The Kodak Pixpro AZ522 ($349 list) is the most refined camera in the Astro Zoom line, but it’s also the most expensive. Like the AZ521 it packs a 52x zoom lens, a 16-megapixel CMOS image sensor, and feels very solid in the hand. The AZ522 adds $50 to the price tag, and for that money you get an electronic viewfinder, and in the case of our review unit, a little more image quality. But at its asking price the AZ522 is a tough sell; there are better superzooms to be had for not that much more money. And if you can stretch your budget a bit, and live with a more limited zoom ratio, our Editors’ Choice Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 is worth strong consideration. It’s one of the best examples we’ve seen of this style of camera, thanks in part to the great image quality that its image sensor and 24x f/2.8 zoom lens produce.
Design and Features
The AZ522 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 AZ522, along with the AZ362 and AZ521 are among the first of these new Kodak-branded cameras to hit the US market.
The AZ522 is almost a clone AZ521 in terms of size and shape, but there are a few cosmetic differences. The lens barrel is covered in ribbed rubber, which gives it the appearance—but not functionality—of a manual zoom lens. The body itself is flat black; it’s missing some of the shiny steel gray elements that give accent to the AZ521. And there’s the EVF, which juts out from behind the flash. The camera is 3.5 by 4.7 by 3.8 inches (HWD) in size and weighs a little less than 1.2 pounds. It’s not that far off in size from another 50x superzoom, the 3.4-by-4.8-by-4.8-inch, 1.5-pound Fujifilm SL1000. The lens is a 24-1,248mm f/2.8-5.6 (35mm equivalent) design. It covers a very wide angle through an extreme telephoto field of view (below).
The control layout and menu system is identical to the to AZ521. 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. Names aside, these nationalities just shift the color tone of your images. Italian gives images a green look, for example, while 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.
The EVF is rather poor. It’s not that sharp, and in low light its refresh rate becomes noticeably choppy. I noticed some rainbow like color effects around high contrast edges in the EVF that aren’t there when using the rear LCD. It’s especially evident around the white characters of the information display overlay. I started to experience eyestrain after a few minutes of using the finder. Despite its inadequacies, shooting with the camera at eye-level makes it easier to get a steadier handheld shot, but if you’re looking for a camera with an EVF that you can use with some regularity, look elsewhere. The Fujifilm SL1000, which has a 920k-dot EVF, is a good place to start.
Performance and Conclusions
The AZ522 is a bit slow to start and shoot, requiring 3.1 seconds to do so, and records a reasonable 0.2-second shutter lag. Focusing speed at 52x can vary based on how far the lens has to hunt to lock on, but the average time is about 2.2 seconds. It does impress in terms of burst shooting, capturing a short barrage of 9 shots at an impressive 12.6 frames per second—but you’ll have to wait about 9 seconds after that burst in order to take another photo as images are written to a memory card. The more expensive Panasonic FZ200 starts faster (1.3 seconds) and focuses a bit quicker (0.1 second), but it can only manage 5.5fps for 16 shots.
I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the AZ522′s lens. A score of 1,800 lines per picture height on a center-weighted test is the mark of a sharp optic. The AZ522 falls just a little shy of that mark, recording 1,782 lines. The test is performed at the wide angle, but I did do some qualitative testing to see how images held up at 1,248mm. The pixel-level crop (below) of detail from the Flatiron Building shows that the AZ522 holds up when zoomed all the way in. Despite boasting a lens with a seemingly identical design, the AZ521 scored a bit better at the wide angle (1,932 lines), and couldn’t manage as nearly a sharp image when zoomed all the way in.
Imatest also checks images for noise, which can add an unwanted graininess and hurt sharpness as the sensitivity to light (ISO) is increased. It keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 400, which is a result that you’d expect from a budget camera. I took a close look at the images from our standard ISO test scene on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W display. There is some loss of detail starting at ISO 200, but it’s not an overwhelming loss, and images at ISO 400 hold up as well. At ISO 800 fine lines start to smudge into each other, which gets worse at ISO 1600. At the top ISO 3200 setting images look rough and lack detail. The SZ522 is almost on even footing with the SL1000 in this regard, but the Fuji camera adds a Raw shooting mode that can record images without any noise reduction—they’re a bit grainer, but noticeably sharper than standard JPG images.
Video is recorded at 1080p quality in QuickTime format. The footage looks good; it’s sharp and colorful, and I saw very little evidence of rolling shutter motion artifacts when panning across our studio test scene. The lens can zoom in and out when recording footage, but the sound is audible on the soundtrack—as is the sound of the camera refocusing to react to changes in the scene. There’s a micro HDMI port for HDTV connectivity, and a micro USB port. You’ll need to use that port to charge the battery in-camera; there’s no external charger included, but there is a USB-to-AC adapter. The AZ522 supports SD and SDHC memory cards up to 32GB in size; SDXC cards won’t work.
The Kodak Pixpro AZ522 is the best of the three superzoom models that the company sent to us for testing. Its lens falls just short of our sharpness mark, but it holds up better when zoomed all the way than the AZ521. It’s not without its flaws; while an EVF is a nice addition to any camera, the one here is subpar at best, and it struggles with image quality when the ISO is increased. If you’re in want a camera with a powerful telezoom lens, the Fujifilm SL1000 is a better buy—it’s $50 more, but is worth the upgrade. Our Editors’ Choice for this category is a higher end superzoom, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200; it set itself apart from the crowd not with a high zoom ratio, but with a 24x zoom lens that maintains an f/2.8 aperture throughout its range.
|Dimensions||3.5 x 4.7 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||3.1 seconds|
|35-mm Equivalent (Wide)||24 mm|
|Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated)||0 feet|
|Video Resolution||720p, 1080p|
|Lines Per Picture Height||1782|
|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