Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

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Introduction

The Kodak PixPro AZ521 is a new super-zoom camera, offering a massive 52x lens with an effective focal length of 24-1248mm. Other standout features of the range-topping Kodak AZ521 include Full 1080p HD video, a 3-inch rear LCD screen, 16.79 backside-illuminated 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, 360-degree panoramic shooting and an ISO range that stretches from ISO100 to ISO3200. The Kodak PixPro AZ521 is very competitively priced at £199 in the UK, and is only available from Argos and Tesco. Made under license by JK Imaging, does this new Kodak camera live up to its heritage? Carry on reading our Kodak PixPro AZ521 review to find out…

Ease of Use

So is Kodak back making cameras again? Not exactly, for the AZ521 super zoom/ bridge camera is one of the first such branded models created under license by JK Imaging, which sources its product from China, and also tells us Kodak still officially has a hand in overseeing its creations.

Outwardly though it’s business as usual; we still get the familiar yellow box and red typeface, whilst the big and bold design of the PixPro AZ521, with good-sized grip and large buttons, isn’t far removed from what we’d expect of Kodak itself. The long serving ‘EasyShare’ sub branding has been dropped however in favour of the new, more sophisticated sounding ‘PixPro’, despite the fact that we’d aver the AZ521 is better suited to the family user searching for a competent all-in-one super zoom rather than the professional photographer.

The main pitch of the Kodak PixPro AZ521 as far as the man or lady in the street is concerned however is bang for your buck – namely the fact that we get an almost class leading 52x optical zoom and DSLR ‘lite’ styling for a very reasonable suggested price in the region of £249.99. Currently the camera is available in the UK via the Argos chain – so think of this as a mass market as opposed to photo specialist device, such as the much-mooted Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens camera, also from JK Imaging with Kodak branding which at the time of writing had yet to secure a definite release date (however we did spot a mock up in a JK promotional video).

Back to the AZ521 for now, the AZ of the name standing for ‘Astro Zoom’ – and indeed such is the zoom power on offer here we could indeed shoot the moon if wanted. Key features of this all-black camera with gun-metal grey lens barrel and stylistic ‘accents’ are a 16.38 megapixel effective resolution from a 16.79 backside-illuminated 1/2.3-inch CMOS (as opposed to CCD) sensor, whilst that whopping lens bolted onto the front offers a 35mm equivalent focal range going from an ultra wide 24mm right up to a paparazzi-like 1248mm at the telephoto (maximum zoom) end, putting it out in front of most rivals, save for Panasonic’s new 60x zoom FZ72. Maximum lens aperture for the ‘Kodak’ is f/2.8 – pretty standard for a zoom camera.

Naturally there is optical stabilization built in, plus the handgrip here is big enough for us to be able to wrap almost four fingers around, using the left hand to cup the lens barrel. The camera measures 118.7×85.6×97.6mm, so is a little too big for most pockets, whilst it weighs a chunky 551g body only. However we found this more reassuring than weighty.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90
Front Rear

Some might baulk at the fact that the AZ521 is a JPEG only device, but that’s fine given the target audience, as is the fact that we get the option of Full HD 1920×1080 pixels video clips with the bonus of stereo sound recording. Fortunately the optical zoom can be adjusted for video recording, with auto focus naturally taking a couple of moments to catch up when doing so.

Though the camera is very light on digital effects, there’s no Wi-Fi or GPS built-in, the screen is resolutely fixed, and nor is there any optical or electronic viewfinder, again this is commensurate with the affordable pricing; this is a budget bridge camera/ super zoom after all. And mainly what the AZ521 is all about is ease of use, along with almost unlimited flexibility when it comes to framing subjects; so who cares that the lens on the front cannot actually be swapped?

Its other ‘credentials’ are 360-degree panoramic shooting and an ISO range that stretches modestly from ISO100 to ISO3200, whilst the lithium ion battery – which here is re-charged in camera via a USB cable and suitably compatible mains plug – is good for around a stated 240 pictures from a full charge.

Handling wise the AZ521 sports the familiar (for a bridge camera) mini digital SLR shape plus a button layout that nods both to the DSLR and also the humble snapshot camera. In other words it feels instantly and reassuringly familiar. From the front as expected the lens barrel dominates proceedings. Above this sits a hump housing the camera’s dual stereo microphones and spring-loaded pop up flash bulb, with a manual button provided at its right side (if viewing the camera lens on) for raising it manually – it flipping to attention with a satisfying ‘clunk’. To the left of this a familiar porthole housing the AF assist/self time lamp, whilst the curved handgrip features leather effect rubber padding to prevent finger slippage. There’s sufficient room between lens barrel and handgrip to avoid the knuckles of your fingers scraping against it, whilst your thumb comes to rest on a small matching pad to the left of a video record button on the backplate. The square-ish boxy design of the main camera body doesn’t make it the most comfortable to hold with battery and card inserted, but in operation the zoom power available at your fingertip helps you forget about that.

A press of the small, lozenge shaped power button inset into the chrome strip on the AZ521’s top plate and the unit powers up ready for action in just a couple of seconds, lens extending to maximum wide angle setting and the rear 3-inch, 460k dot resolution LCD blinking into life. As on any compact camera, control of the zoom is automatic and governed by a lever sat at the forefront of the hand grip, which encircles the raised shutter release button. Give this a nudge and the zoom travels throughout its entire range in just over four seconds.

A half squeeze of the shutter release button and, if we have an initial grumble about the AZ521 it’s that auto focus is a tad sluggish, the image on screen visibly adjusting before it snaps back into sharpness, a process taking a good second or more. We found sometimes when presented with busier scenes this ‘zero-ing in’ time would be further extended. A deal breaker for some is that this is a JPEG-only camera – but then what else would you expect at this price?

Behind the zoom lever and shutter release are located two identically sized buttons – the one on the left for the camera’s drive modes, providing the ability to switch between single shot capture and continuous bursts, and the one on the right for adjusting exposure compensation, with a range of +/- 3EV.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90
Pop-up Flash Top

Tucked behind the above we find a raised bottle top-style shooting mode wheel that locks into each of its 10 settings with a definite action. The ridged edge to the dial engages with the thumb of the right hand, enabling it to be easily edged clockwise or anticlockwise from one setting on to the next. Ranged around this dial are the usual suspects of program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual, along with a dedicated ‘face beautifier’ portrait mode, aforementioned panorama mode which allows the user to select one of four directions to shot it (starting from left to right or vice versa, or pointing up or pointing down. Next up on the dial is scene mode, with handheld night mode alongside a pet mode, sunset mode, and further pre-optimised settings for capturing fireworks, sporting action, night portraits, landscape, day time portraits, snow, children and parties. Perhaps most interestingly among the 12 scene modes, annotated with familiar on-screen icons, is a multi exposure mode – something that is also creeping onto camera phone handsets such as the Samsung S4 as an option.

Moving anti clockwise around the dial the next setting is a dedicated video mode. Full HD clips up to 30fps are achievable with this model, and you don’t need the dial set to the video setting to begin filming – just hit the red record button on the backplate and a second or so’s wait later, away you go, as with any standard digital compact. As in stills mode, in movie mode the user can swap metering modes, switch image stabilization on or off, plus change resolution and capture speed (with up to 2.3fps continuous shooting), with a high-speed movie taken at 120fps alongside Full HD, HD and standard resolution capture options. A toolbar is provided on the left hand side of the LCD screen for this purpose.

Surprisingly, given that this is a mass-market super zoom, we also get a custom settings (‘CS’) option on the AZ521’s top plate dial. As well as the ability to use this as a shortcut to your favourite scene mode in particular, we’re also presented here with a sliding menu of all the other settings on the physical dial, which feels slightly superfluous, given that it’s just as easy to twist the dial to these other settings anyway. With lugs provided for a shoulder strap left and right of the top plate, a speaker to one side and a plastic pop-open flap shielding separate mini HDMI and standard AV output ports to the other, the backplate of this Kodak resembles that of any other compact snapshot, with the 4:3 aspect ratio LCD taking up most of the real estate.

As previously mentioned, top right at the back we find a video record button that readily falls under the thumb. Give this a press and the image of the backscreen immediately narrows to present the view in 16:9 aspect ratio, black bands cropping the top and the bottom if shooting in Full HD mode. Unsurprisingly the action of the lens slows in video mode, taking double the time to travel through its zoom range if recording has commenced – going from extreme wide angle to maximum telephoto in 8-9 seconds.

