When I was backpacking around the world in the pre-digital age, I was traveling through Vietnam with a 20X zoom Pentax point-and-shoot. Another guy in our group touring the Mekong Delta was traveling with a heavy Nikon SLR and a big camera bag full of lenses. Time after time, a great shot would present itself, I would capture a cool photo, and the SLR guy would fumble with his lenses. By the time he got the right one on and focused the camera, the opportunity was gone.
Which brings me to the $250 list price super-zoom camera that does it all simply and in a hurry: the Kodak Z1012 IS. Kodak digital cameras are rarely reviewed as the best of the best in any category, but the brand stands out as being the most user-friendly and the simplest to figure out. Each model is also usually a really good value.
The controls are intuitive, the manual is thin by design, and the buttons are right where they feel like they should be. I’ve used cameras where one wrong move could unleash a series of commands that took five minutes to figure out how to undo. No fear of that here. Despite a long list of cool features and effects, you can easily use everything offered on the Z1012 without an engineering degree or a day with your instruction book. The sole function I had to look up in the manual was how to change the shutter speed manually. (It involved a little jog dial at the top I hadn’t noticed.)
This is no toy, however. I shot a few magazine spreads and hundreds of web article photos with its predecessor model before I dropped it on a cobbled Czech street and lost the use of all options besides “automatic.” Despite its small package, this one has an even better Schneider-Kreuznach lens with an optical 12X zoom—a 33-396mm equivalent. It has a whole array of manual modes for shooting action, night scenes, or whatever, plus a video mode that can shoot in hi-def with stereo sound. It has face detection, a self-timer, image stabilization, panorama stitching, and a cool burst mode that captures either the first five or last five shots in a row. That last one is really handy when trying to catch a sports scene, ziplining, or a bird/animal in action.
One area where this camera really excels is the click-to-capture speed: 0.23 seconds. Not as great as a big SLR, but better than most point-and-shoots. There’s also one key feature on this too that has been a deal-killer for me on many other models: a viewfinder at the top. There are times when an LCD viewfinder on the back is too washed-out by the sun and a viewfinder lets you shoot old-school, with the image right in front of your eye. That has made a difference for me several times when shooting at a beach or on a boat. It also takes better low-light photos than any other automatic I have used. (It is rated “up to 6400″ for the ISO, but that comes with asterisks.) The photo below that I shot last night would be hard to capture with a basic point-and-shoot camera, but by adjusting the shutter speed on this one, done.
In the weeks I have been using this camera, the annoyances and drawbacks have been pretty minor. The most constant one is that the lens cap pops off if you so much as breathe on it funny. Obviously with a larger lens and 12X zoom, this is not going to fit in your pocket. My biggest beef though is that you can’t charge the battery in the camera itself without order an optional adapter and though AAs will fit, the manual says only lithium batteries will work. So the other choice is to carry a bulky charger for the rechargeable lithium ion battery. The good news is, you can shoot for days after it’s fully charged.
The Kodak Z1012 IS lists for $250, but it routinely goes on sale at retailers and online sites. This is already about $100 less than comparable models from Canon and others, but I got mine for $200 on eBay and ended up with a slew of extras.
Note that there is a Z1015 model that is a little newer than this one and comes with a wide angle setting, but it is a bit heavier, costs a little more, and doesn’t record video sound in stereo. Very similar specs though. Compare the two at the Kodak site.