When you buy the Z950, you get the following in the box:
- The Z950 camera
- Power supply (USB)
- USB cable (for both connecting to computer and charging)
- Wrist strap
- EasyShare software CD
- User Guide
Missing from this list is an A/V out cable: the camera comes with no way to show the images or videos on a TV. Kodak will sell you an analog video and audio out cable for $25, but there is no digital version. So even though the Z950 can shoot high definition video, you have to spend an extra $25 to watch it in standard definition.
We found that the Z950 did a very decent job of capturing color; the majority of the colors in the images we captured for our tests were very close to the originals. We test this by photographing a color chart under tightly controlled conditions, and then using Imatest to analyze the captured images to see how accurate the colors are. More on how we test color.
As you can see from the samples below, the Z950 did a good job with most colors. The only ones that were slightly inaccurate were the yellows and reds. The yellows came out a little muted, but the reds were a little deeper than we typically like to see. These were mostly minor issues, though, and the Z950 captured most colors accurately.
The Z950 was also on a par with our comparison cameras in this test: the only one to score significantly worse was the Nikon L100.
The Z950 offers 5 color modes: High Color, Natural Color, Low Color, Black & White and Sepia. The effect of most of these is pretty obvious, except the High Color mode (which boosts the saturation) and the Low Color (which lowers the saturation significantly). For examples of these, see the Controls section of this review.
The Z950 did an impressive job of keeping the noise in images low. Even at the higher ISO settings, we didn't see too much of the speckling that often comes to dominate the images that many cameras take in low light. However, this good noise performance does come at a cost; the Z950 is doing some processing to remove the noise, which gives higher ISO images a flat, almost watercolor look. See below for examples. More on how we test noise.
To test the low light performance of cameras, we take a series of photos at different ISO levels in both bright light (3000 lux, about the same as a typical sunny day) and in low light (about 60 lux, equivalent to a typical indoor light level). As you can see from the graph above, the noise is a little higher in the low light situation, but in both tests, the amount of noise stays relatively low as the ISO increases.
Compared the Z950 to other cameras, we found that it has much lower noise than most; some cameras (such as the Panasonic ZS3) show much more noise at higher ISO levels, but the Z950 stays significantly lower.
The ISO range of the Z950 starts at 100 and goes up to 1600 at full resolution. If you don't mind limiting yourself to a resolution of 3.1 megapixels, you can increase this up to an ISO setting of 3200.
NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.
We found that the images that the Z950 captured for our resolution tests were a little disappointing. We saw some evidence of distortion and chromatic aberration, and the images were not particularly sharp. Our resolution score is composed of the result of three tests, where we look at distortion, sharpness and chromatic aberration. More on how we test resolution.
All lenses introduce some distortion, but the Z950 seemed to be more prone to this than most. We only saw a very small amount at the middle and telephoto points of the zoom range, but there was some distinct barrel distortion at the widest setting; we saw just over 3% distortion, which is very significant and shows up in images
Most of the images that we took with the Z950 had acceptable sharpness, although none of them were outstanding in this test. At the wide and middle points of the zoom range the images had consistent sharpness, but this wasn't the case at the telephoto end, where we found that the images were generally much softer, producing a sort of soft focus effect that meant that fine details were lost in the haze. You can see examples of this in the crops below; the edges of the boxes in the longest zoom images are much blurrier than those at the other points.
Chromatic Aberration ()
We also found some issues with chromatic aberration, where the elements of the lenses bend different colors of light slightly differently, producing a slight colored fringe on sharp edges. This was most pronounced at the wide and telephoto ends of the zoom range, where there was some distinct aberration in the corners of the images.
The Z950 gives you a wide selection of options for the resolution of the images you shoot: 8 in all. There are also 3 sharpness levels: high, normal and low, but these do not seem to affect the image quality much. You cannot, however, shoot images in RAW, which limits the amount of processing you can do in applications such as Photoshop. However, only a handful of point and shoot cameras offer this feature.
The Z950 uses an optical stabilization system, where an element of the lens moves to compensate for handshake. We found this system to be very effective: in our tests, we found that it significantly improved the sharpness of images at a typical indoor shutter speed of 1/30 of a second. More on how we test image stabilization.
Kodak advertises the Z950 as a video capable camera, and it does have a very decent selection of video features. It can capture videos in 720p resolution (but not the higher resolution 1080p format that some other cameras can manage) which are stored as MPEG-4 files. And, unlike some other cameras, the Z950 allows you to use the full range of the optical zoom lens while shooting video. However, the auto focus in video mode is slow, and if you zoom in, the camera seems to always loose the focus, leading to some blurring until it finds the right point again.
The color in the videos that the Z950 captures was a little disappointing; we found that the yellows and reds were rather inaccurate and that the color was rather oversaturated. More on how we test video color.
Although the Z950 shoots video at a 720p resolution, we found that the video was very soft; fine details in our test subjects were often lost in the video, particularly when the object or the camera was moving (such as with the camera panning). This gives the video a soft, fuzzy look that does not look very appealing on a large screen HDTV. More on how we test video sharpness.
