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Kodak Easyshare Z980 Digital Camera Review

Kodak Easyshare Z980 Digital Camera Review - With a huge 24x optical zoom, Raw recording and a portrait shutter release, is the Kodak Easyshare Z980 a suitable second camera for DSLR users?

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Category : Compact Cameras
Product : Kodak Easyshare Z980
Price : £250
Rating :
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Features
Handling
Performance
Verdict
Specification

The latest superzoom from Kodak has gone for something a little bit different. Shooting portraits is now easier thanks to the vertical shutter and removable grip for easier holding. Priced at £319, this could be Kodak's meal ticket or another nail in the coffin. It certainly looks like they've thought about the market they're aiming the camera at and have added features to make the Z980 more attractive to the target consumer.

Kodak Easyshare Z980 front view
The camera is given a more professional feel with the added grip. The silver portrait shutter can be seen lower left on the body.

ePHOTOzine reviewer, Matt Grayson tries out the Kodak Easyshare Z980 to see if it's good enough for his kit bag.

Kodak Easyshare Z980: Features
On the surface, the features look good with a 24x optical zoom Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon lens giving the 35mm equivalent of a 26 – 624mm lens. Pretty impressive and coupled with a vertical shutter release button for easier portrait shooting and Raw recording, this could shape up to be a back-up camera for a serious enthusiast or a semi-pro. Vertical shooting has to be enabled on the camera but it's a simple switch on the top plate of the camera. Still, it has its downsides because the zoom moves from the usual rocker switch on the back to the keypad and if you press the normal shutter release by mistake, the cameras bleeps crazily at you. This isn't as good as I thought it would be and certainly not as good as a DSLR which would allow both to be used at all times. I suppose it's to stop accidental triggering while carrying the camera. I think a simple solution would be a lock for the vertical shutter and still allow both to be used if you prefer.

Kodak Easyshare Z980 top plate
The top plate is home to the command dial and the portrait/landscape switch.
Kodak Easyshare Z980 rear view
The rear hosts a huge screen and a decent layout.

However, to aid in the vertical position, the Z980 has a grip that screws into the bottom of the camera sealing off the memory card and batteries so if you need to access them, it's a more laboured task. The grip is a simple piece of empty plastic and it could have been designed like a battery grip to accept the AA batteries that the Z980 takes. This would ease the problem of changing the batteries at least while moving the memory card bay to the side of the camera would solve the problem of not getting to the card.

Sat just behind the built-in flash, the Kodak Z980 is a hot-shoe for external flash and Kodak have already got the Kodak P20 Zoom flash available for about £100 from the Kodak website or starting at around £65 online.

Kodak Easyshare Z980: Handling
With or without the grip fitted, the camera holds really well. For the price (£319.99 from Kodak website) it feels a bit plasticky and light, which I wouldn't expect from a camera at this price point. I like the glossy screen surround and there are flashes of metal here and there. The rubbery grip is quite big and my hand fits around it nicely. In fact, coupled with the large lens barrel, the Kodak Z980 is actually very nice to hold and use.

The menu systems need some work. They're a vast improvement on the older models but could still use some clarification. I judge the ease of use of a camera based on how easy it is to use straight out of the box. After all, 99% of men take this approach, so it's worth knowing. The power switch is easy enough to use if a little unresponsive. There were times when I tried to turn the camera off and had to flick the switch a couple of times before the camera powered down. The quick menu on the bottom of the frame looks nice but does get in the way when taking pictures. However, it can be turned off if you require by scrolling through the options on the info button.

Performance
All images were taken in the Raw format and converted to JPEG for use in the review. No other changes have been made to the images.

Exposure
In everyday lighting, the Kodak works well, producing decent exposures. With a subject surrounded by sky, the exposures are balanced with good colour in the sky and plenty of detail in the subject. Putting the sun directly in the frame is another area where the camera does well and the only thing it struggles with is white-balance. In this situation, the camera compensates for the daylight and turns shadow areas blue. Shooting Raw gives you the advantage here because white-balance settings can be adjusted in editing.

Kodak Easyshare Z980 direct sun
The camera copes well enough from direct sunlight.
Kodak Easyshare Z980 side lighting
A good dynamic range is shown with a decent exposure in the light and dark.

