Kodak EasyShare Z981 Review

June 11, 2010 | Gavin Stoker | Rating star Rating star Rating star Half rating star


The Kodak EasyShare Z981 is a new super-zoom digital camera that looks and feels just like a DSLR. Replacing the Z980 model, the Z981 features an even bigger 26x, 26-676mm lens complete with built-in optical Image Stabilizer. The 14 megapixel Kodak Z980 also offers a feature that will instantly catch the attention of every serious photographer out there - namely RAW format support - plus 720p HD movies, a 3 inch LCD screen, macro mode of 1cm, full range of creative exposure modes (P/A/S/M), Smart Capture mode for beginners, and runs on four AA batteries. Available in black, the Kodak EasyShare Z981 has a recommended retail price of £399.99 / $329.95.

Ease of Use

When the first proper consumer level digital cameras started emerging in 1998 or thereabouts, film stalwart Kodak was at the forefront of the charge - and, incredibly, charging around £1,000 for a one megapixel camera with it. Times change though, the company failed to maintain its early lead and promise, and nowadays Kodak is probably fairly low down your list when weighing up which digital camera to buy. Hoping to re-assert itself in your conscience therefore is the new EasyShare Z981, a 14 effective megapixel, f/2.8, 26x optical zoom lens bridge model that resembles a DSLR, though the lens is fixed to the body. Also close to a DSLR proper, albeit an entry class one, is the price, at a high sounding £399.99.

This being Kodak, the EasyShare Z981 itself is not the most petite example of a model with this big zoom specification either. Overall it's nearly a third larger than Pentax's own similarly specified 26x zoom X90 rival. Partly due to the four AAs it utilises for power instead of physically slimmer lithium ion pack, this almost makes the Z981 bigger than some entry level DSLRs.

That said, compared with the weight (this Kodak is nearly 520g without accessories), bulk, and money required for a DSLR set up with a similar 'all in one' zoom range, equivalent here to 26-676mm in 35mm film terms, perhaps we shouldn't be overly harsh of this still more compact contender. Its four pre-charged NiMH rechargeable AAs come in the box with the camera, along with a compatible mains charger.

On a more positive note, though it lacks a certain amount of finesse, the Z981 includes features we've never found on this class of bridge camera before - including not one but two shutter release buttons, so the camera can more easily be used in either landscape or portrait fashion; like a semi pro DSLR in that respect, the second shutter release being located near the base of the grip. Raw capture is also offered alongside JPEG; often the case on bridge models perhaps, but not always guaranteed. And, this being an EasyShare camera, it attempts to live up to its name with a dedicated share button given prominence on the backplate, promising upload to the main social networking sites and Kodak's own online gallery service.

Whilst it also offers 1280x720 pixels at 30 frames per second HD video recording, surprisingly perhaps there's no dedicated record button though; the feature is selected via the shooting mode dial and filming commences and ends with a press of the shutter release button. A rubberized surround to the lens aids two-handed grip, adding much needed steadiness when shooting at extreme telephoto setting. The camera's comfortably rounded (if not particularly 'deep') grip also sports a nicely tactile rubber coating to prevent slippage in the heat of the action.

The Z981 comes bundled with what at first glance looks like a comprehensive hard copy manual, but in fact reveals itself to be merely a quick start guide covering the essential basics in just about every language under the sun.

Kodak EasyShare Z981 Kodak EasyShare Z981
Front Rear

Like the competing Pentax X90 ultra zoom we had in for review at the same time as the Kodak, the look and feel of the Z981 is obviously dominated by that whopper of zoom, extending some extra two and half inches from the end of its housing when at maximum telephoto setting. In use you can hear the AF constantly making adjustments (if left on the default continuous AF setting), and this is inevitably picked up by the built in mono microphone located top right of the lens when recording, video ritten along with stills to optional SD card or 64MB internal capacity. Over at the opposite side of the lens is a porthole -shaped window housing AF assist and self-timer indicator lamp, and directly above the lens a raised ridge hides the built-in pop up flash when it's not in use. Its fully automatic activation is prompted, in the absence of a dedicated pop-up button or lever, by the selection of an 'on' setting from among the flash options, which include a red eye reduction setting alongside auto, forced or off.

