By Mike Flacy
Kodak's new EasyShare Z915 is a one of the most versatile budget cameras on the market. Sporting a 10-Megapixel imaging sensor, 10x optical zoom lens and optical image stabilization, it is very hard to find a camera that can compare for under $200. Also included on the Z915 is Kodak's Smart Capture, Scene Modes, Face detection, In-camera editing, Perfect Touch technology, and 640x480 video capture. All of these features make this camera incredibly easy to use, however for the more advanced photographers, it also features full Manual as well as Aperture and Shutter priority modes for total control over the camera.
This compact camera is easy to point and shoot with just your right hand, but for changing settings and navigating menus, you will want to use two. Unlike most digicams that use the 4-way controller to quickly change flash settings, drive mode, etc.; the Z915 has dedicated buttons on top of the camera which are easier to get to and allow the 4-way controller to serve other functions. When the camera is in playback mode and you press the wide zoom to enter the thumbnail index, and we found that it takes the camera longer than most to process the thumbnails. This is not a big problem, but is something you will notice if you are trying to quickly pull up a certain stored image. The 2.5-inch LCD screen doesn't quite fill the back of the camera. Even though it has several adjustable levels of brightness, it can still be difficult to see in direct sunlight. The addition of an EVF or optical viewfinder, similar to what is found on the Z980 would have been very helpful.
Performance from the Z915 is excellent for a camera in this class. It only takes 2.0 seconds to capture its first image after being turned on. Shutter lag is less than 1/10 of a second when the camera is pre-focused and between 2/10 and 4/10 of a second when allowing the camera to autofocus, depending on available light and distance. In single shot mode, the camera performed well, capturing 5 images in just 5.8 seconds without the flash. When using the flash, you have to be careful because the camera will fire if the flash is not ready. During our tests the flash could take up to 9 seconds to fully recharge if the batteries are not at full power. You can also switch the camera to burst mode, which is able to capture a burst of 3 shots in just 2.0 seconds without the flash. All of our tests where completed using a 2GB RiDATA Pro 120x SD memory card, Sony 2500mAh Ni-MH rechargeable batteries, Program mode, ISO auto, Flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults.
Image quality from the Z915 has its good and bad points. Our outdoor samples show very good exposures with bright, vivid, colors. However, the images are soft and show noise throughout the image, even at the lowest ISO settings; especially in darker areas and colors. The 10x optical zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent of 35-350mm, not only does a great job of shooting landscapes and group portraits at the wide end, but the telephoto end will get you much closer to your distant subject and assists you in framing. You will see some barrel distortion at the wide end, while aberrations have been controlled pretty well throughout the zoom range.
Our indoor samples show the same noise and softness at all ISO levels that we saw with the outdoor images. In any mode besides some of the scene modes, the longest shutter speed that the camera will use is ½ second, which was not long enough to properly expose the subject for our lower ISO shots. Kodak has included a powerful built in flash that has a range of up to 17.8 feet, when shooting in Smart Capture mode. During our tests, this proved to be enough both indoors and out, providing the correct amount of light for pleasing flash exposures.
Our sample portrait shots show correct exposure and white balancing for the detected faces in the frame, as well as natural looking skin tones. The face detection software works well in all shooting modes, quickly detecting the faces and then tracking them without too much difficulty. We did not have the need for the red-eye removal pre-flash as we did not see one single instance of red-eye in any of our people photos.
Movie mode allows you to capture 640x480 or 320x240 pixel resolution movies with sound with a maximum file size of 4GB. As with our still images, there is also a little noise throughout the videos. The exposures are ok and video itself runs smoothly. Although the 10x optical zoom is not functional while recording, you do have the ability to set it before hand. The on-board mic is very sensitive, but does a good job of picking up sounds in the distance where the camera is pointed. Be careful where you position yourself, as you will hear background noises such as an air conditioner, furnace or the wind.
You have the ability to use any standard AA size batteries to power the Z915. This is great when you are in a bind, because you can stop at any general store if you run out of battery power. We recommend using Ni-MH rechargeable batteries because they have a longer life and will save you money in the long run. Kodak claims you can capture approx. 150 images with standard alkaline batteries or 280 images with rechargeable batteries like we mentioned above. During our tests we were able to capture 294 images on a single set of Sony 2500mAh Ni-MH rechargeable batteries.
Bottom Line - The Kodak EasyShare Z915 is a compact, versatile digicam for the photographer on a budget. It can be used by anyone with Smart Capture (auto mode) for beginners or full manual mode for more advanced photographers. The 10x optical zoom lens and optical image stabilization really make this camera stand out, as it only has a MSRP of US 199.95. This is the way to go if you are looking for as much versatility as you can get for as little as possible. If you'd like better image quality and can deal with a shorter zoom range, take a look at a camera like the Canon Powershot A1100 IS.
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Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.