There are plenty of sub-$200 compact cameras around, but few offer as much as the Kodak EasyShare Z915. The pocket megazoom camera has a strong feature set including fully manual and fully automatic shooting options. It’s uncomplicated to use and has faster performance than much of the competition. It has some photo quality issues, but the level of concern about them should be measured by how you use your photos and how natural you like your colors.
Considering its 10x optical zoom, the Z915 is still compact enough to fit in a large pants pocket or handbag. It’s available in three two-tone color schemes–blue/black, red/black, and matte black/black–and is made from a combination of metal and molded plastic. It’s a very comfortable camera due mostly to the large right-hand grip. However, the grip is made from plastic and despite the rest of the body’s sturdy quality, it gives the Z915 a look and feel commensurate to its price. Also, though I like the look of the camera, it’s definitely not for everyone.
Up front is the camera’s main attraction–an image-stabilized 10x zoom lens. It’s not especially wide or fast, but it will get you closer to your subject. On top is the shutter release and zoom ring, dedicated buttons for flash, macro, and timer/drive, Mode dial, and a tiny, but easily pressed power button. On back is a smallish LCD (no doubt a cost-cutting measure), a vertical row of buttons (Delete, Menu, Info, and Play), a directional pad for setting and menu navigation, and Kodak’s Share button letting you tag photos as favorites, as ones to upload to a favorite Web site for sharing, or both when the camera is connected to a computer.
Lastly, the Z915 is powered by AA-size batteries. If you plan to shoot regularly, do yourself a favor and don’t use cheap alkaline batteries. Spend the money and get rechargeable NiMH cells, and you’ll nearly double your shot count.
The Z915 gives you as much or as little control as you want over shooting, making it a good candidate for those wanting to step away from fully automatic snapshots or if there are many different user types under one roof. Except for white balance, you get full manual control as well as shutter speed and aperture-priority modes. (Note, though, the shutter speeds are only from 16 to 1/1000 of a second and three apertures at each of the wide and telephoto lens positions.) You also get exposure bracketing, color effects, and sharpness adjustments. Of course, you can use the Z915 as a standard point-and-shoot camera too, thanks to 17 scene modes and Kodak’s Smart Capture mode that combines its Intelligent scene detection, Intelligent capture control, and Intelligent image processing. It’s a reliable mode if you don’t trust yourself–or others–to get a good shot.
Typically, megazoom cameras–especially lower-cost models–are slow performers, but the Z915 is surprisingly quick. Start-up to first shot is very good at 1.7 seconds. Time between shots is a fast 1.1 seconds and adding the flash only tacks on another second. Shutter lag in bright lighting conditions is excellent for its class at 0.4 second and only goes up to 0.6 in dim conditions. The Z915 has a three-shot burst mode, too, and it’s capable of 1.6 frames per second. One thing worth noting, though, is the AF performance that was noticeably slow. This was particularly true in dim lighting where it would frequently take a couple tries to get the subject right.
Photo quality is generally very good for the Z915′s class. The biggest issue is noise/artifacting, which is visible in photos viewed at 100 percent at all ISO sensitivities. ISO 100 is the lowest the camera can be set to manually, but the Auto ISO will go as low as ISO 64. But, using Auto means the camera will select sensitivities above ISO 200, and those photos tended to look soft and overprocessed (though detail was good up to ISO 800). That’s not to say the pictures are unusable; only shots at ISO 1,600 might not be good enough for small prints.
Exposure was very good and colors, while not accurate, are very vivid, which many people–including myself–find pleasing. Occasionally, though, things would look a little too unnatural (check out the color samples in the slide show above to see what I mean). In the end it comes down to how you plan to use your photos. If they’re only going on the Web, being viewed on a digital photo frame or TV, or printed at or below 5×7 inches with the occasional 8×10, then the photo quality should suffice.
Although many of Kodak’s cameras are capable of capturing HD-quality movies, this is not one of them. You do get good VGA-quality video capture, though, and the zoom lens works while you’re recording.
You don’t have to look too closely to see where Kodak trimmed things to get the EasyShare Z915′s price so low: a small LCD, no Schneider-Kreuznach lens, plastic body components, AA-size alkaline batteries, and no HD movie capture, among a couple other things, I’m sure. Nothing seems to be a deal breaker at its price, though, since you still get good photo quality, fast performance, lots of shooting options, and all at a reasonable price. If you’re picky about your pictures you’ll probably be disappointed. But, then again, you probably shouldn’t be considering a $170 camera in the first place.