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 P850 is supremely user-friendly. That said, like the DX7590 (and Z740) before it, some aspects of operation can feel a little fiddly, and the camera certainly requires a few weeks' solid use before you really master the extensive manual controls on offer. On the plus side, Kodak has covered every spare space on the P850's body with buttons covering virtually all the most commonly accessed photographic controls, meaning you don't need to use the menus very often at all in everyday use.

Rear of camera

The P series sees some subtle, though important changes in the control arrangement over previous 'big zoom' cameras. The main mode dial has moved from the back to the top of the camera, and command dial has moved from the front of the grip to the back (and is now thumb operated).

Otherwise, although they've moved around, the external controls will be familiar to any user of a DX or Z series camera. The only change I'm not so keen on is the 'set' button, which does the same thing as pushing the command dial on previous cameras. The beauty of the old system was that you could do virtually everything without taking your eyes off the screen, as you only needed to use the command dial, whereas now you need to take your thumb off the dial and press the set button every time you want to change something. It's a tiny thing, but it's an extra step that simply wasn't necessary.

Top of camera

The top of the P850 is home to focus, flash, drive and metering buttons, the main mode dial, a 'programmable' custom function button and the shutter release. The grip is a considerable improvement over previous models.

Display and menus

The P850's user interface is as user friendly as you could ever hope for - despite the fairly hefty feature set. The menus are written in plain English with large, easily understood icons, meaning the manual is rarely needed when exploring the 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 and set button on the rear 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. In 'auto' mode you can't really change much - this is a true 'point and shoot' setting. In P, A, S and M modes you get a lot more information - and more control. Moving the joystick highlights each of the available settings in turn (AE compensation, shutter speeds/apertures, ISO, flash output control); press the set button and turn it again to make changes.
Half-press the shutter and the camera focuses, indicating the auto focus (AF) point and auto exposure (AE) settings chosen. Pressing the 'i' button lets you turn off the information overlay or - as here - activate a small live histogram.
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. Manual exposure mode - with a simple '+/-' gage showing how far you are under or over the metered exposure.
Turn the mode dial to SCN and press the menu button and you'll get access to 16 scene modes. Each has a brief explanation of what it does and how to use it. Note there are no longer any scene modes on the mode dial itself - their place has been taken by three custom modes - much more useful. Pressing any of the external control buttons (focus, flash, drive or metering) brings up a single page menu - use the joystick or command dial to select options.
Pressing the menu button brings up three tabbed menus. The middle tab covers basic shooting options; file size and type (JPEG, TIFF, raw), color mode and date stamp on/off. The left tab has more advanced shooting options (note you don't get all these in full auto mode). Controls include white balance, AF mode / zone, image sharpness & contrast, flash settings and custom mode setup.
The third tab is a 'setup' menu, covering things like LCD brightness, image stabilization and button behavior. One nice touch is the 'program' button, which can have one of a huge range of controls assigned to it. Options include white balance, AF, file type, color mode and many others. You can assign a different function to the button in review (playback) mode. Neat.