Cameras made for advanced amateurs are often tuned for capturing high-quality images quickly and easily, and they're stripped of extraneous gimmicks, such as an overabundance of scene modes. The 8-megapixel Kodak EasyShare P880, at the top of the company's flagship Performance Series, offers a wide-angle zoom lens, as well as design elements, features, and specs that place the camera in that category but delivers them in an uneven and frequently disappointing implementation. The Kodak EasyShare P880 is a well-designed and easy-to-use camera, loaded with dedicated buttons and relying on its simple menu system as little as possible. The all-black camera, with its big hand grip and its 5.8X zoom lens, is easy to hold steady and very comfortable for those with bigger hands. Its large 2.5-inch LCD and electronic viewfinder (EVF) provide a lot of information while shooting, but both are too grainy for manual focusing and refresh too slowly. Though the dSLR-like camera is too big to throw into a purse or even a coat pocket, it is well balanced and feels lightweight despite its one-pound-plus physique, making it a pleasure to hold for long periods of time.
Dedicated buttons abound in this big camera, suiting it for quick operation. With a single touch, a user can directly access drive mode, white balance, ISO sensitivity, metering mode, flash type, focus type, image info, programmable AE/AF lock, and image playback. There is also a customizable Program button for direct access to a menu item of choice, as well as Kodak's signature Share button for printing or transferring using the company's EasyShare system of software and printers.
In keeping with the SLR theme, the Kodak EasyShare P880's lens, which takes standard accessory filters, can be zoomed manually. This is a huge improvement over electronically controlled zooms, as it works as fast as you can twist the ring, doesn't use any battery power, and operates while shooting a movie clip. There is also a manual focus ring, but unlike the zoom, it is not mechanically mated to the lens; instead, it is a fly-by-wire ring that controls the lens elements electronically. The Kodak EasyShare P880 is loaded with standout features that would make any advanced amateur happy. The most important is its 24mm-to-140mm (35mm-film equivalent) f/2.8-to-f/4.1 lens, which is as wide-angle as you can find in a fixed-lens digital camera. The lens's maximum aperture, while average at the wide end, is a bit small at the long end.
Other advanced features that even pros would appreciate include a hotshoe for an external flash (Kodak makes one for this camera) as well as a sync terminal for studio flashes--a feature that some entry-level digital SLRs lack. The two can be used simultaneously for creative lighting setups. While the camera supports rear-curtain flash, which is handy for taking shots with light trails behind moving objects, the lens hood must be removed before using the on-camera flash because it casts a strong shadow across the bottom of an image.
While it doesn't hold many full-resolution shots, the EasyShare P880 has 30MB of internal memory; users should get a big SD card along with the camera, as it doesn't come with one. While top-quality 8-megapixel JPEGs are 4MB to 5MB in this camera, RAW files are about 13MB, and uncompressed TIFFs are a whopping 24MB each.
Processing a raw file is difficult at best. The included software can't do it without a large upgrade downloaded from the Kodak Web site; the only out-of-the-box solution is to process raw files in-camera, a slow and tedious operation. The resulting output is produced on the fly during transfer to a PC. While Kodak's upgraded EasyShare software makes this easier, raw conversion is not compatible on Macs.
The camera has a standard ISO range of 50 to 400, with ISO 800 and 1,600 available at the 0.8-megapixel size. Besides the standard program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual exposure modes, there are also eight scene modes, as well as a 30fps VGA movie mode. In addition to the typical white-balance modes, there are an open shade, sunset, and three custom settings.
You can make a limited number of image-property adjustments; there are natural, high-, and low-color modes, as well as black and white and sepia. Sharpness and contrast can be adjusted as well. The Kodak EasyShare P880 is a mixed bag when it comes to shooting speed; while it is a relatively quick performer in JPEG mode, it is excruciatingly slow in raw and TIFF modes.
With no electronic zoom lens to rack out at start-up, the camera can capture its first frame after only 2.3 seconds. While a mere 1.8 seconds pass between two JPEGs taken successively and 3.3 seconds when using flash, 18.1 seconds must pass between raw files; an epoch of 30.1 seconds must pass between those big TIFFs. Processing a raw file takes 30 seconds per frame.
The EasyShare P880 has very respectable continuous-shooting rates, at 1.4fps at full resolution and a fast 5.1fps at the lowest resolution, though the buffer runs out after 40 frames. Shutter lag is also very respectable in optimal lighting--0.6 second--though a more middling 1.2 seconds in low-contrast conditions.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Shutter lag (bright)||Shutter lag (dim)||Wake-up time|
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Shot-to-shot time (typical)||Flash shot-to-shot time||Raw shot-to-shot time|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
While the lens-sensor combination yields sharp images with warm color rendition, the camera has a tendency to underexpose many shots, especially those with tricky backlighting. In many other situations in which the exposure seems fine, the highlights blow out very easily, giving frames the tonally limited look of a camcorder.
While pictures look very clean at ISO 50, starting at ISO 100, we spotted the yellow, marbleized pattern that typifies poor demosaicing, a postprocessing artifact. And noise becomes obtrusive at ISO 200. Surprisingly, ISO 800 and 1,600 don't seem to be as noisy, but that may be because those frames are no bigger than 0.8 megapixel.
As for lens characteristics, the EasyShare P880 exhibits strong vignetting--darkening of corners--at the 24mm wide angle, even at the smallest aperture of f/8, where this problem is usually eradicated. We even noticed some at the longest focal length with a wide-open aperture. Unsurprisingly, there is also a lot of barrel distortion at this focal length, making straight lines curve outward at the edges of a frame. But it's especially bad in this model because it's asymmetrical and it's throughout the entire frame, not just the edges. Pincushion distortion, the curving in of straight lines at telephoto length, is practically nonexistent. Chromatic aberration, the purple or green fringing around backlit objects, showed up where we expected it but wasn't too extreme.
There are some other noticeable processing flaws that also reveal themselves upon close inspection. Strong white or black halos appear along most high-contrast edges, suggesting a crude sharpening algorithm, and diagonal lines are often jaggy when viewed at 100 percent. Unfortunately, shooting in TIFF or even raw format doesn't remedy these problems in any significant way.