Review: Kodak Easyshare Max Z990

 
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Published: July 11, 2011 11:00 PM
By Franck Mée / Morgane Alzieu
Translated by: Catherine Barraclough
Once a keen bridge camera maker, Kodak now only has one such model in its range—the Easyshare Max Z990. It's also the manufacturer's first camera to use a BSI CMOS sensor, not to mention a 30x zoom lens. On paper, it looks like this bridge could give the current market heavyweights a run for their money. Let's see if it lives up to expectations.

Handling

Appearances can be deceiving. The Kodak Max Z990 isn't significantly bigger or heavier than the Sony HX100V, for example, as it's only four millimetres wider, one millimetre taller and three millimetres longer. Plus, it's only 10 grammes heavier. In spite of that, it feels like a much more imposing camera to handle. This is no doubt due to its bulky, angular design, its huge grip handle, the very boxy and very high-set viewfinder and the large lens barrel.

Grip is excellent and the camera feels solid and sturdy to use. It does, nevertheless, feel heavy. The camera's weight isn't evenly balanced either, as the four AA batteries in the grip handle add extra weight to support in the palm of your hand.

Kodak Easyshare Max Z990 review test

On the back, the Z990 is equipped with a 460,000-dot screen. Mid-grey tones are displayed a bit too darkly and colours in general aren't reproduced accurately (deltaE = 7.1), with a slight blue overtone. Then again, does colour fidelity really matter when you won't be able to see the screen properly unless you're facing it straight on? Make no mistake—that's what happens with a TN screen like this!

The camera's controls and handling are typical Kodak fare, with a series of buttons (that are more aesthetic than practical) down the side of the screen and a thumb-wheel you press to access the settings. In ASM modes, it would have been nice if the thumb-wheel automatically switched function to control aperture and speed, but that's unfortunately not the case.

All in all, we did find this a rather peculiar camera to use. For example, by default, the Z990 displays a strip of settings info in a nice tapered effect from top to bottom of the onscreen image. It certainly looks very nice, but this can be quite annoying when you're trying to line up a shot with any degree of accuracy. You can hide the settings strip by pressing the Disp. button, but in ASM modes this obviously masks the speed and aperture settings, which are pretty important! Any fans of the priority and manual modes will therefore either have to make do with a screen that's partly covered or spend a lot of time pressing the Disp. button.

Like 'genuine' bridge cameras (as opposed to the more recent compact bridges from Olympus and Nikon), the Z990 has an electronic viewfinder. And, as is all too often the case, this is small, has a low definition and is prone to rainbow effects. The viewfinder can prove useful when bright sunlight makes it impossible to see what's going on onscreen, but it's not really a feature you'd use out of choice.

Responsiveness

Regular readers will know that we consider a start-up time of over two seconds unsatisfactory, although we can tolerate start-up times of two or three seconds in certain types of camera (superzoom compacts in particular). Here, though, we're not going to be so kind. In the 3.4 seconds the Z990 takes to get going, that cute baby will already have crawled away, the interesting bird will already be out of sight and, generally speaking, whatever moment you wanted to capture will probably already be over.

Easyshare Max Z990 resview responsiveness

Otherwise the camera is reasonably responsive, although it's a little slow to focus in low light. In practice, the autofocus works well in most day-to-day situations and the Z990 doesn't waste too much time saving photos. We did notice that the menus lagged from time to time, but that's a relatively minor complaint next to that painfully slow start-up time!

Picture Quality

The Z990 is the first Kodak camera to come loaded with a BSI CMOS sensor. This 12-Megapixel version is no doubt closely related to the sensor Sony used in its cameras back in the autumn, and which Canon has put to incredibly good use in its 'HS' series cameras (like the Ixus 220 HS).

Easyshare Max Z990 test review picture quality

Kodak has never been one of the best at keeping digital noise under control, so we weren't expecting amazing results at higher ISO settings. Up to 400 ISO, the Easyshare Max takes very good-quality pictures, with an excellent level of detail and just a very slight graininess. Noise starts to make an appearance at 800 ISO, which is somewhat clumsily counteracted by smoothing in darker zones. This is visible, although certainly not unsightly, on 8" x 10" photos (20 x 27 cm). It looks like 1600 ISO is best avoided, however, as the grain becomes much coarser and highly visible, even on smaller prints.


The Easyshare Max has a 30x zoom lens with an equivalent focal range of 28-840 mm. The lens gives decent enough results at wide-angle settings, and although the edges of the shot are a little hazy (barely visible on an 8" x 10" print), the middle of the frame is sharp and detailed. At 180 mm, quality over the frame is more consistent ... but that's unfortunately because sharpness is lost in the middle of the picture. An A4 print is OK but we wouldn't recommend printing any poster-size pictures.

At telephoto settings, the Kodak Z990 is a very nice surprise indeed. Pictures are sharp over the whole frame and the Z990 even out-does the excellent Sony HX100V in this field!

All in all, the Kodak's inferior noise control still gives Sony's camera the edge, but it's been a while seen we've been so pleasantly surprised by pictures from a Kodak camera.

Video

While lots of cameras overexpose bright and white parts of the scene in video mode, the Easyshare Max instead has an annoying tendency of under-exposing videos. As a result, areas of darkness, shadow or shade soon turn pitch black. However, this does help keep fuzzy noise under control.

Otherwise, there's plenty of detail in video images (Full HD, 1080p at 30 fps) and the stereo sound isn't bad either. It's a bit muffled, but the widely spaced microphones create a nice spatial effect and overall quality is good. The only slight let-down is that the autofocus tends to 'pump' in and out a bit while focusing.

Easyshare Max Z990 test video mode review

Plus, the little light that comes on to help out in darker conditions makes strange reflections on shiny objects.
3/5 Kodak Easyshare Max Z990 DigitalVersus 2011-07-12 00:00:00

Pros

  • Lens is satisfactory at wide-angle settings and very good at telephoto settings
  • Big handle for sturdy grip
  • Full HD video with optical zoom and stereo sound
  • Very good super macro mode
  • AA batteries (easy to pick up replacements while out and about)

Cons

  • Performance at higher ISO settings (don't bother going higher than 800 ISO)
  • Very slow to start up
  • Autofocus 'pumps' in video mode
  • TN screen (looks dark when viewed from below)
  • AA batteries (heavy and prone to flying out when you open the compartment door)

Conclusion

The Kodak Easyshare Max Z990 is a nice surprise. Kodak's picture quality has improved, partly thanks to increased sensitivity but mostly because of a decent new lens. Drawbacks include the TN screen, a few strange idiosyncrasies in handling, occasional lags in the interface and, above all, the interminable time it takes for the camera to switch on and take a picture.

OUR SCORE 3/5
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