The Kodak Pixpro AZ521 ($299 list) is a bridge-style superzoom camera with an impressive spec list. It’s got a 16-megapixel CMOS image sensor, a staggering 52x zoom lens, and 1080p video capability. Its price point places it somewhere between budget and premium, but image noise is so overwhelming, even at lower ISO settings, that its usefulness is limited to exteriors and brightly lit interiors. For a little more money you can get a more capable camera with a similar megazoom lens, and if you’re willing to live with something less than a 52x lens there are much better cameras available for less money like the pocketable Canon PowerShot SX280 HS. Our Editors’ Choice superzoom doesn’t offer nearly as long a reach, but the 24x Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 still rules this category due to its impressive image quality and constant-aperture f/2.8 zoom lens.
Design and Features
The AZ521 is one of the first cameras released with the Kodak brand name since the company announced that it was exiting the digital camera space in early 2012. As part of its successful bankruptcy reorganization the company licensed its brand to Chinese manufacturer JK Imaging: The AZ521, along with the AZ362 and AZ522 are among the first of these new Kodak-branded cameras to hit the US market.
The AZ521 is a bridge-style camera, which means that its design bridges the gap between compact and SLR. From a distance it looks like a scaled down SLR, even with a faux viewfinder hump at its top that houses the pop-up flash, but the zoom lens is fixed to the body. For another $50 you have the option of moving up to a nearly identical camera that adds an eye-level viewfinder, the Pixpro AZ522.
The AZ521 is hefty at 1.1 pounds and a bit bulky at 2.3 by 4.8 by 3.8 inches (HWD). But when you consider the scope of its lens, that’s not surprising. Another 50x zoom camera, the Fujifilm SL1000 is 3.4 by 4.8 by 4.8 inches and 1.5 pounds, but it adds an eye-level EVF and a hot shoe for a proper external flash. The lens is a 24-1,248mm f/2.8-5.6 (35mm equivalent) design, which covers a very wide angle and zooms to bring distant objects into close view. The stabilization system is actually pretty impressive—even at the maximum zoom I was able to keep an object from across the room properly framed while hand-holding the camera. Proper image stabilization is a must for a camera with a lens this long; without it you’ll struggle to get the framing you’re after.
The control layout is impressive. On the top plate you’ll find the zoom rocker, shutter release, exposure value compensation control, drive mode control, and a mode dial. The EV compensation button does a bit more than you would expect it to; it dives into a menu that gives you control over aperture, shutter speed, EV compensation, and ISO sensitivity. The rear panel includes buttons to start video recording, adjust the autofocus mode, enable macro focusing, control the flash, and set the self-timer. There’s also a button that’s labeled “i”—it gives you access to color output and art filters modes. There are the standard Normal, Vivid, Negative, Sepia, and Black and White, as well as a number of more artistic filters, including selective color and soft focus. And then there are options that are labeled Japan Style, Italian Style, French Style, and Punk—obviously JK Imaging couldn’t secure the rights for Gangnam Style. Names aside, these nationalities just shift the color tone of your images; Italian gives images a green look, for example, and Punk goes for a high-contrast duotone look of hot pink and black.
There’s also a button that looks like a sheet of lined paper—it brings up an overlay menu that grants you control over the metering pattern, image resolution, stabilization settings, the autofocus mode, and HDR image capture. It’s also where you need to go to access the more detailed menu, from which you can set the clock, format a memory card, and perform other non-shooting tasks. The user interface is by no means slick, but it’s functional.
The rear LCD is a 3-inch panel with a 460k-dot resolution. That’s pretty par for the course with a midrange camera. The SL1000 has a better one—it’s 920k dots—but I found the Kodak’s display to be adequate for image framing, and it held up during outdoor use. It’s a big step up from the 230k-dot screens that you’ll find on budget-priced superzooms like the GE X600.
