The Kodak EasyShare Max Z990 is Kodak's latest ultrazoom, succeeding the Z981. While the earlier camera had an optical zoom of 26x, the new camera sports an even longer optical zoom of 30x, or 28-840mm (35mm equivalent). With such a huge range, the lens has to be well-made to avoid being affected by distortion. Fortunately the lens is made by Schneider Kreuznach, the well-regarded German optics firm.
The EasyShare Max Z990 includes some significant improvements over the Z981, not the least of which is Kodak's first use of a back-illuminated CMOS sensor, which provides for better low light image quality and increased speed of operation. Kodak has reduced the megapixel count to 12, from 14, which should further help the Z990's low light ability. The new camera also features improved video, full 1080p HD (1920 x 1080) compared to 720p (1280 x 720) for the previous camera. Continuous shooting speed has substantially increased as well.
New features include a "sweep" panorama mode, which enables you to create an ultra-wide panoramic image by slowly sweeping the camera, an HDR mode, which takes three shots and combines them into one image with high dynamic range, a one-touch video button and the option to simulate classic Kodak films such as Kodacolor, Kodachrome, Ektachrome, T-Max and Tri-X.
Carried over from the Z981 are full manual exposure controls, RAW shooting ability, the use of optical zoom while taking movies, a supermacro mode that permits bringing the camera lens to as close as 1cm to the subject, a "smart capture" mode and numerous scene modes. The Easyshare Max Z990 is certainly a feature-packed camera.
The EasyShare Max Z990 makes a positive first impression. Its composite body seems well-constructed and it has a comfortable, rubberized right-hand grip. At 1.3 pounds (about 589 grams) including batteries and memory card, the camera is no lightweight, though the weight is distributed well so the camera does not get tiring to hold. The EasyShare Max has a chunky mode selector dial and various useful buttons and switches that reduce the need to access the camera's menu system.
The camera includes an electronic viewfinder which, while not the equivalent in size and brightness to those of the much more expensive mirrorless DSLR-like cameras (such as the Panasonic DMC-G3 and the Sony SLT-A33), is nonetheless very useful in sunny weather conditions and for stabilizing the camera by holding it against your face when shooting at the long end of the zoom. Kodak provides four NiMH rechargeable batteries and a charger. Battery life is rated at 500 shots.
After two days I'm starting to get comfortable with the EasyShare Max Z990. It is easy to use and has many features I'm looking forward to exploring further. The biggest pluses so far are the camera's smoothly operating long lens and its image quality. I have had little trouble locking focus and getting a blur-free image even at the extreme long end of the zoom. Images are sharp with strong colors and little apparent distortion.
I'm also pleased to see that very few of my shots have had exposure issues. Initially I was disturbed at what appeared to be the camera's very slow shot-to-shot speed. After taking a shot, even in good lighting conditions, the LCD did not refresh for at least five seconds. I then realized that, even though the LCD had not refreshed, I was still able to take successive shots every one to two seconds. This is something I'm going to be examining more closely.
Look for the full review in a week or two.