Summer is here, so it's time to get outside and play, travel and simply relax. For many, it's also time to pull out the camera and start...

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Summer is here, so it’s time to get outside and play, travel and simply relax. For many, it’s also time to pull out the camera and start shooting. But what camera?

Let’s say you’re headed for the beach and don’t want to bring along your expensive camera just to take snaps. You want good pictures, but you want it to be easy.

On the other hand, maybe your child wants to take the pictures, and you don’t want to hand over your Nikon.

So you’re looking for a simple camera system that almost anyone can use with little effort or expertise and still produce decent pictures.

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For that purpose, I’ve decided to check out a Kodak EasyShare system that includes the Z740 camera and Printer Dock 3 ($499), plus the Picture Viewer ($149). They work together to help the casual or beginning photographer take pictures, print or e-mail them, and carry them around in a little electronic photo album.

With 5 megapixels and a 10x optical zoom lens (about 38-380mm), the Z740 is impressive. Besides the automatic setting, it also has settings for sports, portraits, landscapes, aperture or shutter priority and more. It features continuous auto focus, burst mode and a 1.8-inch LCD screen. Plus it has video (640×480 pixels) capability.

I wish it also had image stabilization, especially for the telephoto end of the zoom, where the slightest movement can blur images.

The Printer Dock 3 prints borderless 4×6-inch photos (as well as 2, 4, or 9 images on the 4×6 paper). It can print directly from the camera, or transfer the images to a connected computer or TV. It also recharges and reconditions the camera batteries. There isn’t a separate cable for charging, so when sold with the Printer Dock, the camera needs the Dock to recharge.

Now, let’s see how well the system performs in this photographer’s hands. Actually, my 12-year old is helping me test it, so we’ll find out whether an intelligent beginner can master EasyShare in time to capture summer fun.

First, I read the directions and explain some of the operating basics, while she starts shooting in the automatic mode.

Several shots later, I explain the difference between the automatic setting and others she can choose, and show her the various flash settings. She could read all this in the user manual, but this girl just wants to make pictures.

The Z740 camera has a 32MB internal memory that can hold 17 images saved in good quality JPEG, and a lot more with an optional memory card loaded. When the camera’s full, my daughter presses the review button and goes through the pictures tagging the ones she wants to print, which is almost all.

She places the camera on the Printer Dock (now plugged in and loaded with paper and ink cartridge) and presses Print. The paper goes back and forth through the printer adding colors and waterproof coating.

Then the final print drops out. My daughter is so happy she stands waiting for each photo to drop. Ones in focus with appropriate lighting actually look good.

Pretty soon, she wants to learn more, and before long she’s switching to the sports setting to capture birds in flight, the portrait setting to shoot family members and dandelions, and presses the macro button to catch close-ups of interesting bugs.

Another day we’ll go over aperture and shutter settings along with different focus modes. Right now, she’s happy with a few adjustments, and the results aren’t bad, in fact, good enough to inspire this budding photographer to keep shooting.

It doesn’t take long to go through a print pack of 40 pictures, and then dollar signs pop up in my head as I do the arithmetic and realize it costs 56 cents per print (in 80 sheet packs).

Starting now, she’ll have to be more discriminating about what she prints and begin creating computer photo albums and slide shows to view her images.

In fact, the EasyShare Picture Viewer could be a good alternative to printing. The Viewer is a pocketsize digital photo album with a 2.5-inch screen that can hold up to 150 photos. Connect it to a PC or Mac and transfer photos from your EasyShare photo library.

Like the camera, the Viewer has a SD/MMC memory card slot for storing more photos.

I open the EasyShare software, and my daughter tags a couple dozen photos as Favorites. We plug in the PictureViewer and have Favorites photos automatically transferred to the Viewer.

The images are small but look pretty good, especially the close-ups. That little photo album now lives in my daughter’s jacket pocket.

In sum: This integrated camera, printer and viewer system is great for beginning and casual photographers, except for the cost of prints. That’s what makes me hesitate, even though the prints are stain-resistant and waterproof.

Alternatively, one could buy the Z740 camera separately and print the images on another portable printer, such as the Epson PictureMate (29 cents per print in 100 sheet packs), or order prints online for even less from Kodak or Shutterfly, for example.

Kodak reports many consumers are willing to pay for the convenience of printing with a small, integrated system. If you’re one of the willing, this system is definitely easy and fun. Plus, it can make surprisingly good pictures.

Write Linda Knapp at lknapp@seattletimes.com; to read other Getting Started columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/gettingstarted