The Z950 offers a reasonable selection of playback features: you can zoom out (to show up to 16 thumbnails on one screen), zoom in up to 8x and flag files for uploading or printing with the share button. You get three options for viewing the photo info as well as the photo itself: you can turn all the info off, show the basic info or view the full shooting info.
You can also create slideshows within the camera by selecting a series of images, choosing a type of music and transition and then saving the slideshow to the memory card. The music options are somewhat limited (you get to choose from 5 built-in pieces of music called Action. Calm, Fun Nature and Urban), as are the transitions, but it's a simple way to create a slideshow if you want to do one quickly and cleanly.
Only a few basic in-camera editing tools are offered: you can crop images or apply Kodak's own PerfectTouch processing. You cannot, however, remove red eye, rotate or apply any form of color correction. The aforementioned PerfectTouch processing does a decent job of bringing our some shadow detail on darker shots, but it can't work miracles.
The Z950 supports the common DPOF and PictBridge printing features. DPOF allows you to mark certain pictures on a memory card for printing when you put the memory card into a printer. PictBridge allows the camera to connect directly to a printer over a USB cable and print directly to it, with no computer in the middle. Kodak also offers an additional printing feature; when combined with the included EasyShare software , the share button can be used to upload images to the Kodak EasyShare web site and to print them from there.
There is no viewfinder on this camera: all operations are carried out through the LCD screen.
The LCD screen of the Z950 is a 3-inch TFT with 230k pixels. That's pretty average for cameras of this type, and the resolution is high enough to get a decent preview of the images. They do appear slightly blocky, though, and you have to zoom in to get a decent preview of the fine details.
The flash is a small unit embedded in the camera body above and to the left of the lens. This is a little too close to the lens for comfort; this small distance exaggerates red eye and reflections. The camera does include a red-eye reduction mode, though, which uses a single pre-flash to contract the iris and reduce the appearance of red-eye. Kodak claims a maximum range of 5.4 meters (about 18 feet) for the flash, but as usual, this seems grossly optimistic; we found that it was generally only good for about 8 to 9 feet in total darkness.
The Z950 is built around a Schneider Kreuznach lens with a focal length range of 6.2mm to 62mm. That's equivalent to a 35-350mm focal length range on a 35mm film camera, which is a decent zoom range. It is a little short at the wide angle end of things, though; group shots and landscapes are easier to compose and frame with a 28mm wide angle option. The aperture range of the camera is decent, though; it goes from f/3.8 to f/8.2 at the wide end, and f/4.8 to f/11.3 at the telephoto end.
Examples of this zoom range are shown below.
The Z950 gets its juice from the KLIC-7003 Li-ion rechargeable battery that fits into the cavity on the bottom of the camera. This can hold around 1150mAh hours of charge, and is recharged in the camera from either the included charger or over a USB cable. This is a good thing; it means that you can use a laptop to charge the camera, meaning you have to carry one less thing on a trip. The USB cable can also be used for charging or for transferring images to a computer.
Photos and video can be stored on either the 32MB of internal memory or on an SD/SDHC memory card. Images can also be copied from one to the other; useful if you want to keep a favorite photo on the internal memory to show off.
There are just two ports on this camera: a power input and the combination USB/AV output. Both are located below a rubber cover on the right side of the camera body. The power input is kind of redundant; the battery inside the camera is charged through the USB/power cable. One thing to note here is that the USB/Av out port is a proprietary one; if you loose the included cable, you'll have to buy another one from Kodak.
The Z950 has shooting modes to spare: as well as 18 scene modes, it includes a panorama mode, full auto, program, shutter priority, aperture priority and a full manual mode. That's a very comprehensive mode list for a point and shoot camera, and it provides plenty of flexibility for the user.
The Z950 also includes a special mode on the mode dial for taking panoramas, where the camera takes 3 images and stitches them together to form a single panoramic image. It is nowhere near as flexible as the Sony HX1's sweep panorama mode, but it seems to work in our tests.
Auto Mode Features
Focus - The Z950 uses a contrast detection focus system, with 5 focus points in a grid pattern around the center of the frame. This can be switched to a single focus point in the center of the frame, and there is also a macro and manual focus mode. The manual focus mode shows you an enlargement of the center of the frame when focusing. We did find that the auto focus was rather slow, especially in low light, where it often took 2to 3 seconds to find the right focus point. The focus assist light is also rather bright: it could easily temporarily blind someone in a darkened room.
A macro focus mode is also included, but it's barely deserving of the name. At the widest zoom setting, the minimum focus distance for this camera is about 4 inches, which means that you cannot get in close. It's fine for taking photos of larger objects like flowers, but there is no way it can take photos of smaller objects such as insects.
Face detection is also included, but the implementation is somewhat clumsy. When enabled, the camera tries to detect and focus and expose for faces, but it only works with straight on faces: those at an angle or profiles are not detected.
Exposure - Only basic exposure compensation features are available: you can add or subtract up to two stops of exposure compensation and one stop of flash exposure in one third of a stop steps. It is unusual to see flash compensation on a point and shoot, but it's a good thing to have available if you are using the flash as a fill-in for existing light.
