“With one purchase, you get the Z740, a decent 5-megapixel digicam with a 10x optical zoom and the dock that cranks out 4x6 prints.”
- A great digital imaging solution for casual photographers
- Camera skimps on some manual controls; dock limited to 4x6 prints
Oh, the much maligned shoebox! It’s the repository of hundreds of old prints that are covered with dust and yellowing with age. Digital photography was supposed to eliminate the proverbial box by empowering you to make just the prints you wanted. The problem with this theory was reality. Rather than making prints most people simply downloaded images to their PCs where they stayed, in effect, making the computer a 21st century shoebox. Although making a print at home is relatively easy manufacturers have forged ahead by making it even simpler. No one has done this better than Kodak with its new camera/printer dock bundles such as the Z740 camera combined with the EasyShare Pinter Dock Series 3 ($479 list, $425 or less in the real world).
With one purchase, you get the Z740, a decent 5-megapixel digicam with a 10x optical zoom and the dock that cranks out 4×6 prints in about 90 seconds. You simply place the camera in the dock, find the image you want to print on the camera’s 1.8-inch LCD screen, hit a key and out pops a print. This is about as easy as it gets for PC free printing. Now does this imaging solution make sense for you? Read on and find out…
Features and Design
The Z740 5MP camera is very compact and lightweight with a body that’s primarily plastic. It has a right-side grip to keep the camera steady and your fingers rest neatly on the shutter button and wide/tele key. Since this is a mega-zoom, its 10x optical zoom has a range of 38mm-380mm in 35mm terms. This makes it a real plus for vacationing families since you can take everything from wide angle to extreme telephoto shots. There is also a 5x digital zoom but we suggest you don’t use because image quality drops precipitously. An onscreen display warns when you’ve entered the digital zoom zone. Note there are a number of even more powerful mega-zooms available such as the <Canon S2 IS>. With its 12x optical zoom, optical image stabilization and Canon quality, it’s an entirely different option since it costs $499 without a dock.
The top of the Z740 has the shutter button, power key, speaker, three keys to adjust flash, macro, and burst settings as well as key to pop open the flash. The rear has decent 1.8-inch LCD screen rated a hefty 134K pixels and a smaller Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). The EVF is rather poor and inaccurate indoors and doesn’t have a diopter adjustment, something Kodak should remedy with the next generation of cameras. There’s a seven-setting mode dial to adjust the basic photographic operation such as Auto, Scene modes, video and so on. There are also individual delete, menu and review keys. The Share key with a red dot is there is to mark photos for printing (on the dock) or to email if you connect the camera to a PC.
Also very cool is the joystick in the center of the mode dial. Instead of four individual arrow and set keys, all adjustments are made with the one switch. It’s very intuitive and easy to use. A door on the side offers access to the SD card slot and USB input. Batteries are loaded on the bottom of the camera and you’ll find a tripod mount and connection for the printer dock.
The supplied dock is rather nondescript but it does the job. Made of silver and dark plastic, its most distinctive feature is a paper tray that holds about 25 sheets of 4×6 photo paper. But don’t let the plain-Jane looks turn you off since it’s the rare printer design that gets anyone excited.
The camera comes with quick start guide, strap, lens cap with cord, two rechargeable NiMH batteries, USB and A/V cables, lens adapter, a very nicely done owner’s manual and Kodak EasyShare software V.4.04 (V5.0 is available for free as a download). It also has a plastic insert for properly mounting it to the dock. There is 32MB of internal memory so you can shoot right out of the box but definitely budget for a high-speed 512MB SD card. The dock comes with a power cord, tray and a starter pack with 10 sheets of 4×6 paper and matching color ink cartridge.
Image Courtesy of Kodak
All digital camera makers could learn a lesson or three concerning ease of use just by looking at this camera, dock, supplied documentation and software. Following the supplied “Start Here!” brochure, it’s a breeze to get up and going. While the control layout is very similar to the 200 digicams out there, Kodak goes every one a big step better. After the camera’s batteries are charged in the dock (it uses two supplied rechargeable NiMH AAs) and the date and time are set, the mode dial is turned to whatever position you’d like. And here’s where the fun starts. When placed in Auto, the icon lights up and a statement appears “Auto: use for general picture taking.” Move the dial to Sport and the menu tells you to use this setting “when subject is in motion.” This is the case for all the settings including manual, scene and movie options. Other manufacturers are using descriptive menus (Casio, HP) and we applaud them as it opens the world of digital imaging to many more people.
The camera starts up very quickly (less than two seconds) and is ready to go. We loaded a 512MB card and hit our usual subject matter: colorful flowers, plants, skylines, friendly faces, fuzzy cats, subjects indoors and out. It has an AF Assist lamp for accurate flash shots and it pops open when you power up. Flash photos taken were quite good and close-ups weren’t overpowered by too much light output, thanks to AF Assist.
The camera is almost film quick but it does choke after a five-shot burst (two fps) at highest resolution, as the images have to be saved to the card. This delay is only about 10 seconds so it’s not the end of the world. Compare this to the <Sony DSC-H1> with its nine-frame burst mode and it shows you this camera is not state of the art. I used the camera in very bright sunlight and the LCD screen held up well but at one point, I had to switch to the EVF that is much more accurate outdoors than in. Although I shot most of the images in Auto, I took some time in the PASM manual mode. It’s here that the camera shows some of its point-and-shoot limitations. Although you can change white balance and color modes as well as aperture and shutter speed, you cannot adjust ISO (which tops out at a surprising 800) or manually adjust the focus. Also note you cannot change the compression of the JPEG images, just overall pixel count. Not that the buyer of this camera bundle will move beyond auto or the 14 Scene modes but you should be aware of the limitations before you leap. Like all quality 2005 digicams, the Z740 also takes VGA 640 x 480 pixel video clips at 30 frames per second. No zooming is available during video mode. The clips looked quite good on my 36-inch HD-ready monitor.
Once the photos were taken the true blessing of the bundle makes itself very clear. Rather than run down to the local drugstore or mass merchant to use a photo kiosk to make prints, I simply placed the camera in the dock. It automatically sprung to life and asked how many prints I wanted of the image on the LCD screen. After picking the number and pressing print, in about 90 seconds a very high quality photo appeared. By simply tearing off the edges, I had a smooth-edged 4×6 in my hand. Very cool indeed.
The dock uses dye thermal technology so unlike an inkjet each paper package comes with a matching color cartridge. This means that when you finish the last print in the pack you add another batch of paper and the cartridge that comes with it. This ensures print quality will be uniform and helps camera company profits. A combo pack of 40 sheets of 4×6 paper lists for $25 but you can get them for $19, driving your price per print from 62 cents to 47 cents. This is hardly cheap since you can get prints for 10-19 cents at stores and online. But you can’t beat the convenience of simple, at home printing with no adjustments whatsoever and no computer.
There is a downside here. You cannot crop your photos or do any editing or color corrections. You’ll have to load the prints on your PC and open the EasyShare software. This is not a problem since the program is terrific. At that point you can output the photos to the dock but 4×6 is as big as you can go–no 5x7s, 8x10s, post cards, panoramas. If you want to go larger, consider a good printer from Canon, Epson or HP or go to the local photo finisher.
Image Courtesy of Kodak
After using the Kodak EasyShare Printer Dock Series 3 it’s easy to understand why the company has sold over 2 million docks of various stripes the past few years. It’s an effortless solution for quick 4×6 prints that you’d love to pass around. And the Z740 that’s bundled with it is a very good 5MP digicam with a 10x optical zoom. Although it has its limitations, I heartily recommend this Instant Dark Room for casual picture takers.
- An absolutely foolproof digital imaging solution
- Good 5MP camera with 10x optical zoom
- AF Assist lamp for accurate flash shots
- Wonderful mode dial and joystick combo
- Very good picture quality
- Camera lacks manual options
- Burst mode is limited
- Print size limited to 4×6
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