The ultrazoom market seems to be the fastest growing digicam sector right now. This isn’t too surprising considering how versatile and fun these cameras can be. The ability to zoom in on anything and the wide variety of features make for quite the experience. In fact, for many uses, these type of cameras are capable of doing all that many shooters will ever require.
Exploring these features was something I was looking forward to as I started to review the Kodak EasyShare Z1012 IS. I liked the long zoom range and SLR-like feel, which made the camera more comfortable to use compared with many of the smaller cameras I have been using lately. Unfortunately, while there’s a lot to like about Kodak’s newest ultrazoom, some unimpressive performance and features leave me wondering if this just isn’t quite ready for primetime yet.
The Kodak EasyShare Z1012 IS is an ultrazoom camera featuring a long 12x zoom (33-396mm 35mm equivalent). Beyond the lens, the camera features an SLR-like design, with an extended grip, rear control switch, electronic viewfinder, manual shooting modes, optical image stabilization, and large 2.5-inch screen.
Kodak made the Z1012 IS versatile by including a high-power CRV3 battery, but also allowing the use of an optional rechargeable pack or even AA batteries in a pinch. The camera also has buttons on top of the grip, allowing quicker and easier access to some common features. On the firmware side, Kodak has included features like face detection and auto focus tracking.
The Z1012 IS offers the following basic shooting modes:
- Auto: Allows you to use the camera as a true point-and-shoot
- Sport: Sets the camera to optimize images for quick moving subjects
- High ISO: Increases the ISO to help freeze motion in lower light shots
- Scene: Allows you to select from a range of different situation presets, including beach, fireworks, text, and many more
- Panorama: Assists you in taking multiple pictures that can be later be stitched into a single wide-view image
- Manual, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Program: Manual modes that allow you to take control of the camera’s exposure settings if you so choose
- Video: High-definition movie mode, with optical zoom available
For a detailed listing of specs and features, take a look at the specs table found at the bottom of the review.
FORM, FIT, AND FEEL
Styling and Build Quality
Kodak definitely styled this camera to fit the standard ultrazoom look. With the large grip and protruding lens this camera clearly looks like small SLR. The black camera with silver accents looks nice, and the plastic parts of the body are textured – much like some more expensive cameras on the market.
The camera feels solid. I am quite impressed, actually, by just how solid it is. I don’t feel any creaking or weak areas in the camera. The only slight concern I have is in the design of the pop-up flash: it can easily be accidentally popped open. When open, however, the flash feels sturdy.
The lens cap is not included in the Z1012’s sturdy build quality, however. The lens cap was prone to just falling off when I gently set the camera on the table. I also greatly disliked that the lens cap attached to the outer portion of the lens housing, meaning that it was forced off the camera when the camera was turned on. This was bothersome to me, though some users may prefer this. Overall I worry that the lens on this camera will be damaged due the lens cap falling off too easily and too often.
Ergonomics and Interface
Considering its size, the Kodak Z1012IS is very comfortable. The main controls are comfortable to access, and the rubberized grip provides a solid hand-hold.
There is also a rubber grip on the lens housing, which is nice for those looking to support the camera with a second hand under the lens.
The Z1012’s buttons clicked firmly and solidly, though they could have felt better built. The dial used to select mode has a solid feel when rotated and stays in place well. The zoom rocker is easy to physically operate.
The design of the power switch can be a bit annoying, though. Instead of using either a button or an actual two-position switch, the Z1012 features a spring-loaded slider. There are few things worse than fumbling to get your camera powered up at a critical moment, and the fact that the camera often didn’t power on or off as expected when using this switch (you have to push it all the way to the end of its travel to actuate it) left me wishing for a simple two-position design instead.
The controls on this camera are mostly straightforward and almost standard. There were few surprises, with most of the layout proving self-explanatory if you have used most any other digital camera. The one exception to this was the control dial on the back of the camera. The dial works by rolling it right or left to select the setting you want to change, then pressing and rolling to change that setting. This odd arrangement proved very difficult to use: rolling the switch is fine, but pressing and rolling was cumbersome and slow.
The interface was also oddly slow in my experience. Changing settings in the menu was quick enough. The amount of time needed to change shooting settings, however, seemed like a bad joke: you could wait quite awhile for the change you made via a dedicated button to register with the camera. Even changing shooting modes with the mode dial was slowed by firmware lag, with the Z1012 taking a moment to “catch up” with physical-control changes. Likewise, the interference showed processing screens so often that this camera felt to be the slowest of any digital camera I have ever used where settings adjustments and post-shot processing were concerned. Even with minimal shutter lag and good AF speed, a poorly implemented interface makes the Z1012 feel much slower than it actually is.
