Hang on to your hats folks, we're going to take a little tour of the
PhotoPC 850Z's real camera capabilities here via the onscreen displays
for each operating mode -- and there's a bunch of them!
This is a typical Record mode screen in the fully Automatic Exposure mode. You have onscreen icons for the recording mode, the number of pictures remaining / number of pictures total (yes, there's a Microdrive in there), the flash mode, the focus mode, the metering mode, image quality and EV override value.
The onscreen labels: Auto Exposure, Normal Frame and Menu Change correspond to three buttons located around the color LCD. The Auto Exposure button cycles through Auto Exposure, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Full Manual modes (a screen shot of each follows.) The Normal Frame button can select Normal Frame, Macro, Panorama and 2X Digital Zoom modes.
With this menu active you now have button control of manual focus, metering (matrix or spot), ISO (100, 200, 400) and white balance. Pressing the Back button takes you back to the previous menu overlays.
Note the little green triangle in the upper left of the LCD, pressing
the button next to that switches you instantly into Playback mode to
review any pictures already taken.
Here we have the screen display when in Shutter Priority mode. You can of
course set the shutter speed value and adjust the EV override value. You
can also cycle the recording mode with the Normal Frame button as we
described above. Pressing the Menu Change button takes you to the same
menu options as above - it works the same in all of the following modes.
And here we have the screen displayed when in aperture Priority mode
where you select the desired aperture setting. All other menu options are
the same as previously described including the Menu Change function.
When in Manual Exposure you can select both the Shutter speed and the
desired Aperture setting.
If you pick any combination of shutter speeds or apertures that is out of the proper exposure range this is the warning that you will get.
The green circle indicates that the autofocus is locked.
The 850Z can record in timed interval mode and effectively became a
RoboCam that could be used for posting Internet pictures or for some
type of security surveillance. It can be set to take a picture every
10 seconds to 24 hours. After the first picture is taken the camera turns
itself off and comes back on again when it's time to take the next one.
Panorama mode results in the screen frame becoming long and narrow, it
actually nips off a portion of the top and bottom of the frame which is
what happens when you stitch panorama photos together.
Turning the mode dial to the "I" position brings up the Setup menus.
This is the first menu where you can set the time/date, format a memory
card, select the operating language, select a desired recording mode,
enable or disable Quick Shot (uses internal buffer RAM to allow taking a
series of pictures without waiting for them to be processed first), and
enter the Camera Setup menu (next screen).
This is the Camera Setup menu which lets you set the Powersave timer value,
adjust the LCD brightness, set the beeper volume, enable the beep when the
shutter release is pressed and enable the voice recording feature.
This is a typical Playback image. To zoom in you press the button next
to the "enlargement" label. Pressing the Multi button brings up the
thumbnail display mode. Images may be Deleted in any playback mode
except for the zoomed mode.
Once you have "zoomed in" to the picture you can use four of the buttons
around the LCD to move up and down and left and right.
Steve's ConclusionThe PhotoPC 850Z is a very capable 2-megapixel camera with lots of manual controls. The overall image quality; color balance, saturation, focus and noise considered, puts it right up there with other 2-megapixel cameras costing hundreds of dollars more. The images aren't as sharp as the Nikon 950 or as saturated as Kodak DC290 but they are as good as the rest of the 2MPixel cameras. When shooting indoors in full wideangle mode I was surprised by how often the flash didn't go off, yet the pictures came out just fine.
I like the look and feel of this camera. It's roughly the same size and shape as most 35mm cameras and feels really solid in your hand thanks to an over-sized handgrip. The camera appears to have a metal body but it is really high-impact plastic in that familiar metallic silver color. The most-used controls are ergonomically located on the top of the camera next to the data LCD. Here you can change the image quality setting (Epson's one to three "stars" plus an "H" for the HyPict mode), the flash mode (auto, redeye, slow-sync [leading or trailing], forced on, off) or enable the selftimer mode.
The rest of the camera's advanced features (shutter priority, aperture priority, manual exposure, manual focus) must be accessed through menus on the color LCD by pressing one of the eight buttons on the back. Only a few of these buttons are labeled on the camera body as all of them perform multiple functions depending on which menu is active. Due to the abundance of options available, the onscreen menu system is really the only way to access them. If you're indoors or in a well shaded area this won't be a problem. If you're out in the bright sunlight it is nearly impossible to see that LCD. Epson claims the SolarAssist LCD is easier to read in the sunlight, but to be brutally honest, it doesn't help much at all. I'm sure it does ease the load on the batteries though.
The most annoying thing about the 850Z is its shutter delay which is often a full second or longer. And this is with the camera already prefocused. This is going to really annoy those who are trying to grab shots of their little kids or any fast-moving action subjects. At first I thought it had something to do with using the flash but I also encountered the delay outdoors in the bright sunlight. Turns out that this just may be a design problem with the shutter release button itself. If you actuate it like you're supposed to then you will probably encounter this shutter lag -- if however you press the shutter rapidly and firmly there is no more delay than any other digicam. You do risk blurring pictures at slow shutter speeds but it does seem to pretty much cure the shutter lag problem.
Another common digicam problem is that you have to cycle through the Off position to go from Record to Playback mode when you're not using the LCD. The lens has to retract and the LCD screen blanks out and then comes back on and etc. This is an old problem that I thought the engineers would have fixed by now but it keeps showing up on new cameras. Guess I'm too used to my Nikon 950 and being able to quickly go from M-Rec to Play in just one click of the mode dial.
Thanks to reader Matt Mercier for pointing out the following to me:
I've noticed that the zoom lens mechanism often works intermittently after the camera is awakened from sleep mode. I would tap the shutter button to wake the camera up and wait until the top LCD display was on again and then tried to run the zoom in or out. Many times it would make a noise and seem to change a little but would fail to zoom all the way out or back in until I had moved the zoom lever several times. This same problem was confirmed by another 850Z user so it isn't just a quirk with my evaluation camera. If I switched the camera Off and then On again after it was asleep I did not see any zoom problems.
Using the 850Z with an external hot shoe flash was like shooting with a film camera. You move the mode dial to "I" position, press the button for Shot SETUP and set Flash Select for EXT. Press the BACK button, set the camera for Manual. Turn on the camera in the Record with LCD mode (red camera icon that has a large red square in it), press the upper left button unit it says Manual Exposure. In this mode you manually select both the shutter speed and aperture value. I used 1/60th-second shutter speed and selected F8 for head-on flash shots or F5.6 or F4 when I was bouncing the flash off of the ceiling. The Vivitar 285 flash was set in the Auto (blue) position for F8 with ISO 100 speed film.
The Bottom Line
The ergonomic design of the camera is good with the exception of the LCD screen. I'm no super-techie when it comes to LCD technology but I do know that there are many different types out there, polysilicon-TFT, HAST and the new reflective hybrids. This is the second digicam I have evaluated with the Suncatcher type LCD and neither of them have been very impressive. I tried the different illumination settings for the LCD but at anything above the default brightness the screen simply washes out, even indoors. There is a good optical viewfinder (with diopter adjustment) on the 850Z but you still need to see the LCD to change the camera's advanced features.
The range of manual controls on the 850Z is wonderful and highly useful for those of us that don't want our camera doing everything automatically. The flash hot shoe is a great idea that I wish ALL of the manufacturers would add to their cameras. Most every 35mm camera has a hot shoe flash so why should digicams be any different? The initial startup time is about 6-7 seconds as the lens has to extend while the camera is "booting up."
I liked the QuickShot mode as it allowed you to take a number of shots in sequence that were buffered into internal memory without having to wait inbetween shots. But once it did pause to write the image data out to the CF card it seemed to take a long time and you could do nothing but watch the green LED blink.
The 850Z works with both CompactFlash Type I and II solid-state cards. The IBM Microdrive is not totally compatible, the 850Z only sees about 90MB of its capacity and shortens the battery life by about 25-30%.
If you can live with the somewhat poor LCD (outdoors) then this camera will serve you well - it does take great pictures. The 850Z's image quality is good to very good with very good being the norm. If at all possible, see the Epson PhotoPC 850Z in the store, pick it up, fire off some shots and then make the purchase decision. Too many consumers make the mistake of buying a camera sight unseen just because it got glowing reviews or a friend recommended it. You wouldn't buy a car this way so why should the purchase of an expensive camera be any different?
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