The Kodak 'Z' series has been a faint glimmer of hope among a generally disappointing series of digital cameras from the once venerable brand. While the budget 'C' and compact 'M' series cameras have left a trail of disappointment and anguish in their wake, cameras like the Z712, with its extended zoom lens, and the powerful Z885 point-and-shoot showed that there might be some life left in Kodak yet.
The Paradox of Many Megapixels
The Kodak Z1085 IS is another exception to the emerging conventional wisdom that Kodak is flawed. With a hefty 10-megapixel sensor, the camera doesn't run into as much noise at higher ISO settings like a lot of its peers. Many manufacturers have stuffed more pixels onto smaller chips to achieve high numbers that attract consumers; crowded chips result in noisy images. This creates an unusual paradox: most people believe more megapixels mean higher-quality photographs, but in reality, the opposite could very well be true.
Kodak has avoided this with a larger 1/1.65-inch CCD that delivers on the promise of a high-megapixel camera while also providing excellent performance at lower quality settings. When compared to photographs taken at 8MP on an Olympus SP-560 UZ, I can't help but feel that images taken at 7MP with the Kodak appear sharper and more colorful, and with less noise.
The camera also has a 5x optical zoom lens, slightly above average for a point-and-shoot camera of this type, and slightly outdoing Canon's budget point-and-shoot, the A580 (Click here to read a review of the Canon A580). The camera's wide-angle lens allows for more inclusive group photographs and panoramas, however it is only available at lower-quality (7.5MP) settings and does not take full advantage of the Z1085's 10-megapixel potential.
Video Mode: Low-Cost High-Definition Looks Exactly How It Sounds
The Kodak Z1085 IS also features a versatile movie mode, which allows users to record videos in standard definition, 720p high definition, and even YouTube-optimized clips for easy uploading. Keep in mind: we're talking about a point-and-shoot video feature here and not a super-expensive high-definition camcorder. Ultimately, you get what you pay for. The HD video mode is adequate, and will produce widescreen clips you can pipe out to your HDTV to enjoy, though in low light the Z1085 will attempt to automatically adjust the image settings and cause a little bit of noise. The camera also allows you full access to the 5x optical zoom in video mode, an excellent feature that is only now becoming widely available on digital cameras.
The Z1085 IS also has that fancy face-detection autofocus that's all the rage in today's modern digital cameras. The camera is capable of tracking up to five faces, locking onto them with tiny, green squares so they aren't lost in a blur in your final photo.
Smart Capture Mode: A New Approach Yields Better Results
Kodak seems to attribute better results to its Smart Capture Mode technology, which detects the light and subjects being shot in a scene and alters the camera settings to capture the best possible rendering.
Smart Capture uses a threefold process: intelligent scene detection, which evaluates the scene and adjusts the settings accordingly; intelligent capture control, which sets ISO, exposure, and fast focus for even challenging low-light situations; and intelligent image processing, which reduces noise and adjusts the overall contrast of the image.
Generally, it works, and it's a completely different approach to conventional image processing. The Enhanced Dynamic Range brings out details that are cast in shadow without overexposing details bathed in ambient light. This kind of smart processing helps novice or inexperienced users achieve better looking photos without needing to fuss with manual settings.
Simplified Charging via USB
One of the more interesting features of the Kodak Z1085 is its ability to recharge via a USB connection to a computer. It's fairly quick and straightforward. Hook it up to your computer with the same cable you use to transfer images and it'll begin to recharge the camera's lithium-ion battery (though some Windows Vista users may find it frustrating, as that operating system will disable USB charging as a power-saving feature if you haven't modified your settings). The battery itself holds up really well, in both still-image and video modes, especially considering it must constantly power the LCD so users can frame and preview shots. The lack of an optical viewfinder is noticeable, and could be irritating if you're the kind of shooter who prefers it to the LCD (as I do).
Conclusion: Performs as Advertised
In the end, however, the Z1085IS is a well put together camera which performs as advertised. With 10 megapixels on a large 1/1.6 CCD chip, a 5x optical zoom, image stabilization and face detection, then tossing in a widescreen video and still option and 720p high definition video that actually zooms, one would have to look far and wide to find a more capable still camera to handle the day in and day out capturing of those invaluable "Kodak moments."