The Kodak EasyShare Z712 IS is a 7.1-megapixel superzoom digital camera. It is available now for around £180. Quite a respectable price tag, as it includes a number of features associated with SLR cameras but all in a lightweight frame closer to compact size.
The Z712 IS' biggest draw is a giant 12x optical zoom but is it the best of both worlds or neither fish nor fowl?
The Z712 IS looks like a sawn-off SLR, and has several features you might associate with dSLRs. It has an electronic viewfinder, which is unfortunately only as clear and bright as the screen resolution allows. This makes precise manual focusing a bit tricky but you do have an automatic focus that gives you a cool green grid when it locks on.
The viewfinder also takes some getting used to as there's some motion blur and it's quite small. We would also prefer a square viewfinder. All the screen functions, such as the menus, are replicated in the viewfinder should you know the button layout well enough to keep the camera at your eye to change settings.
Images can be played back through the viewfinder, should you want to, as well as on the 64mm (2.5-inch) screen. Printing and emailing pictures is made easy by Kodak's signature EasyShare discrete sharing button.
Other high-end features include a pop-up flash, full manual control of exposure and focus, and a Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon lens. A lens cap would be nice, as the lens stays uncovered when the camera is off. A bag or pouch of some kind would be useful, too, especially as superzooms are not easily pocketable.
Images are loaded on to SD cards, stored in a neat double-lidded slot with the battery. The blocky shape keeps the overall form reasonably compact despite the length of the lens.
The Z712 IS is light at 300g but really easy to hold, thanks to a chunky grip at the side. There are two lugs for a proper neck-strap rather than a compact-style wrist loop. Meanwhile, the plastic body feels creaky, and you can feel the camera thinking whenever it does anything.
Although the 12x zoom -- with its 35mm equivalent maximum of 430mm -- is impressive, zooming in and out is something of a chore. The screen loses focus entirely when the zoom is in motion.
Zooming is controlled by a rocker switch, which isn't as responsive or as fast as we'd like, and moves in annoying increments. We'd prefer it to be controlled by an SLR-style manual ring on the lens itself but these are rare on superzooms not made by Panasonic. The manual focus is similarly unwieldy, controlled by the click-pad and somehow even less fluid than the zoom rocker.
The 'IS' in Z712 IS stands for 'image stabilisation', essential on cameras with such long lenses that magnify camera shake. This gives you two or three stops of exposure when pushing the telephoto to its limit.