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DCRP Review: Kodak
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: December 3, 2005
Last Updated: February 25, 2008
The EasyShare P850 ($499) is one of two cameras in Kodak's new Performance series of digital cameras. The P850 (reviewed here) features a 12X stabilized zoom lens, while its sibling the P880 (review to come) features a 24 mm wide-angle lens.
The P850 is Kodak's first ultra zoom with image stabilization, a feature which is becoming more and more popular in the ultra zoom category. Other features include a 5 Megapixel CCD, full manual controls, large 2.5" LCD, hot shoe, and VGA movie mode.
The ultra zoom category is one of the most competitive out there, so Kodak has its work cut out for them. How does the P850 compare to the best cameras in this class? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The P850 has a good bundle. Inside the box you'll find the following:
As with many of Kodak's other cameras, no memory card is included with the P850. Instead Kodak builds 32MB of memory right into the camera. That holds just nine photos at the highest quality setting, which isn't very many, so consider a memory card to be a required purchase. The P850 can use both Secure Digital (SD) and MultiMedia (MMC) cards and you'll get the best capacity and performance out of the former. I'd recommend a 256MB or 512MB SD card as a good starter size. Based on my usage it does not appear that a high speed memory card is a necessary purchase.
The EasyShare P850 uses Kodak's "high capacity" KLIC-5001 lithium-ion battery (the old KLIC-5000 will work too, if you have them laying around). This battery has 6.7 Wh of energy, which is pretty good for a camera in this class. How does that translate into actual battery life? Have a look:
As you can see, the P850's battery life is on the low end in this category. With that in mind, buying an extra battery probably isn't a bad idea. Thankfully Kodak doesn't stiff you on extra batteries like some other manufacturers do -- they're only $27 a pop. The other downside about cameras that use proprietary batteries like this is that you can't just pop in "off the shelf" batteries when your rechargeables are near death.
When it's time to charge the KLIC-5001 just pop it into the included charger. This charger is my favorite type -- it plugs right into the wall. It takes around three hours to fully charge the battery.
The P850 comes with a big plastic lens cap and retaining strap to protect that 12X zoom lens.
Optional camera dock; Image courtesy of Kodak
Like all of Kodak's cameras, the P850 is fully compatible with the Kodak EasyShare camera and printer docks. The Camera Dock Series 3 ($50) will charge the camera's battery, transfer photos to a Mac or PC, and connect to a television. You can do the same things with the items that are included with the P850. If you want to make quick prints there are several EasyShare Printer Docks that are compatible -- just put the camera on the dock and the rest is easy. The Printer Dock Series 3 ($149) will produce a 4 x 6 inch print in just 90 seconds. If that's not fast enough then you can upgrade to the Printer Dock Plus Series 3 ($179), which prints in just 60 seconds.
Optional P-20 external flash
There are quite a few accessories available for the EasyShare P850, including the external flash that you can see above. Here's the complete list:
That's a pretty nice selection. There are some other accessories available for which I have no information, including a lens hood, UV filter, and carrying case.
The EasyShare One includes version 5.0.1 of Kodak's excellent EasyShare software. As of this writing, a newer version (5.2) was available (the software will update automatically), so that's what I'm covering here.
The main screen lets you import and organize your photos. You can view your photos by date taken, or you can create "smart albums" which are totally customizable (just like a smart playlist in iTunes).
On this screen you can also view your photos in a slideshow, edit or rotate them (see below), get exposure data, burn them to a CD or DVD, or even upload them to the Kodak EasyShare Gallery for printing and sharing.
If you want to edit your photo, there are some basic tools included. They include rotation, cropping, "instant enhancement", redeye reduction, brightness and contrast, color, exposure, and instant black & white or sepia conversion. For some edits, you can split the screen (see above) so you can see a "before and after" view of your proposed changes.
