Kodak Easyshare Z980 Digital Camera
As manufacturers produce more megazoom cameras with similarly astounding capabilities, pinpointing the features that make a camera unique becomes more difficult. For the Kodak EasyShare Z980, the standouts are ergonomics and battery life.
My first thought on seeing the Z980: "Yikes, this is bulky." When I loaded the four AA-type rechargeable batteries, I felt the same apprehension about the weight. But once I started using the camera, I came to appreciate the solidness and comfort that the extra heft gives this 12-megapixel point-and-shoot.
It gets a lot of mileage out of the AAs, as well. In our lab's battery tests, the Z980 fired off a stunning 500 shots on four fresh batteries. It may have kept going too; that 500-shot count is the maximum number we test for.
I really liked the Z980's vertical shutter release button, a secondary button that's easily accessible when you're holding the camera sideways (the LCD screen also switches orientation in that scenario). Coupled with the detachable vertical grip, the design element makes portraits and other vertical shots a pleasure to shoot. The camera's lens barrel is also larger than that of many of its megazoom siblings, which gives the Z980 the in-hand comfort of a digital SLR.
The Z980 is noticeably fast at starting up and at achieving focus lock, a huge bonus. Even at the telephoto end of the spectrum, where many megazooms lag, the camera is surprisingly quick to focus. Although the LCD has a slightly lower resolution than the displays of similarly priced competitors, I hardly noticed it. Even in bright sunlight I had no problem viewing images, despite the shiny surface.
As for auto and manual capabilities, the Z980 is right on a par with its competitors, featuring the usual auto-scene modes, Program AE, aperture priority, shutter priority, and fully manual shooting. All are easily accessible via a top-of-camera thumb dial. Although I often find Kodak's unique on-screen menus jarring at first, the Z980's menus were easy to use once I got the hang of them. I particularly liked selecting aperture and shutter settings via one dial, which you press and rotate.
In overall image quality, the Z980 scored a bit below average in our lab's jury evaluations. Its overall image score was Good, and it received above-average marks in sharpness, but it took its knocks in the color and overall exposure categories. The fact that the Z980 shoots in RAW, however, allows the camera to one-up nearly all of its competitors, giving users greater post-production control over the image.
To nitpick, I disliked the feel of the spring-return on-off switch. It's placed too close to the mode dial, and I often found myself having to slide the switch twice before the camera would turn on. Another issue was my inability to turn the flash back on in shutter priority and manual modes once I'd turned it off; I had to switch to aperture priority or P mode, turn on the flash, and then switch back into shutter or manual mode. Finally, considering that this is a heavy camera, I felt slightly cheated by the flimsy shoulder strap.
Macworld's buying advice
If you don't mind the additional weight and size, and you can overlook the slight shortcomings in imaging, the EasyShare Z980 is a decent buy. Its speed makes it a winner of a camera, even if Kodak isn't as sexy as other brands.
[Danny Palmerlee is a freelance writer and photographer.]