For some time I have wanted to get my hands on one of the new enthusiast digital cameras. These cameras look like and sport a feature set similar to a digital SLR camera. Think Canon Digital Rebel XT and Nikon D50. Sony, Canon, Olympus and other all have their version of this type of camera and Kodak is no exception. The Kodak Easyshare P850 is a 5 megapixel camera with a 12x optical (yes, you read correctly) lens, w-i-d-e 2.5" LCD and image stabilization.
In The Box
When Kodak designed the P850 (and its 8 megapixel brother, the P880) they decided to include a solid set of features and manual controls to appeal to budding photographers. It's a 5MP camera, which is neither good nor bad. This is simply a preference of how many pixels you need in your image. The P850 has a 12x optical Schneider -- Kreuznach lens and continuous image stabilization. In fact, this camera's lens would be all but worthless if not for image stabilization. It's the only way to get up close without a tripod and still be able to snap a razor-sharp image.
The 2.5" LCD is extremely large and bright. I would not be surprised if Kodak teams up with Apple to deliver Lost or Desperate Housewives to this camera. Hell, throw in an MP3 player for good measure. Video recording offers resolutions up to 640x480 and 30 fps. Better yet both the optical zoom and image stabilization work in video mode. In a pinch the camera could substitute as a decent video camera.
Camera modes include the entire set you would expect: Auto, Aperture priority, etc. This Kodak also includes three modes for you to customize. They are labeled appropriately: C1, C2, and C3. Special scene modes also abound with the P850. There are 16; they include:
One sign of a camera trying to be a semi-professional camera is the inclusion of the RAW format and the P850 has this. This format for storing photos is lossless, meaning the image is saved exactly as it is captured. The downside is that RAW takes up more space than a more commonly used format: JPEG. For photographers that do not want to compromise on image quality, RAW (and TIFF, included) should be used. Take note that RAW and TIFF are not available in Auto or Scene modes. You must be in one of the manual modes (P, A, S, M) to make use of them.
The EasyShare P850 is combination of black and brushed metal. Both the lens and eyepiece have a rubber coating on them to reduce slipping, but strangely the handgrip on the right side of the camera is plastic. Further, the edging on the eyepiece is a quarter-inch thick pad. Apparently, the engineers at Kodak would like your eye to be extremely comfortable. Or in the case when Jennifer Aniston punches the camera for taking her picture, you won't walk away with a black eye. Call it the camera designed for the paparazzi.
The camera weighs about a pound with batteries and feels substantial. Balance is good, but not great. So, one-handed operation could get tiresome. Many of the most commonly used controls are accessible when using the camera in one-handed mode.
Controls abound on the camera. If you are new to photography, it can be a bit overwhelming. The intent is to give access to a wide range of manual controls instead of burying them deeply within menus. On the top of the camera are controls setting the focus, flash, drive, and program modes as well as the on/off switch, shutter release, and external flash hot shoe.
The rear of the camera contains a five-way joystick, zoom slider, a command dial for quickly changing manual settings, and buttons for reviewing photos, sharing, accessing menus, deleting photos, and locking AE and AF settings. All-in-all it's a 3 year-olds dream toy. One note on the zoom slider: Zoom on the P850 is continuous meaning that it does not stop at predetermined increments. The feel of the slider was a bit disappointing. Zooming seemed to occur at only two speeds: Slow and fast. The slider certainly does not make use of its full range of motion. So, getting the exact zoom level can be a bit tricky.
Finally, the menu system is good, but unremarkable. Items are logically located and accessed by the Menu button. Kodak has employed a semi-transparent, tabbed menu system that gives the operating system a professional look, overall.
Image Quality and Performance
The P850 takes very good to excellent images with low noise levels. I found the color saturation levels to be acceptable without a strong bias in any particular direction. In fact, the coloring of images was similar to the Canon Powershot A95, a favorite of mine. Image sharpness was as sharp as the A95 and in some cases better.
Taken with Kodak P850 [larger] [fullsize]
Taken with Canon A95 [larger] [fullsize]
P850 - Zoom
A95 - Zoom
Noise levels of the camera are also very good. In comparison to the A95 (known for slightly noisier images at ISO 200 and 400), the Kodak should and does have better overall noise levels at every ISO.
Kodak P850 - ISO 200 [larger] [fullsize]
A95 - ISO 200 [larger] [fullsize]
Shutter lag from a pre-focused position is extremely quick. It doesn't quite feel simultaneous with shutter release button, but it's close. Even when taking spontaneous photos, the time it takes the camera to focus and shoot is definitely under half a second. Overall, the camera does a remarkable job of getting the photo. When compared to a real digital SLR like the Rebel XT, the P850 will feel slow. Compared, however, to many other camera and certainly most that are less expensive, this camera is quick.
Extended Specifications (From kodak.com)
Overall I walk away impressed with the P850. Image quality is excellent, the 30 fps video mode could almost double as video camera, image stabilization helps in many less-than-ideal shooting situations, and the 2.5" LCD is a joy to use. What it lacks for in speed (vs. digital SLRs) it makes up for in controls and image and video quality. For the photographer looking to go beyond the basic, wanting manual creativity of the shot, and not seeking to dump $1000 plus into a digital SLR, the P850 is the ticket.
Budding photography enthusiasts that want the features of a digital SLR, but don't want to pay for the speed and flexibility of the lens system