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Kodak EasyShare Z950
12.0 MP | 35-350mm (10X) ZOOM | $159/£161

The Kodak EasyShare Z950 is the oldest (announced almost a year ago), bulkiest and heaviest camera in this test by some margin, and in terms of its ergonomics it is reminiscent of compact digital cameras of a generation or two ago. This shouldn't be taken as a criticism though - it is nice to see a camera with a bit of meat on it these days, and to some photographers, a heavier camera is a nicer one to hold. We're on the fence - the Kodak does feel really good in the hand, but it is the only camera here which stretches a shirt pocket.

  • 12.0 effective Megapixels
  • 35-350mm equiv lens
  • Optical stabilization
  • 720p HD video (MPEG-4)
  • 3.0 inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
  • Manual focus
  • SD/SDHC compatible
  • 32Mb internal memory
  • ISO sensitivity up to 1600 (at full resolution)
  • Battery life: 310 shots (CIPA standard)

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Overview

Specification-wise, the Kodak offers a solid, if not revolutionary feature set. It is always good to see 'true' manual control on a camera of this type, and the Z950's full complement of PASM exposure modes represents an unusual amount of versatility which will no doubt appeal to experienced photographers and ambitious beginners. The aperture control offered in A and M modes is genuine too, and although there is only a choice of 3 aperture settings at any given focal length, the lens does actually stop down, (unlike many of the cameras in this test, where a neutral density filter mimics the effect). This gives you limited control over depth of field at the telephoto end of the zoom.

Other cool features include manual focus, exposure bracketing, and a range of color modes, such as 'high color' 'sepia' and 'black and white'. These modes are fun to play with, and very useful in cameras of this type, but it is a shame that although the live view image is visible behind the menus, it doesn't change to match the color options until you've made your selection. That said, this is a really minor irritation.

Another very slight annoyance is that even though the screen resolution of the Z950 is on a par with several other cameras in this test, at 230,000 dots, it isn't as crisp as we would expect, and the resolution of the text used in the on-screen menus still appears fuzzy and pixellated. It's only really noticeable in comparison with the screen on another camera, but it does make menu navigation less pleasant than it might otherwise be (insofar as menu navigation could ever be called pleasant). The low-ish resolution of the screen also has a negative impact on the manual focus function. Although it is possible to focus manually, the slightly soft, low-contrast screen image makes it difficult to tell precisely when accurate focus has been achieved.

All in all though, the Kodak offers an attractive feature set in a friendly, easy to use body at an incredibly low price.

Key Features

The bulkiest camera in this test, the Kodak EasyShare Z950 is in our opinion, the most comfortable to hold. A substantial rubber handgrip and sculpted thumbrest makes it feel rock solid, an impression aided by the relative heaviness of the body.
Compared to the other cameras in this test the top plate of the Z950 is relatively cluttered. As well as the shutter release and zoom control here you'll find the exposure mode dial, on/off switch, self-timer and flash buttons.
The vertical strip arrangement of controls on the rear of the Z950 is unusual, but clear enough, and easy to use. A 4-way joystick serves to initiate the quick menu, and navigate through menu options and set different shooting parameters.
It's a big camera when turned off, and an even bigger one when it's been woken up. The Z950 might not be as pocketable as some of the other cameras in this test, but it's weight and bulk are reassuring rather than wrist-breaking.
The Z950 features a decent enough flash for its class, but because of its positioning this is another camera where you have to be careful not to obscure the flash with your finger.
Pressing the menu button gives you quick access to frequently used camera settings such as ISO and white balance.
Manual focus is good to see on a camera of this type but the low resolution and low sharpness of the LCD screen makes it a lot less useful than it could be - or would be on a camera with a higher-spec screen.

Image quality and performance

Considering its price, the Z950 does extremely well in our tests. In terms of image quality, given favorable conditions, it is easily on a par with the best of the competition. Pixel-level detail is impressively high throughout the zoom range, and although image quality drops off higher up the ISO sensitivity scale, the Z950 still holds it own against the other, more expensive cameras in this group. The only thing that takes the shine off images from the Z950 is a pronounced softness towards the corners of shots taken at the wide end of the zoom, but at small print sizes this is unnoticeable.

It would have been easy for Kodak to have skimped on the Z950's processing power, but contrary to our expectations, it goes about its business quickly and efficiently. AF is reasonably swift at the wide end of the zoom, but it suffers slightly towards the 350mm end, and (not unusually) really doesn't like low light conditions at all. In review mode, the Z950 is one of the fastest cameras here. Zooming in and out of captured images is reasonably quick, although there is a pause of a couple of seconds until the image is readied for magnification.

White balance and metering are almost always spot-on as well, but the live view image on the Z950's LCD is a very poor guide to both color and exposure. For a start, everything looks rather too blue, but more seriously, the live view image is much brighter than it should be. Our instinct when first using the camera was - understandably - to set negative exposure compensation, but when the images were loaded onto a computer, it was clear that the original exposure was correct, and required no adjustment. Fortunately, even though the LCD is next to useless in bright light, the Z950 can generally be relied upon to deliver excellent results. You just have to trust it.

The Kodak's zoom range is the most restrictive of the cameras in this group test, and although generously endowed at the long end of the zoom, 35mm (equivalent) at the wideangle end is nowhere near as versatile as other cameras in this test that offer 28mm and wider lenses.

Summary

To be brutally honest, of all the cameras here, the Kodak EasyShare Z950 was the one that we were least excited about using. All too often in recent years, Kodak's low-end offerings have been just that - low end, sacrificing build and image quality for price. It gives us enormous pleasure to say that the Z950 has not lived down to our initial expectations - it is, in fact, a thoroughly nice camera for the price, albeit with some caveats.

Our biggest problems with the Z950 are its relatively restrictive zoom range, of 35-350mm (equivalent) and its sub-par LCD screen. The lack of a meaningful wideangle setting is one of the few reasons not to buy the camera, and the poor LCD is one of the things that makes it a little more awkward to use than it ought to be. In virtually all other respects however, the Z950 performs very well, and for less than $200 it's a terrific bargain. In fact, despite its dated ergonomics, poor LCD screen and slightly restrictive wideangle setting, it has turned out to be one of our favorite cameras in this group test.

  • We like: Unflashy, sensible ergonomics, 'proper' handgrip, good detail resolution in both stills and video, good optical performance (considering the price) and good battery life

  • We don't like: Low quality LCD, which is very difficult to see in bright light, over-bright live view image, slightly blue rendition, hesitant AF in poor light, lack of 'true' wideangle.
Kodak EasyShare Z950
Category: Premium Enthusiast Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Optics
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Traditionalists that like a camera with a bit of meat on it. Excellent sharpness means that the Z950 can be used for letter-size+ prints.
Not so good for
Wideangle fans. 35mm is significantly less wide than the competition.
Overall score
68%
The Kodak EasyShare Z950 is a camera cast in a more traditional mold than most of the others in this group. You'll either love or hate the chunky ergonomics, but the only serious problem with the Z950 is its lack of a true wideangle setting. If 35mm is wide enough for you, you'll find that the Z950 is capable of excellent results.
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