Superzooms are a style law unto themselves. Their boxy, angular frames look uniformly geeky and they often handle -- and shoot -- like poor relations of digital SLRs. Kodak's latest effort, the EasyShare Z1012 IS, is a fairly lightweight option with 10-megapixel resolution, 12x zoom and optical stabilisation. Available for around £190, could it tempt you away from a dSLR?
Essentially, you want two things from a superzoom: plenty of lens and plenty of stabilisation. The Z1012's 12x optics aren't the absolute longest on the market -- Sony's similarly-priced Cyber-shot DSC-H9 goes to 15x -- but they're pretty generous for a sub-£200 snapper. Optical quality is about average for the size; there's some noticeable purple fringing throughout the range, but at least you get a relatively spacious 33mm wide-angle setting and a bright f/2.8-4.8 aperture.
Kodak's optical stabilisation is very good, enabling sharp handheld telephoto shots down to about 1/30-second, if your hands aren't too wobbly. To match the lens, you've got manual control over exposure and focus. Adjusting exposure and sensitivity is easy with the Kodak's tactile and precise jog dial, mounted where the zoom rocker usually is.
Changing other settings means negotiating the clear, stripped-down menus or toggling through the focus, flash and drive buttons on the top. A mode dial zips between exposure modes quickly, meaning that the Z1012 is generally faster on the uptake than most Kodaks -- even the shutter lag is well under a second.
Face detection and panorama modes are both fun and functional. Overall, photo results aren't too bad, especially if you like your exposure bright and your colours pumped up. Noise is well handled in low light shots and movie clips are smooth and nicely detailed.
Superzooms are almost synonymous with plastic, but the Z1012 does its best to shrug off that reputation. Buttons and dials are cheap but not flimsy and only the main four-way pad actually feels awkward to use. Unfortunately, the layout of controls doesn't help. The top-mounted buttons require you to tip the camera to see which one you're pressing and the horizontal zoom rocker is way too close to the EVF, making it tricky to frame while zooming.
That's not so much of a sacrifice, however, as the EVF shows very little detail anyway. It's also difficult to use with glasses. The main monitor is a mere 64mm (2.5 inches) in size and washes out in bright light -- though it's actually pretty good in the dark. These are common problems with lower-priced superzooms, as is the hesitant processing that results in smeary detail and soft edges. The built-in flash is on the weak side, too.
Note that although it shoots in 720p 'high definition', you'll need an optional £70 dock to play back footage directly on a HD television (via component video only).
It's easy to sneer at clumsy, sluggish superzooms, especially when compared with today's ever nimble, budget digital SLRs. However, this Kodak delivers in some key areas: it's light, fairly quick and easy to use, and has a long, well stabilised lens. If you can get past the weak LCD and EVF and are happy with soft, bright mages, it's a fine camera for the money.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday