For the first time in several years I recently bought a Kodak product. Remember them? My photographic career began with a Kodak Brownie 127 and the school camera club. When I turned pro my camera bag was full of Kodak film, which was processed in Kodak chemicals and printed on Kodak paper, but that was a long time ago now. Gradually, I, and every other photographer I know, gave up on a company that told us what we needed rather than listening to what anyone said, least of all it’s consumers. Even National Geographic magazine, the best advertising Kodak ever had, were ignored and started using Fuji Film like everyone else.
Anyway, all of that is history now, so it’s good to report on an up to date, good value Kodak camera. The company made its name by making still photography simple and accessible to the masses, and the Kodak Play Sport I’ve just bought is part of a redefining or blending of photography and video that’s happening right now, and for Kodak a welcome return to its roots. Like Kodak’s old Box Brownie, the Play Sport doesn’t have many settings and is extremely simple to use. Like the Box Brownie, it makes the process easier which is what most people want. Like the Box Brownie it isn’t expensive - about £ 90 in the UK - it will fit in your pocket, and it just plain works. Unlike the old Box Brownie the Kodak Play Sport can shoot full HD video or 5mp stills even up to 3m under water. Progress. All you have to do is tell it whether you want stills or video and press the button. Now there are cameras and millions of mobile phones that can do most of that already, so why is the Kodak Play Sport any different? Like the Box Brownie, quality and simplicity, are the answer.
I have three Digital SLR cameras that can shoot video as well as stills. The Canon EOS 5D MkII and the 7D can shoot pro quality video but it’s not simple or fun to use - Manual focus, hard to see the screen outdoors, ergonomics or handling that make you very aware that these are still cameras that can be made to shoot video, mean that a whole industry has grown up producing shades and grips that make these cameras useable options for a video shoot. But once you’ve added all the bits it’s damned hard to shoot stills. Then there’s the argument that “my mobile phone can do all of that and more”. Up to a point yes, but at the moment few phones have still image quality comparable to even a modest compact camera, and even fewer shoot video that isn’t simply horrible to watch on anything other than a 2 inch screen, and anyway how do you play it back on anything else? Where cameras like the Play Sport score, is in making the whole process easy. Shoot HD video, plug the supplied HDMI lead into your HD TV and press play and the images are sharp even on our 36” plasma screen. The 5mp stills also look sharp, possibly even a little too sharp. Video is electronically stabilised and there’s no optical zoom, but a fixed slightly wide angle lens is what will produce the best results anyway unless you use a tripod, and this sort of camera isn’t aimed at tripod users. (update: the digital zoom is surprisingly good for video)
In the end the Kodak Play Sport will be just an interesting step along the way, but hybrid video / stills cameras that are simple to use and actually work well as both, are finally here, redefining photography and what you can do with it. The Kodak Box Brownie transformed black and white stills photography into something accessible to anyone, the Play Sport is part of a revolution that will do the same for HD video as well as stills.
Shoot plug play, anywhere - simple.
Photography - just not as we used to know it.