According to Kodak, its 7.1-megapixel EasyShare P712 was designed for "second- and third-time digital camera buyers". Appropriately, the camera includes a higher level of control than many of Kodak's cameras, such as manual white balance, full manual exposure, and a trio of custom picture modes. It also sports a hotshoe, which can be outfitted with an accessory flash and can record images as raw, TIFF, or JPEG files. Anyone stepping up from a simple point-and-shoot camera will likely be impressed with the level of control offered, as well as the 12x optical, 36mm-to-432mm, f/2.8-to-f/3.7 zoom lens, but a slightly sluggish start-up time and noisy images at higher ISOs will irk more advanced shooters.
The Kodak EasyShare P712's black plastic body is small for a megazoom at 10.9cm by 8.4cm by 7.1cm with its lens fully retracted and weighs in at a comfortable, but not exactly light, 403 grams without battery or SD card. The SLR-style grip's silver accent on the front also acts as a slight ridge, which helps during one-handed shooting. As usual, you'll find the shutter button above the grip, and it's surrounded by a jog ring that acts as the on/off switch and lets you access Favourites mode.
Dedicated buttons on the camera's top let you select options for focus, flash, drive mode, and metering. There's also a button than can be programmed separately for capture and review modes, as well as to allow quick access to a host of options. Joining all these buttons is the mode dial, which includes direct access to movie mode, as well as three customisable shooting modes and full manual, aperture- and shutter-priority, program, auto, and an array of 17 scene modes.
On the back, you'll find the 2.5-inch, 115,000-pixel LCD screen just below the 237,000-pixel electronic viewfinder. We were surprised to find such a low-resolution LCD screen and disappointed that neither the EVF nor the LCD did a very good job of automatically increasing brightness in low-light situations. To the right of the screen, there's a five-way joystick for menu navigation and selection, as well as buttons to control the amount of information displayed on the screen, menu access, image deletion, review mode, autoexposure and autofocus lock. Above these buttons are the wonderfully comfortable zoom lever, jog wheel, and Set button, which together let you change options such as aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation (as much as plus or minus 2EV in 1/3-stop increments), flash power (as much as plus or minus 1EV in 1/3-stop increments), and ISO. Interestingly, ISO adjusts in 1/3-stop increments as well, spanning ISO 64 through ISO 400, with ISO 800 available in only 1.2-megapixel mode.
Metering options include multipattern, centre-weighted, spot, and selectable zone. Focus options comprise multi, centre, or selectable zone, as well as manual. Both selectable zone options let you choose from 25 zones and are tied together when both selectable zone metering and focus are used at the same time.
Movie-mode junkies will appreciate this camera's video mode, which lets you capture clips at as high as 640x480 resolution and 30fps. Colours looked decent, and focus adjusted quickly. The only drawback is that, while you can use the zoom during recording, the lens's motor noise is clearly audible during playback.
While the Kodak EasyShare P712's start-up was sluggish, taking 2.9 seconds to power on and capture its first image, subsequent images took 1.6 seconds between shots without flash and 1.9 seconds with the flash enabled. Raw images took two seconds between shots, and TIFFs took 17 seconds. Sure, that's a lot slower than the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7, which captures TIFFs in 7.7 seconds, but remember that few non-SLRs even capture TIFFs. In burst mode, we captured 1.2-megapixel JPEGs at 1.7fps and 7.1-megapixel JPEGs at 1.8fps.
Overall, colours looked natural and well saturated, and exposures were accurate with plenty of detail in both highlights and shadows. The auto white balance did a very good job of neutralising colours under our lab's tungsten lights, retaining just the barest hint of warmth. The tungsten preset yielded slightly cool images, while the manual white balance produced almost perfectly neutral results. Fringing was minimal but still present, mostly in the corners of our field-test images.
Unfortunately, like most Kodak cameras, the EasyShare P712 produces noisy images. Even at ISO 64, some off-colour speckles were visible in our test images. While this noise increased at both ISO 80 and ISO 100, it was still well under control, yielding acceptable images. By ISO 200, noise was obviously noticeable with larger splotches in darker colours, especially blues. Though the noise softened some finer details, the images still produced decent prints. At ISO 400, the noise was rampant, making all but 4x6 prints unusable. Given that this camera is geared toward more advanced users, who are more apt to shoot in darker conditions, it's disappointing to find this much noise, though we did appreciate the versatility of the 1/3-stop ISO increments.
If you're not bothered by noisy images and slightly sluggish performance, the Kodak EasyShare P712's many other merits make it an attractive megazoom. If you're more picky, you may want to sacrifice a megapixel and try Canon's PowerShot S3 IS.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
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(Longer bars indicate better performance)