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I was eager to review the Kodak EasyShare Z885. I had some bad experiences with Kodak digital cameras years ago and hoped the EasyShare Z885 would provide me with a fresh perspective on the current state of their cameras. This was probably wishful thinking, since there is only so much one can expect from a $200 digital camera – especially one that touts features such as digital image stabilization and ISO 8000 sensitivity. I carried the Z885 around in my laptop bag for a couple weeks and used it to take pictures of a picnic, a graduation party, and as a general “grab shot” camera. Most of the time I used it in full auto mode, thinking that’s how most Z885 owners will use it.
The number of features packed into the Z885 surprised me – especially considering that it sells for less than $200. In addition to the 2.5-inch LCD there are 20 scene modes, in-camera panorama stitching, ISO 8000 sensitivity, a 5x optical zoom lens, digital image stabilization, video recording with zoom, and a full manual exposure mode.
With top of the line digital SLRs maxing out at ISO 6400, you have to wonder how a $199 camera can manage such high sensitivity. And more importantly – is it actually useable? The way Kodak pulls it off is pretty clever. It appears they’re grouping together multiple pixels to increase sensitivity because you can’t select ISO 6400 or 8000 until you dial the resolution down to 2.2 megapixels. But I can’t confirm that since Kodak hasn’t released any technical data about their methods.
Image stabilization is one of the top “must have” digital camera features right now. Kodak’s EasyShare Z885 uses digital image stabilization. Instead of shifting the lens elements or moving the sensor to compensate for shake, the Z885 tries to make up for it by boosting the sensitivity to ISO 3200. Of the three image stabilization methods, (optical, digital and sensor-shifting) this is the least desirable because it compromises image quality. Though it is usually preferable to blurry photos. It also helps freeze moving subjects, which the other image stabilization methods can’t do. Mechanical image stabilization (optical or sensor shifting) compensates for camera shake without degrading image quality. No doubt, mechanical image stabilization systems are more expensive and maybe too much to ask of a camera that costs less than $200. That said, the EasyShare Z885′s electronic image stabilization isn’t half bad. There is some artifacting but it’s not very objectionable as long as ISOs over 400 are avoided. In the end, I would use it if the need arose. The only other drawback is that it’s only available in a single, dedicated mode. But you can always turn up the ISO yourself and get the same results.
There are six shooting modes on the EasyShare Z885: Smart Scene, P/M, High ISO, Digital Image Stabilization, Scene, and Video. Most people will probably leave the Z885 on auto. But the other modes are useful and I was pleased that Kodak included the Program/Manual (P/M) exposure mode. The Scene modes consist of portrait, sports, landscape, close up, night portrait, night landscape, snow, beach, text/document, fireworks, flower, manner/museum, self portrait, children, backlight, panning, candle light, sunset and panorama stitch.
The Program/Manual mode was a pleasant surprise. I am used to Program and Manual being separate modes so combining the two confused me at first. However, after using it for some time, I found I like the implementation. It means the Z885 offers room for photographers to learn and grow as well as offering more control to those who might not be able or willing to afford a more expensive camera.
The camera records Quicktime MPEG 4 at 640×480 or 320×240 at 30fps. Recording time is capped at 80 minutes unless you run out of space first. In-camera video editing consists of being able to take freeze frames of the video and trimming it.
Kodak EasyShare Z885 – Main Menu
Kodak EasyShare Z885 – Scene selection in the Scene mode
Kodak EasyShare Z885 – Grid and histogram overlay in Manual mode
Kodak EasyShare Z885 – Image Review
Kodak EasyShare Z885 – Share menu
The build and finish of the camera is nice. It has no creaks or flexible panels. The battery and SD card doors are solid and close and open with a nice, decisive spring-loaded feel. I did, however, take issue with the buttons. Small and almost flush with the camera surface, the buttons can be difficult to use. They lack a tactile feel and I often had to depend on system sounds to confirm button presses because I could never be sure. I only found the buttons to be annoying, while my girlfriend had a hard time turning the camera on due to the same complaints. Ironically the drive/flash buttons on top of the camera felt the best, and these are likely the least used.
Overall, I felt that the Kodak EasyShare Z885 is a bit inconsistent. In good conditions (i.e. good light and simple subjects) the camera focuses quickly and accurately and renders properly exposed images with great color. But other times, even in seemingly similar conditions, it severely overexposes, underexposes or gets the white balance wrong. On the other hand, daylight images exposed well and had consistently good white balance. I did have some problems with the camera failing to lock focus on backlit subjects.
I did like the implementation of the Manual/Program modes. With a simple change of an on-screen menu item you can go from full manual control to Program, which shifts ISO settings and exposure compensation and lets the camera fill in the blanks. This is a great example of creative and sensible camera design. The two are so close that giving the user the ability to go from one to the other easily just makes sense, and is similar in use to having an actual mode dial on higher-end cameras.