Performance and Conclusions
The AZ521 can start and capture an image in about 2 seconds and records a 0.2-second shutter lag. Its burst shooting mode is quite impressive, rattling off a burst of 8 images at 12fps. The only downside is that 8.7 seconds is required to write those images to the memory card, a time during which the camera won’t be useable. The Canon SX280 HS, which doesn’t have nearly as ambitious a zoom lens, starts up faster (1.6 seconds) and has a shorter 0.1-second shutter lag. But even that impressive pocket camera can only fire off frames at 3fps.
I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the AZ521′s zoom lens. The standard PCMag sharpness test is performed at the camera’s widest angle and uses a center-weighted method to generate a score. If a camera manages 1,800 lines per picture height or better, it passes muster. The AZ521 did so, notching 1,932 lines on the test. The studio space in which tests are performed is too small to test the lens at 52x, but a crop from the telephoto shot of the Flatiron Building (below) shows just how fuzzy the AZ521 is at 52x. The same shot captured with the Fujifilm SL1000, which scored 2,773 lines on the sharpness test, is much sharper—although it should be noted that there was some chromatic aberration in the image from the Fuji camera. That can be removed with a couple clicks in a software application, but it’s not possible to add the detail that AZ521 missed in such a manner.
Imatest also checks photos for noise, which is where the AZ521 really performs poorly. It only keeps noise below 1.5 percent at its base ISO 100 setting. I took a close look at its images on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W display to see the effect of the excess noise on image quality. It’s not a pretty sight; the fine lines of a foreign banknote in our standard ISO test scene start to give way to noise at ISO 400 and are gone at ISO 800. The Panasonic FZ200 is a much better camera for use in so-so light; it has an f/2.8 lens and it keeps noise under control through ISO 800.
Video is recorded in QuickTime format at 1080p30 quality. The footage is impressively cirsp, with lots of detail, but there is some evidence of the rolling shutter effect during pans. This causes bottom part of the frame to advance more quickly than the top, giving footage a rubber-like look. The lens can zoom in and out while recording, but the noise is quite audible on the soundtrack, as is the sound of the lens reacquiring focus. There’s a micro HDMI port to connect to an HDTV and a micro USB port for computer connectivity and battery charging; there’s no external battery charge included. Standard SD and SDHC memory cards, up to 32GB in size, are supported. SDXC memory cards do not work.
There are some good things to say about the Kodak Pixpro AZ521. Its lens is fairly sharp at wider angles, the burst shooting mode is impressive, albeit limited to only a handful of shots, and it really does handle well for a long zoom without an EVF. But, like its siblings, the AZ521 is held back by noisy images that fall apart at the moderate sensitivities that tend to kick in on overcast days and in all but the brightest interior spaces. It would be manage a better rating if the lens was sharper when zoomed all the way in, but tests shots showed that it struggles in that regard. The Fujifilm SL1000 is $100 more, but that extra cash gets you a lens that holds up in terms of sharpness at its 50x setting and an eye-level EVF. And if you don’t need such a long telephoto reach (and most folks don’t), you’ve got a wealth of options out there, including our Editors’ Choice compact superzoom camera, the 20x Canon PowerShot SX280 HS, and the best of the bridge-style that we’ve tested, our Editors’ Choice Panasonic FZ200. The FZ200 is more expensive, and its 24x telephoto reach isn’t quite as impressive, but it does a much better job at higher ISO sensitivities and its f/2.8 lens captures an impressive amount of light throughout the entirety of its zoom range.
|Dimensions||3.4 x 4.8 x 3.8 inches|
|Interface Ports||micro USB, micro HDMI|
|Battery Type Supported||Lithium Ion|
|Recycle time||0.08 seconds|
|LCD size||3 inches|
|Media Format||Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity|
|Optical Zoom||52 x|
|Boot time||2.1 seconds|
|35-mm Equivalent (Wide)||24 mm|
|Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated)||0 feet|
|Video Resolution||720p, 1080p|
|Lines Per Picture Height||1932|
|LCD Aspect Ratio||4|
|35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto)||1248 mm|
|Shutter Lag||0.2 seconds|
|Sensor Size||1/2.3" (6.2 x 4.6mm) mm|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc