Announced at CES 2009, the 12-megapixel Kodak EasyShare Z980 was the first superzoom camera to boast a wideangle 24x zoom lens. At the time, it seemed bulky, but we were forgiving, as it was a first of its kind and that is a big lens. But, shortly after Kodak's announcement came Olympus' announcement of the considerably tighter-looking 26x zoom SP-590 UZ. Now, having fully tested the Z980, we're firmly of the opinion that it is a clunky, unwieldy camera. The camera isn't without its benefits, though, and photo quality and performance are fairly good for its class -- just not at high-ISO sensitivities.
The Z980 is available for around £320.
Kodak had its heart in the right place with the design of the Z980, and certainly knows its target users well enough. It's an inexpensive way for advanced amateurs or hobbyists to get their hands on a very flexible lens and plenty of control options to experiment with. Unfortunately, the Z980 comes across as one of the company's compact cameras dressed up with an extra knob, dial and buttons.
The mode dial on top makes sense. The dial next to it, for selecting and adjusting shot settings, does not, and should be on the back where it would be in easy reach of your thumb. We have a preference for zoom toggles to be under the thumb on the back, but Kodak has put it slightly too far off to the left to make it easy to reach -- it should have been a zoom ring around the shutter release.
While we're on the subject of shutter releases, Kodak, in an attempt to make portrait photography more comfortable, has added a secondary shutter release at the lower front edge of the hand grip. A switch on top activates the button as well as changing the directional pad into a zoom toggle. Sadly, it doesn't shift the shooting information on the screen. If you want to go back and forth between using the two shutter releases, you'll have to keep flipping the switch.
Kodak has also included a plastic grip that screws into the bottom of the camera so there's more to hold on to when you're shooting vertically. That's certainly thoughtful, but you have to screw it on and off every time you want to access the easy-to-open, difficult-to-close compartment for an SDHC card and the battery.
Thankfully, there are a few plus points to the design. Menus are typical Kodak fare: attractive and easy to navigate. The LCD and electronic viewfinder are good quality and, on top of the EVF, is a hot shoe for use with Kodak's £100 add-on P20 Zoom Flash. Lastly, since the Z980 is powered by four AA batteries, Kodak includes rechargeable batteries and a charger. They're precharged, too, so you can start shooting out of the box.
The Z980 comes close to an entry-level digital SLR in terms of its shooting controls. Except for white balance, it gives full manual control, as well as shutter-speed and aperture-priority modes. Using them is easy, but the location of the dial for making changes should really be on the back and not on the top. You also get exposure bracketing, colour effects and sharpness adjustments. There are two burst modes: one at full resolution for six consecutive shots and a 3-megapixel high-speed burst for nine frames in a row at 5fps.