The Kodak EasyShare Z981 feels like an afterthought in the company's camera lineup. It was released at CES 2010 but was not part of the fanfare for its other models announced at the same time. The only thing that seems to tie the Z981 to the rest of Kodak's offerings is its Share button and built-in software for quickly getting shots off to friends and family or uploaded to photo-sharing sites. Otherwise, it's pretty slapdash with missing features, a somewhat clunky design, average shooting performance, and inconsistent photo quality.
It is cheap, though. Its MSRP is well below competing megazooms and can be found for about $100 less than that price. If all you care about is price and a long zoom lens, this camera might make you happy. But frankly, there's little else here to make it worth recommending.
|Key specs||Kodak EasyShare Z981|
|Dimensions (WHD)||3.3 x 4.9 x 4.1 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||18.7 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 230K dots/electronic|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||26x, f2.8-5, 26-676mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG, KDC (raw)/H.264 (.MOV)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,288 x 3,216 pixels/ 1,280x720 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Mechanical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||AA size (4, NiMH rechargeable), 450 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||No; external charger supplied|
|Storage media||SD/SDHC cards|
|Bundled software||Kodak EasyShare, Kodak Share button app (Windows only)|
The Z981 looks like several other megazoom cameras. After all, there's only so much that can be done when you're working around a big, wide-angle 26x zoom lens. For the most part it's the same as 2009's Z980, but feels fractionally more compact. The only visible difference is that the previous model's hot shoe was jettisoned.
On top is the shooting-mode dial with a spring-loaded power switch placed so closely in front of it that it actually requires effort to turn the camera on. Next to the Mode dial is a vertical dial for selecting and adjusting shot settings; it should really be on back where it would be in easy reach of your thumb. I have a preference for zoom toggles to be under thumb on back, but Kodak put it a little too far off to the left to make it easy to reach. To make portrait photography a little more comfortable, Kodak added a secondary shutter release at the lower front edge of the handgrip. A switch on top activates the button as well as changing the directional pad into a zoom toggle. Sadly, it doesn't shift the shooting information on the screen. If you want to go back and forth between using the two shutter releases, you'll have to keep flipping the switch. Kodak also includes a plastic grip that screws into the bottom of the camera so there's more to hold on to when you're shooting vertically. Thoughtful yes, but you have to take it on and off every time you want to access the easy-to-open, difficult-to-close SDHC card slot/battery combo compartment.
On back there's a 3-inch LCD and an electronic viewfinder; a button to the left of the EVF lets you switch between the two. Down the right side of the LCD are Delete, Menu, Info/help, and Playback buttons. To the right of those is a directional pad for navigating menus and browsing photos and movies as well as Kodak's Share button. This is really the biggest highlight of the camera as it allows you to quickly tag photos and movies for posting to Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube in addition to directly sending them to e-mail addresses or compatible Kodak digital photo frames. Tag what you want and then connect the camera by USB to a computer, and the built-in software handles the rest. At least it will once you've installed it on your computer and entered all of your account information.
The menu system is simple to navigate, as there are only two tabs: one for shooting options, another for camera setup. While checking through the settings, though, there are clearly differences between what the manual says the camera has and what is actually available. There is no way to shut off the image stabilization, for example. Presumably it shuts off when the camera is on a tripod, but maybe not. There's also no way to turn on a date stamp or turn off Quickview, the instant playback of shots after they've been taken. And while I'm on the topic of missing features, the camera manual and Kodak's Web site for the Z981 say it has a stereo mic for use when recording movies; it does not.
As for outputs, the Z981 has only a Micro-USB/AV port under a door on the camera's right side. Most current megazooms have a Mini-HDMI port for directly connecting to an HDTV, but this doesn't. Lastly, the Z981 is powered by four AA batteries, and Kodak includes rechargeables and a charger. They're precharged, too, so you can start shooting out of the box. However, once they're depleted, the bundled charger takes 16 to 18 hours to refresh the batteries. You'll either need to buy a second set of batteries or buy a faster charger.
|General shooting options||Kodak EasyShare Z981|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Open Shade|
|Recording modes||Smart Capture Auto, Portrait, Sport, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Panorama, Scene modes, Video|
|Focus modes||Multi AF, Center AF, Face Priority AF, Manual|
|Metering modes||Face Priority, Selectable, Multi, Center|
|Color effects||High Color, Natural Color, Low Color, Black & White, Sepia|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||Three shots (Standard quality)|
Like most full-size megazooms, the Z981 has semimanual and manual mode options. Shutter speeds can be set from 16 seconds to 1/2,000 second. Apertures include f2.8, f3.2, f3.5, f4, f4.5, f5, f5.6, f6.3, f7.1, and f8.0. With the lens fully extended, you just get five, though: f5.0, f5.6, f6.3, f7.1, and f8.0. Being able to control shutter speed is great for freezing or blurring motion; the aperture control gives you the ability to select how much of a scene you want in focus. Using them is easy, too, but again, the location of the dial for making changes should really be on back of the camera and not on top. You also get exposure bracketing, color effects, and contrast and sharpness adjustments. A manual white-balance option is notably absent.