make the lenses work smoothly together. While the V570′s twin lenses add capabilities at the wide end of the zooming range, future models might use multiple lenses to bolster a camera’s telephoto capability. Or one lens might be devoted to still pictures, while a second might be optimized for video.
I’ve been testing the V570, and I like it, despite a couple of drawbacks. In my tests, I compared it with the Kodak EasyShare V550, my favorite pocket-sized digital camera. Like the V550, which costs $349, the new V570 has a handsome black design. But the V570, which is just 4 inches wide by 2 inches high by 0.8 inch thick and weighs 4.5 ounces, is actually thinner and lighter than the single-lens V550.
In my tests, I took numerous shots of people, buildings and street scenes with the two cameras. In every case, using the ultrawide-angle lens, the new V570 allowed me to pack in much more of a given scene from the same distance. I just pressed the zoom button all the way to “W.”
For instance, a picture of a room on the single-lens camera captured only some of the furniture and walls. With the V570, nearly everything got into the shot. Standing on my driveway taking a picture of my house with the V550, the attached family room was cut off. But from the same spot, the V570 picture included both structures. Where the V550 might get three people in a shot, the V570 could get five or six.
Telephoto shots came out the same on both cameras. Picture quality, both on a computer screen and in printouts, was the same as on the V550, which is very good.
The zooming experience between the V570′s two lenses isn’t perfectly smooth. There’s a gap between the two lenses that’s experienced as a brief, but abrupt, jump in the image on the camera’s screen. But I didn’t find this to be a problem.
The 2.5-inch LCD screen on the back of the camera was sharp and vivid indoors, though it washed out some in direct sunlight.
But the V570 is missing a couple of valuable features the V550 includes. First, it has no optical viewfinder, which allows steadier shooting and is better for framing shots in situations in which sunlight washes out the screen. Unfortunately, camera makers are well on their way to omitting optical viewfinders from most consumer cameras, claiming that the space they occupy is better used for bigger screens and that younger shooters never use them anyway.
Secondly, the V570 has no port for directly connecting to a computer with the included USB cable. To connect the camera to a computer, you are forced to use the included dock, which is a real pain.
Still, if you want a camera with strong wide-angle capabilities, while preserving small size and normal telescopic zooming, the V570 might be just the ticket.
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