Before you continue, please know that I no longer own a DC4800. My little Kodak served me flawlessly for a long time. I eventually sold it to a friend and got myself a Canon S50, which does not suffer from the problems I describe here. It does, however, suffer from different problems, but that’s another story…
The most common complaint of DC4800 owners regards the quality of indoor and night shots. Most people seem very satisfied with the camera performance for day shots but night shots are a completely different story…
If you’re in this situation, know that you can possibly fix your problems with a few adjustments or for as low as $30.00. Interested? Read on…
Traditional (film) cameras are not so hungry for power. That’s why your old Point and Shoot batteries seem to last forever (do you remember the last time you had them replaced?). Digital cameras on the other hand are a different beast: Complex electronics, CCDs and LCDs demand a lot of power. Battery juice has to be “balanced” between the camera’s normal functions and the flash. Add to that the ever decreasing size of the flash and you get the picture: Weak flash and poor night pictures.
Built-in flashes are almost never a good option, even when they have enough power. The short distance between the lens the the flash causes the dreaded “red eye” effect. Some cameras have a “Red Eye Reduction” feature that illuminates the subject using a secondary light prior to the exposure. The “Red Eye Reduction” feature on the DC4800 is particularly lame: It fires the flash before the main flash. Since people are so used to “relaxing” after a picture, they think the first flash is the real thing and when the second comes, you normally have a bunch of “unprepared” subjects… Quite annoying!
First things first
The current firmware version (and probably the last one developed for this camera) is 1.04. Older versions are notoriously bad in dealing with poor light conditions. If that’s your case, Pay Kodak’s Website a visit and do the upgrade. It’s quick and free.
Another issue with the DC4800 is the lack of an “AF Illuminator”. Cameras normally need to “see” the subject to judge focal distance. Under daylight conditions this is not a problem since a lot of light is available. Under less than ideal conditions your DC4800 might not be able to autofocus. It will let you know that by a flashing green light on the viewfinder. Do not even try to take pictures when this happens. It’s a guaranteed out of focus picture… A few tips to deal with this situation:
If you have some ambient light, turn it on. Try to refocus by pressing the button halfway through and see if the blinking green light goes away.
Zoom out as much as you can! The zoom affects the f-stop (all cameras are like that). You want the lowest possible f-stop (more light coming in!). Try setting the rotary dial to 2.8 (as opposed to P) and zoom out completely. See if you have a steady green light.
If the environment is really dark your only option is to get away from the subject (say, 3 meters or more) and set your camera to “focus on infinity”. To do that, just press the little “Mountain/Flower” button on top of the camera until the “mountain” icon appears on the LCD display.
If everything else fails, remember that the camera (at least on Firmware V1.04) seems to fix the focus at 3.24m (normal mode) or 0.57m (macro mode) whenever it cannot focus. Just position yourself at this distance from your subject and ignore the blinking green light.
Living with your internal flash
First, there seems to be two modes of operation: Flash in “auto” mode (press the button on the top of the camera until the flash disappears) or “forced flash” (the little “lightning” icon on the LCD).
When using the flash in “auto” mode, it appears (I couldn’t find literature about it) that the camera will try to adjust the flash power depending on the distance of the subject. The camera will also default to a “reasonable” shutter speed that varies from 1/30seg to 1/60seg. The problem happens when the camera tries to adjust the (already weak) flash. Result: Dark pictures in most cases.
The “forced” setting was primarily designed for “fill-in” flash situations. It seems that the flash is set to full power in this mode. Unfortunately, the camera expects light and in a dark environment will default to an insufficient 1/8seg (Most people cannot hold the camera still for that long). Also, 1/8seg will capture just too much ambient light. If you have tungsten lights and the camera defaults to the “Flash” color balance, the result will be a very yellow picture. Bad.
On top of all this, the camera will also set the “ISO” setting to its maximum sensitivity (400?). This will create a “grainy” picture, full of colored dots and artifacts.
As we’ve seen, setting the camera to “P” while using the internal flash won’t yield great results. Luckily, the DC4800 allows us to exercise a finer control over the picture.
I’d recommend the following settings in manual mode:
- Rotary dial: Set to 2.8
- ISO: 100
- Colors: Neutral Colors
- Shutter Speed: 1/60
This should improve your pictures a little bit. Remember, the flash is very weak. Anything over 2.5 meters will look bad.
