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Kodak EasyShare Z950 Review
by Andy Stanton -  8/25/2009

In 2003 I bought my first digital camera, a chunky, two megapixel Kodak CX6230. I wasn't interested in anything too demanding - just a reliable snapshot camera - and the Kodak met my needs well. Its pictures were bright and colorful and it was easy to use. The 12 megapixel Kodak Easyshare Z950 is a much better camera and has many advanced features, but it still has an ease of use that was important to me back when I was first becoming interested in digital photography.

Kodak EasyShare Z950


The Z950 is Kodak's attempt to tap into the market for compact ultrazoom cameras begun by Panasonic with its popular TZ camera line and lately joined by virtually all the major digital camera producers. While the Z950 may lack some of the polish of the more sophisticated (and expensive) compact ultrazooms, it has a lot going for it, including a 10x optical zoom, a high-quality Schneider-Krueznach lens, HD video, an Intelligent Auto mode (which Kodak calls "Smart Capture") and manual exposure controls.


BUILD AND DESIGN
The Z950, with dimensions of 4.3x2.6x1.4 inches and weight of about 8.6 ounces, is definitely not an ultracompact, but it fits comfortably into a pocket (as long as there's nothing else in there). It's roughly comparable in size to other compact ultrazooms such as the Panasonic ZS3 and the Canon SX200 IS. While largely plastic, the body feels solid enough. However, this is not a camera you'd want to drop on a hard surface, even from a foot or two.

Kodak EasyShare Z950

Ergonomics and Controls
The controls are recessed, which, combined with the camera's slightly rounded corners, enables it to fit well into a pocket or purse. I really liked the grip, which consists of a rubberized overlay that felt good in the hand. There's another rubberized area at the back of the camera that's made for the thumb. The grip enabled me to easily shoot with one hand.

Kodak EasyShare Z950

The top of the camera contains a mode dial with icons for Smart Capture, a sport scene mode, a panorama mode, other scene modes, manual mode, shutter priority, aperture priority, a program auto mode and a movie mode. Next to the dial are buttons for the on/off switch, timer, flash control and the shutter, which is encircled by a zoom control. I was pleased to see the zoom control located around the shutter button, as all the other Kodak cameras I've seen have the zoom control in the form of a rocker switch, which I find much less convenient to use.

When looking at the rear of the camera the first thing you notice is the large, 3.0 inch LCD. Instead of the usual button layout, Kodak has arranged its controls next to the LCD in a vertical line of four rectangular buttons. The topmost button is the delete, the second is for menu functions, the third is an information button that explains the various menu options, and the bottommost is a playback button. Next to the buttons is a prominent joystick, which controls the menu functions. While these controls seemed awkward at first it didn't take me long to get used to them and they proved to work well.

Kodak EasyShare Z950

The bottom of the Z950 contains two things worth noting. First of all the tripod mount is centrally located and is made of metal, both of which are good to have but are not always present in smaller cameras. Secondly, and not so good, is that the door of the battery/memory card compartment is made of thin, flimsy plastic which could easily break off.

Kodak EasyShare Z950

The Z950 comes with only a very cursory user guide. If you intend to use the more advanced features of the camera, you'll need the more extensive, and useful, extended user's manual, which is contained online and can be downloaded.

Menus and Modes
The menus are well thought-out and easy to understand. They consist of two columns (in Smart Capture mode), Capture and Setup, and add another column, Capture plus, in the more advanced modes - program auto, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual. The joystick is used to scroll down through the columns and the joystick button is pressed to select a function. The menu graphics are bright and sometimes animated. Although there is an option for changing the sound effects for various camera functions, I found the sound level to be too low at even the maximum setting. I had trouble hearing the beep for locking focus and the click for taking the picture.

In Smart Capture mode, the Z950 will automatically select a scene mode based on its analysis of scene conditions, pick the appropriate focus, exposure and ISO, and use "intelligent image processing" to reduce noise and adjust the dynamic range. Program auto, aperture and shutter priority, and manual exposure modes give the user more control over the camera's operations. When the scene mode icon is selected on the top dial, the menu gives the user a choice of 17 scene modes - high ISO, portrait, night portrait, landscape, night landscape, flower, sunset, backlight, candle light, museum, text, beach, snow, fireworks, children, self portrait, and stage. I usually shot in Smart Capture mode, which did a good job in most situations.

Display/Viewfinder
As is the case with most small cameras, the Z950 lacks an optical viewfinder. This is not a major problem, however, as I found that the 3.0 inch, 230,000 dot LCD worked well. It was a bit hard to see in bright sunshine, but generally usable. The LCD can be adjusted to five brightness levels.

PERFORMANCE
Compact ultrazooms are becoming increasingly popular and it's easy to see why. It's very convenient to be able to take close-in macro shots and zoom out to long distances without having to change lenses or reach for another camera. The Z950 has a 10x optical zoom with a focal range of 35-350mm. While 35mm isn't exactly wide angle, it is sufficiently wide for most purposes.