Sitting beneath video record are two identically sized buttons; in fact these are mirrored below the four-way control/command pad that sits in the middle of the space to the right of the LCD screen. Whilst a press of the button marked ‘I’ when in auto mode on the top plate dial appears to achieve nothing, press it again when in Program mode and we get access to a range of digital filters, 20 in number. These range from a ‘vivid’ option through the curiously described colour tone altering Japan style, French style and Italian style – which is a first for us and we’re still not quite sure what it means – to the more readily identifiable and familiar fish eye, vignetting, sketch and partial colour choices. Also you have got to love a camera that, as found among the Magic Filters on Olympus point and shoot compacts, offers a ‘punk’ filter – reducing subjects to heavy black outlines with an eyeball popping violet/purple wash over the entire image. Bravo JK Imaging.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

Build quality is generally good too and the AZ521 feels solid in the hand. What’s missing on the AZ521’s camera back is any obvious ‘menu’ button, though there is one marked with a bullet point graphical motif that does the same job. Press this and we’re given a sparsely detailed toolbar running down the left hand side of the LCD. In the likes of Program mode this menu strip governs the camera’s metering options, resolution of images, ability to activate or deactivate built-in anti shake, turn a High Dynamic Range (HDR) option on or off, or enter further set up menus. The latter expands a few screens more on these brief options – allowing image quality to be set, for example, not just resolution, or a digital zoom option to be turned on or off. There’s also the ability to adjust screen brightness, alter the sound settings and format the SD/SDHC card in use – all pretty standard stuff.

The command pad just below these two buttons if moving clockwise around it allows the governing of the drive mode, the flash settings, which include both slow sync and red eye reduction options alongside forced flash, plus self timer/delete option and finally, close up/macro mode.

Underneath this again, and very near the camera base, we have two further and final buttons, one for playback and the other for display. Subsequent presses of the latter summon up a nine zone compositional grid and a histogram to the screen, or divest it entirely of any possibly distracting icons.

In playback mode meanwhile there’s the ability to apply an HDR treatment retrospectively, or give the touch up treatment to people pictures – including lightning eyes, enlarging eyes, smoothing skin and correcting for red eyes; all automatically applied. Less surprisingly, shots can also be rotated or re-sized.

The base of the camera meanwhile features a slightly off-centre screw thread for a tripod and naturally a sliding plastic panel in the base of the handgrip which houses the battery, offering a 240-shot power duration when fully charged, and a slot for optional SD/SDHC card.

So, a fairly straightforward camera to use by any estimation, the main selling points of which are really that whopper of a zoom range plus the relatively inexpensive £250 asking price for the privilege. But what of the pictures it produces? Do they transcend its relatively humble trappings or are they pretty much exactly what you’d expect of a snapshot in this price range? Read on to find out.

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

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Image Quality

The images achievable by the Kodak PixPro AZ521 in good light – namely clear blue skies – prove to be something of a revelation. In terms of low light, completely unsurprisingly, noise starts to visibly intrude into a shot above ISO800. Whilst ISO1600 has a noticeably softer and at the same time grainier appearance it’s usable at a push, as, to be honest, are images taken at ISO3200 – they’re that much softer and noisier again, but far from the worst effort we’ve seen in our almost 15 years of handling and reviewing digital cameras.

It’s in normal daylight conditions however that the AZ521 is given a chance to prove its worth and show what a physically larger piece of glass bolted on the front of the camera, even when twinned with a relatively physically small, can seemingly do.

We’re pleased to report that the camera delivers the well-saturated colour-rich results that we’d normally associate with the Kodak brand. Detail is noticeably impressive too – picking out subtleties of detail on the stem of a flower for example that we’d usually only expect to see provided by an interchangeable lens camera. OK, so if we look closely enough at the corner of an extreme wideangle shot we’re seeing a softening of detail and if shooting towards the other end of the zoom to draw faraway objects closer it can sometime take two or three shots to end up with one that’s sharp enough when shooting handheld.

But in summation better than we’d expect of a snapshot camera and better than we’d have any right to expect of one costing £250 through Argos.

Noise

There are 5 ISO settings available on the Kodak PixPro AZ521. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting.

ISO 100 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)

   

ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)

   

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

 
 

Focal Range

The Kodak PixPro AZ521’s 52x zoom lens offers an incredibly versatile focal range, as demonstrated by the examples below.

