PRODUCT REVIEW: Simple is as camera does

Sometimes "simple" is just what you need -- the basics boosted with just a few nice extra features.

Kodak's EasyShare V1003 sizes up to be a solid party camera, the kind you pull out at family gatherings or during an evening out with friends.

Aesthetically, the camera isn't striking and its size and shape are definitely more purse than pocket-friendly.

However, the button layout is very straightforward and easy to use. You shouldn't find yourself accidentally turning off the camera when you try to take a picture. And maneuvering through menus is easy.

Switching between photo and movie mode -- as well as several other features -- is simple because of clearly marked, dedicated buttons for various tasks.

The V1003 also has plenty of resolution -- 10 megapixels, which can take huge photos of up to 3648 pixels x 2736 pixels. It's unlikely most people will take pictures that big all the time, but it's nice to have the capability in your back pocket.

You'll want to ramp down that maximum resolution considerably unless you buy a secure digital or multimedia card to boost the camera's 32 megabytes of internal memory, which is a little disappointing considering the $250 price.

The camera does not have an optical viewfinder.

Instead, you line up your shots using a 2.5-inch color liquid crystal display.

That wide, bright screen gives decent close-ups through a combination of a 3x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom, which is more than enough to snap subjects across a crowded room.

It's easy to tell when the optical zoom stops and the digital zoom begins; there is an unfortunately noticeable delay in zoom movement and focusing time between the two.

In addition to several scene modes to help take better pictures in different lighting conditions, the V1003 also has an anti-blur setting to offset shaky hands, red-eye reduction and can crop photos.

Transferring photos to a computer for editing and e-mail is exactly what you would expect: plug-and-play through a USB connection, although Kodak's camera has a special "share" button.

Using the share button lets you bookmark your favorite photos stored on the camera, creating low-resolution versions of them that take up less space but are still easy to show off on the camera's display.

The camera pairs up well with a new line of digital picture frames from Kodak, including a couple that can connect to a home's wireless network and show off the pictures stored on a computer.

Kodak's EasyShare digital picture frames come in standard and Wi-Fi versions.

The wireless ones come with 10- and 8-inch screens and can display pictures and video, as well as play music through built-in speakers or headphones.

In addition to tapping into the media on your computer -- a feature that requires Microsoft's MediaPlayer 11 -- you can store content on 128 megabytes of internal memory as well as external media cards using its built-in expansion slots.

There are plenty of other ways to get pictures onto the frame in addition to transferring them over a wireless network or through a computer's USB port.

You can connect a camera, like the V1003, directly to the frame. You can also plug in a USB key drive and copy over the saved data, and pictures stored online can also be shown off using a Kodak gallery account.

While trying out the EX811 frame (the 8-inch wireless version that costs $280) I was surprised by how easy it was to link it to my home network.

Setting up the MediaPlayer to share content on the computer required only a couple of steps, and the frame soon found the network, as well as hundreds of pictures stored on the computer.

The frame can also connect to a secured wireless network -- you just need to enter the password using an included remote control, which also lets you change settings and move through whatever slideshow you've set up.