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A big selling point of the Z712 is of course its optical image stabilisation system, which uses motion sensors and a moving element within the lens to compensate for camera shake at low shutter speeds. I found that it produced shake-free images at maximum zoom reliably at 1/40th of a second, and about half the time at 1/30th, which is pretty good. It’s about three stops below the recommended safe hand-held shooting speed for a 400mm lens.
One slight mystery is that the camera seems to be under the impression that a freshly formatted 1GB SD card is only large enough for 210 shots, which would be an average of about 4.8MB per image. In fact even in its highest picture quality mode the Z712 produces quite highly compressed files, averaging around 2.5MB, which is small for a 7MP camera (The rule of thumb is 500KB per megapixel) and should mean that a 1GB card would hold over 400 shots. In practice this does result in noticeable image compression artefacts, which is a great pity because apart from this detail the picture quality is very good indeed. The Schneider-Kreuznach lenses used by both Kodak and Samsung are some of the best you’ll find on any digital camera, and the 12x zoom on the Z712 performs brilliantly, producing a high level of detail, outstanding corner-to-corner sharpness and virtually no distortion at any focal length, which is very impressive on what is after all a fairly compact lens. With a maximum aperture of f/2.8 to f/4.8 it is also faster than average.
Exposure metering is generally accurate, and colour rendition as good as ever thanks to Kodak’s Colour Science chip, but the dynamic range from the relatively puny 1/2.5-in sensor is limited, and produces a lot of black shadows and burned-out highlights. Noise control is better than average, with very little noise appearing until 800 ISO, and even at that speed the results were quite printable. All in all a pretty impressive performance from a relatively low cost camera, but I can’t help wondering what that excellent lens could do if paired with a better sensor.
The EasyShare Z712 IS is Kodak’s top-of-the-range super-zoom, and it has an impressive specification. Build quality and handling are good, overall performance is well above average, low light performance is exceptional and the optical image stabilisation system is very effective. Picture quality is generally very good, but it could have been even better if the excellent Schneider-Kreuznach lens wasn’t let down by a small sensor and over-enthusiastic image compression.
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