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Kodak EasyShare Max Z990 Review
by Andy Stanton -  6/30/2011

The Kodak EasyShare Max Z990 is a full-featured ultrazoom that looks like a small DSLR and comes with a very long 30x optical zoom lens (28-840mm, 35mm equivalent).

Kodak EasyShare Max


The 12 megapixel camera features Kodak's first use of a back-illuminated CMOS sensor, designed to provide better low light image quality and increased speed of operation. The increase in speed made possible by the new sensor enables the camera to have very fast continuous shooting speed, a "sweep" panorama mode with which you can create an ultra-wide panorama image by slowly sweeping the camera, and an HDR mode, which takes three shots and combines them into one image with less dramatic contrast. Here's the view from the wide and telephoto ends of that big zoom range:

Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
Wide angle

Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
Telephoto

The camera includes full 1080p HD (1920 x 1080) movies with stereo sound and the use of optical zoom and continuous focus while in movie mode. The camera also includes full manual exposure controls, RAW shooting ability and other interesting features. Priced at $299.95 at the Kodak website, the EasyShare Max Z990 is substantially less expensive than similar cameras produced by Canon, Nikon and Sony.

In my "First Look" I noted that I was favorably impressed with the many features of the EasyShare Max Z990, its overall appearance, smoothly operating long lens and good image quality. I did have concerns about the camera's apparently slow shot-to-shot speed. After another week and a half with the camera I've had a chance to further explore these issues. Let's find out how the camera did.

BUILD AND DESIGN
The EasyShare Max Z990 looks and feels like a small DSLR. It has a comfortable, rubberized right hand grip and a solid, composite body. The lens has a rubber coating as well, which gives it added protection. The camera is no lightweight at 1.3 pounds (about 589 grams) including batteries and memory card, but the weight is distributed well. Overall, the camera has a very good "feel."

Kodak EasyShare Max

The camera comes with four rechargeable NiMH batteries and a charger, a USB cable, a lens cap with a strap, a neck strap, and a brief User Guide in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. According to the User Guide, when the camera is connected to the computer, a software downloader automatically runs and will download and install Kodak's software for transferring images to the computer and editing pictures. The software downloader did not work for me but I managed to load it from Kodak's website. Kodak's website also contains an Extended User Guide.

Ergonomics and Controls
The camera's rubber-coated, right hand grip permits you to easily hold the camera with one hand, though two hands are sometimes needed for added support, especially when using the long end of the zoom. The huge lens dominates the front of the camera, where it's bordered on both sides by stereo microphones. On one side of the lens is a combination auto focus assist/timer/video lamp. On top of the lens is the flash, which must be manually opened unless auto-flash is enabled and the camera decides that use of the flash is appropriate, in which case the flash will pop open.

Kodak EasyShare Max

The right side of the camera contains HDMI and USB ports that are covered by a rubber flap with a fragile-looking rubber tether. The camera's bottom contains the centrally located tripod mount which, unfortunately, is constructed of plastic, rather than metal. The compartment for the batteries and memory card is covered by a thick plastic door that I found difficult to open and close. The camera has 128MB of internal memory and uses SD and SDHC memory cards.

The camera's controls are located at the top and rear. On top is a chunky mode dial, with selections for Smart Capture, HDR, Creative Modes, Portrait, Sport, Scene Modes, Manual, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Program. The large, metal shutter button has a zoom control lever around it and both work well. You'll also find an on/off switch and buttons for continuous shooting (endless, 4 pictures at 5 fps, 4 pictures at 9 fps and 20 pictures at 60 fps), focus (normal, infinity, macro (as close as 10cm), super macro (as close as 1cm), and manual) and timer (10 seconds, 2 seconds and two shots).

Kodak EasyShare Max

At the rear is the large, 3.0-inch diameter LCD monitor, electronic viewfinder and a viewfinder/LCD switch. The rear also contains a speaker, a one-touch movie button, a selector wheel for selecting menu items, a four-way selector, a playback button and a share button, which allows you to automatically send your pictures and videos to social networking websites and email address once they are transferred to your computer. Next to the LCD are buttons for display, which adds or removes information from the LCD monitor, flash (auto, fill, red-eye reduction, off), film effects (simulates the classic Kodak films of Kodacolor, Ektachrome, Kodachrome, T-Max, Tri-X and Sepia) and delete.

