DigitalCameraReview.com
Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS Review
by David Rasnake -  4/23/2008

It's true that Kodak doesn't always get a lot of love around here: in spite of the company's storied history and early adoption of digital technology, Kodak's recent digital camera offerings have, for one reason or another, often failed to impress reviewers. Strong resources and a great brand name notwithstanding, the historic maker has seemed to focus too much on trying to compete on price in recent years, and not enough on building cameras that really stand out.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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While its specs don't exactly jump off the page, the Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS looks and feels like a step forward in Kodak's apparent efforts to become a serious player again among serious amateur photographers. With a 10 megapixel sensor, 5x zoom, and optical image stabilization, the Z1085 sports the basic physical tech that serious shooters are seeking. Wrap all of this in an all-business body, drive it with a new, very polished interface, and price it competitively and you've got a product that has the potential, at least, to go toe-to-toe with the heavyweight contenders in the enthusiast compact arena.


FEATURES OVERVIEW

Compared to many of the cameras it competes with, the EasyShare Z1085 IS is really a pleasant surprise. The Z1085 doesn't come equipped with a lot of high-profile features and technologies, focusing instead on a handful of purpose-designed options that Kodak hopes will appeal to this camera's target market. While gadget lovers may come away unsatisfied, as a shooter who tends to value simplicity and traditional exposure control in a camera over lots of over-hyped high technology, I'm inclined to think that Kodak's headed in the right direction if they're looking to get the attention of advancing amateur photographers.

Basic shooting modes on the Z1085 are as follows:

For photo enthusiasts, the only thing more to wish for on this list might be the inclusion of auto-exposure priority modes (shutter and aperture priority, for instance) in addition to full manual exposure control.

As noted, the EasyShare's fully automatic mode, Smart Capture, combines several technologies that evaluate and process the image into a single automated setting. The Perfect Touch system, Kodak's highlight/shadow balance system (not unlike other dynamic range tools from other manufactures), which forms part of the Smart Capture equation, can also be applied post-shot to any image while in playback mode.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
Original image
Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
With Perfect Touch applied

As with most of these technologies, Perfect Touch works well in balancing high-contrast scenes and saves an extra step in out-of-camera post-processing.

Another of the Z1085's headline features is its ability to capture HD video. In some quick testing, I found the EasyShare to be capable of producing some very nice 720p video clips. Sound is a little boxy compared to a camcorder, but the Z1085 allows the use of optical zoom while filming with almost no audible zoom noise on playback. Given the camera's relatively low price and great usability in this regard, if you shoot a lot of video you could almost justify the purchase of the Z1085 on the strength of this feature set alone.

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL

Visually, the Z1085 does exactly what a camera geared toward photo enthusiasts needs to do: it doesn't try anything too outlandish. Users looking for a compact with manual control care less about styling and more about performance, and hence any styling choice that detracts from the camera's accessibility or usability is a bad choice – no matter how visually appealing. The Z1085 embodies this conservative styling approach, resulting in a camera with classic looks, excellent in-hand balance, and a familiar feel from day one.

Styling and Build Quality

The EasyShare Z1085 keeps things simple stylistically – definitely a good thing for a camera targeted to more advanced users. The dark grey plastic body avoids visual interest in favor of clean lines and a basic, familiar shape.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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Perceptions of less than stellar build quality may put Kodak at a disadvantage among the Z1085's target market, but there's little to complain about with this model. The plastic casing is sufficiently rugged, the buttons have a robust if rubbery feeling, and the mode dial seems like it will stand up to repeated cycling.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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The lens barrel could be better made, and the battery and memory card doors are a bit flimsy (though both lock shut with a clear, reassuring snap).

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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Given that these slightly less than desirable descriptions could just as easily apply to a new Canon PowerShot A model, however, the Z1085's construction seems about on par with its strongest competitors.

Ergonomics and Interface

Ergonomically, the Z1085 is fairly conventional. The size, weight, and basic shape are all very much in keeping with similar cameras from other manufacturers. There's ample room for even relatively large hands on the grip side, with a rubberized insert making the camera easy to clinch one-handed.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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The camera's physical interface is also relatively conventional, with a squared off d-pad and several dedicated function buttons logically arranged on the back of the camera. Some may find the number of buttons, and their slightly cryptic labeling (why "Review" instead of "Playback," or even a basic arrow icon?), to be a bit much, but I like that the flash and drive mode controls that usually clutter the back of compact cameras have been relocated to the top of the Z1085.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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Kodak has put a lot of work into a revamped on-screen interface for their new cameras, and the efforts really show: gone are the silly icon menus from the Kodaks of a few years back. In its place, you'll find a heads-up interface that gives lots of information and adjustability on the display while shooting. In program and manual modes, basic adjustments (exposure compensation, shutter and aperture, sensitivity, etc.) are made on this scrolling on-screen display using the d-pad – the up/down axis adjusts the selected parameter, and the left/right axis cycles through the parameters. The basic idea is effective and intuitive.

Concerns with the Z1085's interface are relatively few, and relatively minor. The page menus are still a little cutesy, and the text can be a bit small and hard to read at times as a result. Likewise, finding the white balance adjustment was harder than it probably should be (it's a few pages back in the call-up menu, rather than in the on-screen parameters). While the manual mode is more usable than many, with adjustments to both shutter speed and aperture right there at your fingers without so much as an initial button press, I also found it a bit awkward that you press down on the d-pad to increase the shutter speed and vice versa. It's certainly a control decision that takes some getting used to, leaving me a little slower dashing off manual-exposure shots than I might have otherwise been until I began to get the hang of it.

The total interface experience, however, looks very polished and conveys the higher-end appeal that Kodak was clearly aiming for in this model.

Display/Viewfinder

A 2.5-inch TFT LCD is the sole viewfinder on the Z1085. Frame rate on the 230,000-pixel screen is good, with plenty of smoothness. The LCD gains up automatically in low light, and unlike many camera displays, doesn't seem to loose much if any fluidity in low light. Screen contrast is very good – maybe a bit too good, in fact, given that images often don't have quite as much punch when viewed on my calibrated computer monitor as they do on the EasyShare's display.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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The only issue of note with the Z1085's LCD is one common to many digicams: the screen simply isn't bright enough to provide adequate visibility for composition in bright midday sun. The problem is exacerbated by glare problems from the screen's reflective coating that can be severe at times.


PERFORMANCE

In spite of admittedly low expectations and inevitable comparisons to some strong competition in this class, the Z1085 repeatedly impressed in our performance evaluations. There are some definite quirks that potential buyers will need to weigh in comparing the Z1085 to its closest rivals, but to dismiss this camera solely because Kodak hasn't recently been known for making cameras with lots of appeal among enthusiast shooters would be a mistake.

Timings and Shutter Lag

The Z1085 is something of a mixed bag in this area. Pre-focus shutter lag is a negligible .05 seconds, giving the camera a quick, responsive feel. Like some other cameras tested around here of late, however, the Kodak seems to allow the shutter to fire before focus is locked on a full button press, meaning that while the camera can dash off a shot in as little as .1 to .3 seconds without pre-focus, there's no guarantee that it will be in focus (for close-range subjects, it almost never was in our testing).

This behavior requires photographers to adapt to the Z1085's way of working, which involves half-pressing the shutter, locking focus, and then completing the press to fire the shutter. Given that the Z1085 is actually blessed with some speed, I was able to perform this entire routine in as little as .6 seconds – not a bad time at all for shooting without pre-focus, but the fact that the camera requires this rigmarole is a bit irritating at best and may lead inexperienced shooters to the conclusion that the Z1085 has focusing problems.

The Z1085 is able to fire off three images of any size/quality relatively quickly (coming in faster than advertised, at around 2.4 fps in our test), but can't shoot for more than three continuous frames without stopping to clear the buffer (there is a Last Burst mode, which can shoot a burst of up to 30 frames, but only the last three images before the shutter is released are retained). There's a give and take here: while the Z1085 is faster than most compacts – and rivals even some DSLRs – in terms of frame rate, total capture isn't quite as good as we've come to expect.

Lens and Zoom

The Z1085 wears a reasonably wide, reasonably fast 5x Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon zoom, speced at 35-135mm and f/2.8-5.1. Barrel build quality doesn't exactly feel first-rate with the lens extended, but lens movement is smooth and quiet enough to even allow the use of optical zoom during video recording. While it won't get you much closer to distant action, the Z1085's 135mm-equivalent telephoto end makes the camera great for close-in portraiture.

Auto Focus

Unlike most competitive cameras, in which AF modes seem to be proliferating, the Z1085 is surprisingly (and for some, refreshingly) sparse in this area. Kodak doesn't try to shoehorn a lot of soft tech into this camera, focusing instead on a handful of basic options: multi-area or center-area Auto AF, Macro AF, an infinity lock, and a slightly clunky manual focus mode. There's also an unremarkable if unintrusive face detection system, controlled via a separate menu setting.

