The Kodak Z981 is a 14-megapixel superzoom camera that offers the ability to capture RAW format images throughout its impressive 26-676mm (equivalent) zoom range.
So how does the Z981 stack up amongst other superzoom cameras? Read on to find out.
Kodak Z981 Key Features
- 26x Zoom Lens (26-676 equivalent)
- 3″ LCD (230k dot resolution)
- ISO 64-1600
- Image Stabilization
- HD 720 Video Capture
- RAW Image Capture
- AA Battery Powered
Kodak Z981 Handling, Ergonomics and Control
The first thing you’ll notice about the Kodak Z981 is that it’s big. While this isn’t something out of the ordinary for superzooms, the Z981 just feels bigger than the rest. The 4 AA batteries in the grip of the Z981 makes it quite heavy too. If size matters, you might as well be carrying around a DSLR with a kit lens attached. Of course, you’d miss out on the zoom range of the Z981.
I have to give big kudos to Kodak for not only including AA batteries with the Z981, but including pre-charged AA batteries AND an AA battery charger. I don’t know of another manufacturer that does this with their AA-powered camera.
The mode dial atop the Z981 is a natural fit for a camera this size. Advanced users will appreciate the quick access to Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter speed-priority, and Manual modes. And, novice users will be right at home with a red camera icon that indicates fully auto mode on the Z981. You’ll also find other modes like portrait, sport and panorama. Unfortunately though, the only way to access video recording is through the mode dial, rather than a direct record button on the back of the camera as is found on many competitive cameras nowadays.
The rest of the camera’s controls are easy enough to access with no major complaints. However, I would prefer to have a zoom rocker switch near the shutter release for my index finger, as opposed to the thumb buttons on the rear of the camera.
I like the scroll wheel on top of the camera, which is used for changing menu items and quick settings like aperture and shutter speed. It took me a while to get used to it; however, once I did, it became quite intuitive to use. The 4-way control buttons on the rear of the camera can also be used to navigate the camera’s menu, and they work as you would expect.
There is a Share button on the rear of the Z981 that allows you to tag photos and videos for later addition to social media sites like Flickr, YouTube and Facebook or sending via email once you connect the camera to your computer via USB cable.
One of the interesting features on the Z981 is the inclusion of a vertical shutter release button, which works in conjunction with a plastic grip extension included with the camera. Although, it is not necessary to use the grip for the Z981′s operation. While this is a great feature to have for larger DSLR cameras, I question the need for such a feature on a point and shoot superzoom.
I’m not normally a fan of electronic viewfinders on cameras, and the Z981 is no exception – it’s pretty darn small. Still yet, it serves a purpose to use when you have to.
Another complaint that I have with the Z981 is that the battery compartment and SD card slot share the same door. As a result, you have to make sure to hold the camera upside down and not turn it beyond 90 degrees from that point while adding or removing the SD card – else you’ll loose a battery . . . or four. Additionally, the locking mechanism for the Z981′s battery compartment is tough to secure, which makes this feature even more frustrating.
Kodak Z981 Image Quality
Keep in mind that we’re dealing with a consumer-oriented point and shoot camera here. And, as you might expect, the Z981 suffers a bit from that small image sensor, especially when at the long end of the zoom lens (contrast and sharpness tend to suffer quite a bit).
The saving grace with the Z981 is the RAW image capture. While the Z981 is definitely a consumer camera, those savvy enough to work with the RAW files in post-processing software (like Adobe Lightroom 3) will get a lot more out of the images from the camera. Just check out the two images below and the 100% crop from the center of the image.
First, the JPEG image:
Now, the RAW image processed in Lightroom 3:
The below crops show the RAW image (processed in LR3) on the left and the JPEG image on the right.
The caveat to shooting in RAW format with the Z981 is file size. RAW files end up at about 25MB each, while JPEG files are typically in the 4-5MB range. As you can see from the above samples though, you get a lot more out of the RAW files than you do the JPEGs.
Below you will find a sample of images captured across the ISO range from the Kodak Z981, along with a number of images captured in various settings and environments during my review of the Z981, most of which were RAW files processed in Lightroom 3. I have noted the basic shot info below each image, including the approximate 35mm format equivalent focal lengths in some cases. Feel free to download any of these sample images for your personal inspection (not for republication). You can get the original files by right-clicking on any of the images and choosing “Save link as…”
26mm – ISO 200 – f/4 – 1/60s
Kodak Z981 Accessories
Memory cards – I’ve used the basic Kingston SD cards in the Z981, which worked just fine. No need to go all out on fast memory cards with the Z981. Cheap cards from reputable brands will work just fine. The Z981 is compatible with all SD and SDHC cards – but not SDXC cards.
Memory card reader – If you don’t own a memory card reader, they make transferring images to your computer a world faster. I highly recommend picking one up with the Z981. They’re cheap and big time saver. Lexar makes a good card reader for about $15.
The Kodak Z981 comes across as a rather odd fit. It is sort of a “Jack of all trades, master of none” kind of camera. Many features seem squarely aimed at an entry-level consumer market with primary goal of convenience and ease of use, while some features appear targeted more toward advanced users. While some cameras may pull this off, I have a tough time finding a way to recommend the Z981 to either group.
Perhaps the biggest saving grace for the Z981 is a price point that has dropped into the bargain zone (around $250) at the time of this review, which may be enough to lure potential purchasers away from the likes of the pricier Fuji HS10 and Nikon P100.
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