Kodak is rebuilding its empire by delivering dead-simple products, and the Z1085 IS is no exception: It's one of three point-and-shoots pioneering Kodak's Smart Capture Mode, which selects the scene mode and edits the picture before processing it (the other models are the $199 M1033 and the $279 V1273). Although aimed at somewhat more-experienced photographers, we recommend this $249 camera to novices, too, thanks to its ease of use, beautiful colors, and all-around good images.
Like an SLR, Only Smaller
The Z1085 IS looks like a shrunken DSLR, a fitting look for a camera targeting more-advanced users. It feels sturdy in the hand and has an ergonomic hand grip on the left front side, with a rubbery finger inset. On top are the self-timer, flash, and power buttons with a scroll wheel on the right. On the back side, the 2.5-inch LCD is lined with a smattering of controls: a zoom panel; Delete, Info, Menu, Review, and Share buttons; and a four-way navigational pad. The LCD seems small, particularly because the image takes up the full frame. Although it's colorful, it wasn't bright enough when we used it outside on a sunny afternoon.
The camera's interface is simple: Press Menu to enter and exit menus, OK to select options, and the right and left navigation buttons to switch menus. To adjust photo settings in Live View mode, press the Info button, use the right and left buttons to highlight a setting and the up and down ones to tweak the settings. The icons themselves are unobtrusive and sleek.
In addition to Auto Mode, users can choose Program or Manual mode. With Manual mode, you can adjust the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and focus. Using Program mode, you can adjust only the exposure, ISO, and focus.
Is Smart Capture Mode Smart?
Building on its Smart Scene technology introduced last year, Kodak's Smart Capture mode not only selects the scene mode; it applies Kodak's patented Perfect Touch process, underexposing the photos to better render highlights and shadow detail. However, this mode utilizes only five of the camera's 16 scene modes: Macro, Closeup, Portrait, Landscape, and Night Scene.
Smart Capture is also activated when the camera is in Auto mode. When you aim the camera at a subject, the Smart Capture icon in the upper left corner changes to that of the appropriate scene mode. For instance, when we brought the lens close to a flower, the Macro icon appeared.
Our resulting shots showed vibrant, frame-worthy color. And more often than not, they emphasized the appropriate subjects: flowers in a Macro shot and faces in portraits. This feature works especially well in harshly lit situations: Our backlit shot looked sunnier, and we could more easily make out the texture in concrete pillars and details in distant trees than when we took the same shot in Program mode. One instance when we didn't prefer Smart Scene mode was with action shots; Sports mode did a better job freezing fast-moving subjects.
Zoom and Face Detection
We put the 5X zoom to the test while sitting near the back of a concert hall. With the zoom factor cranked up, we could make out the faces of the choir members but were still far from achieving a close-up. For most people, though, that kind of range isn't necessary.
The Z1085 also has face detection. With multiple people, the camera selects the most prominent face, but you can move the face-framing brackets to a different person.
In addition to auto ISO, the EasyShare Z1085 IS camera has manual ISO settings from 80 to 3200, as well as a dedicated High ISO mode, which goes to ISO 3200 at full resolution and 6400 and 8000 at 3 MP or less. Like most point-and-shoots, the Z1085's sweet spots are ISO 400 and 800; our shots taken at these levels looked acceptably sharp. Going higher, pictures became pixelated; lower, they became blurry.
For low-light shooting, the camera has a lax definition of nighttime; the scene icon changed to Night Scenery mode as we stood in an elevator. On the whole, the camera brightened and sharpened faces while dimming the background. But occasionally, the camera seemed not to understand our surroundings and went overboard with the flash.
In general, our low-light shots looked best when people were in the picture. While shooting in a dim room our pictures were romantically lit but blurry, except for portraits, which looked brighter and sharper.
Kodak's HD Video
Continuing a trend in Kodak cameras--and the market in general--the Z1085 IS records 720p video. When we watched our footage on a computer monitor, we were again impressed by the quality: Standing in a noisy lobby, our subject was able to carry on an audible conversation in front of the camera, and his voice didn't sound distorted. The video itself looked smooth.
Intuitive Playback Options
When reviewing photos, pressing the settings button shows how the camera was set when you took the picture. This is useful to novices as well as more ambitious photographers who want to see what happens when they manually adjust the settings.
In addition to a standard slideshow function, users can create multimedia slideshows using five built-in musical and visual themes. Unfortunately, you can't add your own music, and you're limited to 20 photos per slideshow.
The dedicated share button allows you to tag pictures (you can select all at once, if you like) so that they will be ready to print and/or e-mail later. Before you get started, you'll need to install Kodak's EasyShare software and configure your proxy server, so EasyShare can attach pictures in your e-mail account. Then, configure an e-mail address on your camera using an on-screen keyboard (this is a one-time step). When you upload your pictures into EasyShare, those tagged will automatically appear as attachments in your e-mail client.
Speed and Battery Life
The Z1085 IS takes a sluggish four seconds to turn on, but just two to ready itself between shots. Gauging the battery life can be difficult since the battery icon appears on screen only when the power is low. This camera was still going strong after a day of shooting more than 100 pictures. Also, it takes AA batteries in addition to its lithium-ion battery, which is convenient if the lithium-ion battery runs out of juice.
Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS Conclusion
The Z1085 IS not only takes good pictures; it also makes photography fun. If you're a novice, there's nothing more delightful than pointing the camera and watching the scene mode change on its own. Even if you're more advanced, you'll still appreciate the brilliant colors, good image quality, and HD video recording. Before you buy, also consider theNikon Coolpix S600($299): This 4X zoom camera offers lifelike colors and a simple interface, along with superior performance in fast-action settings. If you want a slightly bigger 5X zoom, and HD video is a priority, the EasyShare Z1085 IS is a solid choice.