Superzooms: the best of both worlds or neither fish nor fowl? The 8.1-megapixel Kodak EasyShare Z8612 IS aims for the style of a compact, but has a giant zoom lens on the front. It's available online now for a compact-like price of £125.
The Z8612 is less chunky than many superzooms, despite taking AA batteries. The body is fairly slim, with a right-angled grip for the right hand. The large lens makes it feel a little unbalanced, but the rubberised, ergonomic grip at the front and curved thumb rest at the back are very comfy for steady one-handed shooting. It's finished in a classy black, with a couple of deep red details to give the retro styling a contemporary feel.
We like the slick design of the back: contoured buttons and a squared clickpad with red accents give it a sharp look. The buttons are too flat to push easily, though. They line the side of the screen, which gives the whole thing an uncluttered feel. This makes the the screen itself feel bigger than 64mm (2.5 inches).
The two-stage concealed pop-up flash is nicely done. But the power-on switch also pops up the flash, so it pops up every time you turn the camera on, which we found really annoying. Another odd feature is that if you forget to remove the lens cap before turning it on, the lens emerges and knocks the lens cap off. It's quite funny at first, but probably isn't very good for the lens.
That lens is a 12x optical zoom with optical image stabilisation, which is essential as longer zooms increase the effects of camera shake. The lens has a fairly average 35mm-equivalent focal length of 36mm at the wide angle. It goes up to 432mm at the telephoto end, good for zooming in for head-and-shoulder portraits.
Program, aperture and shutter priority and manual modes are available on the mode wheel. Settings are shown on screen and altered using the clickpad. It's a straightforward and accessible way of tweaking options.
Smart scene mode automatically selects from five preset scene modes, which work well in everyday conditions. One of the 16 available scene modes is stage mode for photographing concerts. It's a useful idea for a difficult shooting situation, which foxes most compacts. We found on our model that changing modes via the mode wheel could confuse the camera, displaying a 'processing' message for a second or even not registering the change of mode at all.
In playback mode, red-eye reduction does a reasonable job of clearing up glowing eyes, while an orientation sensor automatically flips your pictures. The crop tool is less useful as you can't specify the size or shape of the trim. Images can be tagged with generic preset tags like 'holiday' or you can add your own with an onscreen keyboard.
The VGA video (640x480 pixels) shoots at 30 frames per second. What's really interesting is the option to grab a frame and save it as an image or to create what Kodak has called an 'action print'. This lays out up to 16 frames of the video -- which you can select yourself or have the camera do it for you -- in a single still image.
Burst mode captures a measly 4 images, although it does so in a relatively speedy two seconds.
Noise is present even at ISO 64. We did have to zoom in on the image onscreen to see it, however. At higher ISO speeds, noise is less of an issue than we expected. Unsightly speckles don't overwhelm images even at ISO 800 and 1,600, but at the price of some prettty heavy noise reduction, which blunts fine detail.
We found that images were a little soft, with purple fringing in evidence around the edges of highly contrasting areas of colour. Our biggest concern was the surprising amount of barrel distortion at the wide end: the image appeared to bulge slightly in the middle.
The Kodak EasyShare Z8612 IS is an affordable and compact superzoom with a classy fusion of retro and modern styling. We want to like it and we do enjoy the clever video options. But images are softer than we'd want and we sense that form has triumphed over function in a few design quirks.
It's better looking than the lumpen Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4, but that camera makes a much better fist of putting superzoom performance in a compact body. Ultimately, the Z8612 isn't one thing or the other.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday