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Kodak Z650 Overview

by Mike Pasini
Review Posted: 06/14/2006

The Kodak EasyShare Z650 Zoom updates the previous Z740 with a 6.1 megapixel sensor, a two-inch LCD, live histogram and three more Scene modes. It features the same 10x optical zoom lens in a mini-SLR form factor with that provides a full range of exposure modes and EasyShare simplicity. The only thing missing from this $349.95 package is image stabilization.

The utility of the 10x Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon zoom lens is enhanced by the inclusion full Manual mode with both Aperture and Shutter Priority options whose options are easily manipulated with the small joystick on the back panel. Auto mode is complemented by Program and 17 Scene modes. Scene modes include Children, Party, Beach, Flower, Fireworks, Snow, Backlight, Close Up, Night Portrait, Landscape, Night Landscape, Museum/Manner, Text, Self Portrait, Portrait, Sport, and Night.

Shutter speeds range from eight seconds to 1/1,000 sec. with Auto ISO spanning 80-160 and selectable ISO offering 80, 100, 200, 400 and 800. Flash range extends to 16 feet at wide angle with Auto, Red-eye Reduction, Fill and Off modes.

Movie mode, which writes QuickTime MPEG-4, is restricted to only 11 fps at 640x480 or 20 fps at 320x240, suggesting this is really a still camera. As such, it includes 32-MB internal memory with an SD card slot for more storage. Let's take a closer look at what you can do with the Z650.

 

Kodak Z650 User Report

A recent Kodak EasyShare Gallery direct mail brochure highlighted the Z650 with the following copy. "Men love things that go zoom. That's why we've picked out the Z650 as the perfect 'for him' camera." The 10x zoom, the quality of the lens and the 6.1-Mp sensor are all cited to support that characterization.

Unfortunately, the Z650 isn't perfect. And while the 10x zoom does rank as a long zoom, the lack of image stabilization makes it less useful than other long zooms. What the Z650 offers is the full PASM exposure set (Program, Aperture, Shutter, and Manual), rather unusual at this price, and EasyShare simplicity. Just don't think of it as a long zoom unless you're in very bright daylight.

Packaged in that cute mini-SLR style may make it a guy thing, but getting prints by just docking the Z650 has long been appreciated by both sexes.

The mini-SLR style digicam is a breed apart. It's really not pocketable, but it's lightweight enough to take along any time. You'll have to sling over your neck or shoulder or dangle it from your wrist unless you're wearing a jacket, and that isn't bad, because you want it out to take pictures. This camera was designed for people who want to take pictures. It can capture the kind of pictures you can't bring home with a pocketable point-and-shoot.

The lens tells you that right away. It's a serious piece of extra low dispersion glass with a 10x zoom range. Kodak includes a lens hood with a cap, too. But the exposure modes confirm it, offering the full PASM range along with more Scene modes than anyone could possibly remember. Even more to the point, the small joystick makes it a snap to actually use the exposure options (something that can be difficult with most control layouts) and the live histogram is indispensable in wielding them intelligently.

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Wide Angle. The Z650's 38mm wide-angle equivalent is about halfway from 28mm to 50mm.
 
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10x Zoom. But its 380mm telephoto lets you see things you'd otherwise miss in the same scene. This was a 1/1000 sec. shutter speed, so we could hand-hold it. On a foggy day, no such luck.

 

Design. The camera is actually more attractive in person than it appears in photographs (which often stare at it straight on, its least flattering angle). Weighing about 10 oz. (287 grams) without batteries, it's surprisingly light.

In the hand, it has a comfortable feel, enhanced by the rubberized grip formed around the battery compartment. The grip extends far enough out that your fingers easily wrap around it without cramming up against the camera body. Your index finger sits comfortably by the Shutter button while the next two fingers hold the grip and your pinky supports the bottom of the camera. That leaves your thumb to manipulate the Zoom lever or the joystick. It's a very natural setup that takes no time to learn.

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The Joystick. A nudge and you're right where you want to be.
  kz-buttons.jpg
Control Layout. There are buttons all over the place. Note the two under the EVF. See below for the three near the Power switch.

Unfortunately, Kodak has scattered the control buttons all over the camera, which makes it difficult to remember where they are and find them when you need them.

On the same top panel as the Shutter button are the Flash mode button, Macro button and Self-Timer button -- options usually found on a four-way navigator. The Z650's equivalent is actually the exposure mode switch with the joystick at the center.

The Power switch, which selects between Favorites and Camera mode, is a bit too stiff for our taste. An Info button and the EVF/LCD switch sit above the LCD. The Delete, Menu and Review buttons sit under the Mode switch. And the Share button floats above it.

Display/Viewfinder. A long zoom requires an electronic viewfinder to display a bright enough image to compose your shot. But EVFs are notoriously low-resolution, so you usually have the option to switch to the LCD. The Z650 provides an EVF/LCD switch for that very reason.

I didn't find the EVF to be a problem on the Z650, even if I find it hard to praise. I'm used to composing on the LCD and prefer it, but in bright sunlight, the EVF is a welcome alternative. Still, it's not a great view of your subject, rasterized at low resolution and high contrast with oversaturated colors. When possible, I preferred the LCD.

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The Power Switch. Too stiff. Note the usual 'mode' dial options have their own buttons near the Shutter button.
It's unfortunate, though, that the LCD itself isn't articulated, so you can flip it out to compose overhead, low and even reverse shots. The mini-SLR design pretends you don't need it, but once you've used an articulated LCD, you miss it on cameras with fixed LCDs.

Shooting. The Z650 shooting experience (once you've got it powered on, anyway) is generally a pleasure. Light enough in the hand to use single-handedly, there aren't many subjects that escape its recording versatility. Nor do many escape the reach of its long zoom.

I was also happy to see the internal flash has a little pop. Sixteen feet may not sound like a lot, but it's almost double that of many point-and-shoot digicams. There's nothing as advanced as a hot shoe or synch connector, so that's a very welcome capability. And happily the flash recycles pretty quickly at just six seconds.

The star of the shooting experience has to be the joystick, though. It's one thing to offer full manual exposure and another thing to make it easy to select different apertures and shutter speeds. The joysticks makes it second nature, cycling through the available options in any mode with a left or right nudge and shifting to a different setting with just an up or down nudge. Add the live histogram to get a second opinion on your exposure settings and you're in heaven.

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The Electronic Viewfinder
Actual view
The tripod socket is centered behind the lens, a useful feature if you decide to shoot panoramas. It's just one of those little things that suggest it will take a while to outgrow this camera.

And that's probably what I most liked about the Z650 -- I never got the feeling the camera was boxing me in to its way of shooting the scene. Take that touchy situation of shooting public works inside a museum. The rules are generally no flash and no tripod, enough to discourage anyone but particularly someone with just an Auto mode on a point-and-shoot. With the Z650, you could simply select the Museum Scene mode. Or, you could slip into Shutter Priority, set the shutter speed to 1/60 (or bravely try 1/30), kick the ISO up to 800, turn off the flash and get the shot.

I shot with Ni-MH AAs and never depleted them in any one session. Since the camera only needs two, you can easily pack a spare set with you. The included lithium AA set is not rechargeable.

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Composition. Who says digicams can't 'blur the background?' Program Auto did it here using 1/160 sec. at f3.2 -- and the Z650 managed to get this narrow sprig of a tea bush in focus automatically, too.
Quibbles. The popup flash has the annoying habit of always popping up whenever you turn the camera on. It seems mechanically engaged with the stiff Power switch. Of course, there's a reason the flash pops up: so it's available, just like on a point-and-shoot. But most popup flashes are more discrete, popping up only when necessary and only when the shutter button is half depressed -- or when you open them. There is an Open switch for the flash, in case you shut it and need it later. But it really needs a Close switch. I got into the habit of holding it down until the camera had finished powering up. There's no setup option to control this behavior, either. It's such a bad idea I thought it was a defect in the review unit.

While Kodak ships the Z650 with a lithium battery, it isn't rechargeable. You can use a pair of Ni-MH rechargeables and live happily ever after.

I suppose Kodak scrimped on Movie mode so photographers would take this digicam more seriously, but it's another disappointment on the Z650. At 640x480, you can only capture 11 fps. To get a smoother 20 fps, you have to reduce the resolution to a puny 320x240. One of the reasons to buy a digicam over a dSLR is to get Movie mode. You don't really have it on the Z650.

Summary. I liked a lot about the Z650 from its looks, handling and exposure controls to its EasyShare heritage and compatibility. But it's hard to be enthusiastic about a camera whose power switch is hard to move, whose popup flash won't stay shut and whose long zoom isn't stabilized. The Z650 has SLR pretensions but it skimps on some basic digicam features.

 

Basic Features

 

Special Features

 

In the Box

In the box are the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Vibrant, appealing color
  • Good skin tones
  • Auto white balance handles a wide range of lighting well
  • Better than average exposure accuracy
  • Good lens, generally low distortion (some chromatic aberration at wide settings though)
  • Very simple user interface with advanced exposure options
  • Very accurate LCD and EVF viewfinder
  • Very good low light capability
  • Good ISO 400 performance under daylight-balanced lighting
  • Case design fits both large and small hands well
  • Only average speed from shot to shot
  • Slow to clear the buffer memory, and very slow shot to shot speed after buffer fills
  • Slower than average shutter response at telephoto focal lengths
  • Contrast is a little high, tends to lose highlight and shadow detail under harsh lighting
  • ISO 400 shots taken under incandescent lighting are quite noisy
  • Some users may find the highly saturated color unnatural

 

The Kodak EasyShare Z650 brings the renowned EasyShare simplicity and ease of use to the long zoom format, balancing the full complement of exposure modes with 17 Scene modes. The 6.1-megapixel CCD captures high resolution images that make sharp 11x14 prints. The Kodak Z650's color should appeal to most consumers too, as it's very bright and vibrant (a good bit more so than the original subjects), yet it doesn't oversaturate delicate skin tones. With its full range of exposure options, the Z740 would be a great choice for novices who want to grow their skills, while experienced users will immediately appreciate the more advanced features it has to offer. On the down side, the Power switch and popping flash are annoying and the lack of image stabilization makes the 10x zoom less useful under any but the best conditions. More puzzling, Movie mode delivers a lot less than we've come to expect from Kodak. Still, at this price, it's a camera everyone in the family can enjoy on any occasion. And later, EasyShare printing and sharing will extend the pleasure to even more folks.