Kodak's Brownie camera, introduced early last century, helped to put photography into the hands of the masses. A hundred years later, the imaging company is hoping to transform the market once again.
Considering its unique standing in the history of photography, Kodak has been slow to enter the inkjet printer market. The Kodak EasyShare 5300 all-in-one printer is its first inkjet and a belated acknowledgement from the company that photographic development is indeed moving out of the lab.
The EasyShare 5300 is not the cheapest printer in a market littered with sub $100 machines. But because low cost printers are often subsidised by exorbitantly priced replacement ink, buyers are now being urged by the likes of Choice magazine to seriously consider the full life-time costs of a printer.
The first thing you notice with the EasyShare 5300 is the ink pricing information stuck on the lid of the machine where it can't possibly be overlooked. Black ink costs $14.99 and colour costs $24.99, bringing a refreshing level of transparency to a market littered with costly replacements that you only encounter once you run out of ink.
Kodak's 5300 uses a two cartridge ink system - one colour and one black and white, a bonus for those tired of having to dash out for individual cartridges of magenta and cyan, but a loss for those who prefer to replace colours as they run out.
The jury is still out on which ink cartridge model works out as most cost effective and comparative price-per-page data for the full range of printers on the market is hard to come by. However Kodak says tests conducted by an independent company reveal it has managed to lop about 50 per cent off the cost of printing documents and photos from its closest competitors (based on its ink and paper costs), without compromising crucial print quality.
The EasyShare 5300 itself has a large, rectangular footprint and a quick once over with the tape measure reveals it to have dimensions of roughly 48cm wide x 30cm deep x 22 cm tall.
Perhaps accounting for its size is the fact that it is a printer, scanner and copier all in one box - but it is the manufacturer's promise of cost-effective and lab quality photo printing that is likely to turn the most heads.
The printer is designed to be very easy to use, and it comes with a single set-up sheet which you can ignore at your own peril. Following the reasonably simple instructions, we had the hardware and software all up and running in just over an hour.
The features that most impressed us were the ability to print pictures straight from the camera's memory card - which proved a fairly straightforward process using the large, clear LCD screen attached to the unit which let us scroll through the images we wanted to print. However we were unable to crop our images or remove red-eye in this mode.
Printing pictures from the computer proved more rewarding, with a range of editing and cropping functions and some special effects such as sepia tones and spotlights thrown in.
A USB drive and a separate PictBridge port for connecting a compatible digital camera extend the range of connectivity options for getting the printer hooked up to different devices, and the dedicated photo tray for 4x6 paper also saved a lot of messing about and failed attempts at matching up paper sizes.
The printer can also cleverly detect the type of paper being used (from a choice of regular and premium gloss and matte finishes) and will adapt photo print modes accordingly, again good for those of us who like to point, click and print with a minimum of fuss.
In terms of print speed, Kodak says 4x6 prints can take as little as 28 seconds to print, but our experience was more like a minute for a portrait type photo.
But features aside, in light of Kodak's claim that the printer can produce long-lasting lab quality prints, what we really wanted to see were some beautiful photographs.
Most of our snaps currently languish away on our computer hard drive with only a special chosen few ever being printed off for our albums. After a disappointing encounter with a dedicated photo printer bought at great expense some six years ago, we usually print out our snaps at a local Kmart photo kiosk for 29 cents apiece.
To put the EasyShare 5300 through its paces, we printed off fifteen of our very best digital photographs in 4x6 size on premium gloss paper using a variety of subject matter (babies, cats, boats, sunsets etc) in both indoor and outdoor settings.
Although some of our indoor shots displayed a slight graininess on the skin tones, our outdoor photos were full of rich colour and sharp detail - and all that we printed was certainly comparable to the print quality of the picture kiosk we frequent.
So is the Kodak EasyShare 5300 likely to transform the printer market in the manner of the Brownie camera in the 1900s?
Given that many of the product features do not stand out substantially from those of competitors, success will rest on ink price, picture quality, and historical goodwill attached to the Kodak brand. But while its ink does seem cheaper than that of its peers, and it does produce lovely, vibrant pictures, this model does not seem likely to become the disruptive force that Kodak was hoping for.