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In October 2010 we bought a Traveler DC 140 digital camera from ALDI to potentially replace Yvonne's Kodak M1093 IS, with which she has focus problems. It has 14 MP—that's higher than any digital camera I have ever had—and only cost $79. We tried it out for a while and ultimately decided to return it. But it's not that bad a camera, especially not at the price. We returned it because it didn't fulfil Yvonne's somewhat naive hope of being better than the Kodak.

On the face of it, the camera has a lot of advantages: it's easier to handle than the Kodak, and it uses standard interfaces. But it's still a compact, and the image quality, especially at that resolution, is typical compact camera. Before returning it I took some comparison photos with the Kodak, and also my old Nikon “Coolpix” L1 and my E-30. Here's a summary of the results:

Verandah

I took the following photos of the verandah, to compare overall image quality, distortion, colour reproduction and flare. First I took photos of the right-hand corner. Here Traveler, Kodak, Nikon and Olympus:


  This should be Verandah-centre-Traveler.jpeg.  Is it missing?
Image title: Verandah centre Traveler          Dimensions:          4288 x 3216, 1904 kB
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Image title: Verandah centre Olympus          Dimensions:          4032 x 3024, 1584 kB
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The colours of the compacts are all bright and cheerful—too much so, in fact, particularly the greens of the Nikon. Only the Olympus is a little more subdued: it's showing it like it really was. The Traveler is certainly as good as the others, though.

The choice of exposure is interesting: I used automatic settings for all the compacts. The Traveler selected EV 14.0 at 21° (100) ISO. The Kodak selected 20° (80) ISO and EV 13.6, which corresponds exactly. The Nikon selected 18° (50) ISO and EV 13.3, which is 0.3 EV higher than the other two, and the Olympus, set at 24° (200) ISO selected EV 15.3, also 0.3 EV higher than the first two. The Kodak also selects a very small aperture (f/8.7) for such a small camera, while the Traveler and Nikon select f/4.3 and f/4.9 respectively.

Then I did a set of images with the corner of the verandah closer to the corner of the image, mainly so that I could compare sharpness and chromatic aberration at the corner of the verandah against the background of the sky. I'm not showing the full frames here, just the enlargements. Here the same sequence as before, first with the edge of the verandah in the middle, then at the far right:

 
This should be Verandah-centre-Traveler-detail.jpeg.  Is it missing?
Image title: Verandah centre Traveler detail
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The Olympus is the clear winner here, of course, but that's not surprising. My feeling is that the Kodak is the best of the compacts, the Traveler comes in the middle, then the Nikon.

I didn't find a way to change the ISO sensitivity of the Traveler, but the Kodak goes up to 39° (6400 linear) ISO. Tried a photo at 33° (1600) ISO before I discovered that, but it certainly shows the limitations of higher sensitivities on this camera. Here the Kodak at default sensitivity (20°/80 ISO) and at 33° (1600):


  This should be Verandah-centre-Kodak.jpeg.  Is it missing?
Image title: Verandah centre Kodak          Dimensions:          3648 x 2736, 1360 kB
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Barrel distortion

All small camera lenses seem to have a degree of barrel distortion. Here the edge of a photo of a doorway, again taken with the sequence Traveler, Kodak, Nikon and Olympus:

 
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To my annoyance, I didn't notice until after the Traveler had been returned that the outside edge of the wall really isn't straight, so it tends to emphasize the distortion (or give the impression of it in the case of the Olympus. But the edge of the windows in the door on the right is straight, and it shows that the Nikon is still the worst of the lot, followed by the Traveler and then the Kodak.

Noise and gradation

Finally, I took some close-up photos of an ornament, a Chinese bronze horse:


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The intention was to show the gradation and noise. I took two sets of photos, one with flash, one without. Here the results of the photos with flash:

 
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This shows clearly the poor location of the Kodak flash, which completely obscures the left hand side of the background, and also colour problems with the Nikon. The photos without flash weren't good in any situation. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't have kept them:

 
This should be Horse-noflash-Traveler-detail.jpeg.  Is it missing?
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They're all underexposed, even the Olympus, something I should investigate. They show a number of issues, though:

The noise isn't particularly apparent at this size; looking even closer we have:

 
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The “tiny” images here are roughly the size of the original image. Clearly the Nikon is the worst and the Olympus (not surprisingly) is the best. And the other two? It's difficult to say. The Kodak is so fuzzy that it's difficult to make it out. I should see if I can find a better set of images to compare. It's interesting that both Traveler and Kodak have raised their sensitivity to 27° (400) ISO, and the Nikon has gone to 23° (159) ISO.

Notes

While taking these photos, a number of things occurred to me:

Summary

This was really a test of the Traveler DC 140. In summary, it's not (quite) as good as the Kodak, but it seems to be better in every way than the Nikon L1 I bought less than 5 years ago. It also has things that make life easier: a sensible USB connection to the computer, using a standard USB cable and a choice of connection mode. By contrast, the other cameras (including the Olympus) use a proprietary cable. In addition, the Kodak can't emulate a mass storage device, making it difficult to copy files unless you use Kodak's emetic software, which is only available for Microsoft and Apple, and which wants to take over everything for you.

The Traveler and the Nikon have AA batteries. On the Traveler, they seem to work. The Nikon is very finicky with NiMH batteries, and it continually shows them to be empty when they would work fine in other cameras. On the whole, I think I prefer AAs: you can always have a spare. When the Kodak's LiIon battery is empty, there's nothing for it but to recharge it, and not use the camera in the meantime.


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