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Kodak Easyshare Z980 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 07/07/2009
Rating: Above Average
Author: Joshua Waller

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Introduction: Announced on the 5th of January 2009, the Kodak Easyshare Z980 is one of Kodak's new ultra zoom digital cameras, and features an impressive 26mm wide angle lens with a 24x optical zoom zooming all the way to 624mm. The camera features a 12 megapixel sensor, a wide angle 24x optical zoom lens, a 3" screen that works in the sun, 16:9 Aspect Ratio: 1280 × 720 30fps video recording with stereo sound, optical image stabilisation and a vertical shutter and grip. The Kodak Easyshare Z980 is available from around £298 which makes it good value for money. The camera is enclosed in a plastic body and is available in black. The camera measures approx. 90.5 × 123.7 ×105 mm (excluding protrusions), and weighs approx. 415g. excluding battery and memory card.

Kodak have this to say about the camera:

"Who says you can’t have it all? The KODAK EASYSHARE Z980 Digital Camera blends the latest picture-taking technology with the ultimate in style. And with Kodak’s innovative Smart Capture feature, it’s the take-anywhere camera that does it all—automatically. The Z980 allows you to take those versatile and creative shots you crave. So when the perfect picture-taking opportunity arises, you’ll be ready. Go from horizontal to vertical shots with ease. And with on-camera features like face detection, multimedia slideshow, text and sound tags, and HD video, taking the shot is just the beginning. The 24X SCHNEIDER-KREUZNACH VARIOGON Optical Zoom Lens (26–624 mm) zooms in even faster and closer to deliver crisp, steady shots for extraordinary creative performance"

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Casio Exilim FC100)


Front view - camera off. (lens cap off)


Front view - camera on, hand grip, vertical shutter, focus assist lamp, microphone, lens.


Top: flash hot shoe, power switch, mode dial, vertical / horizontal shutter switch, shutter release, flash, focus, timer, dial.


Zoom lens extended, speaker.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera (with no zoom).


Size comparison.

Specifications / Features:

  • 12 megapixels 1/2.33” CCD Sensor
  • Wide Angle 24x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 26mm to 624mm)
  • Optical image stabilization
  • 3.0" LCD Display, 201K pixels
  • Face Detection
  • Smart capture mode
  • Video recording: 16:9 Aspect Ratio: HD Video (1280 × 720p) at 30 fps
  • Continuous shooting: 5fps up to 9 shots (at 3mp)
  • HD Output : Yes
  • Red-Eye Reduction: Yes
  • 1cm Super Macro mode
  • ISO Smart Capture: 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 (PASM: 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, at 3mp: 3200, 6400)
  • Modes / Scenes: Smart Capture, sport, P (program mode), A (aperture priority mode), S (shutter priority mode), M (manual mode), portrait, panorama (left–right, right–left), video, SCN (scene modes): high ISO, night portrait, landscape, night landscape, flower, sunset, backlight, candlelight, manner/museum, text, beach, snow, fireworks, children, self-portrait, stage.
  • Histogram available: In playback and record
  • Exposure bracketing: 3 shots upto +/- 1 ev
  • Optical viewfinder: No - Electronic
  • Manual WB: No

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera (with 64mb built in memory, 47.5mb available)
  • Detachable vertical grip
  • (4) KODAK Ni-MH 2500mAh Pre-Charged Rechargeable Digital Camera Battery AA
  • KODAK Ni-MH charging solution
  • USB cable
  • Lens cap with strap
  • Neck strap
  • User's Guide with KODAK EASYSHARE Software

Good box contents - it's good to see high power N-MH batteries are provided with a charger, and it's good that the batteries come pre-chared so that you can start shooting straight away, however the included printed manual is very short. A large memory card would be nice, as would a case and are both recommended purchases.

