Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent color, generally very good exposure
- Versatile 38-380mm zoom range
- Very compact
- Good handling and easy access to most photographic controls
- Decent flash performance
- Good white balance in most situations
- Both screen and EVF work well in low light
- Generally accurate focus
- Easy point-and-shoot use
- Good range of scene modes and simple explanations of features/functions
- Simple, automated picture sharing with supplied software suite
- Good battery life
- Good price
Conclusion - Cons
- Slightly soft images and lower than average resolution
- Some aspects of operation feel slow compared to competition
- Over-aggressive noise reduction at ISO 200+ (very soft ISO 400 images)
- Lack of image stabilization limits use of long end of zoom to bright scenes
- Very slow buffering/card writing: camera freezes for up to 35 seconds after 5-shot burst
- No image quality options, images very heavily compressed
- No custom/manual white balance
- Stiff, awkward power switch that pops flash up whether you want it or not
- Low resolution LCD screen
- EVF not that bright (and not very clear - no dioptre adjustment)
- Movie mode not up to much
- ISO 800 mode noisy and restricted to 1.7MP
When Kodak launched it's first 'SLR-like' super zoom, the DX6490, back in 2003 it was entering a much less crowded marketplace, and one where it held an ace up its sleeve; a highly competitive price point (and, to be fair, a comprehensive feature list). Since then Kodak has released (I almost said 'churned out') a string of variations on the same theme in subsequent generations of first the DX, then the Z series of cameras, increasing resolution and fine-tuning performance, but not really changing much. The Z series was concieved as a pared-down version of the DX series (now making way for the P series - you keeping up?), with a reduced feature set and an even keener price point - a big zoom camera for the 'point and shoot' crowd.
Of course since 2003 the 'super zoom' market has ballooned and consumers on a budget have got a lot more options open to them. Crucially the one thing that is most likely to help 'point and shoot' big zoom users get a higher hit rate, image stabilization, is no longer restricted to the top end of the market, and no longer commands a huge price premium. This means any 'budget' super zoom without IS needs to offer an awful lot - at an awfully good price - to be considered a serious competitor.
And so we get to the Z650. Although it offers some real improvements over the Z740 (better picture quality, larger screen), it's more evolutionary than radical. Like its predecessor it's actually a very nice camera, and an easy and (usually) enjoyable one to use, and the color is typical Kodak - rich, vivid and generally very accurate. It's also very compact, has excellent photographic controls and is very easy to use. The results won't win it any awards for detail or sharpness, but - once you've spent a few days with it and learned its foibles - the Z650 is capable of a very high hit rate, and unless you print at sizes above 5x7 inches the output is perfectly tuned for the target market.
But in the final analysis the Z650 - like the Olympus SP-500UZ - falls between two stools. The price is undoubtedly keen, but there needs to be much more clear blue water between it and models such as the Panasonic FZ7, which you can get for around $40 more - less than the price of a decent steak dinner. And the FZ7 will give you sharper results, a higher level of specification and - crucially - optical image stabilization (not to mention a better aperture range and higher zoom factor). And if you act quickly you could pick up a Konica Minolta Z6 for even less. And if the Z650 is aimed at the 'point and shoot' brigade then surely they don't need all those manual controls, and would be happier with something pocketable like the new Panasonic TZ1 - or even Kodak's own recently announced V610?
Taken on its own the Z650 is a perfectly good camera, one capable of perfectly good results, and one that offers perfectly good value for money. Unfortunately perfectly good just isn't enough in a market this competitive, and the Z650 suffers by comparison to some of its competitors, and because in attempting to 'dumb down' the feature set of the DX line Kodak cut too many important features without offering much in exchange. I'm sure it will sell well (Kodak is no small player in this market), and I'm sure those who buy it will be perfectly happy, but I would certainly look at the alternatives before handing over my money for the Z650.