The Windows version of the EasyShare software allows you to view and edit the RAW images taken by the P850. Mac users are left out in the cold at this point, as the Mac version of EasyShare does not support editing RAW files (though it can convert them into other formats). However, if you own Adobe Photoshop CS2 you can download a new version of the Camera Raw plug-in which will open the RAW files.
[Paragraph updated 12/4/05]
Anyhow, the software lets you edit these RAW properties: noise reduction, sharpness, exposure, brightness, flare, and white balance (though there's no color temperature option). A scene effects option lets you apply "scene modes" to a RAW image like sunset, forest, scene, sepia, and black & white.
So what are RAW files anyway? They contain unprocessed image data straight from the camera. In order to get the RAW images into more useful formats you must first process them on your computer. While doing that you can adjust all of the properties that I just listed without reducing the quality of the image. It's almost like you get a second chance at taking the picture.
The Print at Home tab will help you print the images you select (either by marking them on the camera or in the software). There are many choices available, including the two 4 x 6 inch per page print layout you see above.
The e-mail tab works in the same way. You can compose messages to be sent along with pictures. You can send the full size picture, or have it reduced automatically to a smaller size. The e-mail system is nicely integrated with OS X's built-in address book system.
Here you can customize the e-mail addresses stored in the camera -- more on how this works later in the review. This feature is also integrated with the OS X address book (for you Mac users out there). Similarly, you can also set up albums on your camera by using EasyShare. You can then tag photos on the camera, and they'll end up in the proper album when you transfer your photos to your computer.
All-in-all the EasyShare package is pretty darn good for bundled software, especially if you've seen the stuff that some other companies give you.
Kodak does a nice job with their camera manuals, with long descriptions and not a lot of fine print. I did notice that they didn't go into any detail about some of the more "high end" features on the camera such as white balance fine-tuning. All they say is "provides for custom color adjustment" without explaining how the feature actually works.
Look and Feel
The EasyShare P850 is a midsize ultra zoom camera made of a mixture of metal and plastic. It feels quite solid in the hand, and the large grip makes it easy to hold. In terms of ergonomics the P850 is a mixed bag: the power switch is where you'd expect the zoom controller to be, and the control dial and its adjacent "set" button should've been combined into one.
Being an ultra zoom the P850 is too big for most of your pockets. It's still easy to wear around your neck or carry in a case. Now, here's a look at the dimensions and weight of the P850 versus the competition:
The EasyShare P850 is toward the smaller and lighter end of the ultra zoom spectrum.
Okay, let's move on to our tour of the camera now, shall we?
The EasyShare P850 features an F2.8-3.7, 12X optical zoom Schneider-Kreuznach lens. I can't say this with absolute certainty, but this could be the same lens that is used by the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1. The focal length of the lens is 6 - 72 mm, which is equivalent to 36 - 432 mm. While the lens barrel is threaded, you'll need the optional conversion lens adapter to do anything with it.
Buried deep inside that lens is an optical image stabilization system. This helps counter "camera shake", which can blur your photos at both the wide and telephoto ends of the lens. Sensors inside the P850 detect the tiny movements you make while holding the camera, and then camera moves an element inside the lens to compensate for this motion. It's not going to work miracles, but it will allow you to use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise.
Want to see how well it works? Have a look at this:
Both of the above crops were taken at 1/8 second. The shot on the top was taking without image stabilization, while the one on the bottom had OIS turned on. The difference should be pretty obvious. If you need another example, have a look at this movie clip.
Back to our tour now. To the upper-left of the lens is the camera's external autofocus sensor, which allows for superior focusing speeds over contrast detection systems alone. One thing you won't find on the P850 is an AF-assist lamp, which is used as a focusing aid in low light situations. We'll see if the external sensor can do the job instead later in the review.
Just below the AF sensor is the self-timer lamp, which also turns on during video recording. On the opposite side of the lens is the microphone.
