05-13-2005, 08:00 AM #1
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Kodak EasyShare Z700 Digital Camera Review
From art to action the Kodak Easyshare Z700 can do it all, BUT...
The Eastman Kodak Company introduced the world's very first consumer camera way back in 1888. Ever since that first "Brownie" box camera, Kodak has been a leader in the photography industry. When the digital imaging revolution started Kodak was heavily involved in the development of professional digital imaging tools, but somebody in Rochester was asleep at the wheel when the big consumer changeover from film to digital started in the late 90's. Kodak may have been late getting started, but they've caught up nicely. Cost conscious consumers consistently rank Kodak digicams near the top in customer satisfaction surveys and Kodak's new EasyShare Z700 is likely to continue that winning tradition.
NUTS & BOLTS
The Z700's coupled (zooming) optical viewfinder is bright, sharp, and color correct, but it is a bit squinty and only covers about eighty per cent of the image area. Unlike many digicams in its price range, the little Z700 provides a diopter correction for eyeglasses wearers.
The Z700's 1.6 inch LCD screen is a grainy low resolution (72,000 pixels) unit so colors are a bit dull and contrast is somewhat flat. The LCD dims noticeably in bright lighting, making it virtually useless for framing and composition outdoors. The LCD surface is very shiny glass (or plastic) so reflections and glare severely diminish the resolution of the LCD. A simple (and inexpensive) non-reflective coating would have greatly improved the usability of the LCD. The Z700's LCD is not particularly fluid, so subject movement is jerky and that makes following (and capturing) action a real challenge. The Z700's LCD display does provide a detailed status/exposure information readout, but the screen blacks out while images are processed. The Z700's Menu system is simple, logical (after a brief familiarization), fast, and intuitive.
The Z700's Kodak Retinar All Glass Aspheric f2.8-f4.8/35-175mm (35mm equivalent) 5X zoom provides about forty percent more reach than most of the Z700's competition. The lens extends automatically when the camera is powered up and it is fully retracted behind a built in lens cover when the camera is powered down.
There is slightly above average barrel distortion at the 35mm end of the zoom and minor pincushion distortion at the telephoto end of the range. Corners are slightly soft but I didn't notice any vignetting (darkened corners). Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is present, but very well controlled. Overall, the Z700's zoom is surprisingly good and images are dependably sharp and consistently color correct.
The iris shot above was made just after a heavy rain (see water drops on flower petals) under a dark overcast sky. The image is very sharp, but there is a slight bluish cast; the only color anomaly I noted during my test of the Z700.
The Z700 features a user selectable dual (Multi-Zone or Center-Zone) auto-focus system. AF is relatively fast and consistently accurate, in good light. Select the Landscape scene mode (or frame a wide view scenic with lots of sky) and AF automatically locks at infinity. I didn't check out the Z700's low-light AF capabilities, so I can't comment on low light performance. Kodak claims the minimum focusing distance (in Macro mode) is two inches, but I couldn't get any closer than about four inches before the AF system lost it completely.
The Z700's built-in multi mode flash provides users with a barely adequate selection of flash options. Auto (fires when needed), On (fill flash), Red-Eye Reduction, and off. Kodak claims the maximum flash range is 12-13 feet, which actually seems a bit conservative. I found the Z700's flash to be a bit too harsh (even in the fill flash mode). At any range less than 6 feet it tends to overpower ambient lighting and burns out highlights and shadow detail. In the auto (default) flash mode the Z700's little flash tends to bleach out areas of light color.
The EasyShare Z700 provides users with 16MB of internal image storage (9-10 full resolution images) and a slot for SD/MMC cards. The 16MB internal storage option is a nice touch.
