At last, a manufacturer who realises that it's not all about megapixels. Kodak has gone to great lengths to hone the P850's handling and performance. Indeed the "P" in the title indicates that this compact has membership of Kodak's exclusive performance range.

So how does the P850 measure up against its stable mates and contemporaries? Well, this newest addition to the Kodak range jostles for position amongst Panasonic's FZ30 and Canon's S2 IS.

At the heart of the new P850 is an all-glass Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon Zoom lens that offers an impressive 12x (36 mm-432 mm) optical zoom range. Such a wide range should attract experienced photographers who need the reach but don't want the bulk of a "proper" SLR system.

To ensure the powerful German optics perform at their best, Kodak has developed its own image stabilization technology which claims to offer a full 2-stop advantage over standard lenses. As a result it's possible to use the P850 handheld at the full extent of the zoom without being overly concerned about a blurry image.

With such a powerful zoom the use of an electronic viewfinder is essential, however Kodak has chosen an excellent 237,000 pixel electronic viewfinder to provide a big, bright image. Equipped with both a large 2.5" TFT display and refined EVF, the P850 enables you to easily check the focus or review your photos, complete with extensive shot setting info.

Both displays offer access to the camera's entire interface, including the admirable realtime histogram, which can really help you to get the best contrast without overexposing your compositions.

The P850's 5-megapixel sensor feeds into a modest 32MB of internal memory that Kodak has opted to backup with an SD card slot. The camera auto detects when a card is inserted and always gives the SD media priority.

An internal memory obviously has the benefit of being useful even after purchasing a sensibly sized card. However it does mean you can't easily use the camera with any of the new wave of printing kiosks.

Goodbye yellow

Anyone upgrading from an existing Kodak camera will soon find that the familiar simplistic brilliant yellow menu system has been dropped. The P850 has a new semitransparent design that, facelift aside, is much more complete. As for the P850's exterior, you really have to applaud the designers at Kodak for producing a digital camera that is ideally suited for the cartoon hands of Homer Simpson.

However those of us in possession of the more conventional five digits on each hand will find it a much more cumbersome affair. The camera's awkwardly placed buttons and dials leave you staring at the p850 as though it were a Sodoku puzzle rather than intuitively designed camera.

Zippy start

While the handling might hamper your progress, the same can't be said for the speed of start up. The P850 is powered and ready to use in a respectable two seconds and once focused boasts an almost non-existent shutter lag. Unfortunately the focal system has something of a Jekyll-and-Hyde nature.

When shooting in daylight the camera is reasonably responsive and quickly locks on to the desired focal point. However, when there's less available light things take a horrible turn for the worse.

Despite the P850 defaulting to power thirsty continuous focus, rather than cutting the focus time it actually seems to extend it. In practice the camera continually grinds away hunting for focus, only to repeat the process in an even more languid manner once the shutter is half pressed.

To reduce the power drain caused by the image stabilization and continuous auto focus, Kodak has built the P850 around a generous 1,800mAh lithium Ion battery. The cell is rated for at least 210 shots and in our testing lived up to its billing. A more detailed power meter would be very welcome.

Sizing up against the existing megazoom cameras, Kodak's P850 at least looks strong on paper, coming in with a lower price than both Canon's and Panasonic's offering, and as such the P850 should be enjoying more attention than it's generated to date.

However using the P850 isn't as rewarding as the specifications would have you believe and with intolerably high noise levels (even at ISO400) it proves no match for established favourites such as Panasonic's FZ30. John Skeoch

Via PhotoRadar