Menu system: The menu system is easy to use, logical, fairly well layed out and easy to see thanks to the large 3" screen. You can change settings quickly using the top dial - this gives you quick access to all the most commonly used options whilst taking photos (such as exposure, flash, iso etc), and then the Menu can be accessed when additional settings need changing. The playback menu gives all the usual options such as a slideshow, and lets you tag the photo, or view properties. An explanation of the scene modes is automatically shown when you choose the scene mode.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera lets you choose the image size and aspect ratio (12m, 10m (3:2), 9m (16:9), 6m, 3m, 2.2m (3:2), 2.1m (16:9), 1.2m, VGA), and gives you several choices regarding how much compression is applied to the images (Fine, Standard, Basic and RAW). Higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended, unless you're prepared to sacrifice image size to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes, aspect ratios, and compression options.


Bottom - Kodak batteries, SanDisk Ultra II 4GB SD memory card, plastic tripod mount.

Battery usage: I was able to take around 375 shots before the batteries went flat, this is slightly better than average, and Kodak provide rechargeable batteries and a charger which is a very nice addition.

Memory cards: A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 1gb memory card, if you intend to take fine JPEG images, and preferably a 2gb memory card, or larger. The larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. You can use SD or SDHC memory cards - I tend to use Sandisk Ultra II Plus USB SD memory cards as these let you plug the memory card straight into a USB socket making it easy to transfer images onto any computer, they are available as 1GB SD, or 2GB SD cards and 4GB SDHC cards. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Kodak Easyshare Z980:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 1gb (1000mb): £3, 2gb (2000mb): £4, 4gb (4000mb SDHC): £6, 8gb (8000mb SDHC): £10, 16gb (16000mb SDHC): £38
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is a little slow to switch on and take photos, from off, to taking a photo in 3.0 seconds. Focusing seemed quick, except in very low light - this takes a little longer to focus depending on the subject, and focus at the telephoto end of the zoom was slightly slower. The playback mode is quick - apart from when you switch straight to it after taking a photo when "Processing" is displayed. The camera shutter response seemed instant when pre-focused responding in 0.1 seconds or less - and shot to shot time was fairly quick, with a delay of around 1.2 seconds between shots without flash. The flash recharge time added about a two second delay allowing a shot to be taken every 3.0 seconds. Continuous shooting is average good offering 1 fps for 5 shots at the highest resolution, there is also a 5fps continuous shooting mode available at 3mp for upto 9 shots. The cameras menus seemed quick. The screen updates quickly especially when pre-focused allowing you to track your subject easily.


Back - 3.0" screen, EVF/LCD button, EVF, zoom control, delete, menu, info, play, share buttons and 4 way controller with middle OK button.

Ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, with a logical menu system, and easy to access features. The camera has a number of modes such as "Smart Capture " and numerous scene modes so that you should be able to get good shots. The face detection focus can help capture photos of people and will automatically expose the photo so they subjects face is correctly exposed. The controls on the back of the camera are straightforward, and it's easy to switch modes using the clear mode dial, and various buttons. The menus are responsive and are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, and a lot of the options can be accessed using the buttons on the back and top. It's also easy to see when photos are in focus using the zoomed playback mode. The screen is very clear, and works fairly well outdoors, however in very bright sunlight it's best to switch to the the electronic viewfinder.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The layout of the buttons and controls are good, with all button and controls reachable with your right hand. The zoom control and shutter release is good. The mode dial is positioned well making it easy to switch modes with your thumb, and the top dial gives quick access to settings. I thought the camera felt very good with a good hand grip at the front. The camera feels well made, with a robust plastic body. The camera is easy to hold, is quite chunky, and looks a lot like an SLR, with a neatly styled body available in black. The on / off switch feels okay, however the buttons aren't very clearly labelled, and don't always do what you expect, for example you would expect the i (information) button to display more photo information in playback mode, but doesn't. The additional vertical shutter release and additional handgrip are an interesting feature, however the switch makes it a little awkward to switch between the shutter buttons, and the additional handgrip makes the already quick bulky camera even larger. The tripod mount is made out of metal, and is positioned near the middle of the camera which is good.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Kodak Easyshare Z980 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO200) Flash photo (ISO200)

Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo with bright saturated colours and almost no red-eye in the photo. It has a fairly good flash, and copes fairly well with group photos. There is very little red-eye in group photos. On AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was quite low, and noise was acceptable. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time in low-light, the LED illuminator helped focus.

