The Kodak Easyshare P880 -- Best choice in the 8 megapixel digicam class?
Kodak is currently the fastest growing digital camera brand and the folks in Rochester are confident they can now challenge Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Sony for dominance in the highly profitable prosumer digicam marketing niche. The newly introduced EasyShare P880 is meant to accomplish just that goal. The P880 was designed to combine the sophisticated performance options and advanced creative capabilities of a dSLR with Kodak's signature user-friendly philosophy and legendary operational simplicity. The P880 features 8 Megapixel resolution, an ultra-wide f/2.8-f4.1/24-140mm (35mm equivalent) SCHNEIDER-Kreuznach Variogon zoom (with manual zoom and focus rings), a large 2.5" LCD screen, RAW image file support, a 25 point hybrid AF system, a hot shoe for dedicated external flash units (like Kodak's new P20), ISO 50 sensitivity, a 1/4000th of a second top shutter speed, and a full range of exposure options (Auto, Program, Scene Modes, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and full Manual modes).
The P880 is aimed squarely at the top of the lucrative 8 megapixel prosumer marketing niche, but Kodak also touts the newest Easyshare digicam as a capable and easy to use alternative to more complex, larger, heavier, and more expensive entry-level dSLR cameras -- a camera for those who want exceptional images, but don't want to learn advanced photographic skills. Was Kodak actually able to create a multi-tasking prosumer digicam for the masses? Read on for a definitive answer.
NUTS & BOLTS
The P880's 237,000 pixel EVF (electronic viewfinder) works especially well in bright outdoor light (where LCD viewfinders tend to fade) and in dim/low lighting where sharp focus and fine detail can be difficult to assess on arms-length LCD screens. The P880's EVF is bright and clear with displayed images that are sharp, fluid, and color correct. Unlike the optical viewfinders found on many P&S digicams, the P880's EVF shows a 100% view of the image. The P880's EVF also provides diopter correction for eyeglasses wearers.
The P880's large 2.5" LCD screen is also bright (screen brightness can be adjusted), sharp, fluid, and color correct. The P880's LCD info display provides all the data most users are likely to need and there's an on-demand (one touch) live histogram so users can assess over/under exposure and highlight burnout/shadow detail clipping (pre-capture) and make the necessary exposure parameter adjustments.
What really sets the P880 apart from the competition is it's exceptionally good all-glass ultra-wide SCHNEIDER-Kreuznach f/2.8-f4.1/24-140mm (35mm equivalent) Variogon zoom (with manual zoom and focus rings). Barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) is essentially absent, an amazing accomplishment in a digicam zoom that starts at 24mm. Pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center of the frame) is remarkably well controlled at the telephoto end of the range. Minimum focusing distance (in macro mode) is 2.0 inches.
The P880's excellent Schneider zoom produces consistently excellent Macro images -- I shot this Luna Moth Caterpillar and Marigolds less than an hour after receiving the camera
There is some very minor corner softness (only noticeable at maximum aperture) at the wide-angle end of the zoom, but no vignetting (dark corners). Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is substantially lower than average. The 24-140mm 5.8X (35mm equivalent) zoom range is unique, because most prosumer digicam zooms start somewhere between 28mm and 35mm. That extra stretch to 24mm gives P880 users an obvious advantage when shooting landscapes or working in cramped indoor settings and the 140mm telephoto end of the range provides enough reach for most shooting situations.
This 24mm shot of an old Moorish style mausoleum at Cave Hill Cemetery shows the P880's dynamic range -- check out the highlight detail (which would normally be burned out completely in this front lit shot) in the upper right hand corner of the building and the shadow detail at the bottom right hand corner of the steps leading up to the mausoleum.
The Variogon's manual zoom ring provides a very precise level of framing control and a traditional "feel" that veteran photographers and amateur videographers will absolutely love. The manual focus ring (enabled in MF mode) works beautifully, although I would have liked it better if it weren't so lightly damped. The P880's ultra-wide to short telephoto zoom range, consistently excellent optical performance, and manual zoom and focus rings put this optic way out in front of its competition.
