Second from the top of Kodak's lineup, the 5.1-megapixel EasyShare P850 offers more features than you normally find in digital cameras on the Rochester company's roster. Those features include a 36mm-to-432mm lens (35mm equivalent); image stabilisation (for the 12X zoom); manual-exposure adjustments; and controls for contrast, saturation, and even white-balance compensation. Still, the P850 offers enough sophistication and flexibility for enthusiasts while maintaining its EasyShare simplicity for those who may eventually want to graduate to manual adjustments.
Despite its lopsided look, the Kodak EasyShare P850 feels well balanced. At 403 grams with its slender rechargeable battery and SD card installed, it weighs just enough to feel substantial but not heavy. A 2.5-inch LCD occupies about two-thirds of the camera back; buttons and dials are scattered over the rest, as well as the top. At first, you might question the choice of external controls, but they make the camera quite usable, thanks to the combination of a highly customisable Program button and a command dial that scrolls through onscreen options such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and exposure compensation.
The design has some faults, however. The power lever on top of the grip is awkwardly designed and difficult to use. The proprietary battery lacks a latch to keep it from falling out when the cover is open, and it slides easily into the slot even when inserted incorrectly.
But those flaws are minor in light of this camera's many features -- some of which you usually find only on more expensive models and digital SLRs. They include three custom settings that you activate with the mode dial; the Program button, which accesses a long list of options in capture and playback modes; three- and five-shot exposure bracketing; three burst modes; support for raw and TIFF files; a whopping 25 user-selectable focus points; three custom white-balance functions; and colour-bias compensation. ISO sensitivity runs from 50 to 800; in manual modes, the camera can achieve shutter speeds as slow as 16 seconds.
On the playback side, you can convert a raw file to a JPEG or TIFF, quickly magnify photos up to 10X, save favourites, preview highlight and shadow clipping, and more. The camera's zoom also works while you're shooting movies, and the camera provides multiple editing options in playback.
As for performance, the Kodak EasyShare P850 was surprisingly peppy in burst mode, capturing five high-quality JPEGs at 3.5fps. Dropping down to basic JPEG quality increased the total number of shots to 30 but slowed the capture rate to about 2fps. We took sequential single shots at intervals of about 1.7 seconds -- a pretty good time -- and the flash recycled fairly quickly. But if you plan to save photos in TIFF or raw format, you'll wait up to 14 seconds between shots. And don't count on whipping out the P850 for quick, spontaneous snaps -- when you power up the camera, the lens takes a couple of seconds to extend, for a total delay of about 4 seconds. Given enough light and contrast, the autofocus worked quickly and accurately; however, the P850's lack of an AF-assist lamp caused it to struggle under dark conditions despite its relatively good low-light performance in formal testing. The image stabilisation provided at least one-stop leeway when shooting at slower shutter speeds, but as you would expect, keeping it continuously on (as opposed to off or activated on exposure) increased the drain on the battery.
Photo quality was mixed as well. Colours looked natural, albeit a little dark. Exposures were generally accurate, and auto white balance worked well under most lighting conditions. The camera had a problem with high-contrast scenes, however. We noticed clipped highlights and purple fringing along edges. You'll need to keep ISO sensitivity as low as possible with the Kodak EasyShare P850 -- image noise appeared in shots taken as low as ISO 100, and by ISO 400, they're unusable at all but the smallest sizes. Photos also looked a bit soft.
Despite the Kodak EasyShare P850's attractively amateur-friendly feature set, there are better 12X-zoom options available. Read more about it in our article "To infinity and beyond."
NOTE: Products in this test are for comparative purposes only and are not necessarily available in the Australian market.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
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(Longer bars indicate better performance)