24mm

1248mm

Sharpening

Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web – Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are a little soft at the default sharpening setting and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. Unfortunately you can’t change the in-camera sharpening level.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)

   

Chromatic Aberrations

The Kodak PixPro AZ521 handled chromatic aberrations fairly well during the review, with some purple fringing present around the edges of objects in certain high-contrast situations, as shown in the examples below.

Chromatic Aberrations 1 (100% Crop)

Chromatic Aberrations 2 (100% Crop)

Macro

 

The Kodak PixPro AZ521 offers a Macro setting that allows you to focus on a subject that is 1cm away from the camera when the lens is set to wide-angle. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.

Macro

Macro (100% Crop)

Flash

The flash settings on the Kodak PixPro AZ521 are Auto, Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Off, On and Slow Sync./Red-eye Reduction. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.

Flash Off – Wide Angle (24mm)

Flash On – Wide Angle (24mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64
   

Flash Off – Telephoto (1248mm)

Flash On – Telephoto (1248mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are some portrait shots. As you can see, neither the On or the Auto/Red-eye Reduction settings caused any significant red-eye.

Forced On

Forced On (100% Crop)
   

Auto/Red-eye Reduction

Auto/Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)

Night

The Kodak PixPro AZ521’s maximum shutter speed is 4 seconds, which is not great news if you’re seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 1 second at ISO 800.

Night

Night (100% Crop)

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

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Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Kodak PixPro AZ521 camera, which were all taken using the 16 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample Movie

This is a sample movie at the quality setting of 1920 x 1080 at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 11 second movie is 31.2Mb in size.

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

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Product Images

Kodak PixPro AZ521

Front of the Kodak PixPro AZ521

 
Kodak PixPro AZ521

Front of the Kodak PixPro AZ521

 
Kodak PixPro AZ521

Side of the Kodak PixPro AZ521

 
Kodak PixPro AZ521

Side of the Kodak PixPro AZ521

 
Kodak PixPro AZ521

Side of the Kodak PixPro AZ521

 
Kodak PixPro AZ521

Rear of the Kodak PixPro AZ521

 
Kodak PixPro AZ521

Rear of the Kodak PixPro AZ521 / Image Displayed

 
Kodak PixPro AZ521

Top of the Kodak PixPro AZ521

 
Kodak PixPro AZ521

Bottom of the Kodak PixPro AZ521

 
Kodak PixPro AZ521

Side of the Kodak PixPro AZ521

 
Kodak PixPro AZ521

Side of the Kodak PixPro AZ521

 
Kodak PixPro AZ521

Front of the Kodak PixPro AZ521

 
Kodak PixPro AZ521

Memory Card Slot

 
Kodak PixPro AZ521

Battery Compartment

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

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Specifications

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

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Conclusion

Despite the standard issue mini-DSLR design and value added £250 initial price tag, ‘better than expected’ is our overall verdict on the 16 megapixel, 52x zoom behemoth the AZ521 from Kodak’s new license holder JK Imaging, initially available through Argos in the UK.

Of course, you will only be seriously considering this bridge model if you need such an extreme zoom for amateur shots of skittish wildlife or prefer natural candid snaps of loved ones rather than sticking a camera lens right in their face. And even if results do soften when shooting with the camera hand held the closer you get to maximum telephoto setting, for less ambitious framing the camera really comes into its own, delivering colourful and detailed results and consistency too when left to its fully automatic settings. And what a range of framing options at your fingertips also, thanks to that extremely broad 24-1248mm equivalent focal range in 35mm terms. Added to this the camera is as straightforward to operate and use and one would expect of a camera bought from a larger chain store.

The negatives are that the camera is as bulky as you’d expect any with a whopping zoom lens to be – though not prohibitively so – the AF is a little tardy for our tastes and particularly struggles in lower light, and in truth there’s nothing revolutionary in terms of the technology or its implementation here. Nevertheless, the PixPro AZ521 all adds to a good start for the re-booted Kodak range.

4 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 3.5
Features 4
Ease-of-use 4
Image quality 4
Value for money 4.5

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

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Main Rivals

Listed below are some of the rivals of the Kodak PixPro AZ521.

