Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent color, generally very good exposure
- Versatile 36-432mm 12x zoom range
- Effective image stabilization
- Lens thread for optional filters and lenses
- Very compact
- Lots of customization options
- Comprehensive manual white balance options
- Good handling and easy access to most controls
- Superb range of photographic control
- RAW and TIFF modes
- Good flash performance & hot shoe for external flash
- Nice big screen (not enough resolution, though)
- Sharp, fast electronic viewfinder
- Lots of features, easy point-and-shoot use
- Huge range of scene modes and simple explanations of features/functions
- Simple, automated picture sharing with supplied software suite
- In-camera RAW developing
- Good movie mode - with zooming
- Good battery life
- Well priced
Conclusion - Cons
- Soft images and lower than average resolution
- Smearing of fine low-contrast detail
- Focus slow in low light and at long end of zoom
- Flash won't fire when battery is low, but picture still taken
- Focus errors at long end of zoom
- Camera has to refocus with even the smallest zoom shift - can take a couple of seconds
- Over-aggressive noise reduction at ISO 200+
- Very noisy at ISO 400, very little fine detail
- Very slow TIFF writing
- Macro mode nothing special
- Occasional auto white balance problems
- Color shift at ISO 400
Like the models that preceded it in the DX and Z ranges, the EasyShare P850 offers a lightweight, easy-to-use alternative to users wanting a big zoom camera without the bulk or weight of something like the Panasonic FZ20. It has a truly sophisticated feature set, comprehensive external controls and the usual Kodak friendly interface. The addition of image stabilization means the full range of the zoom can be used hand held, whilst the new hot shoe (and P20 flash gun) extends flash versatility considerably. The screen is good, the electronic viewfinder excellent for a camera at this price, and the P850 is considerably more responsive than most of its predecessors.
Of course, the P850 is not without problems, and how serious they are will depend on your priorities. Although color and exposure are generally excellent, the slow, often unreliable focus in low light (and at the long end of the zoom) and the complete defocusing every time you move the zoom mean that grabbed shots can often take a lot longer than we'd like. But the truth is that most long zoom cameras struggle at the long end of the zoom, and the P850 is by no means the worst offender.
Much worse than the minor handling and performance niggles is the overall softness - and generally over-processed appearance - of the images captured. The P850's inability to capture crisp detail will be a serious issue if you intend to produce prints at larger sizes. Conversely, if you stick to prints of less than about 5x7 inches you're unlikely to be troubled by the lack of resolution, and I must stress that few cameras produce such attractive 'out of the box' results as the P850, which, in common with virtually every other EasyShare camera, has just the right amount of saturated greens and blues to produce images that really jump out at you. The excessive in-camera sharpening (which does little to help the inherent softness of the images) is fine for prints, but will have purists reaching for the RAW capture mode every time.
Ultimately then, there is much to like here - the P850 is positively bristling with features, and is one of the few cameras in its class to offer easy, menu-free access to all the most commonly used photographic functions. On paper it also offers a very compelling feature set at a competitive price, including some (RAW capture, flash hot shoe) that are pretty much unique in this class of camera. But the poor low light performance (focusing and high ISO noise), the softness, the excessive noise reduction and sharpening and the fact that this is the first camera I've tested in years that actually crashed on me more than once (requiring the removal of the battery to reset it) means I can't unreservedly recommend it. And the idea (exposed in Kodak's publicity material) that this is a serious alternative to a DSLR is, frankly, to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt.
Of course, the P850 is pretty keenly priced, though it comes nowhere near offering the value for money of the EasyShare DX and Z series, which undercut the likes of the Canon S2 IS and Sony H1 by a wide margin. The additional features of the P850 mean it still offers the best 'bang for your buck' of any 5MP 'super zoom', but I personally would be happier losing the RAW capture and hot shoe and spending the same money on a Panasonic FZ5. But that's me, and you may well consider the lower resolution a fair compromise to get all those features. Because of all the 'pros' above, the P850 - just - scrapes a recommended, but a recommended with real reservations.