The Canon fell short primarily due to it's poor LCD displays. In fairness the Canon features a flip out rear LCD that allows viewing from almost any angle; the size of the display is smaller due to this feature. I felt that I could have accepted the smaller size of the display in lieu of the flip out feature but for the fact that both the rear LCD and viewfinder display were dim and fuzzy looking. I found it impossible to tell from either display if the picture was in focus or not and the rear LCD was difficult to view in sunlight. Another thing that bothered me was switching from the rear LCD to the viewfinder. Canon has made switching displays part of the display mode button instead of having a dedicated button just for the purpose of turning off the rear LCD and turning on the viewfinder. This made switching from rear LCD to the viewfinder a cumbersome process of multiple button press in order to cycle through the various information displays on the respective monitor until the desired monitor would switch on. One other nit that I have had with all Canon compact cameras is that they do not tell, or record, what ISO they are using in auto mode. Because ISO on these cameras is such an important variable I would like the camera to indicate what it has chosen when in the auto setting. I also thought the flash cycle time seemed somewhat slower on the S3IS than it did in the other two cameras. On the good side, this camera has a two speed zoom; the build quality is solid which is typical of canon as well as overall good ergonomics, with the exception of switching from rear LCD to the viewfinder.
I really wanted to like the Kodak Z612; it has a beautiful large rear LCD with all the shooting information clearly laid out; It is also the easiest of any of the cameras to adjust the shooting parameters. By simply highlighting the desired setting on the LCD, with the control wheel, selecting with a push and then rotating the wheel any of the mode adjustable parameters can be changed. The popup flash also automatically pops up when needed in auto mode. Kodak has, as in most of their cameras that I have tried, adopted a punchy color tone producing very attractive JPGs with good color and contrast. Unfortunately there were several very significant problems relating to both the viewfinder and rear LCD displays that made it necessary to put the Kodak at the bottom of the list. The first and completely baffling omission was no provision for adjusting the viewfinder focus making it impossible to get the eyepiece in focus if your vision needs do not match up with the fixed eyepiece. This has nothing to do with focus of the actual camera lens but only how clearly your eye can see the internal viewfinder LCD; this is commonly called a diopter adjustment. A diopter adjustment has been something that Kodak has omitted from a number of its cameras of this style which makes the viewfinder nearly worthless to those who need to adjust the viewfinder magnifier for a clear view. The other problem, that both internal and rear LCD displays suffered from, was ugly light streaking (during live view) with bright or high contrast scenes. This is a problem that is not uncommon in other cameras but most often occurs with extremely high contrast scenes like with street lights, strong reflections or the sun. The Kodak Z612 however suffers from this problem frequently just about any time there are bright areas in an otherwise darker scene. The problem appears as light bars that spread outward from the light source and extends to the edges of the screen. The Kodak was also the least accurate, in live mode, at representing the final shot in terms of color or white balance. This makes for a tonally ugly view while composing the picture however after the picture is taken the shot looks correct. I suspect that all these issues are related to Kodak's over zealous setting of gain on the LCD displays. While these problems are only limited to the live monitor display and do not show up in the recorded picture it occurs too frequently to overlook and is very annoying. I had several other small complaints; like the icons for the buttons on the top of the camera that are in black on a shiny chrome surface making it hard to see what each button does. I also found the button to change from rear LCD to viewfinder (which is left of the viewfinder) not as convenient as the Panasonic which can be pressed with the right thumb. The zoom speed of the Kodak was very fast but lacked a low speed; you had to make small zoom adjustments by pressing the button in short bursts making precise zooming difficult. I did not test any of these cameras very thoroughly in video mode but one of the observations that I did make, with the Z612, is that it is possible to zoom the lens while taking video. However whenever you use the zoom it makes the lens go out of focus for a few seconds till it finds focus again. On the last note, I will say that if I had to choose one of these cameras just by reviewing the pictures from each, the Kodak would be the winner. It is too bad that it had these problems that in my opinion were too significant to overlook.
PANASONIC LUMIX FZ7
Lastly we come to the FZ7, this camera was my overall choice among these three based on ease of operation, performance, and picture quality. On this last point the FZ7 was about on par with the others in overall picture quality, with the edge going to Kodak, but when weighing all the factors together I much preferred using the FZ7 over the other two cameras. Handling and ease of use was by far the best on the FZ7 with bright, clear and accurate LCD displays. The eye piece being best of the bunch with generous projection from the rear of the camera making for getting it up to your eye easy even if wearing glasses and of course the diopter adjustment. Changing from the rear LCD to the internal viewfinder was very convenient with one button push; easily done with the right thumb while holding the camera in one hand. Macro and manual focusing was easy to accomplish because of the quality of the display. On the negative side, the FZ7 requires you to go to the menu to set ISO. I also did not like the fact that when in full Auto mode you cannot set the "Red Eye" to off. In video mode the FZ7 does not allow any zooming which is a real shame. All in all though the Panasonic was the nicest camera to use in just about every aspect, produced nice pictures and it's optical image stabilization system is perhaps the best of the bunch. Out of these three the FZ7 would be the one I would buy for a friend.