Like the 10x models that preceded it, the P850 is very compact indeed - despite upping the zoom range to 12x and adding image stabilization. The styling is marginally more conventional than the DX or Z series, giving the P850 a more serious, mini-SLR look. It's made entirely out of plastic, which presumably keeps the price - as well as the weight - down, but it doesn't feel particularly 'cheap', and is very well put together.
In your hand
Kodak has obviously thought long and hard about how to make a big zoom camera that is as compact as possible without sacrificing handling, and the P850, like the other models before it, gets it just about right. The grip is improved over previous models, and in general I found the camera to be both comfortable and stable in the hand. Single-handed operation is not just possible, but a real pleasure, with all the important controls falling in the right place and the weight of the battery and grip perfectly balancing the lens on the other side. That said, with a long (380mm equiv.) zoom you will probably want to support the camera with both hands most of the time to avoid camera shake.
The large 1700mAh Li-ion 3.7v battery slips into a slot on the underside of the grip under a sturdy plastic hinged door. There's no catch to keep the battery in place, so be careful when opening the door or it'll end up on the floor. Battery life is ok - we regularly got over 200 shots on a single charge (though this is using the EVF some of the time as the LCD is a bit power-hungry), but not as good as some previous models. Recharging is either via the included charger or the optional docking station.
On the side of the grip sits the SD card slot, under a fairly solid (plastic-hinged) cover. The P850 has 32MB of internal memory - (enough for nine 5MP/fine quality images) and you can copy images from the internal memory to an SD card or vice versa.
The large 2.5-inch LCD is bright and has a 30fps frame rate - and there is not a hint of video lag. Unsurprisingly it's not the sharpest display in the world (115,000 pixels is nowhere near enough for a screen this size), but it gains up well in low light, and is fairly usable in sunlight too. My biggest gripe is that the preview only shows around 95% of the image captured, meaning you get more in the shot than you bargained for.
The electronic viewfinder boasts 237,000 pixels and a wide dioptre adjustment range. It's pretty good too, though - and despite the lower resolution, is easier to use than the DX7590 (mainly due to the lack of video lag). It's not that bright (meaning it's not ideal in very sunny conditions), but it is very clear - and given the P850's keen pricing - better than we expected.
Hidden under a large flap on the left side of the P850 (viewed from the rear) are the DC-in port (for the optional mains adaptor), and a combined USB / AV mini port. Of course, being a Kodak, there's also an EasyShare connector on the base of the camera for use with docks and printer docks.
The P850's 12x (36-432mm equiv.) zoom lens extends by around 28mm when powered up, after which pretty much all zooming is internal (i.e. the lens barrel doesn't move in or out much). The Schneider Variogon has a two-speed zoom that moves fairly smoothly, but has an irritating habit of completely defocussing each time you zoom, resulting in a blurred preview image. Of course the big change over previous models is that this lens has an optical image stabilizer too.
The top plate of the P850 is home to the new mode dial, which eschews subject (scene) modes for three custom settings - much more useful. Alongside the mode dial are buttons for drive and metering modes, and a 'program' button, which can have pretty much any function assigned to it. You can also see the control wheel (bottom right of this image), which is used to change exposure settings.
The pop-up flash isn't the most powerful in the world, but it does the job for most social situations, and exposure / color are excellent. In fact, our only complaint is that the flash refuses to fire if it's not fully charged, yet the camera will still take a (grossly underexposed) shot.
One welcome addition is a fully dedicated hot shoe for use with external flash. Kodak offers a fully TTL-dedicated bounce head flash (the P20 zoom flash) for around $150.
The newly-designed grip is a big improvement. The large shutter release is encircled by the main power switch, which has three positions; on, off and favorites mode.