The P880's 25-point hybrid (passive external sensor and active Contrast detection) Auto Focus system is very accurate, even in low light. AF speed is about average (for 8 megapixel prosumer digicams), but focus lock (from scratch) lags a bit in rapidly unfolding action. However, photographers who pre-visualize (and pre-focus) their shots will have no difficulty achieving essentially real time image capture.
This mid air shot at Louisville's Extreme Park shows that the P880 can capture high-speed action (although the kid on the bike had to do this jump seven times for me before I got the framing right)
The P880's Focus Assist function automatically projects a beam of bright orange light that helps the AF system to get a lock on subjects in low light.
Shift the P880 into Manual Focus mode and the Variogon's manual focus ring is enabled and the center of the LCD/EVF frame is magnified 2X for precise focusing. This is a much better option than the cumbersome multi-step distance scale MF found on most P&S digicams.
The P880's built-in multi mode (Auto, slow sync, fill, off, front/rear curtain synch effect, and red-eye reduction) flash is actually quite good. Users can select front or rear curtain sync effect (the P880 like virtually all digital cameras has a combined iris/shutter rather than a focal place shutter---so there are no actual shutter curtains) allowing the camera to mimic SLR flash timing (first curtain synch fires the flash immediately after the shutter opens and second curtain synch fires the flash immediately before the shutter closes). Second curtain synch is great for showing a sense of motion. The flash doesn't automatically pop up when needed, P880 users must pop-up the flash manually. There's also a PC sync port and a hot shoe (for dedicated Kodak external flash units) for expanded lighting options. Kodak claims the maximum flash range for the built-in flash is 13 feet, which seems fairly accurate based on my limited use. Flash output can be adjusted +/- 1EV in 1/3EV increments.
File Storage/Memory Media
SD (Secure Digital) cards and 32MB of internal storage.
Image File Format(s)
JPEG, TIFF, and RAW
A/V out (for connection to TV) and USB 2.0 out.
Battery life (Kodak KLIC-5001Li-ion rechargeable battery) seems to be slightly lower than average (for 8 megapixel prosumer digital cameras) but I didn't keep careful track of exposures so I can't quote specific numbers, however one night shot session (with continuous LCD use for more than an hour, continuous review, magnification to 10X of each image, and lots of deletions) resulted in only 49 exposures before I got a low battery warning.
The P880 provides a full slate of exposure options including Auto, Programmed Auto, SCN (Flower, Super Macro, Landscape, Night landscape, Portrait, Sports, Sunset, Candlelight, Text/document, Snow, Beach), Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and full Manual modes. I shot somewhere between 600 and 700 exposures (ninety per cent in Program mode) during the three weeks I had the camera and based on my images, the P880's Programmed Auto and SCN modes are consistently and dependably accurate. Exposure accuracy in the camera's other exposure modes will usually be more dependent on the skill and experience of the photographer.
The P880's Movie Mode (640 x 480 @ 30 fps up to the capacity of the SD card) is about average (or a bit below average) for Point & Shoot 8 megapixel prosumer digicams, but Kodak provides a nifty option to extract (and save) a single frame (at VGA resolution) from a video clip. Because of the Schneider Variogon's manual zoom ring the zoom can be used during video capture.
The P880 offers four metering modes -- Selectable zone evaluative, Multi-pattern, Center-weighted, and Center-spot. The Selectable Zone and Multi Pattern metering modes are consistently accurate and dependable, even under difficult lighting. When Spot metering is enabled, users can bias exposure on the single most important element in the image (like the face in a head and shoulders portrait). The Center-weighted averaging mode is super for shooting traditional looking landscapes and scenics.
The P880 provides a broad and useful range of WB options including: TTL Auto, daylight, tungsten, fluorescent, cloudy, open shade, sunset, custom 1- 3, one-push, and WB compensation.
The P880's Auto WB is accurate under most lighting conditions (50's diner with mixed incandescent and window/daylight lighting)
However, in some cases when using the Auto WB setting indoors (tight compositions under tungsten/incandescent lighting) images show a distinct warm yellowish cast.