Shooting Performance
While using the Z950 I found the startup time and shutdown time to be somewhat slow - in the realm of three seconds. Shot-to-shot time seemed relatively speedy for the first few shots, after which the camera would download the images to disk. Kodak claims a shot-to-shot time of 1.5 seconds which appears to be accurate. Shooting tests show that the Z950 is in the mainstream as far as shutter lag and autofocus acquisition is concerned. It did fairly well in continuous shooting, or burst mode, averaging almost two shots per second.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix S230
0.02
Canon PowerShot A2100 IS
0.04
Kodak EasyShare Z950
0.06
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25
0.08
Casio Exilim EX-Z150 0.22

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix S230
0.51
Canon PowerShot A2100 IS
0.60
Kodak EasyShare Z950
0.65
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25
0.80
Casio Exilim EX-Z150 1.15

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames* Framerate*
Nikon Coolpix S230
2
2.2 fps
Kodak EasyShare Z950
3 1.9 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25
5 1.7 fps
Casio Exilim EX-Z150
13
1.3 fps
Canon PowerShot A2100 IS
1.1 fps

* Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

The Z950's shooting performance does not seem to be affected by low light conditions, probably due to its AF assist lamp. Kodak specifies the flash range at 400 ISO of 5.4 meters (17.7 feet) for wide angle and 3.9 meters (12.7 feet) for full telephoto. I was generally pleased with the photos I took with the flash. The Z950 fires two flashes to combat red-eye and it appeared to work as I didn't see any red-eye in the photos I took.

The Z950 is equipped with optical image stabilization, which compensates for minor hand movements. This is a necessity when working with the long zoom end of the Z950's 10x telephoto lens and it appeared to work well.

Kodak claims a battery life of 180 shots with its lithium ion battery. After a day of shooting over 150 pictures and several videos I still had plenty of battery power left.

Lens Performance
The Z950 is equipped with a 10x, 35-350mm Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon zoom lens with maximum apertures of f/3.5 at wide angle and f/4.8 at telephoto. With many ultrazoom cameras sporting 20x or even 26x optical zooms lenses, 10x may not seem like a lot but it can make a big difference. Looking at the top photo, you can barely make out the people standing on the overlook, but you can see them quite well at full zoom.

Kodak EasyShare Z950
Wide angle


Kodak EasyShare Z950
Telephoto

There was considerable barrel distortion at wide angle but minimal pin cushion distortion at telephoto. I noticed some minor chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in high contrast areas, but not as noticeable as in some small cameras.

Kodak EasyShare Z950
Wide angle

Kodak EasyShare Z950
Telephoto

Kodak EasyShare Z950
Minor chromatic aberration

Video Quality
The Z950 can take videos at HD (1280x720), VGA (640x480) or QVGA (320x240), all at 30 frames per second. Video and audio quality seemed good. The Z950 can shoot up to 29 minutes of continuous HD video or 80 minutes of VGA or QVGA video, as long as there is sufficient memory card capacity. I was able to use optical zoom while taking videos, which many cameras do not permit, though using the zoom made the camera lose focus for awhile. I did not use optical zoom in the video sample shown below:

Image Quality
The Z950 has many color options you can access in manual mode - color (low, natural, high, sepia, black and white), contrast (normal and high), and sharpness (soft, normal and sharp). I preferred natural color, normal contrast and normal sharpness.

Kodak EasyShare Z950
Natural Color

Kodak EasyShare Z950
Low Color

Kodak EasyShare Z950
High Color

The Z950 has white balance settings for auto, daylight, tungsten, fluorescent and open shade. The auto white balance did a good job, producing images that were less warm in incandescent light than found in most cameras.

Kodak EasyShare Z950
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

In general, picture quality is similar to that of other Kodak cameras - bright and pleasing, if not particularly striking. The camera sometimes has a problem with overexposure, despite its intelligent image processing feature.

Kodak EasyShare Z950

Noise begins to appear at ISO 200 and increases gradually through ISO 1600, though the image is still pretty good at ISO 400 and 800, with minimal softening from noise reduction and only a minor loss of color. Although the Z950 uses the same sized 1/2.33 inch sensor as Kodak's larger ultrazoom, the Z980, reviewed by DCR back in June, the Z950 does significantly better at higher ISO's.

Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 100
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 100, 100% crop
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 200
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 200, 100% crop
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 400
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 400, 100% crop
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 800
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 800, 100% crop
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 1600
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 1600, 100% crop

Additional Sample Images
Kodak EasyShare Z950 Kodak EasyShare Z950
Kodak EasyShare Z950 Kodak EasyShare Z950

CONCLUSIONS
Overall, I was pleased with the Kodak EasyShare Z950. It has many automatic features that make it easy for beginners along with manual exposure controls for more ambitious users. Its ergonomics are very good, with a couple of minor exceptions. While it's not the fastest camera on the block in starting up and shutting down, it is relatively quick in performing other functions.


It has a useful lens range and a high quality lens. It has HD video, good white balance and does surprisingly well at high ISOs. Yes, it does have issues with overexposure and its colors are a bit bland. However, at its list price of $279.95 it is less expensive than many of its competitors and should receive serious consideration from those looking for a compact ultrazoom.

Pros:

Cons: