Inexpensive. Compact. Rechargeable battery. 5x optical zoom.
Underwhelming image quality. Slow focus. No optical stabilization. Video limited to 720p. No Wi-Fi.
- Bottom Line
The Kodak Pixpro FZ53 is a slim compact camera with an affordable price tag and 5x zoom lens, but its image quality is disappointing.
By Jim Fisher
If you're a casual snap shooter looking for a quality pocket camera with a small price tag, you have a tough row to hoe. At just $89.99, the Kodak Pixpro FZ53 is appealing on the surface—it comes with a familiar brand name, and a sleek, attractive design. But while you do get a 5x zoom lens, it lags behind the latest smartphones in image and video quality, and doesn't include any sort of wireless connectivity. Skip it and keep snapping shots with your phone, or spend more on a better camera.
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The Pixpro FZ53 is very small, measuring just 2.2 by 3.6 by 0.9 inches (HWD) and weighing a mere 3.7 ounces. As you'd expect, its body is plastic, but it doesn't feel cheaply made. JK Imaging, which manufacturers cameras under the Kodak banner, offers it in black, blue, and red.
The zoom lens is a 28-140mm f/3.9-6.3 design, a 5x ratio. Its widest angle of coverage isn't as wide as some other low-cost cameras, like the Canon PowerShot Elph 170 IS, which sports an optically stabilized 25-300mm f/3.6-7 zoom. The Kodak zoom is stabilized digitally, but I ended up with blurry handheld images when zoomed, like the one below that was shot at the maximum zoom setting.
You'll find the power, record, and shutter buttons on the top. Rear controls are all to the right of the LCD. There's a zoom control at the top, with Play, Mode, and Menu buttons below it. You also get a four-way control pad with directional controls to adjust display settings, control the flash, delete images, and set the focus mode and self-timer. The Set button, basically an OK button, is at its center.
The Menu button launches an on-screen overlay that controls the metering pattern, image resolution, drive mode, and focus area. No matter what mode you're in or what you do, the FZ53 always defaults to center-area autofocus when it turns on. If you want to enable a wider autofocus zone, you'll need to do so every time you power on the camera. It's annoying, as most casual snappers will want the FZ53 to automatically select a focus point.
Most photographers are going to leave the camera set to fully automatic mode. But there are some manual controls available. When the camera is set to Manual, you don't have full control like an SLR, but you can brighten or darken scenes using EV compensation, set the ISO sensitivity, and set the shutter to perform long-exposure photography—settings from 1 second to 30 seconds are available. You can't select shorter shutter speeds (helpful to freeze motion or compensate for the lack of optical stabilization) or set the f-stop.
Other shooting modes include Auto (the default), Anti-shake (which enables digital stabilization), Portrait, Movie, Panorama, and 20 different Scene modes. Some of these are useful for shooting fast action, and others are tuned for fireworks, landscapes, and night landscapes.
Auto doesn't leave much leeway for adjustment. You can turn the flash off and toggle macro focusing—when enabled it can lock on to subjects a couple of inches from the lens—but the FZ53 doesn't remember your settings once you turn it off. If you want to make sure the camera keeps the flash turned off, it's best to leave it in Manual mode.
The 2.7-inch LCD is smaller than you get with most point-and-shoots, but that's because the FZ53 itself is small. I don't mind the size, but the quality is poor. It's visibly soft, with a mere 230k-dot design, and viewing angles from the top or bottom are poor. Looking at it from the left or right is no problem, but it's hard to see if you tilt the camera up or down.
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There's no Wi-Fi, a feature you expect to see in pretty much every camera nowadays. Images are stored on an SD card and the FZ53 includes a rechargeable battery. There's a standard micro USB port on the side to charge the battery. You're supposed to be able to snap 200 shots on a full charge according to CIPA standards, but I noticed that the battery life indicator depleted by half after only about 70 snaps.
Performance and Image Quality
The FZ53 takes a long time to start, focus, and fire—about 4.8 seconds. Its autofocus system is also slow, requiring about 0.4-second to lock on to our static test target. You can enable a 2.6fps continuous shooting mode, but doing so cuts image resolution to just 4MP. If you want to shoot a series of images at the full 16MP size, expect to wait about 3.3 seconds between each shot.
I used Imatest to check the quality of the FZ53's lens. At 28mm f/3.9 it shows 1,555 lines per picture height on a center-weighted sharpness test. That's less than the 1,800 lines we want to see at a minimum, and our field results confirm the lab tests—I wouldn't call the camera's output sharp or crisp. The center of the frame is the best area, showing about 1,700 lines, but it drops to 1,500 lines as you move away, and edges show about 1,300 lines.
When zoomed all the way in, image quality takes a big hit. The average score drops to 1,213 lines, which nets blurry results even when you get a steady shot. Even the very center of the frame is soft, showing a mere 1,400 lines. To put this in perspective, the iPhone 7 Plus' main 28mm lens resolves 2,454 lines on the same test, and its tighter 56mm lens notches 2,154 lines.
Image noise is also a concern when evaluating photo quality. The FZ53 uses a 16MP CCD image sensor. It keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 800, which is a fine result for a compact, but it takes some serious noise reduction to get there. Images at ISO 800 show significant blur in what fine detail the lens is able to capture. Image quality is best at the lowest ISO 80 setting, and remains decent at ISO 100. But you start to see splotchy noise at ISO 200, and ISO 400 results are blurred. Premium smartphones like the Galaxy S7 don't show an advantage in clarity through about ISO 400, but beyond that things even out. But you have to remember that they typically have wide aperture lenses that capture more light than the FZ53—about four times as much at the wide angle. That means an ISO 800 shot from the FZ53 can be captured at ISO 100 with a good smartphone.
Video is recorded at 720p quality at 30fps and saved in QuickTime format. Even under our bright studio lights test footage is noticeably grainy. You can zoom the lens while recording, and the camera does adjust focus as needed. I ran into a weird issue with audio, however, when trying to play back a test clip using the standard Mac QuickTime player—the video was silent. I had to open it in VLC to hear the sound. Once I did, I noticed that the sound of the lens zooming in and out isn't overwhelming on the soundtrack (though you can hear it if you listen closely), but the sound of the focus adjusting is quite distracting.
Stabilization is digital only, so expect handheld video to be shaky. Even when shooting from a sitting position, holding the camera carefully with two hands, my test footage was visibly shaky.
The Kodak Pixpro FZ53 is inexpensive and it has a zoom lens. Once you move beyond that, though, advantages over a good smartphone camera are nonexistent. If you want to find a cheap point-and-shoot that's worth your money, you'll have to redefine that definition. The Canon PowerShot Elph 170 IS, and its follow-up the 190 IS, both sell for about $150. We liked the 170 when we reviewed it, and have asked Canon to send the 190 IS over for evaluation to see if it delivers the same level of quality. The FZ53 may be half the price, but it isn't worth it.
By Jim Fisher Senior Analyst, Digital Cameras
Senior digital camera analyst for the PCMag consumer electronics reviews team, Jim Fisher is a graduate of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he concentrated on documentary video production. Jim's interest in photography really took off when he borrowed his father's Hasselblad 500C and light meter in 2007. He honed his writing skills at retailer B&H Photo, where he wrote thousands upon thousands of product descriptions, blog posts, and reviews. Since then he's shot with hundreds of camera models, ranging from pocket point-and-shoots to medium format… More »
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