The photo quality from the Kodak EasyShare Z981 is mediocre to poor. Even at its lowest ISO settings, photos are soft and salt-and-pepper noise is noticeable when images are viewed at 100 percent. At ISO 400, detail is pretty much gone due to noise reduction, leaving indoor photos looking mushy; using the zoom lens destroys detail even further. Basically, the results look more like stills grabbed from video than photos.
Like most compact cameras, though, it's possible to coax a decent snapshot from it and if your shots are for Web use, don't get printed larger than 4x6 inches, and you don't plan to heavily crop or enlarge images, you might be OK. In general, however, I can't recommend this camera for anything beyond snapshot use in bright lighting conditions.
Regardless of ISO, photos look soft and benefit from light sharpening. However, the Z981 produced its sharpest photos with decent fine detail in Macro mode. The camera has two options for shooting macro. The regular Macro mode allows you to focus on subjects 3.9 inches from the lens. Then there's a Super Macro that extends the lens slightly, allowing you to focus at 0.4 inch from the subject. This was shot with the regular Macro mode. (By the way, yellow appears overly green from this camera.)
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.
The Z981's lens features a 35mm-equivalent range of 26-676mm. That flexibility is attractive, especially at this camera's price tag. Unfortunately, enlarging its images reveals what a mushy mess the photos actually are.
To get shots like this, you'll need to put the Z981--or any megazoom--on a tripod. If you're considering a megazoom for birding or sports it's fairly unlikely you'll get sharp photos of your subject without a tripod or other stationary support.
The Z981 has a wide-angle 26mm-equivalent lens that exhibits very visible barrel distortion and Kodak doesn't correct for it in its JPEG processing. At least pincushioning is minimal when the lens is fully extended (bottom). Center sharpness is good, but softens a bit in the corners.
Purple/blue fringing around subjects in high-contrast areas is common to megazooms, but the Z981 produces above-average amounts of it. If you're not printing larger than 4x6 inches, enlarging photos, or cropping them heavily, you probably won't notice. Also, there was more of it in telephoto shots than wide angle ones.
Though neutrals were accurate, all other colors are not. Yellows, blues, and greens are very off, whereas reds just look oversaturated. Exposure seems inconsistent and highlights are frequently clipped. White balance is generally good, though.