Kodak EasyShare P880Kodak re-enters the enthusiast market with a great 8-megapixel offering
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Page 2:User ReportReview First Posted: 11/23/2005
by Shawn Barnett
Kodak's EasyShare prefix may seem out of place with this more advanced enthusiast digital camera, but the P800 remains true to its roots while offering a faster, wider lens and greater resolution than any Kodak digicams before. Built to look more like a traditional 35mm camera, the P880 offers advanced photography control for those who want it, but also features a healthy selection of automatic and preset shooting modes for novices. Featuring an 8.0-megapixel CCD, a manual 5.8x optical zoom lens, and complete range of exposure modes, the P880 should appeal to a wide audience.
There are a few user interface items that will be important to note. Some are positive, some might raise an alarm depending on how you intend to use the P880. For example, you'll have more trouble using this camera as a sports shooter than you would an SLR, because the AF just isn't up to the same speed standard. If you're patient, though, it can be used indoors reasonably well, thanks to its Dual-Focus AF system. The key is to learn to prefocus and then compose.
As I mentioned, the EasyShare P880 is made to look more like an SLR camera to help it compete in a market that is warming up to the idea of a larger camera that delivers higher quality. It also feels like most digital SLRs available today: It's solid, has a decent--but not excessive--heft, and seems to have a pretty strong frame underneath its skin. There's no creaking or flexing at all when I try to twist the P880.
The camera is about as tall as most SLRs, but quite a bit slimmer left-to-right, which contributes to its better balance. This also gives it a nice full-height grip, allowing for a secure four-finger hold. Where the grip disappoints is in the space alotted between the grip and lens body, because it's just not enough for a full-size human finger to fit. It's not a deal-killer, but a little more room would have been nice here. When shooting, however, most aren't going to want to wrap their fingers around the grip, they're instead going to rest the balls of their fingers right there on the nicely-contoured rubber ridge that surrounds the steel accent piece on the front of the grip. Around back, the thumb has some rounded contours to complete a steady hold.
Most of the camera is comfortable to hold, with a gentle slope to almost all surfaces. Combined with the satin finish, it makes for a high-quality look and an almost muscular appearance.
Perhaps the oddest feature of the P880 cosmetically is the big viewfinder hump in the middle. It's not out of place on a digital camera that is meant to look like an SLR, but it is quite a bit smaller than one is used to seeing, yet taller, so that's part of the strangeness. Stranger are the two little round eyes that peer out from under the Kodak logo. These are the diodes that make up the passive AF component of the P880's Dual Focus AF system. These home in quickly on how far away an object is so that contrast detection system can get to a good starting point before begining to fine-tune the focus. Systems that rely on only the contrast detection--including some SLRs--are often left seeking back and forth when they detect no contrast in an object, so this can eliminate a lot of wasted seeking.
While at first I thought it looked a little odd, I quickly grew fond of the monospaced font Kodak used to label the buttons and controls; I'm only a little disappointed they didn't use them in the menus and on the mode dial. The monospace font somehow gives this modern-looking camera a retro feel. I don't remember that this particular font was used much in the 1950s materials I see, but for some reason it seems like it was. Some of the coolest cameras came from that era, so it's natural to make that nostalgic connection to the good old days of photography. As a result, the buttons, dials, and toggles are clearly labeled.
Menu and Interface
Of all recent Kodak interfaces, this is by far their best design. It doesn't use big colorful graphics to make things seem simple, it just conveys the message in real words. The five-way toggle is surprisingly well-built, with sure actuation; and unlike most toggles, pressing down on the center to confirm selections isn't sloppy (very often such solutions will just as easily select one of the four directions rather than the center). The rest of the layout is familiar to this frequent SLR user, with a row of exposure options down the left of the LCD, a few buttons on top, and a command dial on the back. Again, they're clearly marked, and have a good quality feel when pressed; can't ask for much more than that.
Both the Electronic Viewfinder and 2.5 inch LCD monitor are excellent for framing pictures. I prefer the LCD for framing most of the time. It's so much easier to shoot from low or high angles. The EVF is good, with a big rubber standoff to protect my eyeglasses, but it's actually possible to see the whole frame without my glasses touching the rubber eyecup, which is a sign of a well-designed viewfinder. Still, I do have to be squared up right behind the viewfinder, and when taking pictures of my kids, that can be a problem.
Let me lay it out right now: A camera with a manual zoom is faster, easier, and more efficient to use than the motor-driven variety. If you're wondering what sets the P880 apart from its lower-priced sibling, the P850, besides the lower resolution, it's the motorized zoom. The P880 will zoom from a 24mm equivalent to140mm as fast as you can turn the ring, and you can fine-tune it along the way as much as you want. Your typical motorized zoom takes a lot longer to even start zooming, and then it'll only work in steps; the only way you can fine tune your framing with a camera like this is to take a literal step backward or forward with your own two feet. Yes, the P850's 10x zoom has its benefits, but if it were me, I'd pick manual every time. If you can afford it and you want get serious about your photography, the P880 offers the manual control where it's important: in the zoom.
Your average digital camera starts at about 35 to 38mm equivalent at its widest. 28mm is where true wide angle photography begins, and most digital cameras won't even take you there without an adapter lens. But the P880 takes you even further, out to a room-grabbing 24mm equivalent, all in a relatively small package. Even in a small house, that will give you a vertical shot of the kids sitting in front of the tree--including the angel on top--from only a few feet away. Something to consider. Realtors, designers, landscapers, and architects should also take notice. An SLR can do this too, and in many cases with slightly higher quality, but not significantly higher, and for your money the P880 may make more sense.
I spent a little time with the P880 and got some pretty good shots of the family. Though I didn't have a lot of trouble, I can see where an inexperienced user might make a few mistakes with the P880, so I want to mention them right off.
First, any camera--film, digital, SLR, point-and-shoot--they all need one thing to work: Light. It seems silly to mention, but most consumers make a mistake when they assume a camera should be able to see and focus in the same light our eyes do. (I'm sure cats think the same of us.) Back in the old days, mom or dad used to take the kids out in the back yard, and pose them facing into the sun so their old Kodak Brownie would have enough light to get the shot. Your ancestors didn't actually look all squinty and surly all the time, only when the camera was trained on them in the harsh light of day. Photography has advanced a lot since then, and now we have cameras that can see in most lighting situations we can, and digital cameras can change ISO on the fly to adjust for very low-light situations, omitting the old film requirement that we all plan ahead when loading that 24 exposure roll. With it's f/2.8 lens, the P880 does pretty well in low light, and the flash is reasonably powerful, so you should have little trouble there.
Low light becomes more difficult for cameras when it comes time to start setting the focus for us. The P880 will focus just fine, and quickly in most outdoor daytime situations. But indoors you'll see it jump close to focus using the passive eyes out front, then begin a sometimes longer process to fine tune the focus. You're better to wait for this fine-tuning to complete before you take your shot. The camera will tell you with a green confirmation square on the point of best focus, and then you can proceed to press the shutter all the way. It's also helpful to make sure there's enough contrast in the scene. Putting a contrasty object, like one of your subject's eyes, in the center of the viewfinder will help the camera determine with greater accuracy when focus has been achieved.
Nearly every autofocus camera has a two-stage shutter: you press it softly, or halfway to begin autofocus. Once AF is achieved, you press it the rest of the way to capture the shot. If you don't do this, and just mash the shutter button down, almost any digital camera will disappoint you; add a 5.8x zoom, and I can guarantee you that you'll have at least 50% blurry images at the end of the day. If in doubt, use the P880's 10x post-capture zoom to check focus and reshoot. That's the beauty of digital. So get a big card and shoot a lot. If you take your time to learn how to use a camera like the P880, you'll reap the rewards.
The flip-up onboard flash on the Kodak P880 was pretty powerful in my testing. I'm not one to shoot pictures from across two rooms, so the onboard flash's range served my needs. Coverage is a little short in the corners at 24mm, but Kodak offers a very affordable P20 Zoom accessory flash ($150) that you can mount on the hot shoe. As you zoom from 24mm to 80mm, the flash will zoom along with you automatically and cover the zoom range reasonably well. Illumination is even at mid and tele ranges with both flashes, and exposure is generally accurate. With white shirts dominant in the frame, some minor exposure correction was necessary, but that's to be expected.
It's important to note that the Kodak P880 has two red-eye reduction modes. One uses the more common preflash pulse method, which inspires the iris to close in response to an uncomfortable burst of pulsing light (this is the modern way to make relatives look squinty and surly). The second method requires a long software-driven process that searches for evidence of red-eye among all the 8 million pixels the P880 is capable of capturing. And here's why it's important to note: putting the P880 in this mode will essentially lock up the camera for from eight to 13 seconds, and disallow capture of more images until the hunt for red-eye is complete. Oh, it'll make you think it's ready by returning the live preview mode, but if you press the shutter a big warning screen comes on to tell you that it's still "Processing..." Unless red-eye is really a problem, forego this mode.
As our test results indicate, color saturation is surprisingly tame by Kodak standards. We're accustomed to seeing more vibrant color by default. This is by no means a criticism of the P880, more a useful observation. Once color has been exaggerated to please the masses, it really can't be brought back down to a normal level in post-processing. Taking a more conservative tack to color rendition is Kodak's way of appealing to more technical photographers who will want to tweak the color later on their computer. It's another indicator of the P880's focus on the needs of the intermediate and professional photographer.
The P880's video mode is good, capturing 640 x 480 at 30 frames per second. The only pitfall here is that the AF motor can be heard on all captured video, unless you turn continuous autofocus off. Then you have the disadvantage of not being able to zoom or move your subjects out of the focus plane while recording. Take short video snapshots to keep them interesting, and the P880 will serve just fine.
Ideal for travel
I found the Kodak EasyShare P880 to be a competent shooter with an excellent feel, good controls, and a nice lens, all evidence of quality execution from the folks at Kodak. The flash, LCD, viewfinder, interface, and 8 megapixel image quality are good enough that all they had to do was add a 24mm to 140mm manual zoom lens to make the P880 a compelling camera. Its zoom range makes the P880 a great vacation camera, just what you need to capture the beauty of those faraway vistas. Learn to work with the AF system, and it's also a good family camera, great for any size home. And with a little practice, it can be a stepping stone back into photography for the one who put down their old film SLR years ago. Perhaps best of all, it works with the entire EasyShare system, from software for syncing to and emailing from a computer, to charging batteries and printing from optional printer docks. I just love it when a photographic system comes together.
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