Shopping for a digital camera today can be mind-boggling. There are dozens to choose from. At first glance, Kodak’s Z950, an ultra-zoom pocket camera, looks like a middle-of-the-road choice. However, with a 10x optical zoom, a Schneider-Krueznach lens, High Def video, manual exposure controls, and an Intelligent “Smart Capture” Auto mode there may be more to this camera than meets the eye. We set out to investigate.
This Kodak camera comes in the typical bright yellow and black Kodak box, as shown in Figure 1.
Inside the box, as shown in Figure 2, you will find the camera, a Li-Ion rechargeable battery, a USB charging cable , a USB AC adapter for the charging cable, a software disk. Not shown in a very small black nylon wrist strap. In the box, you will also find a small 26-page User’s Guide which is written in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The Z950 is not as small as some digital cameras that we have reviewed. At 4.3" x 2.6" x 1.4" (10.9 x 6.6 x 3.5 cm), and 8.6 ounces (243 grams) it is larger than the Nikon Coolpix S600 , the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500, or the Olympus Stylus Tough 6000. While this Kodak will fit in most shirt pockets, it is sure to cause quite a bulge. It is definitely not an ultra-compact camera, but size-wise, it is comparable to some choices from Panasonic, Canon, and others.
The front of the camera with the lens expanded is shown in Figure 3. The lens automatically expands and contracts and the lens cover opens and closes when the camera is powered on and off.
The Z950 is a no-frills camera that comes only in black. The design is industrial–looking. The body is mostly plastic, but has a fairly sturdy feel. The camera has rounded edges which will help it slide in and out of a case or pocketbook. The area to the right of the lens has a large rubberized grip, which is quite comfortable to hold.
[nextpage title=”The Hardware”]
The front of the camera is shown in Figure 4. The built-in flash is at the top. Just below that are three holes for the microphone. To the other side of the lens is the self-timer/video/AF assist light.
Most of the camera’s controls are on the top of the camera, as shown in Figure 5. At the left is the Mode dial with icons for Smart Capture, a sport scene mode, a panorama mode, other scene modes, a program auto mode, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual mode, and a video mode. Just to the right of the mode dial is the power/charging status light.
Next to that is the on/off button which is slightly recessed. You have to press your finger quite hard to press this button. We often found ourselves using a finger nail to complete the press. Next to the on/off button are the flash button and the self-timer/burst button. Both of these are slightly raised and easier to press.
On the right side of the top of the camera is the shutter button. The shutter button is encircled by a zoom control which has an easy-to-use tab that controls the zoom. Both the shutter button and the encircling zoom ring are shiny black. We found this easier to use than many other Kodak cameras that have a rocker-type switch for the zoom. Unfortunately, the zoom control is plastic. Although it is fairly responsive, it feels a bit flimsy.
On the back of the camera, shown in Figure 6, is a large, 3 inch LCD screen. Although we loved the size of the screen, we felt that it lacked the clarity found in many competitors’ cameras. To be honest, the screen always looked just a tad bit muddy and a tad bit blue. This is a minor irritation to those of us who look at a lot of digital camera screens. Many end users will find this quite acceptable. One big plus is that the LCD screen is pretty clear even in bright sunlight.
The buttons are arranged in a different pattern than most digital camera. There are four rectangular buttons are arranged in a vertical line. This gives the controls a very clean look. Yet, each button is slightly raised in the middle, making them easy to use. The top button is the Delete button. Below that are the Menu button, Info button, and Review (Play) button. Each of these has different functionality depending on whether you are in the Capture mode or the Playback mode.
Each button has an icon next to it that represents its function. While the icons for the menu, info, and play buttons all seemed logically representative, the delete icon looks like a pot with a cover. We may have missed the real meaning, but this in no way represented “delete” to us.
Next to the vertical row of buttons is the speaker and below that is a four-way joystick which you use to make choices of on-screen options. The center control is pressed to confirm your choice. Below the rocker is the Share button. The Share button marks images for printing or uploading them to a PC when using the EasyShare software that is included with the camera.
[nextpage title=”The Hardware (Cont’d)”]
The bottom of the Z950, shown in Figure 7, has a plastic door that opens to reveal the batter and SD memory card slot. Unfortunately the door is very flimsy. Although the hinges are metal and the door swings open gingerly, we had to question the durability of the door itself.
When the battery door is closed as it is in Figure 8, you see a metal tripod mount in the middle of the camera. Unfortunately, when a tripod is attached, you cannot access the memory card. For some, this won’t make any difference, but it is a pet peeve of ours. We like to be able to mount the camera on a tripod and still access the memory card to move our pictures to the computer during a tripod session.
