Review: Kodak Z1012 IS digital point-and-shoot

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http://www.viddler.com/player/f852d79a/

The Kodak EasyShare Z1012 IS is a 10.1 megapixel camera with 12x optical zoom and image stabilization.  It also records video at 1280×720.

The Good
This camera is really, really light.  It’s surprisingly light.  You could easily forget that this thing was in your pocket.  It’s got a fast start up time, which means you’re less likely to miss those impromptu shots.  The auto focus is fairly fast, and certainly adequate for most casual users.

It’s got your standard assortment of scene modes (fireworks, museum, beach, kids, snow, etc).  In auto mode, you can select from 10, 8.9, 7.5 and 5.0 megapixels at a 4:3 aspect ratio.  In PSAM modes, you can select 10 (4:3), 8.9 (3:2), 7.5 (16:9), 5.0 (4:3), 3.1 (4:3), 2.2 (3:2), 2.1 (16.9), and 1.2 (4:3) to allow you to select the best resolution and aspect ratio for the intended use.  Also in PSAM modes you can control the compression of the JPEGs between Fine (little compression), Standard, and Basic (lots of compression).  For example, the same shot taken with all three settings produces files 4.1, 2.8, and 2.1 megabytes in size.  In auto mode, you don’t get to select the compression at all — and it looks like it uses Basic compression, because the files are surprisingly small.

For those folks who use the viewfinder exclusively to frame the shot, the Kodak offers a nice feature: it will lock onto the focus area, and then track that focus area as you move the camera around: a little green box will display what the camera is focusing on, and that box will remain pretty well attached to that same thing regardless of moderate horizontal or vertical camera motion.  Please excuse the horrible video quality: I had trouble recording the LCD display of the Kodak, but wanted to demonstrate the feature.

The lithium battery holds a respectable charge, and I used the camera for several days without running out of juice. In addition to the lithium battery, the Z1012 IS can also use a pair of plain old AA batteries, so if you’re out and about you can visit any corner store to pick up batteries to keep shooting.

Several others features make this camera extremely appealing to someone who might be less computer savvy.  It has in-camera panorama stiching, which works pretty well if you take your time to line up the shots. I recommend using a tripod.  You can stitch up to three shots together.  Be advised, though, that the original non-stitched images are NOT saved, so if you think you can do a better job than the camera you’d better not use the panoramic mode.

Also include are some nice slideshow effects, including music.  So rather than compose a slideshow on your PC and try to select some accompanying music on your own, you can simply have the camera add in the soundtrack to the slideshow it displays.  Choose between Action, Calm, Fun, Nature and Urban melodies and effects.  It’s probably not something most CrunchGear readers will care about, but it might let mom or dad (or grandma or grandpa) create something impressive with a lot less frustration than using PC tools.

The Bad
Surprisingly, the most annoying thing about this camera is the lens cap.  It doesn’t grip very well to the lens barrel, and is easy to knock off.  Or, if you’re forgetful like I am and simply turn the camera on with the lens cap still attached, the lens will pop the cap off as it extends out during the power up cycle. This is a good way to lose the lens cap.

The on-screen user interface is sluggish.  The menus aren’t entirely unintuitive, they’re just laborious to navigate due to the slow response.  This is probably not a bad thing for a more patient user, but for an instant gratification fanatic like myself, this was a turn off.

The interface is somewhat inconsistent: the menu is accessed and navigated using the round 4-way nav button on the back face.  But when you’re in one of the PSAM modes, the controls are accessed through the jog wheel at the top right of the frame.  I suppose it makes sense sticking PSAM controls on the jog wheel, so that you can twiddle the settings one handed and not lose the shot you’ve just framed, but it’s a little incongruous and may take some getting used to.

While the camera has an orientation sensor to detect when you place it on its side to take a shot, the LCD display only shows images in one orientation.  What this means is that you turn the camera to the side for a photo, then you need to turn the camera back to horizontal to look at the now properly rotated preview.  Maybe I’m being overly picky, but that seems like a pretty easy problem to have avoided.

The Ambivalent
The Kodak Z1012 IS includes a lot of other features which I think were crammed in because they could be, and not because too many people actually want them.  You can crop images, using a pre-set crop size.  You can also apply voice tags to images, which I suppose would be good for documenting an archeological excavation.  You can also apply text tags to photos, using predefined tags like “birthday”, “holiday”, or “wedding”, or you can create your own custom tags.  I don’t think this is a feature that would be used by anyone I know.  I suppose if you’re on a long trip without the ability to download photos regularly, you could tag the photos for later organization and review.

I didn’t fiddle with the video recording too much, because I’ve always seen that as more of a convenience on digital cameras rather than a specific selling point.  If you don’t want to buy or carry a dedicated video recorder of any sort, then having recording capability the camera you have with you is a handy feature.  Here’s a quick comparison of the Kodak EasyShare Z1012 IS against my Flip, the only video recorder I had handy.  15 seconds on the Flip is 6 megabytes, while the same 15 seconds is 35 megabytes on the Z1012.

Kodak:
http://www.viddler.com/player/c6cfe715/

Flip:
http://www.viddler.com/player/8c68754c/

The Verdict
This is a really good camera for a specific type of user.  It’s got a lot of bells and whistles, all of which are fairly easy to use, so you’ll feel like you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck.  The 10 megapixel sensor give you plenty of original material to crop for a 4×6 or 5×7 photo print, or even a full 8×10 if you want it; and the 12x optical zoom gives you a lot of flexibility when composing your shot.  The image stabilization was noticable, and every little bit to steady my shaky hands is appreciated.  The Kodak EasyShare Z1012 IS fits pretty comfortably in between the casual point and shoot segment and the full DSLR segment.

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