Menus were easy enough to use. Moving through them and changing settings was easy to do. The list of settings in shooting mode was simple and easy to understand, and standard control practices (press the flash button to cycle through flash settings, for instance) were implemented as expected.
The screen on the Z1012 is about average for modern digital cameras. It worked well outside even in bright conditions, but I have seen much better in terms of brightness, contrast, and fluidity in some comparable cameras recently. The size was good and the screen wasn’t too cluttered with shooting information (which can be removed at the press of a button).
The electronic viewfinder in this camera is a nice addition. I vastly prefer viewfinders and this one worked well, with the understanding that its resolution is much lower than that of the screen. With less resolution and less color accuracy than the screen, the viewfinder appeared to be a bit more washed out and showed grain a bit quicker, making it ill suited for image review but just fine for composition.
Timings and Shutter Lag
The Z1012 IS is a snappy camera. With a pre-focused shutter lag of less than .04 seconds, this camera is essentially capable of capture in real time. Without pre-focusing, the camera takes .6 seconds to lock focus and fire at wide-angle. All in all, this AF lag is quite acceptable for an ultrazoom, giving the camera a reasonably quick feel.
In continuous drive mode, the Z1012 is capable of 2.1 frames per second, or three shots in 1.4 seconds. Unfortunately the camera only has a three-shot buffer and can’t shoot more than three full-res frames before stopping to write to the card. The flash averages 1.1 seconds between shots, with a 3.5 second full power cycle. This is a great speed, and in most cases the flash won’t slow you down.
Lens and Zoom
The long zoom on the Kodak Z1012 IS is nice to use. Given its range, I expected it to be very slow in cycling and thus annoying to use. However, I quickly found that the zoom was quite snappy and responsive. I was able to cover the entire 12x zoom range in a matter of seconds with no perceived pick-up lag.
If anything, I honestly felt that the zoom switch was too sensitive, proving difficult to precisely frame shots due to how quickly the lens zoomed in and out. Proceeding carefully, you could step the zoom in one by one, but this proved somewhat difficult to do.
General auto focus performance was good. I found that the camera focused acceptably quickly – fast enough to satisfy most photographers. The camera’s basic focusing modes – normal AF, macro, landscape mode, and manual focus – all fit well for their intended uses.
A bigger concern than speed in this case, though, was consistency: at times, the Z1012’s AF system was prone to missing plain and simple, giving up badly out-of-focus shots. In other cases, the Z1012 randomly wouldn’t focus at all. For some shots, this prevented me from getting a capture at all. More often, having to repeatedly incite the Z1012 to focus just meant that it took longer to get the shot.
Overall, focus issues were common enough to be an irritation if not a hindrance. Typical problem situations involved moving subjects, but even in the most difficult shooting situations missed focus affected less than 25 percent of all shots taken. Interestingly, the camera did alright in low-light focusing.
In spite of good recycle times, the flash on the Z1012 IS wasn’t as good as I would have liked. As noted, I found that the physical housing was prone to popping open accidentally, exposing the unit itself to damage.
On the performance side, I greatly disliked how quick the camera was to use the flash on the auto setting – providing no benefit in some cases, and potentially ruining exposures in others. Hot spots and excessive reflectivity were also evident with some frequency, though exposure was fairly accurate in typical flash shooting situations.
On the control side, I appreciate how easy it is to set flash options thanks to a dedicated flash button. The ability to easily control the flash mode without diving into the menu made concerns about the system’s performance easier to keep in check.
Differences in settings, system design, and exposure control make it difficult to compare image stabilizations across camera brands. Subjectively, while the Z1012 IS provide optical image stabilization, results from my shooting suggest that system performance may not be quite up to the standards of the best cameras in this class. Some pictures taken in bright daylight with adequate hand-held shutter speeds still showed signs of camera shake, suggesting indirectly, at least, a situation that image stabilization should have been able to correct for.
The Z1012 IS did really well on battery life. Kodak includes a non-rechargeable CRV3 battery pack with the Z1012 IS, and with over 300 shots taken without draining the battery, performance of these roughly $10 replaceable packs should be more than acceptable for most people.
I also liked the option of using standard AA batteries in a pinch: this is a major selling point for a lot of people (though Kodak does warn that performance and battery life will be greatly reduced with alkalines). For those interested in a rechargeable solution, Kodak sells an accessory pack and charger for just this purpose. With good performance and plenty of versatility, this is one area where Kodak did a great job.
Keep the sensitivity low and the image quality from the Kodak Z1012 IS is very good. Images from the lower ISOs look very sharp, have great color, and little noise.
Agresive sharpening can get in the way a bit, but the level of detail is some of the best I have seen in a point-and-shoot camera of late.