If you want to take advantage of the ambient light (remember, if it’s yellow, it will appear reddish or really yellow), you may lower the shutter to speed to something around 1/15seg. But the lower you go, the firmer your hands will have to be.
Use an external flash
That’s the best solution in my opinion. Fortunately, the DC4800 has a PC-sync connector to control the flash. Bear in mind however, that the flash recommended triggering voltage must be something around 6 Volts!. Many older flashes have extremelly high voltages (read: Camera Damage!). I’d suggest a visit to this site where you’ll find a comprehensive listing of flash manufacturers the most common voltages. Try to select something under or around 6V.
Another option is to use a “slave flash”. Slaves will fire then they “see” your in-camera flash. This has the advantage of being completely isolated from the camera, allowing better positioning. Another advantage is that the total power is the sum of your camera’s internal flash and the external flash.
Keep in mind however that you’ll still have the “red eye problem” with a slave (as your in-camera flash will be needed to fire the slave).
How do I connect the flash to the DC4800? Where’s the connector?
The PC-Sync connector is on the left side of the camera. Unfortunately, the DC4800 provides no “hot-shoe” connector (to “clip” the flash on).
If you use a pure slave, you can hold it in your hand. If you want to use the PC-Cord, you can buy an “L-Shaped” bracket to hold the camera and the flash. These are simple and mechanical devices shaped like an “L” that will attached to the bottom of your camera and provide an “arm” with a “hot shoe” where you can clip your flash. They sell for something around $15 at most camera stores.
Give me names…
I currently use my DC4800 with a Sunpak DS20 flash and a Quantaray L-shaped bracket. The flash costs around $30 and works as a slave, PC-Sync or hot-shoe. It comes with a PC-Sync cord and works reasonably well. If you’re using this flash, you may want to use it in “Automatic” mode and adjust your camera zoom until your f-stop is 3.4 or 4.0 before you take the picture. In slave mode, just tilt the flash head up and let it bounce off the ceiling.
I measured the voltage on the DS20 and it averages 6.63V (.63V above the “nominal” recommendation). I’m using it anyway as this should be well within the tolerance of the camera. As usual, use at your own risk.
If you’re even cheaper than me you can try the Quantaray MS-1 slave flash. This is a slave only unit that sells for $19.95! Some people buy a couple of them and use them to fire in a diagonal line, softening the main flash shadows. I’ve never used this unit, but you’ll find some positive reviews on the net.
If you already have an old flash around, but determined that it has a very high voltage, you can buy a “slave trigger” to use with your DC4800. These devices plug to the hot-shoe connector on the flash and will fire any flash as a slave. Pretty nifty. Make sure you test a lot this setting to obtain good quality pictures.
This room is not a good sample: Lots of white and not so big (around 10x10ft or 3x3 meters). Nevertheless, it’s better than nothing. :) The room was being illuminated by a very strong tungsten light (that’s why it does not look so bad even in fully auto mode).
Fully automatic, no flash
The camera adjusts the shutter speed to 1/8s (got to have good firm hands) and ISO400 (grainy pictures)! Note that it does not look so bad due to the enormous amount of light in this room and the predominantly white furniture and walls.
Fully automatic, flash, no flash icon on the LCD
The camera adjusts the shutter speed to 1/45s if no flash icon is set on the LCD but the flash is popped up. Note that it also defaults to ISO400. That creates a lot of “noise” in the picture (hard to see in this size, but easy to spot in the 1800x1200 original):
Fully automatic, flash with flash icon on the LCD
With this setting, the camera adjusts the shutter speed to 1/8s. This tends to produce bad results, as 1/8 is enough to capture ambient light that normally has a different “color temperature”. Everything not covered by the flash looks really reddish or yellowish.
Manual settings, shutter speed:1/60sec, flash, ISO100
Although a little underexposed, notice the little interference of the strong ambient light.
External flash in “slave” mode, pointing to the ceiling. Camera set to 1/60sec, ISO100
Notice how much brighter this is. Also, the absence of shadows (the in-camera flash eliminates them).
External flash in “auto” mode, pointing to the ceiling. Camera set to 1/60sec, ISO100
You’ll notice a few shadows as the built-in flash does not fire and light comes from the ceiling. This is my preferred settings for most situations.
As you can see, it’s very simple (and inexpensive) to obtain good indoor pictures with your DC4800. If you think this article helped you or if you have any comments, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keywords: DC4800,flash,external flash,indoor,focus,quality,shutter,kodak,digital camera
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