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For years, a lot of us thought that what the digital world really needed was a seamless way to print pictures-no computer necessary, just a quick hookup of camera to printer, a press of a button, and out would pop a 4×6 print. And now Kodak has done it.

But what makes the EasyShare Printer Dock 6000 a success isn’t so much the idea, but the excellent execution. This is one of the nicest photo gadgets we’ve seen, both useful and fun.

We’ve pretty much already described the printing operation. No connection to a computer is needed. Just place an LS600- or CX/DX6000-series Kodak camera in the dock, use the dock’s arrow buttons to scroll through the pictures in the camera, select the ones you want, then hit the Print button. You can even make 4×6 index prints, with 20 thumbnails per sheet.

It’s a bit pokey (two minutes per pic), but the prints are beautiful. Our Tech Team was impressed with the color, contrast, and sharpness of the prints, and we’re very picky. Made by dye-sub rather than inkjet printing, the prints have a satiny lamination that’s durable and waterproof (we dunked them in water, and bent them, with no ill effects). Kodak also claims “lifetime” permanence of the prints, but there’s no info on whose (or what’s) lifetime.

You get 10 sheets of paper and one color cartridge, USB and AV cables, and driver software. Additional paper is sold bundled with a color cartridge matched to the number of sheets. A 40-sheet refill currently sells for about $24; at 60 cents a print, that’s in line with commercial digital prints, which range from about 29 cents to $1.

If $200 (approx. street) still seems steep for a 4×6-only printer, the 6000 printer does have some extra goodies. Buttons on top enable one-touch download to a computer, fast e-mailing, and slide shows on a TV via the video-out jack. The dock also serves as a battery charger, and a rechargeable NiMH battery pack is included in the package for camera models using two AAs.

We used an EasyShare DX6340 (street: $330) as our test camera, and were pleased with that as well. Don’t let the “acceptable” sharpness rating throw you; it’s just that we’ve had to adjust our ratings to reflect the improvements in digital image quality across the board. The DX6340 has sharpness typical of current 3.1MP cameras, and produces sharp shots (up to 7×10 inches) with impressive color. The lens is a full 4X zoom-a Schneider Variogon-and fast at f/2.2-4.8.

It’s also a fast-operating camera. Although there’s no AF-aid lamp, the DX6340 focuses quickly and accurately, and was flummoxed only in very dim light with low detail. It also writes quickly to the optional SD/MMC card.

Controls are simple, and no one does a better menu system than Kodak. The type is easy to read, and all items are explained on-screen. Some may scoff at a camera that says “use for distant scenery” when you set infinity lock, but this sort of thing makes the instruction manual all but superfluous.

We think the DX6340 is a good value, and an excellent choice for nervous newbies-as well as more experienced shooters fed up with unnecessary complications.

Kodak EasyShare DX6340
Resolution: Acceptable (V1080xH1080xD1100)
Color accuracy: Extremely high (Avg. Delta E: 9.29)
Highlight/shadow detail: Very good
Contrast: Slightly high
Noise: Low at ISO 100
AF speed: Fast in bright light, moderate in low light

Vital statistics: 3.1MP (2032×1524), 4X optical zoom (36-144mm, 35mm equivalent) f/2.2-4.8, 3.5X digital zoom, 1.8-inch LCD screen, SD/MMC card slot, 16MB internal memory, 2 AA batteries (lithium or rechargeable), 4.3×2.5×1.5 inches, 7.8 ounces with card and battery
Street price: $329
In the box: Wrist strap, CRV3 lithium battery, custom dock insert, Kodak EasyShare software (browser and basic image editing)
For info: www.kodak.com

Hot! Zippy autofocusing. Clear, informative menus. Fast processing-it even has a burst (4-shot) mode at full res. Just the ticket for digital tyros.
Not! Instead of jog dial, a teeny little nub. Mildly unergo-nomic: shutter, zoom lever aren’t in quite the right places.

DOCKED BUT SAILING: For $200 (street), add the Printer Dock 6000, a no-brainer 4×6 picture-maker. Hit the print button (A) and your prints will come. Camera controls are straightforward, well-marked, and undaunting. Other printer controls are slide show (B), download to computer (C), print-mode selector (D), scroll buttons (E).

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