As manufacturers produce more megazoom cameras with similarly astounding capabilities (the 26mm-to-624mm-equivalent lens that's now de rigueur comes to mind), pinpointing the features that make a camera unique becomes more difficult. For the Kodak EasyShare Z980, the standouts are ergonomics and battery life.
Our first thought on seeing the Kodak EasyShare Z980: "Yikes, this is bulky." When we loaded the four AA-type rechargeable batteries, we felt the same apprehension about the weight. But once we started using the camera, we 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 Test Centre battery tests, the Kodak EasyShare Z980 fired off a stunning 500 shots on four fresh batteries, earning a well-deserved score of Superior. It may have kept going too; that 500-shot count is the maximum number we test for.
We really liked the Kodak EasyShare 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 Kodak EasyShare Z980 is noticeably fast, at starting up and at achieving focus lock. This is a huge bonus. Even at the telephoto end of the spectrum, where many megazooms lag, the Kodak EasyShare Z980 is surprisingly quick to focus.
Although the Kodak EasyShare Z980's LCD has a slightly lower resolution than the displays of similarly priced competitors, we hardly noticed it - and we found the glossy screen better to look at than that of the similarly priced Pentax X70, which we reviewed at the same time. Even in bright sunlight we had no problem viewing images, despite the shiny surface.
As for auto and manual capabilities, the Kodak EasyShare 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 we often find Kodak's unique on-screen menus jarring at first, the Kodak EasyShare Z980's menus were easy to use once we got the hang of them. We particularly liked selecting aperture and shutter settings via one dial, which you press and rotate.
In overall image quality, the Kodak EasyShare Z980 scored a bit below average when measured up against 50 other point-and-shoots in Test Centre 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 Kodak EasyShare 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, we dislike the feel of the spring-return on-off switch. It's placed too close to the mode dial, and we often found ourselves having to slide the switch twice before the Kodak EasyShare Z980 would turn on.
Another issue that annoyed us was our inability to turn the flash back on in shutter priority and manual modes once we'd turned it off; we 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 the Kodak EasyShare Z980 is a heavy camera, we felt slightly cheated by the flimsy shoulder strap.
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