And whilst that's it for features and functionality on the Z981's front plate - largely because the optic swallows up most of the available 'real estate' - the top plate is slightly more interesting, extra room provided for operational buttons and dials because the depth of the camera is slightly broader than the norm due to its reliance on the aforementioned AA batteries rather than slender lithium ion cell. So, up top, nestling just behind an off/off switch which powers up the camera from cold in around two seconds, we get a familiar penny-sized bottle top style shooting mode wheel, with a choice of 10 capture options.

Ranged around this dial are a fully automatic smart capture 'intelligent' option, recognising common scenes and subjects and making the necessary adjustments, plus separate portrait and shutter speed boosting sports modes. There's also a separate two or three shot stitching panorama option and a collection of 16 scene modes that, showing the Z981's potential audience for young families, kicks off with a option for photographing children and further includes backlit, night portrait and candlelight options, along with the familiar fireworks, flowers and text settings. Indicated by graphical icons for the most part, these are all summoned up with a twist of the dial to the relevant setting and a press of the OK button at the centre of the camera's rear command/thumb pad. The dial itself has just the right amount of 'give' without feeling loose, whilst the thumb pad is equally responsive. Writing times are a bit sluggish though; top resolution JPEGS taking all of five seconds to be committed to memory whilst Raw files prompt the switching on of a kettle.

This being an enthusiast model at the same time, the Z981 also features a quartet of creative modes in program, aperture, shutter priority and manual exposure modes. Each of these options adds a live histogram to the screen display and bottom of screen toolbar comprising shutter, aperture, ISO and +/- 2EV exposure settings. These options are scrolled through and adjusted/implemented with subsequent downward press and twist of a small, top mounted jog dial. In practice it takes a period of familiarity to do this with accuracy - it's all too easy to scroll past the setting you actually want.

The final option on the shooting dial meanwhile is the one with which to select the camera's video mode. Here the user can flip between the default 1280x720p high definition setting and a standard definition 640x480 pixels resolution. Focus can also be switched from the default of continuous AF - with the lens constantly 'hunting' - to single AF.

Kodak EasyShare Z981 Kodak EasyShare Z981
Pop-up Flash Top

Sitting in front of the jog dial on the top plate are a trio of identically sized buttons for, from left to right, summoning up on-screen the available flash settings, selecting focus mode (macro, infinity and manual focus options - the latter offering up a rudimentary slider running from '0' to infinity) plus, thirdly, the camera's self timer and continuous shooting options.

Just in front of this trio sits a smaller switch for swapping between the top-mounted shutter release button and activating the one at the base of the handgrip, should you be shooting portrait fashion. To be honest this second button feels a little unnecessary; it's much quicker - and most importantly, still manageable - to press the main top plate button (even) when turning the camera on its side. Shooting the alternative way feels slightly reminiscent of operating a medium format camera, whilst at the same time makes it tricky to maintain a firm grip when hand holding. If the camera was regularly placed on a tripod and flipped through 90°, the positioning of the second shutter release button would start to make more sense.

The back of the camera meanwhile looks approachable and unthreatening due to not being unduly crowded with buttons; indeed the most visible one here is the Kodak-unique 'Share' button to the right of the 3-inch, 230k dot resolution LCD, the composition/review screen that takes up almost two thirds of the available space. Like Pentax's X90 there's the option of switching to the use of an electronic viewfinder range immediately above; swapping between the two is as easy as pressing the dedicated button tucked away bottom left of the EVF. The resolution provided by the latter (if sunlight renders visibility on the larger screen difficult) is an identically average 230k dots, but at least the field of view offered is 100%.

Top right of the back screen is a narrow rocker switch for operating the zoom, which is so responsive that it requires some practice to be able to zoom in or out in a fluid motion. Getting from maximum wideangle to extreme telephoto takes a very speedy two seconds. This narrow switch could also have surely been made slightly larger and so more comfortable; there looks to be enough surrounding space.

To the right of the screen, immediately adjacent to the panel itself and running from its top to bottom we find four operational buttons. The top control, illustrated with an icon resembling a hot water bottle is the delete key, and the next one down, with a clipboard style icon is the menu button. Press this and in capture mode users are presented with two screens; the first naturally with the capture options - including picture size, image quality and natural or 'high' colour options - and the second full of the housekeeping-style set up choices, such as adjusting LCD brightness, date, camera sounds and time as well as calling up a compositional grid, which might have been better served by being located among the capture options. It's also among the latter selection that we find a means of formatting the memory.

Kodak EasyShare Z981 Kodak EasyShare Z981
Battery Compartment Memory Card Slot

The third button down, right of screen and marked with an 'i', is the display or info button. Press this and the Z981's screen is cleared of any operational icons or text to leave only the one icon showing remaining battery life, plus of course a relay of the scene before the camera lens. The fourth button down meanwhile, and given less prominence perhaps than it ought to be, is the playback button.

To the right of these options, and bottom right on the back itself is a four-way directional control pad with OK button at its centre with which to affect any changes among settings. Additional functions aren't attributed to the directional arrows as on competing models; this is a navigation device pure and simple to be used in conjunction with the presented mode options and menu screens described above.

With lugs left and right of the camera's sides for attaching a strap and slide-on lens cap, on the Z981's right hand flank - as seen from the back - we find a protected compartment housing separate AV out and mains power-in ports. There's no separate HDMI connection for hooking the camera directly up to your flat panel TV here; unusual, when Kodak has provided such a facility on cheaper models.

The base of the camera meanwhile features a centrally located screw thread for attaching a tripod, and, in the base of the grip, the joint battery and card compartment.

The sliding catch for the door protecting this compartment was unusually stiff on our review sample, resulting in it having to be almost forced open and shut. We had to push down on the batteries, which were always threatening to break free, quite hard whilst sliding closed the door. Opening or shutting it became something we wished to do with the least frequency - which ultimately is not particularly conducive to picture taking.

So what of said images; does the Z981 cut the mustard as a reliable all in one that can cope with a variety of situations, or, in trying to be all things to all men, are there areas in which it inevitably perhaps falls below par for picture quality?

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 12 megapixel JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 3.5Mb.

Images from digital cameras, especially when taken in less than ideal conditions, can sometimes appear a little flat, so having the ability to boost colour in camera - with here a choice between 'high' and natural colour - is always welcome. However, when left to its fully auto devices, we found that too often the Kodak's images lacked contrast and over exposed and over saturated the scene or subject. A matter of personal taste perhaps, and often a warmer tone can make for a more flattering effect, but even on natural setting colours could be anything but.

In terms of lens performance the Z981 reveals some of the most pronounced barrel distortion we've witnessed from a digicam for a while; walls bowing out at maximum wideangle - most evident on our white wall test shots. At maximum telephoto there's evident softness across the images, but at least a degree of definition can be rescued via un-sharp mask in Photoshop.

This softness does however help mask the sin of pixel fringing, which is evident if you're really looking for it, but kept reasonably hidden if you're not. Noise starts to creep into images from ISO 400 upwards, but effects are notably worse at ISO 800. By ISO 1600 however detail is beginning to smudge and the overall image is soft as heavy processing kicks in, the overall result resembling a video grab rather than photograph.


There are 6 ISO settings available on the Kodak EasyShare Z981. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting.

ISO 64 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)


ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)


ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)


Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are a little soft at the default sharpening setting.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


Chromatic Aberrations

The Kodak EasyShare Z981 handled chromatic aberrations fairly well during the review, with limited purple fringing present around the edges of objects in high-contrast situations, as shown in the examples below.