Same image as above, but corrected post-exposure to show correct color balance.
The P880 provides an adequate selection of Sensitivity options including: Auto and 50, 100, 200, and 400 (ISO equivalent) settings.
In-Camera Image Adjustment
Exposure compensation +/- 2EV in 1/3EV increments, Exposure Bracketing 3 or 5 images in +/- 1/3, 2/3, and 1.0EV increments, Color (high color, natural color, low color, sepia, black and white), Contrast (high, normal, low), and Sharpness (high, normal, low)
CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS
The P880 looks, feels, and handles like a mini dSLR. It is relatively compact and noticeably lighter than most of its competition. Construction is polycarbonate over a metal alloy frame and the camera seems to be quite sturdy. Operation is simple and uncomplicated. Controls are brilliantly laid out (and quickly become intuitive in use) with dedicated buttons for most common functions (flash, metering, ISO Sensitivity, White Balance, EVF/LCD, AF/AE Lock, Focus mode, Info Display, Delete, and Exposure Compensation). Menu navigation is simple, straightforward and rarely required.
USB & AV cables, neck strap, lens cap, lens hood, Li-ion rechargeable battery KLIC-5001, 110-240V (plugs directly into the wall) battery charger, software CD, user's manual, and custom camera dock insert.
Kodak P20 Zoom Flash, 1.4X SCHNEIDER-Kreuznach Xenar tele-converter, Kodak EASYSHARE Series 3 printer dock
The P880 is an excellent general-use digital camera that delivers best in class image quality. KODAK's Color Science processor and the P880's excellent Schneider zoom combine to produce consistently tack sharp images with a color palette that's reminiscent of Kodak Ektachrome Elite slide film -- bright, hue accurate, contrasty, and slightly over-saturated with virtually no visible noise (at ISO 50 and 100 there is essentially no visible noise at all -- ISO 200 looks like ISO 100 on other 8 megapixel prosumer P&S digicams and ISO 400 looks like ISO 200).
The P880 does pretty well in the dark (handheld auto ISO shot) with good color and very low noise
Overall, the P880's timing/shutter lag performance is about average (for 8 megapixel prosumer digicams), however shot to shot/write to card times (in the default drive mode) are abysmally slow -- and the camera shuts down completely while images are processed and written to the memory card (8-10 seconds).
A Few Concerns
Shot to shot/write to card times (in the default drive mode) are abysmally (8-10 seconds) slow. Methodical landscape/scenic/portrait/glamour photographers in the Eliot Porter-Ansel Adams-Helmut Newton-Georges Hurrell-Bill Brandt mold will have no problem with the P880's dead slow shot to shot/write to card times. Edgier photographers (from the Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lee Friedlander, Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand school) who shoot documentary photography or the decisive moment (or street/candid and sports/action) can opt for one of the P880's two rapid-fire drive modes - First burst mode (1.5 fps -- maximum 6 images in any JPEG mode or maximum 4 in RAW mode) or Last burst mode (1.5 fps -- maximum 6 images in any JPEG mode, maximum 4 in RAW mode).
Forecasters predict that Americans will buy more than 20,000,000 digital cameras in 2005. Kodak's product development and camera design staff should receive some serious kudos for making it easier than ever for amateur photographers to shoot like professionals. The newest addition to Kodak's Easyshare digicam family provides almost the same level of creative capability as an entry level dSLR, but it's smaller, lighter, cheaper, and easier to use. The P880's outstanding wide-angle Schneider zoom, exemplary ease of use, and "best in class" image quality should move this camera to very near the top of the 8 megapixel prosumer digicam best seller list.
Pros: Excellent optics, super color, 8 megapixels, very user friendly, lots of creative/manual photography options, and a true wide-angle zoom
Cons: Shot to shot/write to card times are abysmally slow
The Bottom Line: Kodak's new Easyshare P880 successfully merges many of the creative imaging capabilities of an entry level dSLR with the gee whiz features and amazing ease of use of a Point & Shoot digicam.