Kodak Z650 Review
Building on the success of last year's Z740, the EasyShare Z650 is upgraded for 2006 with a higher resolution of 6-megapixels and a larger 2.0- inch LCD display. It shares the same 10x optical zoom and VGA (640x480) movie mode found on its predecessor as well as an almost identical SLR-style body. This super-zoom model can be a simple point-n-shoot for beginners with exposure modes like Auto or one of the 17 pre-programmed scene models, while still offering the more experienced user plenty of manual control with its PASM (Program AE, Aperture priority, Shutter speed priority, Manual) option on the mode dial.
I was pleased with the ergonomics of this model. The SLR-style body offers a comfortable feeling in your hands, and thanks to the large handgrip, one handed shooting was a breeze. The various controls laid out across the body are well placed and easily assessed by your fingertips. The Z650 includes both a large 2.0-inch LCD and a high quality EVF (Electronic ViewFinder.) Because the EVF is just a tiny LCD in the eyepiece, all onsreen information, including the menu system, can be viewed on the display. Overall, I found the LCD worked well outdoors, however due to its reflective surface, it does have many angles which reflect the sun. This is when the EVF comes into play, offering a deep enough eyepiece that blocks out most of the sun. However, I was sad to see there is no form of dioptric adjustment. When shooting in low lighting conditions, both displays "gain up" nicely, which is critical for composing your shots in these conditions.
Shooting performance was rather good for a camera in this class. From power up to first image captured measured 4.6 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, was 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and only 3/10 of a second including autofocus. When shooting in single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.5 seconds without the flash and between 1.9 - 2.5 seconds using the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. The Z650 has two burst modes: Using First Burst, I was able to capture 4 images in 1.3 seconds. Last Burst continuously captured images at the same 1.5 frames per second, saving only the last 3 shots. The viewfinder (either EVF or LCD) briefly displays the last captured image in either Burst mode, allowing you to follow a moving subject. Once the buffer is full, it takes about 7 - 10 seconds to empty a 4 image burst, and allow you to start shooting again. Our tests were done using a Lexar 1GB SD card, Program mode, flash off, preview off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The most obvious feature when you first pick up the Z650, is the very noticeable Schneider- Kreuznach Variogon 10X optical zoom lens. Offering a very versatile zoom range of approx. 38 to 380mm (in 35mm equivalence), you should have no problems composing your shots with this lens. Its 38mm wide angle extreme has a field of view that is sufficient for most of your interior and landscape shots, while the 380mm telephoto magnification will bring distant subjects up close and personal (perfect for those who enjoy nature and sports photography.) While I did notice moderate barrel distortion at wide angle and slight pincushioning at the telephoto end, chromatic aberrations (purple fringing around highlights) were very well controlled. The zoom controls were also very smooth and allowed for precise adjustment of focal length; tapping it slowly moves the zoom in small increments, while pushing it fast will quickly go from wide-angle to telephoto.
Image quality was what we have come to expect from Kodak, very good for a 6-megapixel consumer model. Just about every shot we took outdoors was sharp and showed pleasing color saturation. The exposure system consistently produced properly exposed images, and also did very well at capturing sky detail, making for beautiful landscapes. Noise levels were average, becoming more noticeable at ISO 200 and above. While the Z650's 10x optical zoom is fast with a wide open aperture of f2.8, it would greatly benefit from some sort of image stabilization. When using the telephoto capabilities of this model, be sure you have a camera support, like a light weight monopod. When shooting indoors, you'll notice its built-in pop-up flash has a very good range of up to 16 feet at wide angle (using ISO Auto.) While it will have no problem illuminating your portrait and group shots subjects, don't expect it to cover large open rooms (like banquet halls, chapels or gymnasiums.) Both our indoor and outdoor portraits were very pleasing while doing a great job of showing sharp facial features, natural skin tones, and good flash exposure when used. Its AF system also did well in a variety of lighting conditions, and thanks to its (green) focus-assist lamp, you can even focus on subjects in complete darkness.
Movie mode was a bit disappointing. While it does allow you to capture TV screen filling 640x480 video, the slow frame rate of approx, 11fps makes movies seem choppy, and the exposure system does not like brightly lit white objects. You can see what I mean by taking a look at our two examples on the samples page.
The Z650 can be powered by either two AA-type batteries, one CRV3 or the optional Kodak NiMH battery pack. When you purchase a Kodak EasyShare Camera or Printer Dock, this pack is included. Using a CRV3 one-use lithium battery allowed me to capture about 90 shots and conclude all of our other tests, with plenty of power left over. The actual number of pictures you can capture will depend on the type of battery used, how often the flash fires, etc. We strongly recommend purchasing a set of high-capacity NiMH AAs (2500 mAh or better), they'll save you money in the long run and are more friendly on the environment than the Alkalines, which will just end up in the local landfill.
Bottom line - The EasyShare Z650 is a welcomed addition to Kodak's "Z" series line of super-zoom models. Offering great image quality, good performance, and a great deal of versatility with its 10x optical zoom and wide range of exposure modes, the Z650 offers an excellent "bang for your buck" with an MSRP of US$349! So, if you're in the market for a full featured, affordable super- zoom model, be sure you check this one out.
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