Performance-wise, the Z1085's AF system was pretty consistent (noting the caveats about press-to-capture technique mentioned previously). Very few shots were lost to missed focus, though the Z1085 did exhibit some tendency to backfocus, missing the more prominent foreground subject entirely. Likewise, AF was a little sluggish all around in low light, and would occasionally give up entirely.

Even in macro mode, minimum focusing distance is around 8 inches – not exactly frame-filling close.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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As noted previously, lock wasn't always consistent at close distances, and the Z1085's even more limited minimum focusing distance in normal AF means you may need to drop the camera into macro mode to get a lock on subjects that don't necessarily seem like they should be in the macro range.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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Though the above shot shows off the Z1085's fantastic image vividness and color reproduction, I wasn't able in repeated attempts to acquire focus lock on the flower in the center of the frame – in spite of being well beyond the the Z1085's advertised minimum focusing distance.

Flash

Lithium power is the ticket to good results here. With the Z1085's supplied CR-V3 pack, I was able to dash off two full power flash shots in a rapid 4.1 seconds. Switch over to alkaline AAs (which Kodak strongly and repeatedly advises against) and performance drops off to around a 10 second recycle time. While not the worst we've seen from a camera running on AA power, this performance just underscores Kodak's claims that alkaline power is good for use in a pinch at best.

Image Stabilization

The Z1085's Schneider-Kreuznach branded lens is optically stabilized, making the EasyShare competitive with other advance-user cameras from the likes of Canon and Nikon. While the Kodak's image stabilization system seemed to work well, consistently stabilizing shots down to shutter speeds around 1/15, the stabilizer emitted an odd, very audible noise – almost a grinding sound – when enabled. The fact that the Z1085's IS defaults to the continuous (rather than single-shot) setting makes the noise issue doubly irritating, with the EasyShare whirring and grinding away until you figure out how to change the stabilization setting.

Battery Life

This is another case of good news/bad news with the EasyShare: the good news is that the Z1085 is both extremely flexible in what it can use and able to run seemingly ad infinitum on a single (non-rechargeable) CR-V3 lithium pack. The bad news is that CR-V3's are expensive (given their long life, they're probably more cost effective than alkalines, but it doesn't seem that way when you shell out $10 or more for a single disposable battery) and the Z1085 is only able to handle rechargeable NiMHs or alkaline AAs as an option of last resort.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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Rechargeable CR-V3's are coming to the market in increasing numbers, and Kodak even offers a proprietary RCR-V3 for the Z1085 (the Kodak KLIC-8000) as an optional accessory. At a cost of more than $50 for the pack and charger, however, upgrading to Kodak's rechargeable power solution isn't exactly cheap, making me wish that they'd opted to include it with the Z1085 in the first place. Most of the EasyShare's competitors (Canon A and Nikon P models, for instance) also run on AA-sized power, however, meaning you're in the same situation with most cameras in this class.


IMAGE QUALITY

While the Z1085 impresses in some areas, it fails to completely deliver the goods where image quality is concerned. Overall, baseline sharpness and color are good by any standard, but the Kodak's processing choice will appeal more to general consumers than photo enthusiasts.

Exposure, Processing, and Color

The Z1085's default color reproduction has an appearance that could almost be described as imitating slide film – richly saturated, but not in the way most digital cameras boost saturation these days.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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Users can fine-tune the level of saturation beyond the default (Natural Color) setting, using either the High Color or Low Color value instead (the Z1085 also has settings for sepia and black and white shooting). While Low Color provides a slightly more natural rendering with less saturation, it's actually a little too muted and certainly less pleasing than the default setting in most cases. High Color should be used sparingly if at all – reds, especially, take on an electric hue, and lighter skin tones looking pretty skewed in this setting.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
High Color (view large image)
Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
Low Color (view large image)
Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
Black and White (view large image)
Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
Sepia (view large image)

Great color reproduction and vibrancy, however, is offset by the Z1085's extreme over-sharpening at the default setting. Stone-hard detail edges actually work to flatten down a lot of image depth in many cases.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
100% crop

Sharpness is adjustable across three value (Low, Normal, High) with the Z1085, but as is often the case, lowering the sharpness leaves images with an unnaturally muddy look that's no more appealing.