At the top of the photo you'll find the P850's flash, which pops up automatically when needed. The working range of the flash is 0.9 - 4.7 m at wide-angle and 2.0 - 3.6 m at telephoto, which is quite good (these numbers were taken at ISO 140, unlike the Auto ISO numbers used by most manufacturers). If you want more flash power and less redeye then you'll appreciate the hot shoe on the top of the camera.
The main event on the back of the EasyShare P850 is its large 2.5" LCD. While Kodak didn't skimp on the size of the screen, the resolution and color depth are disappointing, especially given the P850's spot in the Kodak's "performance" series. The LCD has just 115,000 pixels (that's normal for a 1.8" display) and images on the screen aren't terribly sharp as a result. In addition, I noticed banding in the sky while reviewing some of my photos on the screen. The screen is quite easy to see in bright outdoor light, but I was disappointed with its performance in low light conditions. While it does "gain up" a bit, I still found it to be on the dark side in dimly lit rooms.
Directly above the LCD is the camera's electronic viewfinder, or EVF. The EVF is like a small LCD that you view as if it was a regular optical viewfinder. Unfortunately, regular optical viewfinders are a lot sharper and brighter than EVFs, but you won't find a single ultra zoom camera with one. The resolution of the EVF is actually twice that of the main LCD, with 237,000 pixels, and low light performance was similar. A diopter correction knob focuses the image on the screen.
The EVF and LCD can't be used at the same time, which is normal. To switch between the two you can use the EVF/LCD button to the left of the viewfinder.
Let's move on to all the controls on the right side of the photo. At the upper-right is the command dial, with the "set" button below it. Maybe I've been using digital cameras for too long (it's been over ten years now), but I wonder why Kodak couldn't just make their command dial push inward like everyone else does, instead of having a separate "set" button. Rant aside, the command dial is used for adjusting manual settings, exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3 EV increments), flash exposure compensation (-1EV to +1EV in 1/3EV increments), and ISO sensitivity (Auto, 50, 64, 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 800). While I'll cover the camera's ISO performance later, I should point out now that the ISO 800 option is only available at the 1.2 Megapixel resolution.
Below the Set button is the AE/AF lock button, which does just as it sounds. To the upper-left of that you'll find the zoom controller, which is perfectly placed. The controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.6 seconds. The lens motor is loud and has an unusual sound. I counted an incredible forty-three steps in the 12X zoom range.
Below the zoom controller is the "Info" button, which toggles the information shown on the LCD and EVF. Under that is the Review button, which is how you'll enter playback mode. Under that button is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation and also for selecting a scene mode (more on those later).
The last three buttons on the back of the P850 are for deleting a photo, entering the menu system, or sharing photos. Since the P850's EasyShare system sets it apart from other ultra zooms it's worth going into more details about just what it can do.
The screen above is what you'll see when you press that red Share button. From this screen you can do the following:
Let's say you want to mark an image for e-mail. Here's what you'll see:
You can select a person or persons to whom you want to e-mail this picture. Once you connect to your computer, the EasyShare software will send the pictures to the chosen recipients.
Selecting photos to print later is just as easy. Just select the photo and the number of copies, and the next time you dock with a printer, it'll prompt you to make those prints. This works with both the Kodak Printer Dock as well as the scores of PictBridge-enabled photo printers on the market.
Now onto the top of the camera. On the left side you'll find two buttons:
The manual focus feature on the P850 is no different than on any other camera. You use the four-way controller to set the focus distance, and the camera shows a nearly useless guide on the LCD/EVF (see screenshot). The center of the frame is enlarged so you make make sure that your subject is in focus.
The next thing to see on the top of the camera is the hot shoe. Here you can put the Kodak P-20 external zoom flash (which integrates with the camera) or any third party model (though you may need to use manual settings for those). The camera can sync with flashes at any shutter speed, which means as fast as 1/1000 sec.
To the right of the hot shoe is the mode dial, which has the following options:
As you can see, the P850 has full manual exposure control. About the only things missing are program shift and bulb features. There are a whopping three custom spots on the mode dial which can hold your favorite camera settings.
To the right of the mode dial are three more buttons, this time for:
There are quite a few burst modes on the P850 and they all deserve a little explanation. The first burst option will take up to three RAW or five Fine quality JPEGs at 1.9 frames/second. The last burst option keeps shooting at 1.4 frames/second until the buffer starts to fill up (at which point it slows down a bit) and when you let go of the shutter release the last three or five images (same quality settings as before) are recorded. I found it a bit difficult to follow a moving subject as the image on the LCD/EVF lagged behind what was happening in real time. There are two bracketing modes on the P850 as well. Both work in the same way: a series of photos are taken (three or five in total), each with a different exposure. You can select exposure intervals of ±0.3EV, ±0.6EV, and ±1.0EV.
The time lapse burst is poorly named, as it's really not a burst mode. What this feature does is take a preset number of photos (up to 99) at set intervals (10 secs - 24 hours), which can produce a pretty neat effect when you watch them sequentially. Do note that the AC adapter is required if you're going to do this for any length of time.
While the first three metering options are pretty standard, that last one may have caught your eye. This lets you manually select one of 25 spots in the frame on which to meter. There's a similar feature for focusing that I'll cover later in the review.
The last thing to see on the top of the P850 is the shutter release button, which has the power switch wrapped around it. The options on the switch are on, off, and favorites (which shows only the photos that you've tagged as such).
On this side of the camera you'll find the speaker as well as the I/O ports. The I/O ports are kept behind a rubber cover and include DC-in and USB+A/V (one port for both). The P850 supports the USB 2.0 Full Speed protocol, which is a nice way of saying "the slow USB 2.0". The one we want is USB 2.0 High Speed, which should really be on this "performance series" camera.
On the other side of the camera is the SD/MMC card slot, which is protected by a fairly sturdy plastic door.
The lens is at the full telephoto position here.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find the dock connector, metal tripod mount, and battery compartment. The battery compartment is covered by a plastic door with a locking mechanism.
Using the Kodak EasyShare P850
It takes about 3.5 seconds for the P850 to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures -- nothing spectacular.
A live histogram is shown in record mode
Despite having the external AF sensor, the P850's focus speeds were average. At the wide end of the lens it took around 0.4 - 0.6 seconds for it to lock focus, and telephoto focus times can easily exceed one second. Low light focusing was not good.
I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.
Shot-to-shot speeds were excellent, with a delay of just over a second before you can take another shot. If you're shooting in RAW mode expect a five second delay between shots. For TIFF mode the delay is ten seconds. A high speed memory card did not reduce these delays.
You can delete a photo immediately after taking it by pressing the delete button.
Unlike most Kodak cameras the P850 has quite a few image resolution and quality options available. And here they are:
As you can see, the P850 supports both the RAW and TIFF image formats. I told you about RAW back in the first section, so what are TIFF files? Simply put, the TIFF format is a lossless one (like RAW) and an industry standard (unlike RAW). That means that you can open them in almost any image viewer. The downsize is that they cannot be manipulated like RAW images and that their file sizes are quite large.
The camera names files as 100_####.JPG (where # = 0001 - 9999), and remembers the numbering even if you switch cards or delete photos.
The EasyShare P850 has a menu system unlike any other Kodak camera, save for its sibling, the P880. The menu is all high tech and it's divided into three tabs: capture plus (only available in P/A/S/M/C modes), capture, and setup. I'll cover the first two now:
White balance fine-tuning
Okay, it's time for some further explanation on the items in that first submenu. The P850 has manual white balance controls, with the ability to fine-tune your selection and save it into three spots in the camera's memory. The WB fine-tuning feature is not unlike the one found on the Canon EOS-20D and Digital Rebel XT, with a small chart that lets you adjust the WB in various "directions". Going up makes things greener, down is toward the magenta direction, left for red, and right for blue. Nice!