Canon PowerShot SX50 HS

Canon PowerShot SX50 HS Review thumbnail

The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS super-zoom camera has an astonishing 50x lens with a massive focal range of 24-1200mm. The Canon SX50 HS also offers a 12 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, 2.8 inch vari-angle LCD screen, electronic viewfinder, full manual controls, RAW format support, 10fps burst shooting and full 1080p HD movies. Read our detailed Canon PowerShot SX50 HS review complete with full-size JPEG, RAW and video samples to discover if it’s the only camera you’ll ever need…

Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR

Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR Review thumbnail

The Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR is a bridge compact camera with a massive 42x, 24-1000mm zoom lens. The HS50 also offers an autofocus lag of just 0.05 seconds, full 1080p movies at 60fps with stereo sound, a 3 inch vari-angle LCD screen, 11ps burst shooting and a 16 megapixel back-illuminated EXR sensor with RAW support. Is this the only camera you’ll ever need? Read our Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR review to find out…

Nikon Coolpix P520

Nikon Coolpix P520 Review thumbnail

The Nikon Coolpix P520 is a brand new super-zoom camera with an incredible 42x zoom lens. The 18 megapixel Nikon P520 has a back illuminated 18 megapixel CMOS sensor, 3.2-inch 921K-dot vari-angle LCD screen, full 1080p high-definition movies with stereo sound, built-in GPS, an electronic viewfinder and 7fps burst shooting. Priced at £399.99 / $449.95, read our Nikon Coolpix P520 review to find out if that zoom lens is too big for its own good…

Olympus SP-820UZ

Olympus SP-820UZ Review thumbnail

The Olympus SP-820UZ is a bridge compact camera that boasts a 40x zoom lens with an incredible focal range of 22.4-896mm. The 14 megapixel Olympus SP-820UZ also offers a 3 inch LCD screen, 1080p movie recording and a Backlight HDR mode. Read our in-depth Olympus SP-820UZ review to find out if this super-zoom is worth the £280 / $330 asking price…

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 Review thumbnail

The brand new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 super-zoom camera (also known as the DMC-FZ70) features a massive 60x zoom lens with a focal range of 20-1200mm, the biggest of any camera on the market. Other highlights of the FZ72 / FZ70 include a 3 inch LCD screen, full 1080i HD movies, 9fps burst shooting, P/A/S/M modes, RAW support, a flash hotshoe and a 16.1 megapixel MOS sensor. Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 review now…

Pentax Optio X90

Pentax Optio X90 Review thumbnail

The Pentax Optio X90 is a brand new super-zoom compact camera featuring a 26x image-stabilized zoom lens with a focal range of 26-676mm. Successor to the X70 model, the X90 has a 12 megapixel sensor, 2.7 inch screen, full range of creative shooting modes and can record 720p HD movies. Retailing for £329.99 / $399.95, does the Pentax Optio X90 offer enough to match its super-zoom rivals? Gavin Stoker finds out in our Pentax Optio X90 review.

Samsung WB5000

Samsung WB5000 Review thumbnail

The WB5000 / HZ25W is Samsung’s first entry into the big boy world of all-in-one super-zoom cameras. Offering a 24x zoom lens with 26mm wide-angle setting, the WB5000 literally has most photographic subjects covered, for both 12 megapixel stills and 720p movies. Throw in a range of hand-holding smart modes for beginners and RAW format and Manual mode for advanced users, and Samsung could be onto a winner at their very first attempt. Read our expert Samsung WB5000 / HZ25W review to find out if Panasonic, Olympus et al have anything to fear…

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V Review thumbnail

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V is a new pocket camera with a massive 30x zoom lens. The HX50V also features built-in wi-fi and GPS tracking, full 1080p high-definition video with stereo sound, a 20 megapixel CMOS sensor, high-resolution 3-inch screen, manual shooting modes, 10fps continuous shooting, 3D photos, ISO range of 100-12800 and fast auto-focusing. Read our in-depth Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V review to find out if it’s the best travel-zoom camera…

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

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Review Roundup

Reviews of the Kodak PixPro AZ521 from around the web.

ephotozine.com »

The Kodak PIXPRO AZ521 is one of the new Astro Zoom cameras from Kodak and has one of the longest reach optical zoom lenses available at 52x, zooming all the way to 1248mm equivalent. It was announced in July 2013 and is available from Argos and Tesco with an RRP of £249.99. Let’s see how the camera performs in our test.
Read the full review »

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

Kodak PixPro AZ521 Review Image

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