The Z1085's default multi-area metering was reasonably consistent across a range of subjects, though it was easy enough to intentionally trip it up with high-contrast compositions. While the EasyShare may not be as rock solid as some compact cameras in this regard, enthusiast shooters can get a more nuanced reading with the Z1085's standard complement of metering modes, and exposure compensation is easily accessible for fine-tuning.

Similarly, while the full-auto Smart Capture mode handled exposure nicely most of the time, the apparently uniform application of its Perfect Touch highlight/shadow balance algorithm didn't always produce ideal results in higher-key images showing limited contrast and range. All in all, though, Smart Capture fixes overwhelmingly more shots than it hurts.

White Balance

Auto white balance performance was at the threshold of what could be called acceptable for most indoor lighting. Extremely warm incandescent lighting found the threshold for the system's auto adjustment range, with our 3200K tungsten-lit shot starting to show some yellow cast when using the automatic setting.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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Still, all issues I encountered were easily corrected using the short but capable list of presets. While I like that Kodak opted to offer fewer, more broadly applicable and effective presets, the lack of user-set white balance on an enthusiast camera these days seems like a notable oversight.

Lens Faults

Given its Schneider-Kreuznach labeling, I was a bit surprised by the lack of distortion control on the Z1085's lens. There's noticeable barrel distortion at the full wide-angle position, and more than a bit of pincushioning at telephoto.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
Wide-Angle (view large image)
Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
Telephoto (view large image)

Other than some vignetting wide open at the wide end of the lens, everything else is reasonably competent, however. Corner/edge sharpness is not bad, and improves greatly stopped down. There's a bit of fringing wide open as well, but it's really only a 100 percent view problem.

Sensitivity and Noise

High-ISO performance – and noise performance generally – is not the Z1085's strongest area.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
ISO 80
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Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
ISO 80, 100% crop

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
ISO 100
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Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
ISO 100, 100% crop

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
ISO 200
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Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
ISO 200, 100% crop

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
ISO 400
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Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
ISO 400, 100% crop

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
ISO 800
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Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
ISO 800, 100% crop

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
ISO 1600
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Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
ISO 1600, 100% crop

With heavy blotching and smearing, as well as some strange jagged edges, ISO 1600 is largely a step behind the performance from other similarly speced cameras in terms of detail retention and noise. ISO 1600 shots aren't exactly crisp, but they're very printable at small sizes in most cases. The Z1085's noise progression does seem to be very sensitive to exposure, and trimming 1/3 to 2/3 EV off the exposure at ISO 1600 as a baseline setting probably isn't a bad idea for optimal performance.

Noise reduction also seems to kick in fairly early on with this camera, taking the sharp edge off of fine details at settings as low as ISO 200.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
ISO 80, 100% crop

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
ISO 200, 100% crop

Combined with some over-sharpening and general over-processing, these issues means that image quality hounds looking to do huge prints may well find better results elsewhere.

Additional Sample Images

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS
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CONCLUSIONS

As a concept, the Z1085 is interesting. Smart Capture and Perfect Touch aside, the camera isn't loaded down with the scores of soft features that have become commonplace in this class of devices, making the Kodak look a little underspeced on paper. As a photographic tool, however, this streamlining is a welcomed change, making the Z1085 easy to navigate and easy to use. Beyond this, everything on the Z1085 feels intentional – this isn't a cobbled together budget cam, but a generally well thought out device.

The newest EasyShare does a lot of things right. What unquestionably hurts it most is the fact that the few compromises that were made seem to directly impact what serious shooters look to first – image quality. All in all, this camera still deserves to be taken seriously, and if you like the truly excellent color reproduction that the Z1085 is capable of, its prospects look better and better. Heavy-handed sharpening and too much visible noise reduction across the board are the big hurdles, but if you can come to terms with these issues the EasyShare Z1085 IS brings a surprising helping of good stuff to the table.

Pros:

Cons:

 

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS Specifications:

Sensor 10.0 megapixel, 1/1.63" CCD
Lens/Zoom 5x (35-175mm) Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon, f/2.8-5.1
LCD/Viewfinder 2.5", 230K-pixel TFT LCD
Sensitivity ISO 80-1600 (3200-8000 in High ISO mode)
Shutter Speed 8-1/2000 seconds
Shooting Modes Smart Capture, Program, Manual, Video, Scene, High ISO
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
Internal Memory
32 MB
File Formats JPEG, MPEG
Max. Image Size 3680x2770
Max. Video Size
1280x720, 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, Smart Capture, Perfect Touch