There are three AF control options on the camera. In single mode the camera will only focus when the shutter release is halfway pressed. The continuous mode will always have the camera trying to focus, regardless of whether you're pushing the button. The moving item is for the burst modes: it will focus between each shot, which of course slows down the whole burst sequence.
Now let's take a look at what you'll find in the setup tab:
Before we get to the photo tests I wanted to explain the image stabilizer options. In continuous mode the stabilizer is always active while you're framing the shot. Single mode only activates the OIS system when the photo is actually taken -- this method is more effective than continuous mode. You can also turn the whole system off, which is desirable when the camera is on a tripod.
Okay, let's move on to our photo tests now!
The EasyShare P850 did a good, but not great, job with our macro test shot. The colors are accurate -- the custom white balance had no problem with my quartz studio lamps. MY main complaint is that the image is on the soft side, and somewhat fuzzy.
If you like getting really close to your subject then this may not be the camera for you. The minimum focus distance on the P850 is 10 cm at wide-angle and 90 cm at telephoto.
The P850's night shot performance was just okay. While the camera took in plenty of light thanks to its manual control over shutter speeds, both noise and purple fringing levels are higher than I would've liked. It makes the image appear more like a watercolor than a photograph.
Want to see how the camera performed at high ISO sensitivities? Using that same night shot, here's a comparison:
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
The ISO 100 shot is only a bit noisier than the ISO 50 shot (which was already a bit noisy to start with). Details disappear rapidly at ISO 200 and ISO 400 is probably not usable. The P850 can go up to ISO 800, but only at the 1.2 Megapixel resolution. I didn't include the crop in the above comparison, but if you want to see how it looks, here you go. I don't know why Kodak bothered with the ISO 800 option, as it's really not usable at all.
There are two ways that the EasyShare P850 attempts to reduce the redeye in your flash photos. The first way is the normal way: it fires the flash a few times to get your subject's pupils to shrink. Here's how that method worked in our usual test:
As you can see, it didn't help very much. The P850 also has a software redeye reduction tool, which can be used as a photo is taken or later in playback mode. Here's how that tool fared:
Much better! The bottom line here is that if the preflash isn't doing it, turn on the software tool -- it seems to work pretty well!
There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the P850's 12X zoom lens. Vignetting (dark corners) and blurry edges were not a problem.
Overall the EasyShare P850 takes good quality photos. They were usually well exposed (though it tends lose details in overexposed areas) and colors were accurate and not over-the-top like on some other Kodak cameras. Noise levels were reasonable, though I do think that images are a bit fuzzy and "overprocessed-looking". Purple fringing levels are comparable to other ultra zoom cameras.
Don't just take my word for all this, though. View our photo gallery, and print the images just like you would if they were your own. Then decide if the P850's photo quality meets your expectations.
The EasyShare P850 has an excellent movie mode. You can record 640 x 480 video at 30 frames/second (with sound) until the memory card is full. If you desire, you can also preset the length of your movie in the record menu. You can fill up the 32MB of internal memory with just 14 seconds of video, so buy a larger card for longer movies (a 1GB card holds about eight minutes worth). A high speed memory card is apparently not required for this movie mode. A lower resolution 320 x 240 (30 fps) mode is also available for longer recording times.
Believe it or not, you can actually use the optical zoom during filming. The camera seems to reduce the microphone level during zooming so the motor noise is not picked up. The camera can focus once (at the beginning of the movie) or continuously if you'd like. The image stabilizer is used during filming.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format using the M-JPEG codec. I was surprised to see that, as several recent Kodak cameras have used the more efficient MPEG4 codec.
While this isn't the greatest sample movie, hopefully you'll find it helpful. You'll see that I used the zoom toward the end of it.
Click to play movie (8.2 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The EasyShare P850 has a very impressive playback mode. Basic features are all here, such as slideshows, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
Zoom and scroll (called Magnify here) lets you zoom into your photo by up to 10 times (in 1X increments), and then scroll around in the enlarged image. Everything is nice and smooth!
