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Kodak Z981 megazoom more downgrade than upgrade

About the only thing going for the 26x zoom Kodak EasyShare Z981 is its low price for its class.

It's completely reasonable to think an update to something will be better than its predecessor--or at least its equal, but for less money. The Kodak EasyShare Z981 isn't either of these things. The refresh of 2009's Z980, it was released at CES 2010, but was never really announced. And after testing it, it's understandable why.

The Z981 comes across like a last-minute effort to enable the company to keep a model in the full-size megazoom category. For example, basic features such as the ability to turn off digital zoom and Quickview--the instant playback of shots after they've been taken--aren't available despite being listed in the manual. It's supposed to have stereo mics for movie audio, but it doesn't. Even its main attraction, the 26mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a 26x zoom, is disappointing, with very visible barrel distortion that Kodak doesn't correct for in its JPEG processing.

Maybe this stuff would be more forgivable if the photo quality was stellar or the performance fast. But the camera pretty much misses the mark on those, too. The resolution's been bumped up to 14 megapixels, but the photo quality is predictably worse than the 12-megapixel Z980. Although I typically have no major issues with Kodak's image processing, this model is inconsistent with color and exposure. Shooting performance is decent, mainly because CCD-sensor-based megazooms all have a tendency to perform slowly.

Judging by the user reviews on Amazon and other retailers, though, people who've bought the Z981 are seemingly having a much different experience with it. In fact, megazoom users generally love their chosen megazoom regardless of their shortcomings. My sample photos from the Kodak are in the slideshow below if you want to check them out for yourself. For bridge cameras like this I expect better, but maybe I shouldn't?

Kodak EasyShare Z981