The EasyShare system is built on admirable intentions - to make the whole image storage, transfer, email and print process accessible to those people who might ordinarily struggle. The Z740 continues on this principle as one of four new EasyShare cameras announced this year as part of Kodak's Z range.
The Z740's essentially designed to appeal to users wanting to point-and-shoot, but with the added option of using a few advanced features, should they feel the need.
The abundance of Scene modes (18 in total) is the first giveaway that this camera is set up primarily for ease of use rather than technical control. Metering, focus, ISO, exposure mode and white balance are all tweaked automatically for specific scenarios, so there's no real need to get involved in any of the menu shooting parameters unless you're really keen.
Every exposure mode selection you make is also accompanied by some brief explanatory text - a good idea that can be turned off via the setup menu if it does start to annoy.
The one thing the Z740 fails to automate properly is ISO speed, which for some reason can only reach 140 unless set manually in P, S, M, or A exposure modes, forcing you to rely on flash every time the light dips. This should be considered a major flaw - on-camera flash is much less attractive than natural light, and not a great deal of use if you've got a non-static subject further than a few metres away.
More advanced users
So, for the real beginner it's mostly good news apart for the ISO flaw. But what about the more competent enthusiast? Well, we do have Shutter and Aperture Priority as well as Program mode and Metered Manual, and in these modes you get access to the full range of shooting parameters offered by the Z740, including white balance, metering mode, AF modes, as well as colour and sharpness settings.
However, this doesn't provide the opportunities you might first assume. A Centre-spot Metering mode, for example, isn't a great deal of use unless you've got the option of Auto Exposure Lock, a feature twinned on this camera with focus lock, rendering it inflexible.
There's no flexi-AF point (only auto multi-AF and centre-zone point), no manual focus and no option for setting white balance manually. There are options for flash (but no flash exposure compensation), a continuous shooting setting that includes a facility for using only the last four frames, and a macro shooting mode (a bit limiting at 10cm). However, the lack of RAW or TIFF shooting is the biggest giveaway that the Z740 doesn't cater for the needs of the more discerning user.
Build is plasticky but acceptable at this price point, and the layout and menu system are adequately organised, but performance is below par. Start-up delay is slack at over 2.5 seconds and AF lounges around, particularly with subjects at distance. The most crippling problem lies with file flush - the camera takes up to five seconds to process and flush an image to the memory card.
This isn't necessarily a hindrance if there's any kind of decent buffer, but from the second shot onwards (there's a delay of about two seconds with the first) you're left with a 'Processing' message. This means that it isn't possible to shoot more often than every five seconds in single frame mode - not acceptable, particularly considering we're dealing with JPEGs here rather than RAW files.
On the plus side, there's no real shutter delay to speak of, optical zoom is nippy, image scrolling in Playback mode is instantaneous, and magnification and magnified scrolling are both above average.
The sensor on the Z740 makes a decent job of its 5 megapixels - things hold up pretty well at 100 per cent magnification in terms of detail, and the sharpness is more than acceptable with the normal parameter setting. Little noise is evident at ISO 100, and at ISO 200 and ISO 400 it's only noticeable at the shadow end of the camera's dynamic range. When things go dark and heavy, noise shows, but at the brighter ends of the spectrum it's hard to see.
It's difficult to know whether to recommend the Z740 - the EasyShare docking system and software makes the whole imaging process a doddle for real beginners, but the issues with file flush really can't be ignored. Beginners and enthusiasts alike are going to find this tiresome delay encroaches on the picture-taking experience. We'd recommend trying something else from the EasyShare range. Matt Henry