While this 14-megapixel camera with a 26x zoom may be physically more imposing and marginally less portable than direct competitors such as the Nikon Coolpix P100, Olympus SP-800UZ and Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100, it's still dwarfed by the mighty Fujifilm FinePix HS10. Unfortunately for Kodak, we mean dwarfed in most senses.,
Just a couple of months back, Kodak was asking what seemed like an unreasonable £400 for the camera. That meant it was competing not just against the 30x zoom HS10, one of the best cameras in its class, but also an entry-level digital SLR. Fortunately, its price tag has fallen to a more realistic £240 at the time of writing. So we can't criticise it in terms of price.
This reduced outlay also partly excuses the plasticky build quality, and the fact that the lens resembles a narrow and unsettlingly vulnerable piece of guttering when extended 64mm out from the body at the maximum zoom setting. It also feels slightly loose, and rattles around in its housing.
The camera's overall dimensions are a large but manageable 124 by 85 by 105mm. If there's one positive to be taken from the chunkier-than-average controls and grip, it's that the Z981 will appeal to the sausage-fingered.
Ease of use is one of the Z981's biggest selling points, besides its zoom. It's part of the EasyShare family, so a 'share' button for earmarking specific images for emailing or direct printing is prominently featured. We'd have preferred a dedicated video-record button in its place -- something it's easy to mistake the red button for at first glance.
Instead, recording of 720p high-definition movies commences and ends with presses of the shutter-release button. The built-in mono microphone is overly sensitive, recording operational adjustment, but we were pleased that the optical zoom remains accessible in movie mode, with the focus continually readjusting if you leave the camera on the default continuous-autofocus setting.
The Z981 feels light in the hand, in spite of a body-only weight of 520g. Added heft is provided by the four handily pre-charged NiMH AA batteries that the Z981 requires for power, inserted into the base of the handgrip. We were less than enamoured with the sliding compartment door that keeps them in place, however. It was so stiff on our sample that we had to wrestle it open and shut.
The focal range is a not insubstantial 26-676mm in 35mm terms, so, in theory, the Z981 should be equally adept at taking in panoramas as it is at pulling far-away subjects closer. We experienced the obvious effect of camera shake -- softened images -- when shooting handheld in daylight at maximum zoom, however.