Menus and Modes
The menu on the EasyShare Max Z990 is different than in other Kodak cameras I've used and it took some getting used to. The menu choices are always on the LCD screen, except when the display button is pressed. The menu items are on a black semi-transparent background that obscures the view of the LCD at the top and bottom, so it's a good idea to press the display button when you no longer need to refer to the menu. Menu items change depending on the mode selected. The camera's shooting modes are as follows:

Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
HDR Off
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
HDR On

Display/Viewfinder
The EasyShare Max Z990 has a 3.0-inch diameter LCD monitor in a 4 x 3 aspect ratio with a resolution of approximately 460,000 dots. The monitor has three different brightness settings - auto where brightness is automatically adjusted based on the environment, high power and power save. The LCD monitor is a good one, and can be seen well in both shady and conditions but, like most LCD monitors, it is hard to see in bright sunshine. Fortunately the camera also comes with an electronic viewfinder. While the viewfinder is small and lacks a diopter adjustment for use without glasses, it is bright and sharp.

Kodak EasyShare Max

I found myself using the viewfinder almost exclusively when out of doors. The viewfinder serves another useful function. When shooting at the long end of the zoom, holding the viewfinder against your eye stabilizes the camera and helps to minimize blur.

DCR tests cameras for LCD screen quality, measuring for contrast ratio and a brightness unit called nits. The best LCD monitors have a contrast ratio above 500:1 and at least an output of 500 nits of a full white screen. The LCD monitor of the EasyShare Max Z990 was found to have a contrast ratio of 537:1 and to measure 446 nits for peak brightness and 0.83 for dark. These are all good scores and confirm my assessment of the high quality of the camera's LCD monitor.

PERFORMANCE
In many ways the EasyShare Max Z990 is a good performer. As shown by the performance tables below, the camera is quick focusing and has a blazingly quick continuous shooting speed. I found that it takes only about two seconds to start up and shut down.

Its menu operations work smoothly. However, as noted in the First Look, I continually had a problem with the camera's slow shot-to-shot speed. After taking a shot without the flash, the camera's LCD would take about five seconds to refresh, indicating that it was ready for another shot. If I tried to take another shot before the LCD refreshed, I could usually do so after about two to three seconds, but sometimes the camera would not let me focus and shoot for a longer period of time. The delay was worse when the flash was employed. I tried switching my standard SDHC memory card to a fast class 6, with no significant improvement. Overall the camera's shot-to-shot speed was a disappointment.

Shooting Performance
The camera's performance tables show that it does well compared to other cameras in its class, especially when it comes to continuous shooting speed. Shutter lag, when pre-focused (when the shutter is pressed halfway down), was negligible at 0.01 seconds. AF acquisition, the time it takes between pressing the shutter and taking the shot, measured a quick 0.35 seconds. Continuous shooting ability for four frames was clocked at a very quick 12 frames per second.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
Camera Time (seconds)
Kodak EasyShare Z990 Max 0.01
Nikon Coolpix P500 0.01
Canon PowerShot SX30 0.01
Olympus SP800-UZ 0.03

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix P500 0.30
Canon PowerShot SX30 0.35
Kodak EasyShare Z990 Max 0.38
Olympus SP800-UZ 0.45

Continuous Shooting
Camera Frames Framerate*
Kodak EasyShare Z990 Max 4 12.0
Nikon Coolpix P500 5 10.0
Canon PowerShot SX30 1.4
Olympus SP800-UZ 10 1.2

*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.

I had little problem finding focus in both good light and dim light.

Kodak specifies a battery life of approximately 500 shots per charge. This sounds great but in real life shooting, I was able to get only a fraction of that figure. The battery charge icon would consistently sink to ½ full after only about 100 shots, even if I did not shoot any videos or use the flash. I thought that perhaps the Kodak-supplied batteries were defective but I obtained the same results with Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable AA batteries. If you plan to go out for a day of shooting, I strongly recommend bringing along at least one extra set of fully charged batteries.

