Kodak P850 Review
By Movable Type Admin
The P850 is Kodak's 2005 upgrade to the EasyShare DX7590 Zoom we tested last year. Retaining the same SLR-like body, 5-megapixel resolution and 640x480 30fps movie mode, Kodak increased the zoom range to 12x, the size of the LCD monitor to 2 1/2-inches and added Image Stabilization. The P850 retains the broad appeal of its predecessor, satisfying beginners with its point-n-shoot automatic mode, intermediate users with its wealth of scene modes, and experts with its wide range of exposure controls in Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Program modes. This is truly a camera that everyone in your family can enjoy using.
The most noticeable feature of the EasyShare P850 is its Schneider Kreuznach Variogon 12X optical zoom lens. Ranging in focal length from 36 to 432mm in 35mm equivalence, it offers the photographer enormous versatility in image composition; the 36mm wide-angle covers most interior and landscape shots, while its 432mm telephoto magnification will please the nature and sports photographer with its distance-reducing magnification. Th P850's 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, allowing fairly precise control, while moving the lever fully zooms the lens 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.
The lens produces sharp images throughout its zoom range, an impressive result considering its 36mm and 432mm extremes. There's a bit of barrel distortion and pin cushioning present at the wide-angle and telephoto extremes respectively. I was impressed with the near-absence of chromatic aberration (purple fringing in high contrast areas) produced by this versatile lens. The lens is quite fast, with a wide-open variable 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 the P850. Its Image Stabilization (IS) feature was very effective, allowing me to capture consistently blur-free images shot at full 432mm telephoto at shutter speeds as low as 1/100 second, and about 50% blur-free at 1/50 second. IS complements the P850's versatile zoom lens nicely, and we're glad that Kodak included it; you will be, too.
The P850's shooting performance was very good. From power-on till the first image was captured measured about 4 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, measured less than 2/10 second when pre-focused, 4/10 second with single autofocus, and an impressive 2/10 second with continuous autofocus enabled. The P850's single image responsiveness has improved over the DX7590's by every measure. The shutter lag times include the approx. 1/10 second delay present in the live viewfinder image of both the LCD and EVF.
Rapid shooting JPEG/Fine in single-shot mode yielded 5 images at 1.7 second intervals, with subsequent shots coming at 2 to 4 second intervals as the camera's buffer emptied; RAW image capture slowed to 8 second intervals. The P850 captured flash images at intervals of between 2 and 5 seconds, depending on subject distance. The P850 has two burst modes: First Burst captured 5 JPEG/Fine images at the Kodak-claimed rate of 2.3 fps, but Last Burst's capture rate slowed to 9/10 second intervals, failing to meet Kodak's 2.3 fps claim. The P850 flushes its buffer full of JPEG/Fine images in about 5 seconds, a significant improvement over the DX7590. The P850 failed to capture RAW images in any Burst mode, also failing to meet Kodak's claim. The viewfinder (either EVF or LCD) briefly displays the last captured image in either Burst mode, allowing you to follow a moving subject. Measurements were made shooting 5MP Fine images with a Lexar 32x 512MB SD memory card installed.
RAW image support in Kodak's EasyShare software is a bit weak. The .kdc image file can be opened and edited, but 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. The image can be sharpened, but EasyShare lacks the fine adjustment tools that are expected of a RAW image editor. 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 Fine setting.
We were happy with the results shooting indoors. The moderately wide-angle lens affords reasonable field of view, and its pop-up flash has a generous (by consumer digicam standards) range of nearly 16 feet and an effective red-eye reduction mode that can be combined with an in-camera auto red-eye fix process. You won't be illuminating a banquet hall at your niece's wedding, but your living room shots and small group portraits will be properly lit. In low ambient light, both the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) and the large LCD "gain up" and were easy to view. Despite the absence of a focus-assist lamp, the P850's autofocus system was fairly effective in average tungsten interior lighting; never the less, the P850's dim light AF performance could be improved with a focus-assist lamp. The camera was able to squelch its flash at close range, making it a good choice for shooting close-up images of small objects for inclusion in online auction listings. If you need more power than the P850's internal flash can provide, Kodak's P20 Zoom Flash will provide a range of 30 feet at ISO 100.
We were pleased with our outdoor test shots. The P850's 12x zoom lens adds a fun factor that you will enjoy; shots that you wouldn't attempt with a 3x zoom become frame-filling memories with this versatile lens. Images were sharp, well-exposed and richly saturated. Image Stabilization allowed me to capture consistently blur-free images at shutter speeds 2 stops slower than the rule of thumb 1/focal length, and produced about 50% keepers at 3 stops slower. Auto white balance produced true to life colors in a variety of lighting conditions. We found the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) and LCD quite usable in bright sunlight, the EVF having a deeper rubber eyecup than its predecessor to block ambient light.
With a versatile and powerful zoom lens and fairly responsive shooting performance, the P850 should be a capable outdoor sports shooter, but it has two significant limitations. The camera's minimum shutter speed is 1/1000 second, restricting its ability to stop action. In addition, the use of its maximum sensitivity of ISO 800 is limited to shooting 1.2-megapixel images. That said, families will find the P850 an effective tool for capturing images of their children's sports activities in good outdoor lighting.
The P850's image quality is very good at low sensitivity settings. Images are essentially noise free at ISO 50, while shadow noise is detectable at ISO 100 and noticeable at ISO 200. At ISO 400, noise can be seen throughout the image, but not to an extent that it is unusable. ISO 800, as mentioned earlier, is limited to shooting 1280x960 1.2-megapixel images; noise is present to a greater extent than at ISO 400, but most users will find the images usable, especially if it makes the difference between capturing a shot and not.
Considering its powerful zoom lens, the P850's body is remarkably small and light, just over one pound. The lens retracts into the camera body when powered-off, looking less like an advanced megazoom and more like an ordinary consumer digicam; security staff at events that prohibit advanced cameras will likely overlook the P850 as a result. The lens diameter at the front and large 2 1/2-inch LCD on the back leave little room for camera controls, and I found operating them cumbersome at times. The command dial is too close to the top-mounted Drive, Prog., and Metering buttons, making it difficult to keep any of them depressed while rotating the dial to make changes. But menu operation via the joystick, zoom operation and review mode were easy to use. Switching between the EVF and LCD was easy, requiring a single depression of the EVF/LCD button. I especially liked that the P850 remembers the EVF/LCD modes of shooting and reviewing independently. I prefer to use the EVF for shooting and the LCD for reviewing; with those settings made, the P850 switches viewfinders with a touch of the Review button.
The P850 uses a proprietary battery which recharges while the camera rests on the included dock, or out of the camera in the supplied charger. Battery life was a bit disappointing, capturing about 115 images with heavy use of the LCD and full-time use of the Image Stabilizer in its single mode; use of IS in its continuous mode depleted the battery after about 60 shots. You'll want to purchase at least one spare battery and keep it charged and with you. The good news is that Kodak doesn't "rape" you for their Li-ion batteries, you'll find them reasonably priced at around $30 online.
The optional Kodak EasyShare Printer Dock Plus Series 3 charges the battery and produces high- quality 4x6-inch prints using a 4-pass, dye sublimation process. These prints are the equal of any that you can get from your local photo finisher. Be sure to use the P850's Best (3:2) quality setting - this mode creates images with a 3:2 aspect ratio which yields perfect 4x6" size photos with no cropping. When it's placed in the printer dock, the camera is turned on and printing can be initiated by simply depressing one button. The camera's LCD is used to preview and select images for printing. With a Kodak EasyShare camera and the printer dock, you'll have the modern equivalent to the old Polaroid system but with much better image quality. Click here to view our EasyShare Printer Dock Plus Series 3 mini-review.
With an MSRP of under $450, very good image quality and a great deal of versatility, the EasyShare P850 represents a good value. Usable by every member of your family, it will produce high-quality images of everything from family events, objects for sale at online auctions, and nature to sporting events. If you value a powerful zoom lens, large bright 2.5-inch LCD display, responsive shooting performance, image stabilization, high-quality 640x480 30fps movies and the ability to attach external flash devices, the 5-megapixel 12X zoom P850 would be a good choice for an all-around family digicam.
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