Kodak’s Z990 Max bridge camera has an imposing lens on which is emblazoned its ability to shoot photos at up to 30x zoom with image stabilisation.
Given the modest price tag of £250, it’s an eye-catching claim. Unlike a digital SLR’s lens, this lens is operated solely by a motor, and protrudes from its impressively solid housing in response to the pulling of the telephoto-to-wide-angle lever on the body’s front right.
It’s a rather slow process, so don’t expect to be able to fire up the Kodak Z990 Max camera, zoom in to an object some distance away and start shooting quickly. Focusing at distance takes longer than it ought and we were disappointed by some of the blurry results we got, having triggered the shutter release before the focus had finally locked.
It’s not always easy to discern this using the 3in LCD, however. We had no such issues when using the Fujifilm FinePix HS20 - another bridge design but with a mechanical zoom that isn’t dependent on a motor.
That said, we didn’t manage to wear out the Kodak Z990 Max’s AA batteries during our test period despite shooting a combination of video and around 150 photos, many of them using the zoom.
You can get some half -decent results from the Kodak Z990 Max using the auto setting but if you’re keen to be more creative, there’s a fistful of manual controls too.
We were pleased to find an onscreen histogram, for example – one of those neat visual indicators of whether your photo is likely to come out overexposed, too dark or just right. Unfortunately, the screen on which you can view such information suffers from glare; in bright sunlight you need to switch to the electronic viewfinder instead. This and the video mode have their own buttons on the back of the camera.
Be aware that if you take a succession of shots using the burst mode or use the Kodak Z990 Max to record HD video, you’ll have a lengthy wait (20 seconds or so for a minute-long video clip) for the camera to process and save it. In the meantime, you can’t take any more shots. We were using the fastest grade SD card for our tests, so the hold-up was certainly down to the camera rather than the card. If you shoot fast, you’ll probably want to stick to standard JPEG shots rather than the superior but more space-filling RAW.
Oddly, Kodak has used the same square navipad design as is found on its compact cameras and printers. Most cameras have a circular navipad and options that are easier to select. It’s not always as easy as it ought to be to work out how to get to particular options. Kodak makes it simple to share your photos and provides thumbnail previews that let you review all the photos you’ve taken or only those with people in.
Face recognition is included and you can even set up the Kodak Z990 Max to identify particular people. In our testing, this feature worked as described. If you simply want to click the playback button to check how well your last few shots have turned out, this feature can be frustrating as it adds a couple of extra steps to the process. An override option for impatient photographers like us would make sense.
Elsewhere, Kodak hasn’t thought through the menu settings as well as it should. The top dial provides the usual auto, portrait, scene, aperture priority and manual options, plus one to access creative effects and an HDR mode. This is great for moody landscapes but, again, takes an age to process the resulting shots.
The creative effects take long exposure night portraits, add drama or simulate a photo booth – an odd combination, we thought. We didn’t find this camera intuitive to usee. Compared with an Olympus PEN E-PL1, for example, with its on-screen assistance in choosing best scene modes or suitable ISO, this camera leaves the novice to flounder.
Given a bright but overcast day, we ended up with some colourful shots that were sharp enough to bear muster even when viewed at full-size in Photoshop. Other cameras we’ve used in similar conditions have turned in dark, smudgy shots.
However, the Kodak seems to overcompensate for the lack of light, resulting in both oversaturation and fringing around object edges on some shots. Textures and detail in our photos were well represented too.
Indoor scenes benefitted from the tendency towards brightness, while this camera deftly handles macro shots. We got pinsharp, beautifully detailed photos of the beaded figurine we use to test this aspect.
Video also came out well. Using the zoom in this mode is not advised since there’s a lot of mechanical noise as well as inevitable picture shake. With either a tripod or shooting a scene ‘straight’ we were impressed by the vibrancy and detail of our footage. The inclusion of a speaker is welcome too.