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Kodak Easyshare Z8612 IS
8.1MP | 36-432mm (12X) ZOOM | $150 US / £110 UK

Kodak has a long history of producing budget 'super zoom' cameras, though these have generally been larger, SLR styled models. The Easyshare Z8612 IS was announced back at CES 2008, and it offers a 12X optically stabilized zoom, a fair degree of manual control and an 8.1 megapixel sensor all wrapped up in a fairly compact body at a very attractive price point. What you lose - in order to keep the size down - is any form of eye-level viewfinder (most cameras with lenses this far-reaching use an electronic viewfinder). The specification highlights are:

  • 8.1 effective Megapixels
  • 36-432mm equiv lens with 12x optical zoom and up to 5x Digital Zoom
  • 2.5 inch LCD with 230,000 dots resolution
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 3200
  • Multi-Zone AF
  • 9 shooting modes, 17 scene modes including Smart Scene mode
  • Program, Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority and Manual Exposure Modes
  • In-Camera Retouching
  • Available in Black
  • Optional accessories available, including Kodak EasyShare HDTV Dock

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Overview

The Kodak Easyshare Z8612 IS isn't the most elegant camera that's ever made it into our offices; it may look like a black box that somebody has stuck a lens and grip onto, but it's obviously the inner values that count. The plastic material of the body and the smallish, quite reflective screen sort of complement the overall 'budget' feel of the camera, but having said that, Kodak did splash out on a rubberized hand grip. This makes sure you can hold the camera comfortably at all times, and to be honest hides its bargain basement status fairly well.

From a features point of view it appears Kodak took a bit of a no-nonense approach when designing the Z8612. You get all you need but you'll search in vain on the spec-sheet for the latest must-have features such as face detection, HD video recording or HDMI output. If you can live without the fancy stuff, the Kodak offers full manual photographic control and a massive zoom range of 36-432mm (35mm equiv.) which means it's unlikely you'll ever run out of reach at the long end of the lens. 36mm at the short end isn't very wide though, and if you take a lot of images in confined spaces you might have trouble fitting all your subjects into the frame. We'd take a zoom that started at 28mm and didn't go quite so far at the long end over this option every time.

Handling and operation is fairly straightforward with clean, simple menu systems and on-screen access to most of the important settings. You'll find all relevant shooting parameters in the Capture and Capture+ menus (which are both so short that they could have easily been consolidated into one), and via the controller on the camera's back you get direct access to aperture, shutter speed, flash and exposure compensation, and ISO. On the camera top there are three buttons controlling the flash, focus and drive modes. The Z8612's user interface might not look pretty, but after an initial adaptation period works just fine.

Key Features

Considering its large zoom range the Z8612 IS is remarkably compact and lightweight. The rubberized grip is very useful when holding the camera with one hand.
In shooting mode the four-way controller provides direct access to shutter speed and/or aperture (in M, S or A modes) and lets you change ISO and exposure compensation. It's also used for navigating menus and images in review mode.
You can select the shooting mode using the dial on the top left.
The Schneider-branded lens covers a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 36-432mm.
The Z8612 comes with a pop-up type flash. Annoyingly it's coupled with the power button, and therefore pops up each and every time you switch on the camera.
In shooting mode you have direct access to a handful of essential parameters.
The Z8612's menu is fairly straightforward. There aren't too many options, so it's not entirely clear while the shooting options had to be split into a Capture and Capture+ menu.

Image quality and performance

It's probably fair to say the Kodak Easyshare Z8612 is one of the slower cameras we've tested in the more recent past. While 2.5 seconds to power on and take the first image is certainly not quick, it is still just about within acceptable limits. The shot-to-shot performance is pretty disappointing though; 2.9 seconds between shots is not great to start with, but after only four shots the camera takes a fairly lengthy break of about 12 seconds to empty its buffer. After that it takes approximately the same time after each image before you can take the next one.

When you switch into review mode the camera takes a few initial seconds for 'processing' before an image is displayed but after that browsing speed is fairly normal. Image magnification is pretty slow though.

Although the Z8612's design, build and feature set belie its budget status, when you start to look at the output its bargain basement nature is a little easier to spot. There is a slight tendency to overexpose bright scenes, leading to highlight clipping, the white balance in daylight is far from perfect and there is visible vignetting (corner shading) at the wide end of the zoom. On the other hand we found focus - though slow at times - gave no cause for concern.

At a pixel level the output is probably the worst of the group, with heavy noise reduction smoothing out all the detail and texture from the scene and the default sharpening set way too high - presumably to counteract the inherent softness. The images have typical Kodak color, which means it tends to look almost cartoonish due to excessively high saturation, though you can dial it down a little using the 'Low Color' option.

In small (sub 5x7 inch prints) in good light - as long as the metering gets things right - the Z8612 produces acceptable results, though I suspect most serious users will find the output wanting in one respect or another. In low light, and at higher ISO settings the loss of detail due to strong noise reduction becomes even more obvious, but to be honest it's far from the worst here. Flash exposures are pretty accurate, though the white balance and focus were less than 100% reliable.

Putting aside the pixel level issues (which simply mean this isn't a camera suitable for producing larger than standard prints) the day-glo colors and tendency to over expose and get the white balance slightly wrong mean you need to try a lot harder to get perfect shots than you should.

When it gets everything right (or when you intervene to make sure it does), the Z8612 produces bright, sharp and colorful prints in good conditions, it just can't compete with pricier models in the group.

Summary

The Kodak Z8612 IS looks - on paper at least - to be a steal, offering an impressive spec list at a price that significantly undercuts competing models. The design is a bit 'love it or hate it', but for a budget model it's surprisingly well put together, handling is pretty good and the user interface is actually very nice and usable. The 12x lens isn't without problems but it is actually far better than you might expect, with little edge fall off and only a touch of vignetting at the shortest focal length serious enough to be seen in a standard sized print.

But of course the old adage that there's no such thing as a free lunch is as true today as it's ever been, and the Z8612 IS demands some pretty serious compromises in return for its bargain pricing, in the form of rather sluggish operation and some serious image quality issues. Most of these are only obvious in big enlargements, but the rather flaky exposure and white balance systems - plus the eye watering color rendition - mean you need to work hard to get a decent result. If you're on a very tight budget and want a huge zoom in a compact body then don't write the Kodak off completely, but don't expect miracles either.

  • We like: Easy to use, low price, good feature set and photographic controls

  • We don't like: Slow operation, too many image quality niggles, screen hard to use in daylight, no wideangle
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