For those who have forgotten, yes Kodak, the legendary film photography company, did indeed make digital cameras. In fact, they opened Pandora’s Box by creating the first one in the 1970s, then pioneered many now standardized features in the following two decades. So in the spirit of Kodak’s crowning achievement and subsequent doom, the first model I am looking at for Classic Pixels is one of those forgotten Kodak revolutionaries that helped forever change our world: the DC280 Zoom.
And before we get started, let me start off by saying that this camera was lauded by industry reviewers at the time of its release in the second half of 1999. According to Kodak, who surprisingly still has a page on their website dedicated to this model, it was given editor’s choice awards by both PC Magazine and CNET.
My first impressions of this camera as I get it powered up are somewhat mixed. It needs 4 AA batteries to wake it up, and as I load each battery into the large terminal housed in the grip side it feels more like I am loading bullets into a revolver. So, maybe bad that a point and shoot camera needs so many batteries, but also kind of good because I almost feel like a badass when I pop them in.
And as far as early digital point and shoots go, the camera certainly could look worse. It was made during that halfway period when most consumer level cameras were no longer built like indestructible metal tanks, but before they were all plastic eggshells (I’m looking at you Nikon and Canon entry level DSLRs). The camera has a modest gray four tone color scheme with a design predicated on circles and rounded rectangles. It’s not sexy, but people might not actually stare at you funny if you brought it to your child’s music concert. They might not; I can’t promise. Just don’t use the zoom function, which sounds like the death throes of an air compressor. And don’t trigger the auto focus by pressing the shutter button because it sounds like 200 fax machines are printing at the same time. In fact, just don’t turn the camera on at all because every time you do it’ll make an obnoxious noise that’ll piss off the other parents.
Just as with my sister’s old Vivitar Vivicam of yore, the Kodak DC280’s camera settings terminology sounds as if it were thought up by an eight-year-old. This is finely illustrated by its three image quality settings: “Good,” “Better,” and “Best.” The resolution is designated by the slightly more eloquent “High” and “Standard,” settings that represent 2 megapixels (the first Kodak digital camera to reach this resolution) and 0.5 megapixels, respectively. The kiddish simplicity does not end with the settings wordage. It is duplicated in the menu art style, which looks like it was created by Nick Jr. And I’m not ashamed to say that I like it. The garish purple and yellow hues coupled with the cartoonish setting icons put me in a good mood before I press the shutter and wince at the grinding gears of the autofocus.
There is one thing I don’t like about the menu operations and that is the lack of a back button. When you’re in capture mode it doesn’t matter because it will automatically back up when you press enter over the setting you desire. However, someone at Kodak must have made the intern do all the work on Designing-the-Review-Mode Day because when that is switched on for playback the menu does not automatically go back. You must instead put the cursor over an “exit” option and press the enter button. Sounds simple, right? Well, it tripped me up repeatedly as I switched between the capture and review modes. There are two horizontal direction buttons and the one with the arrow pointing left kept tricking me.
Now, I know I’ve made some fun out of the noisy optical zoom and autofocus functions, but for a digital camera that is nearly 20 years old, I’d say they are pretty good. Obviously, I’m not comparing them with today’s cameras. There is no comparison. However, the 1999 version of myself that knows nothing about the technological advances of the past 18 years thinks that the autofocus and zoom motor must be powered by the Matrix.
Another surprise is that the camera offers a live view mode on its back screen. With just the simple press of the camera’s enter button (which isn’t designated by a label or symbol like the other buttons) a static-ridden and laggy live video feed of what the DC280 is looking at pops up. Plus, if you are outside on a sunny day and that screen is just too dark to see, a small dial on the bottom of the camera can be turned to adjust the screen’s brightness. How ingenious is that! I wish every digital camera had that dial. I’d never have to go deep into the digital menu jungle again just to change screen brightness. Now, the back LCD screen is a bit small at just under 2 inches. However, for those of you who are old school (or rather more old school) Kodak was nice enough to include both an optical viewfinder above the back screen and a digital watch-like LCD panel on the top next to the shutter, zoom, and mode buttons.
The LCD panel conveniently displays vital bits of information to aid you during your child’s music concert with things like battery life, image quality, and the number of shots left before the Compact Flash card fills up. When the DC280 was released it came with an 8 MB Compact Flash card, but since this is the 21st Century I had a CF card with a whopping 1GB storage size. Needless to say, the last number on that LCD panel never dropped below 1500 photos. The viewfinder is sharp, but as with most point and shoots across the ages it is pretty small. It’s also pretty pointless because the corner markers that designate what will be in the final image disappear past the right side of the viewfinder. I actually had to generate the right side of the image in my mind so I could feel like I was effectively framing anything. I guess that’s why Kodak threw the live view feature in as well so they could distract customers away from the crappy viewfinder.
Overall, the Kodak DC280 Zoom is not an inherently bad camera. Though, in a way you could call it a monster. It’s louder than a banshee and sucks the life out of AA batteries like a vampire. On the other hand, it has some surprisingly useful features uncommon among digital point and shoots of its era. But then again, this camera was also well within the high end consumer market, costing $600-700 around the time of its release. I’m not quite sure how you can justify selling a camera at that price point with virtually no manual control options. However, now that the DC280 is going for around one-thirtieth that original cost online I highly recommend it. If for whatever reason someone’s smartphone fell into a toilet and they needed to take photos before they could get a replacement, coughing up ten bucks for a little of this is worth it in my opinion.
Kodak DC280 Zoom Specs
Release Date: 1999
Original Price: $600-700
Current Market Value: $6-30
Max Resolution: 2 Megapixels
Lens: Kodak Ektanar 30-60mm (equivalent) f/3-3.8, 2x Optical Zoom
Power: 4 AA Lithium Batteries
Weight: 0.75 lbs