USB 2.0, A/V out, and DC in
The Z700 is powered by two AA batteries, one CRV3 battery, or the optional Kodak NiMH rechargeable battery pack (included with the EASYSHARE Printer Dock Series 3 kit). Battery life is pretty good (with the Kodak NiMH rechargeable battery pack) but not as good as Kodak's claim of 150-250 exposures. Based on my experiences (full time optical viewfinder, occasional LCD viewfinder use, regular review, occasional image deletion, heavy fill flash use, and occasional auto flash use) 100 to 150 exposures is a more accurate number. The Easyshare Printer Dock (or Easyshare Camera Dock) re-charges the Kodak NiMH rechargeable battery pack in 3.0 to 3.5 hours.
The Z700 provides users with an amazing range of auto exposure options including; Auto (Point and Shoot mode), Landscape, Sport, Close-up, several Scene modes (Children, Party, Beach, Fireworks, Snow, Backlight, Night Portrait, Night Landscape, Museum, Text, Document, and Self-Portrait), but the Z700 isn't an auto exposure only digicam, it also provides a nifty range of semi-manual (PAS mode) exposure options, including Aperture Priority (apertures from f2.8 to f8.0 -- in stop increments), Shutter Priority (shutter speeds from 8 seconds to 1/1600th of a second), Program (Auto exposure with user input), and a full Manual mode.Movie Mode
The Z700 can record video clips (with audio) at 640x480 @ 13 fps until the SD card is full. Video capability is adequate, but subject movement is pretty jerky.
The Z700's default Multi-Pattern metering system is pretty accurate in most lighting. More experienced photographers can opt for Center-Spot metering in demanding lighting or Center-Weighted metering for a more traditional "look" in portraits and landscapes.
The Z700 has a slight tendency toward overexposure (see lack of detail in bike helmet) in images that contain light colored foregrounds/backgrounds, pure white elements, or large areas of open sky.
The Z700 provides users with a barely adequate selection of White Balance options including TTL Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, and Fluorescent. There is no manual WB setting.
The image above was shot inside (at Paul's Fruit Stand) under fluorescent lighting (with fill flash) and cropped to exclude extraneous detail. Surprisingly, even under fluorescent lighting the Z700's Auto WB setting delivers a color correct image.
TTL Auto (Auto ISO range is 80-160) & and user selectable settings for 80, 100, 200, and 400 ISO (35mm equivalent)
Noise management is very good at ISO 80/100 (ISO 80 & ISO 100 are essentially indistinguishable). ISO 200 images are pretty good, but ISO 400 images suffer from slightly above average pattern noise. Pictures show a detail from the cast iron fa ade of the Louisville Science MuseumIn-Camera Image Adjustment
The Z700 doesn't provide any on-board adjustment for color saturation or contrast. Exposure compensation (+/- 2 stops in stop increments) is available in all shooting modes.
This image (from the Civil War section at Cave Hill Cemetery) was shot initially in Landscape mode, but the sky was completely washed out. In order to preserve detail in the tombstones and show the dramatic clouds and blue sky, I dialed in minus 1.5 stops of exposure compensation.
CONTROLS, DESIGN, & ERGONOMICS
The Kodak EasyShare Z700 is an attractive brushed aluminum digicam with a kind of chunky "techno geek chic" look. The Z700 has a vaguely SLR like feel with a prominent handgrip that nicely balances the camera. The Z700's controls are logically placed and easily accessed. Experienced digicam users should have no difficulty using the Z700 right out of the box and first timers should be able to shoot very good images after a quick read-through of the user's manual.
- Resolution: 4.23 Megapixels (2304X1728)
- Viewfinders: 1.6" LCD screen and Real Image coupled optical viewfinder
- Lens: f2.8-f4.8/35-175mm (35mm equivalent) 5X zoom
- Auto Focus: dual (Multi-Zone or Center-Zone) AF system
- Manual Focus: no
- Exposure: Auto, Program, Scene Modes, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, full Manual mode, and Movie mode.