An album feature lets you organize your photos into albums before they ever hit your computer. That's pretty cool. You can also tag photos as Favorites for easy viewing on both the camera and the computer.
The P850's editing features are very cool. You can edit JPEG images, RAW images, and movies. You can crop and resize photos, though strangely there's no rotation tool. There's also the redeye reduction tool that I mentioned earlier. For images in RAW format you can adjust the picture size and quality, exposure, color, sharpness, contrast, and white balance right in the camera. The "develop RAW file" option will then save the image into the format of your choice. The video editing tools allow you to trim, cut, split, and merge your clips, and you can also take frame grabs as well.
The P850 lets you copy images from the internal memory to a memory card, and vice versa. If you've got a memory card inserted, you must switch to the internal memory using the menu if you want to view the pictures stored there.
There are quite a few different image playback views available on the P8500, including those with exposure info and a histogram.
The camera moves between photos instantly. I did find deleting photos to be a bit sluggish though.
How Does it Compare?
While it's not my favorite ultra zoom camera, the Kodak EasyShare P850 is still a good product which is both feature-packed and easy-to-use at the same time.
The P850 is an average-sized ultra zoom camera that features a 5.1 Megapixel CCD, 12X optical zoom lens, optical image stabilizer, and 2.5" LCD display. This is Kodak's first camera with image stabilization, and it helps to keep the P850 competitive in the crowded ultra zoom field. While the camera's LCD is large, I found its resolution and low light visibility to be lacking. The camera's electronic viewfinder was better in terms of resolution, but not low light visibility. Build quality on the P850 was quite good, and it fits well in your hand. About the only things I didn't care for in the design department are the command dial/set button combination and the power switch.
The P850 has features that beginners and enthusiasts will like. For the beginners there are numerous automatic and scene modes, a very easy-to-understand interface, support for camera and printer docks, and the best photo sharing system in the industry. Enthusiasts will dig the full manual controls, RAW format support, hot shoe and conversion lens support, and the custom spots on the mode dial. Both groups will like the P850's movie mode, with its VGA (30 fps) video quality and the ability to use the zoom lens during filming. The camera's playback mode was also nice, with nice still photo, RAW image, and movie editing features.
Camera performance was a mixed bag. The P850 won't win any awards for its startup or focusing speeds, for sure. I was disappointed with its low light focusing ability, as well. The camera had very little shutter lag, and shot-to-shot times were decent. The P850 lags behind most of the competition in terms of battery life.
Photo quality on the P850 was good for the most part. Photos were well exposed most of the time, though the camera tended to lose details in overexposed areas. Noise and purple fringing levels were comparable to other ultra zoom cameras, though images were a bit "fuzzy" at times. Colors were nice and accurate and not oversaturated like on some other Kodak cameras. Redeye wasn't a problem if you used the preflash and software redeye reduction features. For those seeking good high ISO performance, this is not the camera for you.
There are a few negatives that I haven't mentioned yet. Mac users who want RAW image support will be disappointed to hear that the EasyShare software cannot edit the RAW image properties. I would imagine that this will change in the future. The manual focus feature could really use some work, as the camera displays a nearly useless focus distance guide on the LCD and EVF. And finally, it's a shame that this camera does not support the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.
If the competition wasn't so fierce the P850 would be near the top of my list of ultra zoom cameras. Unfortunately the competition is the Canon PowerShot S2, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5/FZ30, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1. Although I think there are better ultra zoom cameras out there, the P850 is absolutely worth a look.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other ultra zoom cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot S2 IS, Fuji FinePix S5200, Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z6, Nikon Coolpix 4800 and 8800, Olympus SP-500 Ultra Zoom, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 and DMC-FZ30, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1. All of those cameras have image stabilizers except for the S5200, Coolpix 4800, and SP-500UZ.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the P850 and it's competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned out? Check out our photo gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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