I've owned a few Kodak EasyShare cameras over the years. I have to confess, they've typically turned into my "beater" cameras—the ones I throw in the bottom of my backpack or keep in my car, the ones I take with me when I'm not sure if it's going to rain—because I have just never been that impressed with them. Their low-light performance has always seemed pretty poor, their response time tends to be slow, and they've always been plagued by the eternal lens errors. I've answered more questions on the Digital Camera HQ forum regarding Kodaks with stuck lenses than I have any other camera brand.
So when the Kodak EasyShare Z950 showed up for review, I wasn't prepared to like it all that much. The last Kodak I reviewed, which, granted, was a while ago, took grainy indoor photos and took forever to process flash shots. I didn't think this one was going to be all that different. But after having played with the Z950 for a few days, I can say this: Kodak may have turned a corner with this model.
The Z950 isn't perfect, but no digital camera is. They all have their quirks and weak spots and this one manages to overcome most of the major hurdles. It's actually very easy to use, with nice image results and a host of handy features.
The Z950 has a 12 megapixel sensor, which is way more pixels than you'll ever need. I thought for awhile that the "pixel cramming" side of camera marketing was over, but some people still seem to be impressed by the high numbers, so 12 megapixels it is.
With that said, the image quality is nice, bolstered by an impressive 10x zoom and a high quality Schneider-Kreuznach lens, complete with optical image stabilization. Now, 10x zoom is a high marketing number I can get behind. The zoom is quick and smooth and quiet, and does a great job locking focus almost instantly even when you zoom rapidly from 1x to 10x. That's a really big zoom lens to have on a camera that, theoretically at least, is still pocket-sized. This one isn't much larger than my Canon that holds a 4x zoom, and the body is nicely designed and easy to grip.
This camera offers Kodak's Smart Capture technology, which is a kind of intelligent auto mode that automatically makes adjustments based on the scene, so it should be helpful for beginners. It also has plenty of options for more advanced shooters. The controls include full manual options as well as aperture and shutter priorities, along with the typical program, auto, and a few useful scene modes (although the old standby of a basic indoor mode is missing, which was disappointing).
The button layout on the Z950 is nicely done. Flash can be turned on or off by touching a single button on top of the camera, which is backlit so it's easy to find even in the dark. The review, trash, and information buttons are long and narrow and placed down the side of the 3-inch LCD, which offers brightness adjustment. The camera also offers 720p video recording with a maximum clip duration of 29 minutes. I only briefly tested the video mode, but the recording is smooth at 30fps.
The Z950 is actually a pleasure to use. The LCD is quick and responsive, and shutter lag is darn-near non-existent. Auto mode produces crisp images and really nice color reproduction. That was another problem I used to have with the Kodak line: Their outdoor photos seemed to produce a weird yellowish green when it came to outdoor foliage shots. The Z950's colors are true to life and impressive under a variety of lighting conditions, even bright sun.
For me, the true test of a camera's quality lies in its ability to shoot low light, indoors, without flash, and still produce usable photos. I'm not much of a flash lover, and these are the kind of photos I tend to shoot, so I always place a lot of importance on this particular function. I'm pleased to say that the Z950 does well in this area—far better than I expected. Low light indoor images through the LCD look grainy, but when you actually capture the shot it pulls in ambient light nicely and comes out plain smooth. The camera does offer a 3200 ISO scene mode, which, naturally, is grainy. Odds are that if you ever actually need that mode you'll be grateful to get any image at all, so I won't complain.
Incidentally, the flash itself, when you do fire it, can be a bit glary unless you're quite far away from your subject, but a strong flash is not a bad thing. Just be aware that shooting portraits up close with the flash on is going to result in some white ghost faces. The good news is that the recovery time is painless, the colors stay true, and the flash itself is adjustable, so just turn down the power if you don't need as much as it offers.
Overall, I'm impressed. Easy to use, with an intuitive layout, quick responses, and pleasurable results, the Z950 is a nice addition to Kodak's line. Beginners, as well as more advanced shooters who want a variety of useful options and a super-strong zoom (but don't want to buy an oversized pro-sumer), should add the Z950 to their list of possibilities.