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Saturday, November 8, 2008

New Kodak Z1015 IS digital camera

The picture below was taken with the Kodak Z1015 IS camera using maximum ISO: 6400, 3.1 Mpixel, maximum zoom: 420mm using a tripod, during a night game under the lights. I should have set the focus mode to center, it was in area mode, so the players in the foreground are in better focus then the kicker.

I have been using a borrowed Nikon D60 DSLR with a 200-500 telephoto lens to take pictures at my son's football games. While the sun was out, it took great pictures, only after it got dark out and the field lights did things get blurry. The owner of the camera was going on a trip, so I had to return the camera and had to stop being photographer for the team.

The game this week needed a photographer, so I broke down and bought a new Kodak Z1015 IS camera from Newegg, because they have very fast delivery. I was originally looking at a Costco.com ad for this camera and it seemed to have most of the features I needed. Especially the high ISO settings of 3200 and 6400, needed for the low light conditions under the lights. The lens also was pretty fast 2.8 - 5.4 for the 28 - 420 mm equivalent zoom range.

Most of the reviews for camera were good, except for the fact it can be slow to save the pictures, when in auto mode. There is suppose to be fixed in a firmware upgrade, where the post processing can be turned off, to speed click to click time. See below for more details.

I received the camera yesterday morning (Friday), after ordering on Thursday morning with next day delivery. New Egg had a bonus of adding a 2 gig SD card and a large camera bag, with plenty of room for the charger and cables.

First impressions:
1. I can hear image stabilization motors. They are not loud, but noticeable in a quiet place. It is nice to know it is working.

2. The manual focus adjustment is a little coarse, it automatically zooms the view finder 2x to help see the focus.

3. USB style charging cable with AC adapter (5V, 1A). I love this, even though they do not recommend connecting it to computer. I already have some 12VDC adapters, that may allow me to charge the camera in my car. I am also considering using making an auxiliary battery pack with a switching regulator and 9.6V battery pack. That way I can carry it in the camera bag to charge it during the game's half time without having to search for AC power.

Update: I had a TI step-down switching regulator evaluation board, that has a 5V DC output with input voltages between 10-18 V at 3 A. I am using it with 9.6 V nicad remote control battery packs as an auxiliary power source because it has a good efficiency . The camera actually pulls ~0.6 A while charging, less when turned on(?), so the regulator runs OK down to 9 V input. I can fit both the battery pack and regulator in the camera bag, so I can attach it during the game if needed.

1. The first thing that throw me for a loop is that the electronic view finder goes blank when the pictures are taken. I was used to the DSLR where the optical view finder would blank during the actual exposure, but even while the picture is being stored I could still follow the action. The Kodak would go blank until that picture is stored and the camera is ready to take the next picture. Even in burst mode, you can't see what you are actually taking pictures of.

2. There is a longer delay between shots. So between not seeing the action and having to wait and get a new focus lock, it is harder to take the picture of the pass and catch.

3. The motorized zoom buttons are on the same hand as the shutter release. But worse, you can not change the zoom while you hold down the shutter button to get focused. The Nikon had a manual zoom, which I would turn with my other hand and had complete control. So again it is slower to follow the action and get good framing.

4. In order to use the higher 3200 and 6400 ISO setting, you have to reduce the resolution to 3.1 M or below. The Nikon 200-500 had a higher aperture of 5 to 8, the Kodak 1015 with its 28–420 mm (35 mm equiv.) f/3.5–5.4 also gave it more of a speed advantage. So the players were less blurry and I could catch the ball in the are with only a little smearing. If you are going to use the flash, be sure to go back to a lower ISO.. In hindsight all I had to do was go to Auto mode.

5. The Kodak has a quick click to capture time, so once I got used to blanking, I could catch the ball in the air for laterals and fumbles.

6. I brought a tripod, but it turns out I forgot to remove the shoe from the other camera's telephoto lens. So I couldn't attach the camera to the tripod. My first couple of shots I tried free hand with the image stabilization. Even while it was still pretty light out, there was still some smearing. After a while I used the tripod by just holding the camera to it while shooting. This seemed to work well.

7. Battery life is hard to judge, because I had the firmware update problem, see below, so I couldn't turn off the camera to save power. I had also charged the battery during half time. In the 4th quarter I turned off the stabilization conserve power. I did make through the game with 191 shots, some with flash. I even took a few seconds of HD video, but I did't quite know what I was doing.

Firmware upgrade:
Since I was concerned with the click to click time, I downloaded the firmware update,. It is quite easy to install it even without loading the Easyshare software, as long as you can write to the SD card directly. You save the update in a SYSTEM directory and put the card back into the camera. When you cycle power to camera, it will detect the update and check the battery level then ask you if you want to upgrade.

Unfortunately for me, the update failed. So every time I turn the camera back on, it sees the update and if the battery is not completely charged, turns itself off. So when it was half time and it turned the camera off, it refused to come back on, until I could find a power plug on one of the light towers that worked. Because I didn't have a computer with an SD card adapter, I couldn't remove the file until I got home.

I have to admit it is a little unfair to compare this Kodak camera with a Nikon DSLR, that costs at least 3 times as much, but that was what I was used to. Although it will take some getting used to, this camera did perform well for taking picture of a night football game. It may miss some of the shots I would have captured using a DSLR camera, but the low light capabilities more then made up for it.

I will update this posting, again after the next game. One thing if found useful is the Setup->Orientation Sensor. Turning that one will automatically rot pictures taken with the camera vertical, so you don't have to go through them later and do it manually.