The silver-colored, beautifully sculpted plastic body feels solid and should stand up well to normal wear and tear. Unfortunately, its sleek styling has some drawbacks. First, the SLR-style grip, while neatly accented with reflective silver along the front and top, is perhaps too smooth. For example, the shutter release, well placed at the front of the grip's top and recessed to be even with its surface, is a little difficult to find by touch and is less comfortable to use than shutters that are raised above the surface of the camera. Furthermore, the three buttons lined up behind the shutter--flash, macro, and self-timer/burst--are the identical size and shape, making them difficult to tell apart by touch.
Since the camera is so small--4 by 2.9 by 2.7 inches and 10.6 ounces without battery or SD card--the grip also leaves your pinkie, and in some cases your ring finger too, dangling off the bottom of the camera. This isn't normally a big problem, but in this case, it's difficult to create the necessary leverage to reach the mode dial or some of the buttons on the camera back with your thumb when shooting one-handed. Thankfully, though, the zoom rocker is still easy to control and contoured nicely. Of course, these minor gripes can be alleviated by shooting with two hands, which we always recommend anyway, due to the increased stability that comes along with it.
One of the best controls is the Z612's click wheel. A small wheel on the top right of the camera back, it lets you scroll through various options, such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO, or exposure compensation. Once you land on one you want to adjust, just push the wheel in to click as though it were a computer mouse. You can then change the setting and click the wheel again to exit and move to the next adjustment. The wheel could probably be bigger, but it works well and is a quick way to control all the essentials while you shoot.
Speaking of controls, there are plenty. Full manual, aperture- and shutter-priority, program, and full autoexposure modes are complemented by multi-, center-, and five-zone selectable autofocus, as well as multipattern, center-weighted, and spot metering. If you want to tweak the exposure without going fully manual, there's as much as plus or minus 2EV exposure compensation in 1/3EV increments, and you can set the camera to bracket automatically, so it will shoot three photos, one with its standard exposure and varying the exposure of the other two by as much as plus and minus 1EV, again in 1/3 stops. The built-in pop-up flash, rated to cover a distance of 11 feet at ISO 100, is also adjustable by as much as plus or minus 1EV, this time in half stops.
The Kodak EasyShare Z612's performance was fast. It took 1.8 seconds to power up and capture its first image and 1.5 seconds between images thereafter. In high-contrast situations, its shutter lag was a zippy 0.4 second and, even more impressive, stretched to only 0.6 second in low-contrast lighting. Burst mode yielded 8 frames in 3.3 seconds for an average of 2.4fps, regardless of image size. Unfortunately, the Z612 doesn't offer continuous burst shooting. You can capture only as many as 8 images, but you can choose between capturing the first 8 shots or firing continuously and saving the last 8. Like most cameras that do this, it doesn't refocus or meter between shots, so if you're panning, you might end up with out of focus, or poorly exposed images, especially if you're saving the last 8.
As usual with cameras from Kodak, colors looked natural and well saturated in the Z612's photos. The camera's automatic white balance produced a very warm, yellowish color cast under our lab's tungsten lights, though in natural daylight, it yielded neutral colors. The Z612's tungsten white-balance setting fared better in the lab, though its images were slightly cool. Exposures were accurate, but the camera has a tendency to lose detail in brighter highlights. Worse than that was the heavier than normal purple fringing, as well as JPEG artifacts that caused jaggy edges on some curves and obscured some fine details in other areas of some images.
Noise was fairly well controlled. At ISO 80 and ISO 100, there was very little noticeable noise. At ISO 200, darker colors were mottled, and we noticed speckles in shadows. At ISO 400, noise became obvious, but images were still appropriate for printing, especially if you don't print larger than 8.5x11 inches. The camera also offers a high-speed ISO 800 mode but reduces the image size to 1.1 megapixels to help keep noise under control. Obviously, these won't yield high-quality prints, but they are useful for e-mail or the Web.
Kodak's EasyShare Z612 has a ton of useful features, including the normal complement of scene modes plus auto and program modes for people who want simple snapshots, as well as a full array of controls for more advanced shooters. If not for its image-quality issues, it would be a solid competitor, but as it stands, we'd recommend Canon's PowerShot S3 IS if you want a superzoom that produces really pleasing images.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Typical continuous-shooting speed|