Exposure, Processing, and Color
The Z1012 IS is a mixed bag with exposure. General shots look great. Some shots I took with tricky lighting didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped for, however.
The Z1012’s claimed metering mode flexibility prove to be a disappointment: the same shot with a very bright background and dark subject in the center appeared the same when metering with matrix metering as when spot metering the subject. These two should have produced drastically different results. I’m not sure what’s going on in this case, but I am very disappointed with the uselessness of the meter in light of this.
The processing of pictures in-camera looks good. I like the amount of saturation found in the pictures. Most shots turned out with vivid color, however not so much that they look off. Yellow reproduction skews in a slightly different direction from most digital cameras as well, but it’s not so far off as to be either extremely inaccurate or unpleasant.
In addition to the default color mode, four options – High Color, Low Color, Black and White, and Sepia – allow you to pick a processing approach that fits your subject.
Black and White
As a final word on processing, I will reiterate here that the camera is very slow while processing shots (mostly just moving them to the memory card). Anyone looking to do a lot of rapid shooting will be thoroughly disappointed with this camera.
It has been a while since I felt that the white balance on a camera really did a good job on the automatic setting, but the Z1012 pulls out a great performance here.
The Kodak Z1012 IS did a good job of delivering wonderful color that was mostly true to life regardless of the light source. It worked well with everything from sun to flash to varying indoor lighting and beyond. Of all the pictures I took with this camera I didn’t find a single one that was unnaturally skewed due to poor auto white balance performance.
The Z1012 IS shows some barrel distortion at the wide end, though nothing seemed noticeable in any pictures I took except for those of a brick wall. Pincushion distortion is barely perceptible at the telephoto end.
Overall, I am fairly impressed with the lens in this camera, with no noticeable flaws in any “normal” pictures I took with it due to the lens.
Sensitivity and Noise
The Kodak Z1012 IS shows very little noise in shots up to ISO 200.
ISO 64, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
ISO 3200, 100% crop
At ISO 400 noise starts to become noticeable if you look hard. Even with more noise than many competitors, I wouldn’t hesitate to use shots up to ISO 800 – even for larger prints like 8x10s. ISO 1600 and 3200 would make due, but when compared to many cameras in this class the Z1012 really falls apart here, with noise reduction and extreme color shifting stripping every bit of the fine detail and a large portion of the dynamic range by ISO 3200.
Additional Sample Images
Overall, the Kodak Z1012 IS usually succeeds in producing nice pictures, but some parts of the camera just get in the way. At the end of the day for me, judging a camera comes down to its ability to produce a good image. On this score, this camera is generally a success.
At times, though, a good picture was prevented due to control issues, processing limitations, too much noise, or one of the Z1012’s other quirks. If you are looking for an ultrazoom camera that takes nice pictures the Kodak is there – but users considering this camera should also be aware of some of its oddities and performance issues.
- 12x zoom with minimal distortion
- Good battery life and loads of options
- Great SLR-like feel in hand
- Exceptional auto white balance performance
- Very slow image processing and laggy firmware
- Auto focus slips prevented some shots
- Too quick to use flash on auto
|Sensor||10.1 megapixel, 1/2.33″ CCD|
|Lens/Zoom||12x (33-396mm) Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon, f/2.8-4.8|
|LCD/Viewfinder||2.5″, 230K-pixel TFT LCD; 201K-pixel electronic viewfinder|
|Sensitivity||ISO 64-3200 (6400 in High ISO mode)|
|Shutter Speed||1/30-1/3200 seconds|
|Shooting Modes||Auto, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Video, Scene, High ISO, Sport, Panorama|
|Scene Presets||Portrait, Sport, Landscape, Night Portrait, Night Landscape, Snow, Beach, Text, Fireworks, Flower, Manner/Museum, Self-portrait, Stage, Backlight, Candlelight, Sunset|
|White Balance Settings||Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Open Shade|
|Metering Modes||Multi-Area, Center, Spot|
|Focus Modes||Multi AF, Center AF, Infinity, Macro, Manual Focus|
|Drive Modes||Normal, First Burst, Last Burst, Self Timer|
|Flash Modes||Auto, Fill, Red-Eye Reduction, Off|
|Self Timer Settings
||10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off|
|Memory Formats||SD, SDHC|
|File Formats||JPEG, MPEG|
|Max. Image Size||3672×2748|
|Max. Video Size
||1280×720, 30 fps|
|Zoom During Video||Yes|
|Battery||2 AAs (CR-3V or lithium AAs recommended)|
|Connections||USB 2.0, AV/HD output (via dock connector)|
|Additional Features||Face Detection, Optical Image Stabilization, Red-Eye Reduction, HD video|