ISO Noise Test: Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels (ranging from ISO 64 - ISO1600), manual ISO settings (ISO: 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600), and further ISO settings upto ISO3200 / ISO6400 in high sensitivity mode.

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops, viewable at 100%, from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 12 megapixel Panasonic Lumix FX40 and Fujifilm FinePix F100fd.

Panasonic Lumix FX40 (12mp) Kodak Easyshare Z980 (12mp) Fujifilm FinePix F100fd (12mp)

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Panasonic Lumix FX40 on the left, Kodak Easyshare Z980 in the middle, Fujifilm FinePix F100fd on the right. Any tonal difference is due to white balance or lighting / metering differences.

Panasonic Lumix FX40 (12mp) Kodak Easyshare Z980 (12mp) Fujifilm FinePix F100fd (12mp)
 
ISO 80 - Actual Pixels ISO64 - Actual Pixels  
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels (1s, Nightmode)
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels

Noise results: Noise is visible at ISO64 and at other low ISO settings, even in bright sunlight. Detail is fairly low most likely due to heavy noise reduction. The other 12mp cameras shown here, show less noise, and more detail.

Image Stabilisation: The features real optical image stabilisation. This feature helps reduce image blur due to low light or long zoom photography. With image stabilisation switched on the images are much sharper and clearer, and are much more likely to come out blur free, especially in low light, when using the zoom or when using slow shutter speeds.

Outside:

Liverpool shops Red Mini

Outside: The camera has very rich saturated colours - colourful and highly saturated. There was good detail, and the camera took a number of pleasing images outside, with good contrast, although there was some chromatic aberrations and purple fringing in areas of high contrast. In general 'normal' quality jpeg artefacts are not easily seen, however areas with strong contrasts benefit from use of the highest quality setting. Images are slightly soft, but nothing too worrying. Noise is evident in most photos, mainly in dark areas, however, this was mainly noticeable when "pixel peeping" and viewing the images at 100% on the screen.

Zoom: This lens provides a 24x optical zoom starting at 26mm equivalent which is great for wide angle shots (useful indoors, and at parties etc), and the camera zooms to 624mm allowing photos of very distant objects. I've included examples below to show what the zoom is capable of. Digital zoom basically takes a crop of the centre of the frame and enlarges the image, degrading image quality, and is therefore best avoided.

Wide-angle Roughly 3x Optical Zoom Full Optical zoom

Exposure: The photos of the clock tower are exposed well with detail in the dark areas - however the sky is slightly over exposed - exposure in other photos was generally very good. Vignetting was not noticed in these photos (but was in others when using full optical zoom). It can be useful to under expose images with bright backgrounds (eg; sky) with use of exposure compensation.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens makes very little noise, and gives you around 20 steps between wide and telephoto - this gives good control over how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing / Chromatic aberration was seen fairly often in areas of high contrast, especially when using a lot of zoom.

Macro Lens Performance:

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO160)

The camera can take macro photos where the subject is roughly 1cm away from the lens in super macro mode. Colour and detail is good, however the camera lacks manual white balance which is would have been very useful for better shots in artificial lighting.

