Announced at CES 2009, the Kodak EasyShare Z980 was the first megazoom camera to boast a wide-angle 24x zoom lens. It seemed a bit bulky, but we were forgiving as it was a first of its kind and that is a big lens. Of course shortly after Kodak's announcement came the Olympus announcement of the considerably tighter-looking 26x zoom SP-590UZ, which confirmed our original opinion of the Z980 being bulky. Now having fully tested it that opinion is now firm: the Z980 is a clunky unwieldy camera. The camera isn't without its benefits, though, and photo quality and performance are fairly good for its class (just not at high-ISO sensitivities).
|Key specs||Kodak EasyShare Z980|
|Dimensions||3.5 inches wide by 4.9 inches high by 4.1 inches deep|
|Weight (with battery and media)||18.7 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution/Viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 230K dots/electronic|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||24x, f2.8-5.0, 26-624mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG, KDC (raw)/MOV (H.264)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,000x3,000 pixels/1,280x720 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Mechanical and electronic|
|Battery type, rated life||NiMH rechargeable (4 AA, precharged), 400 shots|
Kodak had its heart in the right place with the design of the Z980 and certainly knows its target users well enough. It's an inexpensive way for advanced amateurs or hobbyists to get their hands on a very flexible lens and plenty of control options to experiment with. Unfortunately, the camera comes across as one of the company's compact cameras gussied up with an extra knob, dial, and buttons. The Mode dial on top makes sense. The dial next to it for selecting and adjusting shot settings does not, and should 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; it should've been a zoom ring around the shutter release.
While I'm on shutter releases, Kodak, in an attempt to make portrait photography a little more comfortable, 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 (positioned conveniently next to the power switch mind you). Kodak also included 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.
Thankfully, there are a few highlights. Menus are typical Kodak: attractive and easy to navigate. The LCD and electronic viewfinder are good quality and on top of the EVF is a hot shoe for use with Kodak's $149.95 add-on P20 Zoom Flash. Lastly, since the Z980 is powered by four AA batteries, Kodak includes rechargeables and a charger. They're precharged, too, so you can start shooting out of the box.
|General shooting options||Kodak EasyShare Z980|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Open shade|
|Recording modes||Smart Capture, Portrait, Sport, SCN (scene modes), Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, Panorama, Video|
|Focus||Multizone AF, Center-zone AF, Selectable-zone AF (25 zones), Manual|
|Metering||Multipattern, Center-weighted, Spot|
|Color effects||Natural, High Color, Low Color, Black & White, Sepia|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||6 photos|
The Z980 comes close to an entry-level digital SLR in terms of its shooting controls. Except for white balance, it gives full manual control as well as shutter speed and aperture-priority modes. Again, using them is easy, too, but 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 sharpness adjustments. There are two burst modes: one at full resolution for six consecutive shots and a 3-megapixel high-speed burst for nine frames in a row at 5fps. Of course, you can use the Z980 as a standard point-and-shoot camera, too, thanks to 16 scene modes and Kodak's Smart Capture mode that combines its Intelligent scene detection, Intelligent capture control, and Intelligent image processing. It's a reliable mode if you don't trust yourself--or others--to get a good shot. On the other hand, because of this camera's poor high-ISO performance, you may want to opt for the Program Auto mode most of the time so you can at least control the ISO.
Though it's far from speedy, the Z980 is on par with other megazoom cameras. Time to first shot is a reasonable 2.4 seconds. Shutter lag is at the tail end of acceptable at 0.5 second in bright conditions and 0.9 in dim light. Its shot-to-shot time was good, though, at 1.1 seconds without the flash and 2.3 seconds with it on. Shooting in raw extends the wait time up to 6.7 seconds, however. As for shooting in burst, the Kodak's full-resolution continuous shooting is capable of 1.4fps for up to six photos.
The zoom range doesn't much matter if the photos don't look good, and those produced by the Z980 are a bit mixed. Even shooting at its lowest sensitivity of ISO 64 noise is present, adding graininess to the photos. Shooting below ISO 200 is your best bet, which is before noise and noise suppression kicks in heavily and starts destroying detail. You get usable results at ISO 400, but photos taken at higher sensitivities are fairly smeary. If you're looking for something to shoot with in low light without a flash, you probably don't want this camera. Also, other than macro shots, photos tended to be fairly soft. What the Kodak does well, however, is color, which was pleasingly vibrant. Exposure was very good, too, as was white balance; even auto white balance is decent, instead of the overly yellow results from other manufacturers' cameras.
The Z980 captures video at an HD resolution of 720p. The quality is generally very good and you get full use of the optical zoom, which is a definite plus. You just have to be patient as it's unsurprisingly slow to focus. What is disappointing, however, is that there is no way to view the HD video out of the box on an HDTV nor is there a connector for Kodak's docks. Judging by the company's site for this camera, Kodak would like you to purchase its $199 Theatre HD Player for viewing the videos on a TV (of course, the box does much more than that).
Marred by a wonky design and photo quality that drops off significantly above ISO 400, the Kodak EasyShare Z980 isn't easily recommendable. There's no doubt that the wide-angle megazoom lens provides a lot of fun and flexibility as does the camera's capability to be fully automatic, fully manual, and everything in between. But it seems like Kodak needs a generation to work out some of the design kinks.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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