Kodak Z981 Review

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

  • 14MP
  • 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:


676mm equiv. – ISO 100 – f/5 – 1/13s

Now, the RAW image processed in Lightroom 3:


676mm equiv. – ISO 100 – f/5 – 1/13s

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…”


Macro Mode – ISO 250 – f/3.5 – 1/40s


26mm – ISO 64 – f/4 – 1/20s


26mm – ISO 100 – f/4 – 1/30s


26mm – ISO 200 – f/4 – 1/60s


26mm – ISO 400 – f/4 – 1/125s


26mm – ISO 800 – f/4 – 1/250s


26mm – ISO 1600 – f/4 – 1/500s


26mm – ISO 64 – f/2.8 – 1/25s


676mm – ISO 400 – f/5 – 1/25s (scene from the parking lot near the bottom of the previous photo)


676mm – ISO 64 – f/5 – 0.4s (scene from lower right section of wide angle shot from above)


579mm – ISO 64 – f/5 – 1/2s

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.

Conclusions

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.

The Kodak Z981 is available from Photography Bay’s trusted retail partner, B&H Photo, at the following link:

Kodak Z981 at B&H Photo

By making your photography purchases at B&H Photo through these links, you are helping Photography Bay to continue bring quality camera tests, news and reviews. Thanks for your continued support.

 

Comments

  1. David Waldman says

    Your conclusions seem out of sync with the bulk of your review and your included photo examples; many of your comments are favorable and the examples you’ve included show quite good picture quality. I have the camera and I find it a quite good piece of equipment.
    You’ve left out some aspects of the camera that are important to me:
    1. The camera’s sensitivity can be raised to ISO 6400 if you reduce the resolution to 3 megapixels in the P (program) mode. This can produce some very interesting results.
    2. In the P mode you can take B & W images which can be quite dramatic – especially in very low light at ISO 6400.
    3. You include the 720 HD video capability but you do not discuss this feature in your review. First of all you have access to the 26X zoom in video mode. You are also capable of shooting clips that are 29 minutes in length!
    4. You don’t like electronic viewfinders but many people prefer them to that idiotc staring at an lcd screen held at arm’s length. This viewfinder produces very good images. Many of us who hasve worked with SLRs prefer such a viewfinder.
    My complaints with the camera are:
    1. The battery life of the 4 rechargeable batteries is somewhat shorter than I would like. A dedicated battery – such as in my DSLR – would probably last a good deal longer.
    2. I find that when booting up the camera it’s easy for the mode dial to switch to video mode without one noticing. This can be very annoying if you think you’ve taken a still photo and the camera keeps on recording video with you unaware that it’s doing that.
    All in all I think this is a remarkable camera especially for the price. It may be large for a point and shoot but think of what you would have to shlep around with your DSLR if you wanted to get anything near the zoom range of the Z981.

  2. says

    I feel like your review is right on the mark. Photo quality is definitely a disappointment. The only way to get decent print shots at a 1:1 ratio is to tweak them on the computer. Who has time to do that?

    Many consumers will not know how to adjust ISO settings or use software to tweak the photos.

    It would be sad for Grandma to photograph the grandkids and wind up with photos that are below par. For the average consumer this is one camera to pass up.

  3. GREG says

    Hi i have a Kodak z981 i want to know how to set it up to print the date on all my pictures i take.Thankyou…………

  4. Danny says

    Overall, I like the camera and have taken it on trips where a DSLR would have been too heavy. I did not like the inability to add a filter. I dropped the camera and scratched the lens. Fixing it is almost the price of buying a refurbished one. I still like the camera and will be buying a refurbished instead. The one I have can still be used by the kids. My advise is to use the lens cap all the time. I learned too late.

  5. says

    Overall, I heard its capability to take RAW. So faithfully I went and purchased it, not knowing Kodak does not offer a RAW Software CD in the box.
    It was unfortunate Kodak stopped giving software for processing the RAW files they should have mentioned this on the box. It would stop me buying Kodak Z981
    I had to buy Adobe Light room 3 and sacrifice with the third party software as I would have always preferred original Kodak in the box CD version as Kodak does it better.
    It does not have the option of shooting JPEG & RAW simultaneously.
    One big problem “When shooting in manual mode” when the apperture & speed is set eg I shoot a zoomed in compact frame at f/8.0 & 1/250th sec.The next shot I zoom out and begin to compose my next frame then…..#**f##k where are all the settings done earlier gone, vanished – it goes back to default at f 2.0 1/500th or whatever this is a great drawback and with all frustrations you have to again redo the setting.
    Zooming is extremely high speed and does not let you stop at a desired composed frame Zooms speed could have been slower this would also help in video

  6. Joe lassiter says

    This not not a camera designed for your grandma. Most likely Grannie relys on her old trusty point and shoot Best Buy 79.00 special of the week. It’s quite interesting you said this not the camera for the average consumer. The average consumer most often only wants a casual shot of her kiddies, not a professionally posed photgraph of her “darlings.”. Perhaps this camera should be for those among us who is “really” into photography and willing to read the instructions. By the way, disposables 10.00 cameras are still availble.

  7. DougR says

    I purchased this camera from CostCo — and returned it two weeks later. I found the photo quality to be inferior to any other camera I own (all Canons). Even at the lowered price point, I would not recommend it.

  8. says

    I’ve had the Z981 for a month now, my second high zoom camera, i’ve had the fuji 1600 1700 and 1800 but returned them because of poor LCD screen ( snowy and distorted in dark settings) The Kodak went on sale for 229.99 cdn at Staples so i grabbed it !!!, i love all the features, i love that’s its big and clunky, the zoom is incredible and i also like that Kodak added the hard LCD covers, i think maybe only the cheap point and shoot had the soft screens.

    I love the lens cover detector, won’t retract with the cover on. And i love the attachment overt the battery cover to make the camera even bigger!!.

    When i’m out at events taking pictures all i ever get is WOW nice Camera!!! how much???? when told there like ” say what!!!!” hahaha I’m very happy with it!!! GO Kodak!!! Still playing with all the settings!!!

  9. says

    I’d like to comment on the photo quality being inferior? You might wanna learn how to take pictures!!! Its much better then the Fuji Models mentioned above!!!!