I found the camera to be sluggish and a bit counter-intuitive. The program/manual mode’s menu system is pretty straightforward – you use the directional pad to select a function and then press it up or down to change it. But even though white balance is displayed, you can’t scroll over to change it. The menu icons aren’t very self-explanatory and lack text descriptions. I understood the camera icon with the wrench — that clearly indicates a tools or setup menu . But what exactly does the camera icon mean? And what about the camera icon with a plus sign? The icons and text are huge, which they have to be considering the size of the screen and its relative low resolution. Small icons would be difficult to read. And that brings me to my next point.
A large LCD helps you see and evaluate your photos better and also makes it easier to share them with other people. But the EasyShare Z885’s screen is very grainy, making the images look much worse than they really are. I would take a smaller screen with better image quality over this one any day. And Kodak’s LCD typeface choice doesn’t help. The letters, “ISO,” look like the number 180 and when the camera is set for ISO 80 it is tough to tell the letters and numbers apart. When you switch over to manual mode the exposure indicator is dark grey, making it unreadable in bright light unless the scene being photographed is completely white (see images of the LCD display, below).
Kodak EasyShare Z885 – Hard to read type
An additional frustration was having to restart the camera every time I changed memory cards. Why not just have a sensor that shuts the camera down when the card is removed? Other digital cameras I’ve used automatically turn off when the memory card door is opened and turn back on when it’s closed. The Kodak EasyShare Z885 just displays a screen telling you to turn it off and back on. Obviously a card change was detected, how much harder would it be to implement an automatic restart?
Kodak EasyShare Z885 – Prompt to restart the camera
I was excited when I found that by cycling through the different LCD display modes in the P/M mode I could get a live histogram. A live histogram is a killer feature on digital P&S cameras, and I was stoked to find it on this level of camera. Unfortunately, even though the histogram appears to be live, it doesn’t update when exposure settings are changed in the manual mode. Only in the program mode does it function as expected. In my opinion, this makes the histogram utterly useless. There’s still a playback histogram you can use to judge exposure. But the lack of it in manual mode is very disappointing.
Kodak EasyShare Z885 – Histogram worthless in Manual mode. Notice the EV indicator read an underexposure of -12.3 while the histogram indicates a bias to overexposure
The video quality on Kodak EasyShare Z885 is decent. It also allows you to zoom while recording, which not all digicams do. Unfortunately, the sound of the zoom mechanism is easily picked up by the mic. Playing back videos is a little confusing. Since it has no dedicated review mode, the camera has to be fully on, with lens extended, in order to scroll through videos (or still images). There is an exception to that. If you mark videos as “favorites” and switch the camera to the “favorites” mode you can view them without the camera on and lens out. Adding images and videos to the Z885′s Favorites folder is a pain because you have to copy them to “favorites memory,” a separate mode you can switch into. This is a slow process which also uses up the camera’s 32MB of built-in memory.
The Kodak EasyShare Z885 has decent image quality for an 8.1-megapixel camera. And it’s far better than digital cameras that cost much more just a few years ago. Noise reduction is apparent even at ISO 80 in the form of detail-less splotches, though it’s not objectionable. There is some loss of finer detail and a slight painterly look. The default in-camera sharpening is a bit harsh resulting in strong halos, but it can be decreased in the menu. The daylight color rendition is excellent. There is some purple fringing in high contrast areas, although it’s not terrible.
Exposure metering seems inconsistent. The Z885 overexposes scenes with lots of bright white in them, but expose properly when the scene has a large proportion of darks. And even that doesn’t always happen. The camera also struggles in backlit situations, trying to preserve detail in the bright light sources way more than I’d like it to, even if the area was a relatively small portion of the frame. I often found myself using exposure compensation to override the automatic exposure. The 5x zoom lens is not the sharpest, and it’s noticeably sharper at the wide end than at the telephoto end of the zoom. There is also some obvious distortion at the wide end, but surprisingly little at the telephoto end. It does do pretty well with flare, though. Colors were saturated and I didn’t really have a problem with sun spots.
Kodak EasyShare Z885 – Wide angle distortion
Kodak EasyShare Z885 – Telephoto distortion
Who Should Buy It
After spending a fair amount of time with the Kodak Z885, I just can’t bring myself to recommend it. I think people that are looking for a $200 digital camera should look at a different camera or consider spending more. There is too much that’s likely to disappoint with the Z885. However, if you are already invested in the Kodak dock system and are looking for something with a lens that has a little more reach and is still pretty pocketable, then the Z885 is worth looking at. It can be found for well under the MSRP of $199. If you are aware of and can live with its shortcomings it’s a pretty decent value. Just don’t expect any of its highly touted features to really live up to their promise and you won’t be disappointed. It’s a camera that does OK across the board, but doesn’t excel in any particular area.
Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.
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