- Metering: Multi-Pattern, Center Spot, and Center-weighted
- Exposure compensation: + /- 2 EV in 1/2 EV increments
- White balance: TTL Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, and Fluorescent
- Sensitivity: TTL Auto, 80, 100, 200, & 400 ISO (35mm equivalent)
- In-Camera Image Adjustment: no
- Flash: Auto, on (fill), red-eye reduction, and off
- Image Storage Media: SD/MMC (and 16MB internal image storage)
- Connectivity: USB 2.0, AV/out, DC/in
- Power: 2 AA batteries, 1CRV3 battery, or Kodak NiMH rechargeable battery pack
In the Box
Two Kodak AA batteries, wrist strap, camera dock/printer dock adaptor plate, software CD, and user's manual (printed)
Kodak EasyShare Camera Dock, Kodak EasyShare Printer Dock, Kodak NiMH rechargeable battery pack
The Z700's color is very good, which isn't surprising since Kodak's Color Science processor has a reputation for producing accurate color. Here's what I did find surprising, the Z700 has the most neutral color balance of any P&S digicam I've used to date. Reds are a bit warm and blues are a little bright, but neither is garish or over the top. Consumer grade digicams typically punch up red & blue a bit because casual photographers like bright colors, especially red and blue. ISO 80 and ISO 100 images are virtually noise free, but ISO 200 images show some very minor pattern noise. ISO 400 images show above average pattern noise. The Z700 has a slight tendency toward overexposure (outdoors in auto mode) and there is some minor chromatic aberration (in high contrast color transition areas, especially at maximum aperture), but overall the Z700's image quality is excellent. I didn't shoot any night/low light images with the Z700, so I can't comment on the Z700's low light capabilities.
The Z700's color is dependably accurate, the complex mix of colors in the gate are ALL dead-on perfect.
Overall, the Z700 is a bit quicker than average, but slower to start up -- the boot up cycle is about 4 seconds. Shutter lag is about average for 4 megapixel consumer grade digicams. Shot to shot times are pretty good (typically 1.5 --2.0 seconds) and write to card times are a bit slower than average. The Z700's AF is very quick, typically less than one second from scratch and almost real time with pre-focusing. The Z700's 5X zoom moves through its range (wide angle to telephoto) in about 4 seconds.
It is possible to capture peak action moments (like this skateboarder at the apex of his gravity-defying leap above the 12 foot half pipe) with the Z700. The image above was shot at Louisville's Extreme Park (a cooperative subject) in Sports mode with pre-focus.
Kodak's Z700 software is quick to load and easy to use, making it "one button" simple to view, edit, save or delete images, organize images, view a slide-show, or print images. Image adjustment parameters and image manipulation options are pretty limited for advanced users, but more than adequate for the Z700's target audience.
Kodak's EasyShare Printer Dock Series 3 is a fun match with the Z700. The camera sits on an adapter plate at the top of the cigar-box sized 4-pass dye sublimation printer and doesn't require any separate cables. Push the Transfer button and images are automatically transferred from the camera to the computer for viewing, editing, printing, or e-mail. Select an image (from the computer or from the camera, push the print button, and print a 4"X6" snapshot in 1.5 - 2.0 minutes. The 4X6 prints from the Kodak Printer Dock series 3 are pretty good, easily equivalent to one-hour prints from mass-market photofinishers like Wal-Mart.
A Few Concerns
The Z700's worst fault (and for some it may be a fatal flaw) is its grainy low resolution LCD. The Z700's slight tendency to overexpose can be overcome with exposure compensation and the "hot" flash can be managed too, but the LCD screen is virtually useless for framing and composition outdoors. I got around the shortcomings of the LCD viewfinder by using the optical viewfinder outdoors (and then cropping my images to the dimensions of my original composition) but this solution may not work for everyone.
Kodak digicams have a well-deserved reputation for remarkable ease of use, very good image quality, and great "bang for the buck". Casual photographers looking for a reasonably priced snapshot/family camera mated to a versatile one touch mini-printer will love the Z700.
Pros: Exceptional ease of use, excellent image quality, 5X zoom
Cons: Virtually useless LCD viewfinder, flash is too "hot"
The Bottom Line: Kodak's EasyShare Z700 is a good choice for price-conscious consumers who want an easy to use digicam with great image quality and a dedicated mini-printer.
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