Even though I’ve collected cameras for 30 years, I’ve only had a decent everyday camera for the past few years. By “decent,” I mean a point-and-shoot camera with autofocus and zoom, by no means anything fancy. I am a cheapskate, you see. I used garage-sale fixed-focus cameras until my budding road hobby made me wish for slightly more respectable equipment. I dangled my toes in the water in 2006 when I bought an Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80, but even then I picked it up for $20 on eBay. The little Stylus came with me every time I hit the road, and the results were so good that I wanted to share my photos online. I put up my personal site and posted photos from my first three road trips (see them here, here, and here).
I found myself shooting lots of film, and my wallet was feeling the pinch from having it all developed. I figured that if I bought an entry-level digital camera it would pay for itself within three or four road trips. So I went shopping. Based on Philip Greenspun’s recommendations (at the time) on photo.net I settled on the Kodak EasyShare Z730. Not only did Mr. Greenspun have nothing but good things to say about it, but Kodak was selling refurbished units for far, far less than list price. I love a bargain, so I bit.
I figured I was going to be like the guy who’d owned a succession of beater cars but had just bought his first new car – basic transportation, a Hyundai, maybe. The Hyundai isn’t anything special, to be sure, but it would seem wonderful compared to the discarded ’82 Buick that didn’t always start. After a while, the Hyundai would show its true colors as an entry-level car.
I was wrong. More than two years on, I enjoy this camera as much as when it first arrived. That’s not to say it’s a great camera – true to Kodak’s mission, it’s a point-and-shoot for the masses. It’s just highly competent.
The Z730’s five-megapixel resolution was on the small side even when I bought the camera, but who really makes huge enlargements? What it lacks in resolution, it makes up for in lens; its f/2.8 Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon is very sharp. It’s also a bit wide, at 33mm, which is good for roadscapes. If I’ve ever talked to you about this camera, I’ve probably said it sports a 28mm lens, which is just wishful thinking. I’d love to have a 28mm lens. It does have a 4x zoom, though. It lacks image stabilization, but shake seems to be a problem only at maximum zoom. I have found that if I back off a hair from max, my photos are crisp.
The Z730 is ready to shoot within a couple seconds of turning it on, and its autofocus quickly sizes up a shot. I seldom have to wait for it. I’ve missed shots only while trying to turn the camera on – the mode-selector dial, which doubles as the on/off switch, is fiddly and hard to work. While I’m complaining, I might as well mention that the sun washes out the little 2.2-inch LCD, but at least the Z730 has an optical viewfinder. Also, the battery that came with the camera was good for only about 300 shots, which isn’t enough when I’m on the road. I bought a stouter battery and have shot 700 in a day with it. Finally, its aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual modes are limited. The Z730 is aggressively about pointing and shooting, not about giving control to the photographer.
But I haven’t needed much control to get good results with the family snapshots and roadside landscapes that make up the bulk of my photographs. The Z730’s autofocus, coupled with its strong lens, does a great job nearly all the time.
This photo is of the original alignment of US 36 in Parke County, Indiana. (Yes, the original route was a dirt road.) I love the vibrant greens in this shot.
The Z730 excels in diffused and indirect light. This covered bridge is also in Putnam County, not far from the road above.
I took this photograph of the Michigan Road (US 421) in Decatur County on a hot and hazy day.
This shot, north of Rochester on the Michigan Road (old US 31), is the abutment from a one-lane truss bridge that used to cross the Tippecanoe River.
I’ve had a lot of fun shooting wildflowers by the roadside with the Z730’s macro mode. I am so pleased with the detail the lens brings out.
It’s somewhere between difficult and impossible to control depth of field on the Z730. I just press the macro button and hope for the best. Sometimes you get a little bokeh, as above; sometimes you don’t, as below.
At the other extreme, this camera was born to take photos of big brick buildings against the blue sky. This is the Johnson County Courthouse in Franklin.
This is Eminence High School, along State Road 42 in Morgan County.
I’ve also been happy with how well the Z730 handles available light. I left the flash off during my entire visit to the 2009 Mecum Original Spring Classic auction at the Indiana State Fairgrounds last May. To be fair, the joint was bathed in fluorescent light.
This shot, of the State Theater on State Road 25 in Logansport, does a better job of showing how well the Z730 handles available light.
The good results I get from my Z730 have encouraged me to learn a little about photography. I always wanted to take better photographs, and because a digital camera shows results instantly, I’ve found it easy to practice. I’ve read a little bit about composition and light, and have had fun experimenting. This photo, of South Bend’s State Theater, was one of the first times I moved in close. I still like the result. (I saw my first movie, Bambi, here when I was little.)
Wandering around Downtown Indianapolis with my camera one afternoon, I was looking for good interplay among the planes of buildings and signs. I especially like how this shot turned out.
I also spent some time at Crown Hill Cemetery shooting the James Whitcomb Riley gravesite. I like the monument’s strength in this shot. (This is the highest point in Indianapolis. On a clear day, you can see Downtown four miles to the south.)
At the muscle car auction, I shot a lot of car details. I learned a lot and got some satisfying results, such as this photo of the hood scoop on a 1970 Dodge Super Bee.
I’ve also practiced getting in closer when photographing people. My favorite subjects have been my sons, and I have some great shots of them, but in deference to their mother I don’t publish their photos online. You’ll have to settle for a photo I took of my dog! Gracie is a frequent road-trip companion. I fold down the back seats of my wagon, spread out her blanket, and off we go. She comes along on the leash when I stop to explore, and by the end of the day she’s usually so whipped that she snoozes soundly all the way home. I took this photo as we were heading home after a long day exploring US 50 in Illinois. (Check it out at its full size – you can almost count her hairs.)
I’ve enjoyed taking photos with my Z730 more than with any camera I’ve ever owned, and I’ve owned a lot of cameras. But there are times now that I’d like to have more control that a better camera would bring. And I really want a wider lens! I’m currently drooling over the Canon S90 and I’ve flirted a bit with the Nikon D40. But both of them represent investments I’m not willing to make right now (see above, re: cheapskate). And if there’s anything my Kodak Z730 has taught me, it’s that even a meager camera can do a great job.
If you like old cameras, check out my entire collection.