Video mode: The camera features a very good video mode - it records 16:9 Aspect Ratio: 1280 x 720 (HD720p) 30fps videos with sound as MOV QUICKTIME MPEG-4 with stereo sound files and has good compression allowing you to record long videos. The video mode does let you use the optical zoom whilst recording, sound is also recorded even when using the zoom. However, the camera also flashes a VERY ANNOYING red light whilst recording so that any subjects being filmed show up with a red light flashing on their face.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is good - with excellent colour, and high levels of saturation and contrast with fairly good detail. Noise levels were slightly higher than average. There was low red eye in group photos, and purple fringing was occasionally seen (especially when using full zoom). The camera did a good job focusing most of the time, even indoors, thanks to the focus assist lamp. There was some vignetting (darkened corners) especially when using full zoom and some barrel and pincushion distortion was seen in photos. There is a very good range of image sizes, aspect ratios, and a very good choice of compression options (including RAW). Auto white balance, metering and exposure seemed to be very good, although the lack of manual white balance is surprising. Optical image stabilisation helped keep shots blur / shake free in low light helping the camera get a higher shot success rate than cameras without. The camera has a very good HD video mode that lets you use the optical zoom while recording, however the flashing red light was very annoying. (7/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera offers a wide mix of advanced features, as well as numerous "easy" features for beginners. The camera feels well built, with good switches, and is fairly comfortable to hold. The camera has a good 3" screen, and the electronic viewfinder means you can use the camera in bright sunlight. The camera is easy to use, thanks to numerous scene modes, and clever "Smart" capture modes, and provides quick access to the most commonly used options. The layout of buttons and controls is quite good. The camera speed is fairly good, with an average switch on time, quick focusing time, excellent shutter response, quick playback mode, quick menus, and fairly quick continuous shooting mode. The camera has a wide range of features that should suit most people, such as face detection focus, red-eye reduction, numerous scene modes, excellent video mode that allows the use of the zoom whilst recording, excellent macro mode, an ultra wide angle 24x optical zoom lens with image stabilisation, and even full manual controls with RAW support. The camera also has good battery life. However the vertical grip and shutter add some additional bulk and may be of limited appeal (although conversely, this may be exactly what you are looking for). Manual white balance and an improved manual would be nice. (8/10)

Value for Money: The Kodak Easyshare Z980 is priced at around £299, this is priced in the middle of ultra zoom cameras, others worth looking at include the 18x optical zoom Panasonic Lumix FZ28, 20x optical zoom Canon Powershot SX10 IS, Sony Cybershot HX1, 24x optical zoom Nikon Coolpix P90, Pentax X70 and the 26x optical zoom Olympus SP-590UZ. (8/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Kodak Easyshare Z980 has quite a few quirks and peculiarities, for example, it provides full manual controls, plus RAW support, but no manual white balance! The video mode is great on paper letting you use the optical zoom and record in 720p HD, however there is a constantly flashing red light that shows up in videos. The camera has another rare feature, the vertical shutter release, however this is made more awkward to use than necessary by having a manual switch to select which shutter is in use. Despite all of this, I actually found the camera quite enjoyable to use, it's responded quite quickly, had a screen (and EVF) that updated very quickly, which meant that you were able to capture the moment when photographing moving subjects. The huge optical zoom was also useful and managed to take some nice shots. Images are quite good, and very colourful, but not perfect when using the full zoom. It's a strange but enjoyable camera that I would probably recommend it if you can live with it's many quirks.

Kodak Easyshare Z980 Rating: Above Average (7.6/10)
Available for £299 - or Get the best price below!

What I like:

  • Very easy to use
  • Good build quality
  • Good image quality - very bright colour
  • Wide angle 24x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilisation
  • Good 3" screen
  • Excellent 1cm macro mode
  • Focus assist lamp
  • Good video mode (HD 16:9 aspect ratio, allows use of the optical zoom, 30fps etc)
  • EVF useful in bright sunlight
  • Rechargable AA batteries included - decent battery life
  • Screen refreshes very quickly when focused - good for tracking subjects
  • Full manual mode
  • RAW support
  • Vertical shutter + hand grip quite rare

What I don't like:

  • Noise visible at ISO64
  • Strong purple fringing when using full zoom
  • Vignetting when using full zoom
  • Lacks Manual White Balance!
  • Handgrip makes camera quite bulky
  • Shutter switch slows down operation
  • Flashing red light when recording videos
  • Poor lens cap - pops off

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Kodak Easyshare Z980 Sample Photo Gallery.

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