Steve's Conclusion


Steve's SnapShotkodak_z981_450.jpg

  • 14-Megapixel CCD image sensor 
  • 26x optical zoom lens: 35mm equivalent of 26-676mm
  • Optical Image stabilization
  • 3.0-inch, 230K pixel LCD screen
  • Electronic View Finder
  • 720p HD video capture; Quick Time H.264 codec
  • Optical Zoom while Recording
  • Face Detection and Recognition Software
  • Smart Capture auto mode
  • EasyShare button and software
  • 4 AA-type Batteries
  • SD/SDHC memory card slot
  • HDMI output
  • 64MB internal memory

  • Awesome 26x optical zoom lens
  • 26-676mm focal range
  • Excellent image quality from Smart Capture
  • 720p videos with Quick Time H.264 codec
  • EasyShare software allows one touch uploading to several web sites and email
  • Vertical shooting grip included
  • 4 rechargeable AA batteries and charger included
  • 450 to 500 images on fully charged included batteries (CIPA)
  • Weak flash when compared to optical zoom
  • Noise in darker and lower contrast areas
  • Poor Program mode image quality at camera default setting
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 3.4  seconds
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = 7/10 of a second, depending on AF change
  • Shot to shot delay wo/flash = 3.54 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay w/flash = 3.64 seconds
  • Burst mode = 0.7fps
  • 8/second Burst mode = 8.2fps (9, 3-Megapixel images)
Bottom Line
The Kodak EasyShare Z981 is one of the easiest to use and versatile mega-zoom digicams on the market. Featuring a 14-Megapixel imaging sensor and a 26x optical zoom lens, you have an incredible zoom range and the ability to produce huge prints. You will see some noise in your images, which we have seen in all 14-Megapixel digicams.
Pick This Up If...
You are looking for an affordable mega-zoom camera that still has all of the features of the higher priced cameras and the ease of use that you expect from Kodak.

The EasyShare Z981 is Kodak's leading mega-zoom model, featuring a 26x wide Schneider-KREUZNACH optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization. Supporting this mega-zoom lens is a 14-Megapixel imaging sensor, 3-inch LCD screen, electronic view finder (EVF), pop-up flash and 720p HD video recording. With fully automatic and manual shooting modes, anyone can pick up this camera and start shooting. Its Smart Auto shooting mode automatically chooses the correct scene mode for your current shooting situation, in order to give you the best settings possible. On the other end, Manual mode allows the photographer to have complete control over the camera. 

Handling and operating the Z981 is easy thanks to the camera's ergonomic design. All of the controls are easy to reach while holding the camera in the shooting position. Kodak has also included a vertical shutter button, which combined with the included vertical grip, makes shooting vertically just as easy as horizontally. Framing and viewing your images is accomplished either on the camera's 3.0-inch, 230,000 dot LCD screen, or on the EVF with an equivalent resolution. The LCD is easy to see in all lighting conditions, including direct sunlight, but if you should have trouble, the EVF is always available.

Performance from the Z981 is very good. It's startup time, the time from when you turn the camera on until the time it can capture its first image, is just 3.4 seconds, which is good for a mega-zoom. Its shutter lag is less than 1/10 of a second when the camera is pre-focused and approx. 7/10 of a second when allowing the auto focus to work. The shot-to-shot delay is a little slow at 3.54 seconds or 3.64 if you are using the flash. If you are looking to shoot images faster than this, the camera features two burst modes. Continuous allows the camera to capture full-sized images at a rate of 0.7fps. There is also a mode that allows the camera to capture up to 9, 3-Megapixel images in 1.1 seconds (8.2fps) before filling the buffer. All of our tests were completed using a Lexar Professional 133x 2GB SD card, Program mode, ISO Auto, Flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults, unless noted otherwise. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.

Our outdoor image samples show us that the camera produces a well exposed, vivid image when shooting in Smart Auto mode. Program mode produced a much duller image when shooting with the factory default settings. When viewing your images at 100%, the amount noise in the image is the first thing you will notice, even at ISO 64. We have seen this from most all of the 14-Megapixel cameras that we have tested over the past year or so, and this is nothing to be too alarmed about. These images will still produce excellent quality prints. Framing and composing your images is a snap with the 26x optical zoom lens. The versatility of this lens will allow you to capture vast landscapes and group portraits on the wide end, while the telephoto end extends far beyond most other digicams, allowing you to capture images that most people will not even realize are possible. There is some barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom and some slight chromatic aberrations in high contrast areas.

Our indoor sample shots were taken in Aperture Priority mode at f8. Here we can see that the minimum shutter speed of ½ second was not enough to correctly light our image at the lower ISO speeds. While the noise is present and noticeable in all of the images, you can still see most of the fine details in the image through ISO 400. After that the detail within fades quickly as the noise dramatically increases. Assisting with your low-light and indoor photography is the camera's pop-up flash. While it's listed as having a range of up to 20.3ft, it left our sample image dark from just 6ft. away. This is a little disappointing when you consider the size of the zoom and the flash's lack of power. 

Capturing portrait images is incredibly easy, as it is with all Kodak cameras. The face detection works quickly to find all of the faces within the frame and to adjust the exposure for them. The Z981 also features face recognition, which allows it to store and recognize up to 20 different faces, although it can only handle 5 at a time in a single frame. When the camera recognizes a face, it will automatically tag it for you, saving you time when you upload to one of the camera's social networking sites.

The Z981 gives you one quality that most other mega-zoom and most other digicams in general do not, the ability to use the optical zoom while recording video. This is a very creative option that adds to the camera's ability to record 720p HD or 640x480 videos. The video quality is descent for a digicam, the movies play back smoothly but you can see a lot of noise. As with most digicams, the Z981 has a very sensitive built-in microphone that picks up any sounds near the camera. It will also pick up background noises, so be careful where you position yourself while recording. The only disappointment is the lack of a HDMI output to watch your HD movies on a HDTV.

Instead of giving you just one Li-Ion battery to power your camera, the Z981 uses 4 AA-type batteries. Kodak has included a set of 4 AA-type, 2100mAh Ni-MH rechargeable batteries and a portable charger to get you started. Kodak claims that these are enough to capture 450 to 500 images on a single charge (CIPA). While completing our tests, we were able to capture about 350 images, which left the batteries very low. If we had chosen to use the EVF instead of the LCD, 450 to 500 might have been possible. Thanks to the standard AA batteries, if you should run out of power, a spare set can be picked up almost anywhere in the world.

Bottom Line - The Kodak EasyShare Z981 is a very versatile mega-zoom digicam featuring a 26x Schneider-KREUZNACH optical zoom lens, 14-Megapixel imaging sensor, 720p HD video capture and a 3-inch LCD screen. It performs well, offering a quick startup and two continuous burst modes, one of which captures images at over 8fps. The image quality is good, but shows the same image noise that we have seen in the other 14-Megapixel cameras that we have tested. Overall this is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a mega-zoom camera, and with a MSRP of US $329.95, it is one of the more affordable mega-zoom cameras on the market.

Note: While the camera's operation and performance were good, we did have some difficulties with the camera. Our first eval unit had a faulty flash unit and the second test unit had a problem with saving files. The second problem was remedied by resetting the camera to the factory defaults.

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