- Review Price: £129.99
Not so long ago Kodak looked like it might be in a lot of trouble, as its traditional core market in film-based photography shrank to almost nothing in just a few years and its attempt to hold on to a corner of the professional digital SLR market failed. However the company now seems to be thriving and is producing a wide and varied range of digital compact cameras, now standing at a slightly astonishing 34 models. This total includes the ten models in the long-zoom Z-series, to which this Z8612 IS is one of the more recent additions.
Launched in January of this year, the Z8612 IS is a low-cost super-zoom camera offering a 12x zoom Schneider-Kreuznach f/2.8-4.8 lens, 8.1-megapixel resolution, a 2.5-inch 230k monitor and optical image stabilisation, an ambitious specification for a camera currently selling for £129.99 direct from Kodak’s website, or even less from several different retailers. There aren’t many cameras on the market that can match that specification for the price, but one obvious contender is from Kodak’s traditional rivals Fujifilm, with the 10-megapixel, 12x zoom FinePix S1000fd currently selling for just under £129.98, and the excellent 8.1MP, 10x zoom S5800 selling for under £100.
Looking at the Z8612, you can see that the Taiwanese company that made it for Kodak didn’t waste any money on superfluous design. It’s not a small camera, measuring 104 × 65.6 × 70.5 mm, but it is quite light for its size at 290g. The body is made of plastic and to be honest it does feel cheaply made. Some of the panels give a bit and creak when squeezed, and the controls and hatches feel flimsy. The body shape is a utilitarian rectangular black box, with a simple cylinder on the front for the lens barrel, square black buttons for the controls and a small rubberised handgrip. You could call it “minimalist” if you were so inclined, but I’m afraid I’m going to go with “dull”.
The Z8612 has several problems, but one thing in particular totally killed this camera for me. Whenever you turn it on, the flash automatically pops up whether you need it or not. It’s not a gentle pop either; it has a fairly strong undamped spring, and snaps up with a loud ‘clunk’. There is no way of stopping it from doing this, since the on/off switch also doubles as the flash latch release, so discreet photography is out of the question. Pushing the flash back down is also slightly awkward, requiring a push from a particular direction to make it retract smoothly. All in all it’s just a little bit too irritating.
The Z8612 has a few other annoying handling issues that further reinforce the impression that this is a very cheaply made camera. While the lens is quite good, the zoom control is awful. The control is far too sensitive and jerky and has a very annoying feature, in that the image on the monitor goes completely out of focus while the zoom is being adjusted, making it almost impossible to frame shots accurately. This problem is especially noticeable when zooming out. The overall handling isn’t as good as it looks either. The handgrip is too small, and the narrow wedge-shaped gap between it and the lens barrel is too small for most people’s fingers, making the camera awkward and uncomfortable to hold.
The Z8612 isn’t exactly bursting with creative features, but it does have some good points. Its range of manual exposure control is better than average, with apertures of f/2.8 to f/8 and shutter speeds of 16 to 1/1000th of a second available in 1/3EV increments. Strangely the shutter can operate at 1/3200th of a second, but only in its automatic modes.
Other than that the Z8612 has only the most basic options. It has the usual three exposure metering modes (multi-zone, centre-weighted or spot), and either centre or multi-zone autofocus. Sharpness is adjustable, at least to the extent of high, low or normal, and there is an exposure bracketing option with adjustable interval. Colour control is limited to five extremely basic pre-set options. Even the 16 scene mode settings consist of the usual list, such as portrait, landscape, sport, museum, night landscape etcetera.
It’s worth pointing out that although the packaging and advertising for this camera is plastered with the HD logo, it doesn’t have an HD video mode. Maximum video quality is VGA at 30fps. Still pictures can be output to a HD TV, but only with the optional adapter dock.
As is usually the case with these cheap OEM cameras, overall performance is very disappointing. It starts up in approximately three seconds, which isn’t too shocking, but it gets worse. In single shot mode at maximum image quality, and using a high speed memory card, the shot-to-shot time is approximately 1.5 seconds for the first four shots, but then when you go to take another you’re presented with a frustrating “Processing…” message for several seconds. This delay gets worse with every subsequent shot, until you’re waiting nearly ten seconds between shots. Not surprisingly the Z8612 doesn’t have a proper continuous shooting mode, instead offering a top-four or last-four capture mode.
The autofocus system isn’t too bad, although it too is a little slow, but it does operate surprisingly well in low light, and the bright AF assist lamp helps it to focus in complete darkness at a range of a couple of metres.
Despite its shortcomings the Z8612 is capable of quite good image quality, although again it’s not without a few problems. The Schneider-Kreuznach lens is better than average, although not as good as the name might imply. It produces relatively little barrel distortion, but does suffer from noticeable chromatic aberration toward the edges of the frame. Exposure metering on my review sample is consistently about half a stop over exposed, which helps to preserve shadow detail but does result in burned-out highlights. Colour rendition is less than perfect as well, which is unusual for a Kodak camera. Bright colours appear as featureless blobs with little detail.
Noise control is about average for a cheap camera, with good results up to 200 ISO, but beyond that the noise control is very obtrusive, blurring out detail and making a horrible mess of high-contrast edges. Image compression is also an issue, with JPEG artefacts visible on plain colours and around details, further reducing image quality.
The Kodak EasyShare Z8612 IS may be relatively cheap for a long-zoom model, but its numerous shortcomings mean that it’s not particularly good value for money. Build quality is below average, it has a number of annoying handling problems, and overall performance is very slow. While image quality isn’t completely awful there are also some problems in this area. If you’re looking for a cut-price super-zoom camera the Fuji S5800 is still the best value on the market.
”Over the next few pages we show a range of test shots. On this page the full size image at the minimum and maximum ISO settings have been reduced to let you see the full image, and a series of full resolution crops have taken from original images at a range of ISO settings to show the overall image quality. ”
This is the full frame at the minimum sensitivity setting of 64 ISO.
At the minimum ISO setting there isn’t much visible noise, but JPEG artefacts are a bit of a problem.
Image quality is still pretty good at 100 ISO.
Still no real problems at 200 ISO, although noise reduction is starting to blur out details.
At 400 ISO there are some major problems. Take a look at the border between the red and green areas towards the top of the frame.
The problems with the red channel are even worse at 800 ISO.
At 1600 ISO colour rendition has broken down completely.
This is the full frame at the maximum manual sensitivity setting of 1600 ISO.
”A range of general test shots are shown over the next two pages. In some cases, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it to show the overall image quality. Some other pictures may be clicked to view the original full-size image. ”
The usual test shot of the cathedral window to compare detail and sharpness with other cameras. See below for a full-res crop or click to download the full-sized version.
Despite its problems the Z8612 is capable of capturing a lot of fine detail, certainly above average for an 8MP camera.
The Schneider-Kreuznach lens produces relatively little wide-angle barrel distortion.
Centre sharpness is very good, although there are some JPEG artefacts areound the window frames.
Corner sharpness is also good, although there is some chromatic aberration.
”Here are some general test shots to help evaluate the camera’s overall image quality, including the zoom range of the lens. Some pictures may be clicked to download the full size original image. ”
The wide-angle end of the zoom is equivalent to 36mm, not really wide enough for expansive panoramic scenes.
The telephoto end is equivalent to 432mm, which is great for zooming in on details. The optical image stabilisation system works quite well too.
The bright red and yellow flowers are over-saturated and have little detail.
Slight over-exposure has caused some burned out highlights.
If you’re not too demanding the Z8612 can be a versatile snapshot camera.
Score in detail
Image Quality 7
Build Quality 5
|Camera type||Super Zoom|
|Megapixels (Megapixel)||8.1 Megapixel|
|Optical Zoom (Times)||12x|
|LCD Monitor||2.5 in|
|Flash modes||Auto Flash, Flash OFF, Red-eye Reduction|
|Video (max res/format)||640 x 480|
|Memory card slot||Secure Digital (SD) Card, Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) Card|
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