Kodak's 6.1-megapixel EasyShare Z612 looks like a Lilliputian SLR. But as with the crafty little people in Jonathan Swift's novel, there's more to it than meets the eye, some of which should be approached with caution. Like most superzooms, it uses an electronic -- rather than optical -- viewfinder, so if you don't like looking at tiny LCD screens, this isn't for you. On the plus side, the viewfinder's fairly high-res at 202,000 pixels and doesn't blank out as much as some EVFs when in burst mode, though the image is still somewhat jerky compared to an optical finder's.
If you don't frame with the EVF, you'll use the Z612's 64mm (2.5-inch), 230,000-pixel LCD, which is viewable even in bright light and gains up -- that is, brightens -- in low light to make it easy to frame in dim situations. Its 12x optical, 35mm-to-420mm (35mm equivalent), f/2.8-to-f/4.8 Schneider-Kreutznach zoom lens gives you plenty of reach, and the camera's image stabilisation should help keep things steady at the longer end of the zoom.
The Z612's silver-coloured, beautifully sculpted plastic body feels solid and should stand up well to normal wear and tear. Unfortunately, its sleek styling has some drawbacks. First, the SLR-style grip, while neatly accented with reflective silver along the front and top, is perhaps too smooth. For example, the shutter release, well placed at the front of the grip's top and recessed to be even with its surface, is a little difficult to find by touch and is less comfortable to use than shutters that are raised above the surface of the camera. Furthermore, the three buttons lined up behind the shutter -- flash, macro and self-timer/burst -- are the identical size and shape, making them difficult to tell apart by touch.
Since the camera is so small -- 104 by 74 by 69mm and 301g without battery or SD card -- the grip also leaves your pinkie, and in some cases your ring finger too, dangling off the bottom of the camera. This isn't normally a big problem, but in this case, it's difficult to create the necessary leverage to reach the mode dial or some of the buttons on the camera back with your thumb when shooting one-handed. Thankfully, though, the zoom rocker is still easy to control and contoured nicely. Of course, these minor problems can be alleviated by shooting with two hands, which we always recommend anyway, due to the increased stability that comes along with it.
One of the best controls is the Z612's click wheel. A small wheel on the top right of the camera's back, it lets you scroll through various options, such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO or exposure compensation. Once you land on one you want to adjust, just push the wheel in to click as though it were a computer mouse. You can then change the setting and click the wheel again to exit and move to the next adjustment. The wheel could probably be bigger, but it works well and is a quick way to control all the essentials while you shoot.
Speaking of controls, there are plenty. Full manual, aperture- and shutter-priority, program and full autoexposure modes are complemented by multi-, centre- and five-zone selectable autofocus, as well as multipattern, centre-weighted and spot metering.
If you want to tweak the exposure without going fully manual, there's as much as plus or minus 2EV exposure compensation in 1/3EV increments, and you can set the camera to bracket automatically, so it will shoot three photos, one with its standard exposure and varying the exposure of the other two by as much as plus and minus 1EV, again in 1/3 stops. The built-in pop-up flash, rated to cover a distance of 3.4m at ISO 100, is also adjustable by as much as plus or minus 1EV, this time in half stops.
The Kodak EasyShare Z612's performance was fast. It took 1.8 seconds to power up and capture its first image and 1.5 seconds between images thereafter. In high-contrast situations, its shutter lag was a zippy 0.4 seconds and, even more impressive, stretched to only 0.6 seconds in low-contrast lighting. Burst mode yielded 8 frames in 3.3 seconds for an average of 2.4fps, regardless of image size.