On the side of the Z950, you will find a rubberized door that opens to reveal a 5V DC-input and the USB/AV output, as shown in Figure 9. However, no video cables are included.
Above this is a protruding strap holder. Although this is again made of plastic, it seems very sturdy.
[nextpage title=”Using the Z950″]
The specifications of the Kodak EasyShare Z950 are impressive. It is a 12-megapixel camera with a 1/2.33-inch CCD sensor, and a Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon 10x optical zoom lens.
This Kodak has 17 scene modes, including high ISO, portrait, night portrait, landscape, night landscape, flower, sunset, backlight, candle light, museum, text, beach, snow, fireworks, children, self portrait, and stage, as well as a panoramic mode. It also has a special fully automatic mode, called Smart Capture that analyzes the scene and picks the appropriate settings including focus, exposure, and ISO. It uses it Smart Capture processing to reduce noise and adjust the dynamic range. We found this setting to be very good. It helps the user get the proper settings and is amazingly accurate.
The Z950 offers one thing not commonly found on compact cameras of this class. It has the Z950 has full manual settings for aperture, shutter priority, and manual modes. This will allow a budding photographer to tinker with their own settings, while relying on the auto modes whenever they like.
The small User Guide that comes with the camera gives you a useful tour of the camera and its functionality. To get a full view of what this camera can do, you will want to access the online User’s Manual.
The on-screen information is easy to navigate and the settings are easy to change as shown in Figure 10. A press on the Info button lets you eliminate the on-screen information. Another press lets it return it to the screen with a histogram. A third press eliminates the histogram, but keeps the other information. You can use the jog dial to choose and change the settings on the bottom of the screen. You can use the menu button and the jog dial to change the settings at the top of the screen. It is a system that can be learned quite quickly.
The Z950 also has face detection and good image stabilization. The macro mode works well, but it can only take pics up to 6cm away. So if you are looking for closer picture taking, you will have to look elsewhere. The Z950 offers 5 color modes: High Color, Natural Color, Low Color, Black & White and Sepia.
As might be expected in a camera of this quality all photos are taken jpeg format. The Z950 has a limited burst mode that can handle 3 shots. It works, but is very limited and somewhat slow.
As a matter of fact, slowness is the biggest drawback of this camera. Every time you turn the camera on you get a screen that says “reading memory card” and a delay of about 8 seconds. While this might not sound like a long time, when you are trying to catch an action shot, it can seem like an eternity. Once the camera warms up it can take a few fairy quick photos, but then will again start to lag again and display “processing.”
Overall, however, the Kodak Z950 takes very good pictures. The color representation is very good as are the details. The noise level is lower than most other camera in this class, even at high ISOs, which is a big plus. The ISO can be manually set from 100 to 1,600. The lens created a small amount of barrel distortion in wide angle shots, but this was so slight that many people won’t even notice it.
The HD video on the Kodak Z950 seemed to be an afterthought by the manufacturer. One nice feature is that you can zoom when taking movies, but we got some frame drops when zooming and/or when panning. The camera shoots HD video at 720p (1280×720) video at 30fps in the MPEG-4 format. However, the auto-focus doesn’t work too well during the movie taking process, so there is sometimes a little blurring. Audio recording is clear, but it is monaural only.
If you want to use this camera for movie-taking, we would recommend putting it on a tripod and moving very slowly. If you want a still camera but want to take a lot of videos with it, you will want to look at a different camera.
Kodak says that a fully charged Z950 can take about 300 photos and our testing came very close to this estimate. We did, however, have trouble with the charging cable. When plugged into the camera, it didn’t always start charging. We found that we had to jiggle the plug to get it situated just right before it would charge. Had this been a camera that we purchased for everyday use, this would have been enough to either return the camera or call Kodak for a replacement cable [nextpage title=”Additional Features”]
The Z950 has a good selection of features that are available in the play mode. You can show 16 thumbnails on one screen. You can zoom in and out of a photo. You can create slideshows with music and transition right in the camera. You can tag your files with a chosen name which you add with a somewhat laborious on-screen keyboard. Much easier, however is to use the Share button which marks the photo as a favorite.
The Share button marks the photo and the included Kodak EasyShare software then lets you easily email it or post it to the Kodak EasyShare website. The software also has excellent organizational qualities.
