The control layout is also well considered, with all the external buttons comfortably positioned for one-handed operation. The power switch is a spring-loaded slider and easy to reach with the forefinger, as are the three top panel buttons for flash mode, focusing mode and self-timer/drive mode. The shutter button is large and prominently positioned, which is fine, but it is also raised up on the top edge of the grip and quite sensitive, making it easy to trip accidentally. The circular D-pad is the exact opposite, since it is slightly recessed and needs to be pressed with the edge of the thumbnail, which is a bit fiddly. However these are nit-picks; the overall handling is very good.
The Z712 has a good selection of shooting options, with full auto, program, aperture and shutter priority and full manual exposure, as well as a sports program mode, a high-ISO mode and 16 scene modes. It has the usual metering options of multi-pattern, centre-weighted and spot metering, as well as multi-zone, centre-zone or selectable zone autofocus. Kodak usually likes to leave colour control firmly in the hands of its Colour Science processor, so it’s no surprise that manual colour adjustment options are a bit limited, with only three saturation settings and monochrome. There are three sharpness levels, but no contrast control. Other adjustments, including exposure settings, exposure compensation, flash level and ISO are controlled on-screen via the small command dial, positioned just above the thumbgrip. This has a press-and-turn action, and with a minimum of practice controlling manual exposure is extremely quick and easy.
The zoom control is a simple rocker switch located near the thumb grip, and is about as pleasant to use as such items usually are. The zoom is stepped, but there are a lot of increments between the wide-angle and telephoto settings. One thing that did bug me slightly was that while the lens was moving the view on the screen went totally out of focus, making framing a bit hit-or-miss. The LCD screen itself could be a bit better too. It is certainly bright enough, and has a fairly good anti-glare coating, but with only 115k pixels it is a bit low-res. Fortunately the electronic viewfinder is made of sharper stuff, with a resolution of 230k pixels. The camera does have optional manual focus, but this is controlled via the fiddly D-pad. Although the view on the screen or viewfinder does automatically magnify when adjusting focus, it zips from one end of the focus range to the other so quickly that achieving accurate focus is all but impossible.
The Z712’s general performance is very good. It starts up in just over 1.5 seconds, which is remarkably fast for a super-zoom camera, and it shuts down again even more quickly. The AF system is also very fast, almost up to DSLR standards, and also works extremely well in low light; in fact I’d say that the Z712 has about the fastest low light focusing ability I’ve seen on a non-SLR camera. It has a very bright AF illuminator, and had no trouble focusing quickly in total darkness at a range of several metres. Shot to shot times are also fairly quick, although it really could do with a much larger and faster image buffer. In single-shot mode it can take a shot roughly once every two seconds, although with slower memory cards it is possible to fill up the buffer faster than the camera can save the pictures, usually after about six shots. In continuous shooting mode it can take a burst of six shots in just under four seconds, but it then has to pause for a couple of seconds to write them to the card.