Example 1 (100% Crop)

Example 2 (100% Crop)


The Kodak EasyShare Z981 allows you to focus on a subject that is just 1cm away from the camera. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.


100% Crop


The flash settings on the Kodak EasyShare Z981 are auto, red-eye reduction, fill, and off. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.

Flash Off - Wide Angle (26mm)

Flash On - Wide Angle (26mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Flash Off - Telephoto (676mm)

Flash On - Telephoto (676mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are some portrait shots. As you can see, both the Fill and the Red-eye-Reduction settings caused a small amount of red-eye.


Fill (100% Crop)

Red-eye Reduction

Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)


The Kodak EasyShare Z981's maximum shutter speed is 16 seconds, which very good news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds at ISO 800.


Night (100% Crop)

Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Kodak EasyShare Z981 camera, which were all taken using the 14 megapixel JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample Movie & Video

This is a sample movie at the quality setting of 1280x720 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 15 second movie is 20.5Mb in size.

Product Images

Kodak EasyShare Z981

Front of the Camera

Kodak EasyShare Z981

Front of the Camera / Lens Extended

Kodak EasyShare Z981

Front of the Camera / Flash Raised

Kodak EasyShare Z981

Isometric View

Kodak EasyShare Z981

Isometric View

Kodak EasyShare Z981

Rear of the Camera

Kodak EasyShare Z981

Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed

Kodak EasyShare Z981

Top of the Camera

Kodak EasyShare Z981

Side of the Camera


Kodak EasyShare Z981

Side of the Camera

Kodak EasyShare Z981
Memory Card Slot
Kodak EasyShare Z981
Battery Compartment


The Kodak EasyShare Z981 is one of the more chunkier and robust examples of the bridge camera currently out there; in fact it's a bit of a brick. But despite its relatively simplistic layout we didn't unfortunately find it the most user friendly with it - or rather we feel it could have been made easier to use/more intuitive than it is. Imaging performance was also a little hit and miss, with the camera choosing to boost colour saturation levels to that of a cartoon for very young children; a camera better suited to the naturally drab winter months than the height of summer perhaps.

With average, even slightly below par image quality, could-do-better ease of use and not even a particularly enticing price, the Z981 may count itself lucky with an 'Above Average' score this time around. Brave of Kodak perhaps to introduce an all-in-one bridge model at this point in time, but there are better options out there, including Pentax's X90 model that we had in to test over the same time period. It offers a lower headline resolution than the Kodak, but matches it and indeed betters it in other regards.

The Kodak EasyShare Z981 might be worth looking at, but unfortunately not at its manufacturer's asking price. That said we did find Britain's foremost Internet retailer advertising it for around £280 at the time of writing, which feels closer to the mark.

3.5 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4
Features 4
Ease-of-use 3
Image quality 3
Value for money 3


Standard features
Sensor type 1 / 2.33 type
Effective pixels 14 MP (4368 × 3256)
Lens 26-676 mm (35 mm equiv.) f/2.8-5.0 SCHNEIDER-KREUZNACH VARIOGON optical zoom lens
Zoom 26X optical, 5X digital, total zoom range 130X
Image stabilizer optical
Shutter speed auto, 16-1/2000 sec. (S/M modes)
Viewfinder high-resolution (230K pixels) electronic, 100% field of view
Display 3.0 in. (approx. 230K dots), Smart Display, 2 level brightness adjustments
Storage 64 MB internal memory[1]available, SDHC/SD card expansion slot
Auto focus
Focus Type TTL imager AF system
Modes normal, macro, super macro, infinity, manual
Focus range
  • normal: 0.7 m (wide)/2.5 m (tele)-infinity
  • macro: 0.1-1.0 m (wide)/1.7-3.0 m (tele)
  • super macro: 0.01-0.3 m (f=52 mm, 35 mm equiv.)
Auto focus control single, continuous
Auto focus zones TTL multi-zone, center zone AF, selectable zone AF (25 zones)
Face Recognition yes
Face Detection yes
Face-priority AF yes
AF (Auto Focus) assist light yes
Exposure control
ISO sensitivity auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400[2]
Metering modes multi-pattern, center-weighted, spot
Compensation ±2.0 EV with 1/3 EV steps
Bracketing ±1.0 EV with 1/3 EV steps, 3 images
White balance auto, daylight, tungsten, fluorescent, open shade
  • 6.2 m (@ wide, ISO 400)
  • 3.5 m (@ tele, ISO 400)
Modes auto, red-eye reduction, fill, off
Compensation ±1.0 EV in 1/3 steps
Shooting specifications
Drive modes single shot, burst (0.9 fps up to 3 frames), high-speed burst, self-timer (10 sec.), delay shutter (2 sec.), 2-shot self-timer
Shooting modes Smart Capture, sport, portrait, P (programmed AE), A (aperture priority AE), S (shutter priority AE), M (manual exposure), portrait, panorama (left-right, right-left), video, SCN (scene modes)
Scene modes high ISO, night portrait, landscape, night landscape, flower, sunset, backlight, candlelight, manner/museum, text, beach, snow, fireworks, children, self-portrait, stage
Click to capture < 0.2 sec.
Shot to shot < 1.6 sec
Still capture
Still format JPEG/EXIF v2.21, KDC RAW image file format
Picture size
  • 14 MP (4288 × 3216)—4:3
  • 12 MP (4288 × 2848)—3:2
  • 10 MP (4288 × 2416)—16:9
  • 6 MP (2832 × 2128)—4:3
  • 3 MP (2048 × 1536)—4:3
  • 2 MP (1920 × 1080)—16:9
  • 1 MP (1280 × 960)—4:3
Compression level
  • PASM: fine standard, basic, RAW[3]
  • Smart Capture: standard
Color modes high, natural, low, sepia, black and white
Sharpness high, normal, low
Review options single, magnification with navigation box, multi-up, multimedia slideshow, histogram, view by, face recognition
Editing on-camera crop, KODAK PERFECT TOUCH Technology, voice annotation, RAW[4]file development
File management delete, undo delete, copy, protect, text tagging, one-button upload, favorite tagging
Video capture
Format QUICKTIME MOV h.264 (video) & AAC LC (audio)
  • HDV (1280 × 720) at 30 fps
  • VGA (640 × 480) at 30 fps
  • QVGA (320 × 240) at 30 fps
Microphone yes (monoaural)
Speaker yes (monoaural)
  • HDV: continuous up to 29 min. based on memory card capacity
  • VGA/QVGA: continuous up to 80 min. based on memory card capacity
Review options play, rewind, pause, fast-forward and rewind, forward and rewind by frame, multi-up, multimedia slideshow, bookmarks, smart finder
Editing make a picture from video, action print (4, 9, 16-up), trim, bookmark
File management delete, undo delete, copy, protect, text tagging, favorite tagging, multi-select, Share
Share menu YouTube, FACEBOOK, FLICKR and KODAK Gallery sites, e-mail
Custom settings LCD brightness (5 levels), date stamp (on/off), image storage, capture frame grid (on/off), image stabilizer control, red-eye preflash (on/off), quick view (on/off), advanced digital zoom, orientation sensor, sound, volume, date & time, auto power off, video out, language, reset camera, favorite, set tag, format, about
Physical specifications
I/O interface digital (USB 2.0 high speed) connector for data and video
Power KODAK Ni-MH Pre-Charged Rechargeable / Ni-MH Rechargeable Digital Camera Batteries (4 AA), optional AC adapter
Dedicated buttons
  1. top: power, shutter, mode dial, jog dial, drive, focus, flash, shutter, select switch
  2. back: zoom, EVF/LCD, 4-way switch, OK, info, menu, review, delete, Share
  3. right side: secondary shutter (vertical shutter)
Tripod mount ¼ in. standard
Dimensions W × H × D: 4.9 × 3.3 × 4.1 in.
Weight 519 g without batteries and memory card

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