Lens Performance
The lens of the EasyShare Max Z990 is produced by the well-regarded German optics firm of Shneider-Kreuznach. The lens has a huge range of from 28-840mm (35mm film camera equivalent). An additional 5x zoom is available when using digital zoom, although it is hard to imagine why a user would need it. Thanks to the camera's effective optical image stabilization, I rarely had a problem getting a sharp image, even at the long end of the zoom.

I found the lens to have good sharpness in the center, but falling off towards the corners. I did not see any vignetting, but chromatic aberration was a problem in images with high contrast shots. For example in the image below, there is purple fringing on most of the tree branches.

Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image

I found some barrel distortion at wide angle and minor pin cushion distortion at maximum telephoto.

Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
Wide angle
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
Telephoto

Video Quality
Videos shot by the EasyShare Max Z990 were smooth and had good color. The camera's use of continuous auto focus and the optical zoom were very handy. The stereo sound was well done.

HD videos can be up to 29 minutes long, with a maximum file size of just under 4GB.

Image Quality
The EasyShare Max Z990 produced good looking images with strong but realistic colors and little distortion (other than the chromatic aberration noted above). I rarely observed instances of excessive overexposure.

I enjoyed using the camera's macro mode, though I found it odd that in Smart Capture mode, the camera could only be brought to as close as 10cm to the object. To get any closer, it was necessary to put the camera in program mode and press the focus button to get into super macro mode.

Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image

I enjoyed using the various classic film effects mode, which simulates Kodacolor, Ektachrome, Kodachrome, T-Max, Tri-X and Sepia. It's a neat way for Kodak to pay homage to its history as the premier producer of high quality film for 35mm cameras.

Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
Normal
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
Kodacolor
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
Ektachrome
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
Kodachrome
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
T-Max
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
Tri-X
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
Sepia

One feature of the camera that I did not find particularly enjoyable was its implementation of auto panorama. Unlike the other cameras I've used that had a similar feature, I was never able to determine how much of the image would be in my panorama shot. The camera's User Guide says that the panorama image should cover about 180 degrees. Even though I tried to sweep 180 degrees each time, sometimes the image would cover all 180 degrees, and other times it would not.

Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image

Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image

The camera's auto white balance setting worked well. White balance can also be manually set to daylight, tungsten, fluorescent and open shade. The image below shows auto white balance using the fluorescent setting:

Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
Auto White Balance 5500k fluorescent light

The camera's flash can be set to auto, fill, red-eye reduction and off. Kodak claims a flash range, in Smart Capture mode at ISO 100, of 8.9 meters (29.2 feet) at wide angle and 4.4 meters (14.4 feet) at maximum telephoto. This is a very powerful flash but it operated intelligently, using just enough power that was necessary to give to sufficient light to the subject.

Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image

The ISO table below shows that the new back-illuminated sensor in the EasyShare Max Z990 has greatly improved the camera's low light ability. Image quality looks virtually the same at ISO 800 as at ISO 100.

Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
ISO 125
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
ISO 125, 100% crop
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
ISO 200
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
ISO 400
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
ISO 800
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
ISO 1600
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image?
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
ISO 3200
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
ISO 6400
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
ISO 6400, 100% crop

Even ISO 1600 produces a fairly good image. Image quality is much worse at the very high ISO settings of 3200 and 6400 but they could be useful in when no other shot is possible.

Additional Sample Images
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image
Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image Kodak EasyShare Max Sample Image

CONCLUSIONS
The Kodak EasyShare Max Z990 is a good ultrazoom that could have been a great ultrazoom. Its build quality is solid and its ergonomics are good (with a couple of minor exceptions). It has a wide array of features, including an ultra-quick continuous shooting mode. It includes a high quality lens and provides quick and accurate focusing. It offers very good image quality with especially nice looking colors and its low light image quality is impressive. It has an excellent flash.


But the EasyShare Max falls short in few significant ways. One is that its shot-to-shot speed is much too slow, especially after the flash has been fired. Another is that actual battery life is much shorter than the 500 shots claimed by Kodak. Finally, the camera's auto panorama mode is virtually useless because it's not possible to predict what part of the scene will be in the final image.

Pros:

Cons: