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 P880 is supremely user-friendly. Because so many everyday controls are placed on the body I found the P880 a lot less 'fiddly' in use than most previous high-end Kodak cameras.

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.

On the positive side, few - if any - cameras in this class offer such extensive external controls over everyday shooting options, with buttons for metering, drive mode, ISO, white balance and focus mode, the useful 'P' button (which can be programmed to control pretty much anything) and easy access to shutter speeds, apertures and AE-compensation using the control dial.

Top of camera

From the top you can see the P880's deep grip and SLR-style design.

Display and menus

The P880'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 or via dedicated buttons. 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, flash output level, shutter speeds/apertures); 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.
Manual exposure mode - with a simple '+/-' gage showing how far you are under or over the metered exposure. The three subject modes offer two or three 'sub modes' each.
Turn the mode dial to SCN and you'll get access to 8 more scene modes. Each has a brief explanation of what it does and how to use it. Pressing any of the external control buttons (focus, ISO, white balance, flash, drive or metering) brings up a single page menu - use the joystick or command dial to select options.
In manual focus - using the focusing ring on the lens barrel - you can choose to have the central portion of the frame enlarged to make life easier. Another nice touch is this visual 'white balance compensation' (also available in the RAW developer section - see next page).
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 AF mode / zone, image sharpness & contrast, flash settings and custom mode setup.
The third tab is a 'setup' menu, covering things like LCD brightness, redeye reduction, AF illuminator 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 file type, color mode and many others. You can assign a different function to the button in review (playback) mode. Neat.