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Operation and controls

The EasyShare concept is one Kodak has been pushing - and refining - for several years now. At its heart is a friendly user-interface (now looking a lot less cartoon-like than in earlier generations) and the ability - with the supplied software - to transfer and 'share' images with as little fuss as possible. And there's no doubt that as a point-and-shoot camera, the DX7590 is supremely user-friendly. The only problem is that, here at the top end of Kodak's range, the sheer amount of features and functions that have been squeezed into the DX7590's compact body means the 'easy' aspect of EasyShare has been lost a little in an attempt to include everything but the kitchen sink. This is a camera that demands a few weeks of solid use to master its many functions, though to be fair, this is more about getting used to the ergonomics and various interface elements than down to any complexity in the design itself. In fact, you can happily explore the myriad functions without ever needing the manual. Everything is self-explanatory, the graphics designed to avoid confusion and the lack of jargon and acronyms laudable. Even so, after months of use and 1000s of pictures I couldn't help but find some aspects of the operation of the 7590 fiddly and cumbersome, though I'm sure if this were your only camera, and you used it regularly, you'd soon get used to the operational foibles.

Rear of camera

The majority of the 7590's controls are found on the rear, in a cluster to the right of the large LCD screen. At the top we have the main power (on/off) switch and the zoom lever. I wasn't that enamored with the zoom lever, which feels a bit flimsy and has about as positive an action as a spoon in a bowl of porridge. The is also a slight, though perceptible, delay between pushing the zoom lever and the lens starting to move. This may be simply because you have to move the lever so far to actually engage the zooming. Interestingly, though it isn't mentioned in the manual, the zoom appears to have two speeds; slow (push the lever half way) and fast (push it all the way), which is nice.

Moving down the rear of the camera, the 'i' (info) button toggles on-screen information on and off, the bejeweled 'share' button is used to tag images for printing or emailing (using the supplied EasyShare software). Below this is the main mode dial. In the center is a small silver 'joystick', which replaces the more common arrow keys on most cameras and is used to navigate menus. I found this particularly fiddly, as it is all too easy to accidentally press it ('Enter') when you're trying to move up, down, left or right. Again, I'm sure this is something you'd eventually get used to.

Finally, below the main mode dial are three buttons; review (switch to playback mode), menu (to activate on-screen menus) and delete.

Top of camera

The top of the DX7590 is home to the pop-up flash and its switch, the shutter release and three buttons for flash mode, macro/infinity AF mode and burst mode/AE bracketing.

On the front of the grip, directly below the shutter release, is a 'jog dial' used to select and change apertures, shutter speeds, ISO, AE compensation and flash output level - all via on-screen icons and menus.

Display and menus

The DX7950's user interface is simultaneously both user friendly and quite daunting. The menus are written in plain English with large, easily understood icons, meaning the manual is rarely needed when exploring the huge range of features. There are even little on-screen 'tips' to tell you a little about each exposure mode as you select it (though how much help it is to see 'Use for Aperture Priority settings' appear on-screen when switching to A is questionable). The main record mode screen is - when you're not in the fully automatic auto mode - rather cluttered, with a huge amount of information on display. What you do get, once you've mastered the controls, is the ability to change a lot of settings without having to enter menus, simply by selecting and changing them using the jog dial on the front of the grip. This approach means that experienced photographers have virtually all the control they need at their fingertips without once seeing a menu or leaving record mode.

Here's the display in fully automatic mode, with the information overlay turned on. You can see at a glance your exposure mode, AE compensation setting, flash mode, picture size/quality, remaining frames and AF mode. The blue brackets indicate the AF area (in this case we're using the 3-area AF). Half-press the shutter and the camera focuses, indicating the autofocus (AF) point and auto exposure (AE) settings chosen.
In P, A, S and M modes you get a lot more information - and more control. Note that the focus mode can be switched between 3-area auto, center focus and manual area selection (left, middle, right). Turning the jog dial highlights each of the available settings in turn (AE compensation, flash output control, ISO); press the jog dial and turn it again to make changes.
In M, S and A modes you also change shutter speeds and apertures using the jog dial. As you switch between the various modes a brief description appears on-screen. When you get sick of this 'feature' you can turn it off in the setup menu.
Pressing the menu button in record mode brings up the menus shown above. You use the joystick to move up and down the list, and press it to select a setting to change. Here you'll find options covering everything from self-timer to image size/quality, white balance, bracketing interval, metering and focus modes, and color/sharpness parameters. The last option in the list takes you to the setup menu. In each case, pressing the joystick brings up a page of options with plain english descriptions, rather than incomprehensible icons.
Custom mode allows you to save all your favorite settings for instant recall. Very useful, and very easy to set up. Turn the mode dial to SCN and press the menu button and you'll get access to fourteen more scene modes (in addition to the portrait and sports settings on the dial itself). Each has a brief explanation of what it does and how to use it.
Pressing the review button switches the camera to playback mode. Note that portrait images are rotated automatically. Pressing the info button brings up a fairly comprehensive overlay of shooting information.
Push the joystick down and you get a grid of 3x3 small thumbnail images (why, for consistency, this isn't activated by the zoom lever I do not know). Push the zoom lever to the right to magnify the image up to 8x
Pressing the menu button in review mode brings up the usual array of options to protect (lock) images, watch slideshows and so on (deleting has its own button). You can also copy images to and from the internal memory/SD card and use albums (which have to be created when the camera is attached to the PC). Pressing the 'Share' button allows you to tag images for printing or emailing, or designate them as 'favorites'. Favorites are screen resolution images copied back to the camera's internal memory by the EasyShare software so you can carry them around all the time... why? Ask Kodak.
The video mode is fairly straightforward; you get to choose between 640x480 or 320x240 resolutions, you can shoot for as long as the card has memory free and - not unusually - you can't zoom during filming. Last but not least is the setup menu (accessible from both record and playback modes). Here you can set the date/time and change basic camera behavior, including date stamping, orientation sensor (auto rotate), sounds and volume and digital zooming. It is also here that you'll find the command to format the card or internal memory.
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