Kodak P712 Review
By Movable Type Admin
Building on the success of last year's P850, Kodak has added another model to their "Performance" series of EasyShare cameras with the EasyShare P712 Zoom. It is almost identical to its predecessor, retaining the same SLR-style body, 12x optical zoom, Image Stabilization and 640x480 30fps movie mode, but the resolution has been increased to 7.1-megapixels as well as the addition of the Panorama scene mode. This versatile model has an exposure mode for everyone. Beginners can enjoy point-n-shoot simplicity with its full Auto mode as well as 17 scene specific modes that are pre-programmed for various shooting situations. Program AE mode is great for novices who like a bit more control with settings for ISO, White balance, Metering, Focus mode, etc. While more experienced users can take advantage of the advanced control allowed with its Aperture priority, Shutter-speed priority and full Manual modes.
I was pleased with the P712's ergonomics, the SLR-style body offers a comfortable feel in your hands, and surprisingly it's also very light, weighing just under one pound (14.2 oz without the battery.) The various controls across the body are well placed and functional, and the onscreen menu system is logically organized, allowing for quick changes to camera settings. We especially like the handy command dial and set button. They allow you to change the values for ISO, exposure compensation, flash compensation, aperture and shutter speed, etc. depending on what exposure mode is being used. Both the 2.5-inch LCD and EVF (Electronic ViewFinder) are high-quality displays that work great indoors and out. The LCD was usable outside, even with the harsh sun beating directly onto it, and the eyepiece of the EVF is deep enough to block out any ambient light. When shooting in marginal lighting, both displays "gain up" to help you frame your subject; something that was not possible with 35mm film cameras.
Shooting performance is very robust for a camera in this class. From power-on till the first image captured measures about 3.2 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, measures less than less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, and only 2/10 of a second including autofocus. Shooting a sequence of JPEG/Fine or RAW images in single-shot mode yielded a shot to shot time of 1.4 seconds between frames; TIFF mode slowed to about 12.5 seconds. Flash images were captured at intervals of between 1.8 and 3 seconds, depending on the subject distance.
You can choose from two burst modes: First Burst captured 8 JPEG/Fine images in about 3.8 seconds; that's a frame rate of about 2.1 fps, faster than the Kodak-claimed rate of 1.6 fps. Last Burst captured 5 frames in about 1.6 seconds, an even faster frame rate of 3.1 fps. The P712 flushes its buffer full of 8 JPEG/Fine images in about 11 seconds. Unlike the P850, the P712 can capture RAW images in any Burst mode. The viewfinder (either EVF or LCD) briefly displays the last captured image in either mode, allowing you to follow a moving subject. Our tests were done using a Kingston Elite Pro (50x) 2GB SD card, Program mode, 7M/Fine quality, ISO auto, Flash off, and all other settings at default (unless noted otherwise.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The most noticeable feature of the P712 is the high quality Schneider Kreuznach Variogon 12X optical zoom lens, that covers a 35mm equivalent range of 36 to 432mm. It offers enormous versatility in image composition, especially when you compare it to the typical 3x lens found on consumer models. At the 36mm wide-angle extreme, there's a sufficient field of view for most interior and landscape shots, while its 432mm telephoto magnification will please the nature and sports photographer, bringing distant subjects up-close and personal. Its variable speed zoom control provides either speed or precision in composing your shots; moving the zoom lever about half of its throw changes focal length slowly, while moving the lever fully zooms at high speed. Changing focal length from full telephoto to full wide angle takes about 4 seconds in slow mode, and about 2 seconds at high speed.
I saw typical amounts of barrel distortion and pin cushioning present at the wide-angle and telephoto extremes respectively as well as noticeable chromatic aberration (purple fringing in high contrast areas.) However, this is a common issue with super-zoom models. The lens is fairly fast, with a wide-open aperture range of F2.8 (wide) to F3.7 (tele), allowing the use of faster shutter speeds in marginal lighting conditions and reducing the likelihood of motion blur. Camera shake can be a concern on cameras with a powerful telephoto zoom, but not with the P712. The true optical Image Stabilization (IS) feature was very effective, allowing the capture of consistently blur-free images shot at full telephoto with shutter speeds as low as 1/100 of a second, and about 50% blur-free at 1/50 of a second. IS complements the P712's versatile zoom lens nicely, and is a welcomed feature.
The image quality of our 7-megapixel images was good but not outstanding. While exposure, white balance, and color saturation were OK, our outdoor samples were not as sharp as I would have liked. You can adjust this via the record menu, but out of the box, your images will suffer from edge softness. We took samples in both Standard and Fine modes, and although the file size jumps by about 1.2MB, I didn't notice any significant difference between the two. Uncompressed TIFF mode increases the average file size to about 21.3MB and the images didn't look much better than the JPEG Fine mode. Image noise was also present in both high (open sky) and low (shadow) contrast areas. You can choose ISO speeds of 64, 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, and 400 in 7M mode, or 800 in 1.2M mode. Nowadays, many ultra-compact cameras are allowing ISO speeds of up to 1600 or higher, and I would have expected such a versatile model as this would also have this option. While ISO 64-125 isn't bad, from ISO 160 to 400 the noise levels get progressively worse. Luckily, the IS feature allows you to use ISO 64 almost all of the time.
Although we were a bit disappointed with the outdoor results, indoor "people shots" were pleasing. The pop-up flash has a maximum range of about 15.4 feet at wide angle (ISO 100.) As you zoom the lens this range will drop off noticeably, but Kodak claims even at full telephoto it can illuminate subjects up to 11.8 feet away. When shooting portraits from about 8 - 10 feet away, using the mid-telephoto range of the lens, the P712 captured nice close-up portraits showing sharp facial detail and good flash exposure. Outdoor portraits were also pleasing, and the flash fill-in mode worked nicely for adding that sparkle in our subject's eyes. If 15.4 feet just won't cover your needs, the P712 also features a flash hotshoe for connecting Kodak's P20 Zoom Flash unit (US$149.95.) This handy unit covers a distance of 30 ft at wide and 33 ft at telephoto when using ISO 100. At ISO 200, these flash ranges can be doubled!
RAW image support in Kodak's EasyShare software is much better than we saw with the P850. The .KDC image file can be opened and edited using five options (Picture Detail, Enhance, Scene Balance, White Balance, Scene Effects.) Picture Detail lets you adjust sharpness and noise suppression. Enhance automatically corrects an image. Scene Balance gives access to Exposure, Shadow, Highlight, and Flare correction. White Balance is difficult to fine tune, offering only pre-sets and an eye dropper tool to identify a gray area of the image; there is no provision to adjust by color temperature. Scene Effects lets you choose from black & white, sepia tone, forest, scenic, portrait, and sunset effects. The JPEG compression level for saving images is specified as a global preference, and not invoked in a dialog while saving each image; the default compression setting is at a lower quality than the in-camera Standard and Fine settings.
You can also record motion video at resolutions of 640x480 or 320x240 at 30 frames per second. The length of a clip is limited to the capacity of your memory card or you can preset it to 5, 15, or 30 seconds. Our video samples were good, showing typical amounts of compression noise. The AF system does well when following moving subjects, but it does get blurry while zooming.
The P712 uses a proprietary KLIC-5001 3.7v 1800mAh Li-ion battery which recharges in the included AC rapid charger or whenever the camera rests on one of Kodak's Camera or Printer docks. Battery life was very good, I was able to capture about 206 samples and conclude many of our other tests before having to give it a fresh charge. So, Kodak's claim of 210 - 290 shots per charge is pretty accurate. Since you can charge this pack out of camera, we highly recommend the purchase of at least one extra pack and keep it charged and ready; especially since the KLIC-5001 can be had for only US$14.99 from Kodak Direct.
Bottom line - Kodak's EasyShare P712 Zoom is a mixed bag. While it offers loads of appealing features, the outdoor image quality suffers a bit but it does capture nice portrait images and it is a speedy performer. With an MSRP of US$499 it's not cheap. If you love the features found on this model and don't mind losing the flash hotshoe and 1-megapixel of resolution, check out the EasyShare Z612 Zoom. It includes many of the same features found on this model (12x lens with IS, 2.5-inch LCD, etc.), great image quality, and can be had for about $100 less.
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