While Kodak's new Zx1 might be a tad more exciting, Kodak is also keeping at the EasyShare thing with its new Z980 zoomer. We've gotten to spend some time with the camera, and while we appreciate the price, the size and the endless zoom, we're overall none too impressed. Check out our full impressions after the break.
Hardware

Don't let the looks deceive you: this isn't a DSLR. In fact, it feels a bit as if someone overinflated a cheap point and shoot, and stuck a large lens on the front. The camera is disturbingly light and plastic, the buttons seem cheap and don't inspire confidence, and the zoom lens segments actually wiggle around in their housing. We appreciate the cost cutting, but we'd say Kodak cut a few too many corners here.


The camera is actually uncomfortable to hold one handed, since the right grip part is too small and too short for our large hands. There's a large screw-on piece of plastic for the bottom of the camera that makes things a bit more comfortable, and allows for holding the camera in a portrait orientation and using the secondary shutter button, but it seems a little silly to need it.


The screen is large and bright, and we have no complaints there. Battery life should be strong with four rechargeable AA batteries (and the charger) included -- and easily swapped. Unfortunately, the battery cover is a bit of a chore to open and close, and the SD card slot is stuffed underneath there as well.

Performance
Kodak, like most camera manufacturers these days, has put a lot of time into making automagical adjustments to the crappy pictures we take on auto. To that end, the camera does a pretty good job. It pops open the (fairly powerful) flash at appropriate times, recognizes faces to adjust exposure, keeps pics from being too blurry, and attempts to avoid excess noise whenever possible.

That said, the pictures just aren't great -- there's only so much a small and cheap sensor can do. The pictures aren't overly noisy, but just seem cheap. Colors are flat, and the end results look a little over processed. Most consumers probably won't mind too much, but don't get any delusions that you'll be able to turn out gold with the right lighting and setup -- there are just some fundamental limitations here.

The camera starts up fairly quickly, and it's easy to switch modes, turn off the flash and so forth. The manual controls are easily accessed, but a bit of a chore to use -- there's a plasticy jog dial that's been assigned too much to do. The settings are also unlabeled, so you don't know what "f3.5" or "1/25" mean you aren't going to get much help.


These have only been cropped vertically, they're both the real deal.

The 24x zoom is indeed very zoomy, and operates quite nicely. It's going to open up a whole new world of spying on our neighbors, that's for sure.

We found the video mode adequate, though the "720p" video is quite obviously upscaled -- much more noticeably than the Zx1, though the camera seems to capture motion more smoothly than its YouTube-loving sibling. The sound is also very bad.

Wrap-up
Overall, we'd say this camera is good at zooming and that's about it. If you want something that just takes "good" pictures and don't need anything fancy, you'd probably be better off with a compact point and shoot from Canon or Nikon -- plus you can stick those in your pocket. If you want to do the near-DSLR thing, we'd say save up your pennies and get something that can actually produce a good image. If you want to zoom to your heart's content, however, the Z980 might just be your thing.

Samples (right click to download)
Overcast day in NY - 720p 30fps
NY sidewalk 1 - 12 megapixels 1x zoom
NY sidewalk 2 - 12 megapixels 24x zoom

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