Metering - Options are offered for evaluative, center weighted and spot metering. In addition, the face detection mode will spot meter on the detected faces.
Self-Timer - The standard self-timer options of 2 and 10 second delays are on offer, plus an odd 2x mode that uses a 10 second delay, but then takes a second photo after another delay.
The only picture effects modes on offer are the color modes: High, Natural, Low, Black & White and Sepia. None of these effects can be adjusted: there is no way to tweak how much of the effect is applied. We generally recommend that people avoid using these effects; you can get better results with more control using an image editing application.
A decent selection of white balance presets are on offer: Daylight, Tungsten, Florescent and Open shade. There is also a full auto mode, but no evaluative mode.
The lens offers a decent aperture range: f/3.2 to f/8.0 at the widest setting, and f/4.8 to f/11.3 at the telephoto end.
In the auto and scene modes, the camera can set the shutter speed from 1/8 of a second down to 1/1250. In full manual mode, this range expands to 16 seconds down to 1/1000. That's a little smaller than what we like to see; shutter speeds of 1/2000 of a second can help freeze sports and other fast-moving subjects.
The Z950 has a very limited burst mode that can only handle 3 shots. You can set this to either capture the first three shots or the last three after the shutter is pressed. The idea of the latter mode is that you hold down the shutter until you think you have got the shot and the camera captures the last three shots. Whichever mode you use, there is then about a 5 second delay while the camera writes the images out to the memory card. It works, but we would rather see a decent burst mode that can capture more images, and faster.
Shot to Shot ()
We measured the time between shots of the Z950 at around 0.7 seconds, for a frame rate of about 1.5 frames per second (fps). That's a little misleading, though, as the camera can only capture three shots at this speed.
We found that the Z950 handled well, with the raised ridge on the front providing a good tight grip. We did find that the middle finger sometimes ended up obscuring the flash with a looser grip, as you can see in our handling photo below.
The shutter and zoom controls of the Z950 are well placed; they fall right under the index finger when you grip the camera. The other buttons are less so, as all of the other controls require both hand to use. That means you have to use both hands to perform simple tasks like changing shooting mode or setting the self timer. Other cameras allow you to do at least some of these things one handed, which is quicker and easier.
When you do hold the camera in two hands, the controls on the back of the camera are pretty easy to use; a row of buttons beside allow for deleting, menu access, image info and play mode. Below the 4-way control is the red share button, which marks an image for Kodak's software to upload.
The on-screen menus of the Z950 are colorful, but a bit confusing. They are divided into three tabs: Capture, Capture+ and Setup. Some options aren't where you might expect them to be: Color Mode is under the capture tab, but White Balance is under the Capture+. This division seems arbitrary and odd, especially when the Capture menu only has three options on it.
The User Guide that comes with the camera is very poor: the English section is just 25 pages and only covers the basics. Topics such as face detection aren't covered at all. Kodak does redeem themselves somewhat with their online manual and extended user guide (both are available here), but we would have preferred to see more of this good information in the box with the camera.
The Kodak EasyShare Z950 and the Canon PowerShot SX120 IS are similar cameras in many ways: they are approximately the same size and are around the same price. But there are differences that are telling. The Kodak shoots images at a higher resolution, but we found the images that the Canon took to have better detail and fewer problems. The Kodak shoots HD video (at 720p resolution), but we found that the standard definition video of the Canon to show more detail and to generally look more attractive.
But it's not a one sided competition: the Kodak had more effective image stabilization and lower noise in images. It also shoots faster, although the Kodak is limited to 3 shots while the SX120 can keep shooting at the slower speed.
Overall, we generally found the Canon to be the more rounded package. And it's slightly cheaper, too; enough to buy a large memory card to hold your photos on.
Looking at the specs, you might think that the L100 has the advantage; it has the longer zoom and wider set of features. But that's why we test cameras, and the L100 had a number of serious failings that make the Kodak a better choice. We found the Kodak to be the superior camera in pretty much every respect, with sharper images, more accurate color, more effective image stabilization and better video. The only reason to choose the Nikon is if you absolutely, positively have to have the longer zoom.
In our tests, we found that the Panasonic ZS3 was the superior camera in most respects: It scored higher in our tests for color, sharpness and image stabilization. The only test where the Z950 was superior was in noise, and that was because Kodak seems to be more aggressive with the noise processing than Panasonic. The ZS3 is also the smaller and lighter camera that would fit into a shirt pocket, while the Z950 is somewhat chunkier. The ZS3 is more expensive, though, but we'd recommend spending the extra if you have the bank balance to cover it.
The Z950 is a decent camera, with decent performance and a decent set of features. And decent is not a bad thing: it takes good pictures and has a zoom long enough to get close to the action. But it doesn't really shine in any area, and some of the features don't live up to the hype. The video, in particular: while the camera does shoot 720p HD video, the captured video doesn't look any better than the standard definition video that others capture, and looks very weak next to the higher resolution HD video of others.
It's not that we don't like the Z950; it does a good job of what it does. But there are just other cameras that cost about the same and do a better job. And the other cameras (such as our comparison cameras shown below) also include an A/V out cable, which Kodak charges you $25 for.
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