A 10x zoom lens, manual exposure controls, 5-megapixel resolution, a versatile burst-shooting mode and an electronic viewfinder that works as well in blazing sunlight as in murky interiors -- there are certainly aspects of the Kodak EasyShare Z740 that might cause photo enthusiasts to sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, the downside includes rampant purple fringing, some noise (marring otherwise decent image quality), a lack of manual focus and a low-resolution EVF, which suffers from ghosting and blackouts between shots.
This camera shares many features with its higher-priced stablemate, the Z7590, a slightly enhanced and rebranded version of the DX7590. However, it is a tad more petite, its shutter-speed range is more limited, and its back-panel and EVF LCDs are smaller. Fledgling photo hobbyists who don't take many photos at high ISO settings or shoot the kind of backlit and high-contrast subjects that chromatic aberrations prey upon will probably be pleased with the image quality.
Those who want an easy snapshot-printing solution will want to check out the Kodak EasyShare Printer Dock 3, which provides a convenient way to view, print and transfer images, as well as charge the batteries for this camera. Kodak also sells the two as a bundle.
Like those of many EVF-equipped cameras, the Kodak EasyShare Z740's SLR-like layout works better in theory than in practice. When you grip this 383g camera's 99-by-79-by-71mm silver-tone plastic body in SLR fashion, you'll find that a stray middle finger can block both the secondary focus sensor and the focus-assist lamp, which are tucked into the tight space between the handgrip and the lens. The view with the 201,000-pixel EVF (more than 100,000 pixels fewer than the Z7590's) is SLR-like -- until you take a picture and the view of your subject is replaced by a blue screen with an hourglass icon indicating that the camera is processing the image. Our test camera had a tendency to pop up the built-in flash every time it was turned on, even in full daylight and when the flash had been switched off.
If you can put up with these annoyances, this camera is simple to operate, and all its useful controls are readily accessible. The top surface has a button for flipping up the flash after you've stowed it away. It also has a sliding switch that flips to the left to view photos marked as favourites and to the right to power up into recording mode. There's also a speaker, a shutter release and separate buttons for burst modes/self-timer (2 or 10 seconds), macro/distance focus modes and flash options.
The back panel hosts the other controls, including a display/info button and a key to flip between the EVF and the 46mm (1.8-inch) LCD. Whether you're using a one- or two-handed grip on the camera, you can comfortably nudge the zoom rocker with a thumb while keeping your index finger poised over the shutter release. There's also a delete key, as well as menu, review and share buttons used to mark images as favourites or select them for printing or emailing. A dial for selecting basic shooting modes and scenes surrounds a joystick control that tends to respond too enthusiastically. When zipping around menus, it was easy to select the wrong setting.
That's a shame, because the exposure options are otherwise easy to access. With the mode dial set to PASM, the screen displays information about shooting mode, shutter speed, aperture, current EV and ISO. With the joystick, you can select an exposure mode (auto, programme, manual, or shutter or aperture priority) and adjust shutter speed, f-stop, exposure compensation (±2EV in half EV steps) and ISO speed -- assuming you can keep the skittish button under control.
The Kodak EasyShare Z740's 38mm-to-380mm (35mm-camera equivalent) zoom lens is probably its biggest attraction. The all-glass optics come up a little short on the wide-angle end of the scale, but they reached out to grab all the action at a local sporting event. Kodak makes up for the wide-angle shortcoming by offering a 0.7x lens adaptor, which fits the standard 55mm filter thread on the removable lens hood.
A useful aperture range of f/2.8 to f/8 in wide-angle mode and f/3.7 to f/8 in telephoto mode made it possible, using programmed exposure, to shoot as fast as 1/1,700 second and freeze the action. The top speed is limited to 1/1,000 second in adjustable modes but extends down to 8 seconds for timed exposures. Exposure can be calculated using multipattern, centre-weighted or centre-spot metering schemes.
There are scene modes galore, ranging from Sport, Portrait and Night Scenes, which are accessible from the mode dial, to an additional complement in the menus. These include Children, Party, Beach, Flower, Fireworks, Snow, Backlight, Close-Up, Night Portrait, Landscape, Night Landscape, Museum, Text and Self-Portrait.
The Z740 lacks manual focus, but the multizone and centre-zone autofocus worked well down to 120mm (wide angle) and 100mm (telephoto). We also missed some flexibility in the flash settings, which are limited to auto, fill flash, red-eye reduction and forced off. Neither slow-/front-/rear-sync options nor flash exposure compensation are available. The built-in strobe did provide even exposures out to a commendable 4.9m at the wide-angle setting and to 3.6m using the telephoto (both at ISO 168). That beats the range offered by many digital cameras. We tested with a pair of 2,500mAh NiMH AA cells (the camera ships with AA lithium batteries). Kodak also offers a 3-volt battery pack that can be recharged using the printer dock.