The Z950 supports the DPOF and PictBridge. DPOF allows you to mark certain photos on the memory card for printing, so when you put the card into a DPOF-capable printer, just those photos are printed. PictBridge allows the camera to be connected directly to a PictBridge enabled printer via USB cable with no computer necessary for printing.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
Kodak EasyShare Z950 digital camera main specifications are:
- Dimensions: 4.3" × 2.6" × 1.4" (10.9 x 6.6 x 3.5 cm) (W × H × D)
- Weight: 8.2 oz (223 g) (without SD card and battery)
- Sensor type: 1 / 2.33 type
- Effective pixels: 12 MP (4024 × 3012)
- Lens: 35–350 mm (35 mm equiv.) f/3.5–f/4.8 Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon optical lens
- Zoom: 10X optical, 5X advanced digital, total zoom range 50X
- Image stabilizer: optical
- Shutter speed: 1/8–1/1250 sec. (auto)
- Screen: 3 in. high resolution (230K dots), 5 level brightness adjustments
- Storage: 32 MB internal memory, SDHC/SD card expansion slot
- Modes: normal, macro, infinity, manual
- Focus range: wide standard: 0.5 m–infinity, tele standard: 1.2 m–infinity, wide macro: 0.12–0.6 m, tele macro: 0.6–1.3 m
- Exposure control ISO sensitivity: auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
- Metering modes: multi-pattern, center-weighted, spot
- Compensation: ±2.0 EV with 1/3 EV steps
- Bracketing: ±1.0 EV with 1/3 EV steps, 3 images
- White balance: auto, daylight, tungsten, fluorescent, open shade
- Flash Range: 5.4 m (@ wide, ISO 400), 3.9 m (@ tele, ISO 400)
- Modes: auto, off, fill, red-eye reduction
- Shooting modes: Smart Capture, high ISO, sport, P (program), A (aperture priority), S (shutter priority), M (manual), panorama (left–right, right–left), video, SCN (scene modes)
- Scene modes: portrait, night portrait, landscape, night landscape, flower, sunset, backlight, candlelight, manner/museum, text, beach, snow, fireworks, children, self-portrait, stage
- Click to capture: < 0.3 sec.
- Shot to shot: < 1.5 sec
- Still capture Still format: JPEG/EXIF v2.21
- Picture size: 12.0 MP (4000 × 3000)—4:3, 10.7 MP (4000 × 2264)—3:2, 9.0 MP (4000 × 2256)—16:9, 6.0 MP (2832 × 2128)—4:3, 3.1 MP (2048 × 1536)—4:3, 2.2 MP (1800 × 1200)—3:2, 2.1 MP (1920 × 1080)—16:9, 1.2 MP (1280 × 960)—4:3
- Color modes: high color, natural color, low color, sepia, black and white
- Sharpness: high, normal, low
- Review options: single, magnification with navigation box, multi-up, multi-field search, slideshow, multimedia slideshow, histogram
- Editing: on-camera crop, Kodak Perfect Touch technology, voice annotation
- File management: delete, undo delete, copy, protect, text tagging, one-button upload
- Movie Format: Quicktime MPEG-4
- Movie Quality: HDV (1280 × 720) at 30 fps, VGA (640 × 480) at 30 fps, QVGA (320 × 240) at 30 fps
- Movie Length: HDV: continuous up to 29 min. based on memory card capacity, VGA/QVGA: continuous up to 80 min. based on memory card capacity
- Power: Kodak Li-Ion Rechargeable Digital Camera Battery KLIC-7003; optional AC adapter
- More Information: http://www.kodak.com
- Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price: USD 249.95
This Kodak takes very good pictures and it has a few unique features. The Smart Capture mode is excellent so it can make a beginner look like an expert. In addition to the good automatic mode, the user can manually set more of the functions than most cameras of this level allow. So it is a good camera for a beginner who wants to test the waters of manual functionality.
It also has a few functions that some will like, and some will hate. For instance, since it is larger and chunkier than many pocket cameras, it won’t fit in your pants pocket and is generally more difficult to carry around. However, the chunkier form factor also makes it easier to handle and the rubberized grip will keep it more secure in your hand. That is a very good thing because although it seems substantial, the plastic nature of this camera makes it one that you will want to hang onto and be sure not to drop or throw around.
Don’t buy this camera if you are the impatient type. While it takes very good pictures, you will often wind up waiting for the camera. So it is not suitable for action shots and the video is lacking. But if you want a camera that will give you great pictures with little effort, this may be the one for you.
- Good button layout
- Nice rubberized grip
- Many manual features
- Easy to use
- Broader-than-average zoom range
- Good image quality
- 10X optical Zoom
- Good color accuracy
- Low noise levels
- Slow startup
- Slow to operate
- Poor video
- No AV cable
- Some flimsy plastic parts
- Too chunky for pants pocket
- Our unit came with a charging cable that didn’t work consistently