There are three metering settings on the Kodak Easyshare Z980. Pattern metering separates the frame into segments - or a pattern - and takes an exposure reading from each area. It then analyses the data and works out the correct exposure based on the findings. This type of metering has taken over from centre-weighted as the metering system of choice and is generally the default setting on every camera. Centre-weighted metering reads from around 85% of the frame giving more priority - or weight - to the centre of the frame. It means that off centre subjects get a wrong meter reading and any brighter areas aren't compensated for and could ruin the exposure. Spot metering reads from around 2-3% of the exact centre of the frame. This can be good for backlit subjects as it ignores the light surrounding them, but in some cases will completely over expose the light, burning out any detail which also may flare over the subject. Be careful when using it and change to fill-in flash if this happens.

Kodak Easyshare Z980 pattern metering
Kodak pattern metering.
Kodak Easyshare Z980 centre-weighted metering
Kodak centre-weighted metering.
Kodak Easyshare Z980 spot metering
Kodak spot metering.

Focusing
As with all compacts of this specification, the Kodak uses an active focusing system which is a contrast detection system. It's slower and less accurate than a DSLR focusing system but I rarely had trouble with the focusing as long as I was patient.

Focusing the camera is done with the shutter release button by depressing it halfway. I found that it's very sensitive and inadvertently took a picture on more than one occasion. Switching the camera from landscape to portrait allows you to still focus using the new shutter release and if you try to use the normal one, you get an error noise.

Colour reproduction
Kodak Easyshare Z980 colour test
Kodak Easyshare Z980 colour test.

I am impressed with how the Kodak Z980 records colours and it did well throughout the test. In controlled lighting, blues are given a satisfying boost while warmer colours, such as orange, yellow and red are paler compared to the colour test chart. Tricky colours, such as purples are handled well but subtle hues look as though they're about to get washed out. Skin tones look good, evenly balanced and not too pink.

Kodak Easyshare Z980 blue sky
Above: Blue skies are recorded accurately.

Right: Foliage and grass is good but not as faithful as blue.

Below: saturated reds are pale by comparison.

Below right: Portraits are good without the skin looking overly pink.
Kodak Easyshare Z980 foliage
Kodak Easyshare Z980 saturated reds Kodak Easyshare Z980 portrait

Outside in ambient light, the camera handles blue skies beautifully while saturated red suffers with the same paleness as found inside. Foliage and grass looks ok but not to the same quality that the camera gives to blue.

Noise
This is the area where the Kodak really suffers and gets marked down. The sensitivity range of the Z980 is ISO64-1,600. In controlled lighting, noise starts to poke through even at the lowest setting which is a big shame. I struggled to cope with noise all the way through the test and I was really disappointed. I even had to retake the portrait shots because they looked so bad with noise.

Kodak Easyshare Z980 ISO64 test
Kodak ISO64 test
Kodak Easyshare Z980 ISO100 test
Kodak ISO100 test.
Kodak Easyshare Z980 ISO200 test
Kodak ISO200 test.
Kodak Easyshare Z980 ISO400 test
Kodak ISO400 test
Kodak Easyshare Z980 ISO800 test
Kodak ISO800 test
Kodak Easyshare Z980 ISO1600 test
Kodak ISO1600 test

On a positive note, I think in everyday life, you could get away with the results up to ISO200. The main downside is that because of the ultra long lens and relatively low light volume entering the lens, it's rare that you will stay below ISO200. In fact the shoot in controlled lighting had a sensitivity setting of ISO200!

ISO800 and 1,600 have blue spots invading the image while other multi-coloured noise covers the whole frame.

White-balance
There are five white-balance settings on the Z980 and weirdly, flash isn't one of them. Actually, manual white-balance set isn't available either which begs the question why Kodak have included a hot-shoe to attach flashguns to the camera. Auto white-balance won't be able to compensate for flash as it needs to see the colour in front of it and it can't with flash. It looks like activating the pop-up flash changes the white-balance settings because the images do actually come out quite well balanced.

Daylight  
Kodak Easyshare Z980 auto white balance daylight
Kodak auto white balance daylight
Kodak Easyshare Z980  white balance daylight
Kodak white balance daylight.
Tungsten  
Kodak Easyshare Z980 auto white balance tungsten
Kodak auto white balance tungsten.
Kodak Easyshare Z980  white balance tungsten
Kodak white balance tungsten.
Fluorescent  
Kodak Easyshare Z980 auto white balance fluorescent
Kodak auto white balance fluorescent.
Kodak Easyshare Z980  white balance fluorescent
Kodak white balance fluorescent.

This means that for the studio shoot, I had to use tungsten light then adjust it in editing because the camera doesn't quite get the whites as they should be. In its defence, it does a pretty good job at handling tungsten in auto and tungsten settings. Fluorescent settings are similar although I actually got a more balanced result from the auto setting.

Softer casts are dealt with effectively and I like the warmth of the shade setting, it reminds me of the warm tones of Kodak film.

Integral flash
As well as the hot-shoe, there's a small integral flash on the Kodak Easyshare Z980. It works pretty well as long as the settings are correct and I got very nice exposures from it. The flash modes are only basic with auto, red-eye reduction, flash on and flash off. I'm unsure why you can't simply press the flash down so the flash off mode is unnecessary.

Buffer write time
The Kodak Easyshare Z980 has a painfully slow processing speed. A Raw file takes 22sec to download one image while a Fine JPEG is ready to go straight away as long as it's not a long exposure.

Continuous shooting isn't available in Raw, probably due to the slow processing speed. In JPEG, the continuous shooting mode isn't all that fast either, I got five shots in 3.5sec before the camera had to stop to download everything. It then wasn't ready within the ten second trial time.

Battery
The Kodak Z980 takes four AA batteries and the camera comes with 2100mAh Ni-Mh types. It also comes with a charger which is quite compact but is the two pin sort so you also have to use the UK adapter plug in this country. The plug is also included but when the charger is plugged into the wall, it's not the most stable of connections.

I took around 150 shots throughout the test which were all in Raw so took the extra long processing time and I found that by the end there was around 1/4 power left.

Lens quality
Fitted to the Z980 is a Schneider Kreuznach Variogon 24x optical zoom lens. It gives a 35mm equivalent of 26 - 624mm focal length. There's a slight amount of barrel distortion at 26mm wide-angle but this corrects as the lens is zoomed in.

Kodak Easyshare Z980  wide-angle view
At full 26mm wide-angle, there's plenty in the shot.
Kodak Easyshare Z980  zoomed view
At full 624mm zoom, lonely hills don't seem so far away.

Edge quality is lower than the centre but it's not too bad but the lens does suffer from purple fringing in high contrast areas.

Verdict
As a concept I can see what Kodak are trying to achieve with the Z980 and I think with some extra work they could really take off. The camera is easy enough to use but lacks a lot of functions in the menu and what is there needs a better system than using the command wheel on the top plate.

Performance wise, the camera does well with colour and focusing but the sheer volume of noise spoils the overall results.

The Kodak Easyshare Z980 isn't quite a backup camera for someone used to a DSLR or anything else with a larger sensor. Or good noise control. It's a similar camera to the Samsung WB5000, even down to the lens. With prices around the £250 mark, it's competitive with the Samsung which is still at £284 although the Samsung has a wider ISO range and works on noise much better.

In  time and with some work, a descendent of the Z980 could well be a viable alternative but for now, it's relegated to newcomers to photography who simply want a high resolution, big zoom camera with some funky features.

Pros
Massive 24x optical zoom
Balanced exposures
Innovative portrait shutter

Cons
Bad noise control at low ISO
Barrel distortion at wide-angle

FEATURES
HANDLING
PERFORMANCE
VALUE
OVERALL

Kodak Easyshare Z980: Specifications
Price: £250 (Approximation from prices online)
Contact: www.kodak.co.uk
Resolution: 12Mp
Sensor size: 1/2.33in
Sensor type: CCD
Max. image size: 4112x3032
Aspect ratio: 4:3
Focusing system: TTL imager AF system
Focus points: 25
Focus types: Normal, macro, infinity, manual
File types: Raw, JPEG
ISO sensitivity: ISO64-1600
Metering system TTL
Metering types Pattern, Spot, Center Weighted
Exp compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments
Shutter speed range: 16sec-1/2000sec
Frames-per-second: 5fps max, 1fps standard
Image stabilisation: Optical
Monitor: 3in TFT LCD
Media type: SD, SDHC
Interface: USB 2.0
Power: 4x AA (Rechargeable batteries and charger included)
Size: 123.7x105x90.5mm
Weight: 415g (excl. card and batteries)

Prices online for the Kodak Easyshare Z980 start from around £250 but have a good look around before you buy. For more information on Kodak products, visit their website here:

Kodak Easyshare Z980





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Photographs taken using the Kodak Easyshare Z980

Cloud  GaloreGeoFall FeedingPond at DuskStanding at SeaPassengersPure JoyHorse ImpressedWaiting For A FriendCharlotte Skyline Light ShowBlue Heron at Potters PondCat Tail at Entiat EstuaryContrast in OrangeIt Came Out of The Sky
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