When the 10-megapixel Kodak EasyShare Z915 was announced at this year's PMA show, one feature stood out on its spec sheet: its 10x optical zoom, rarely found on compact cameras, and definitely never seen on a camera of this price.

To support its zoom range, the Kodak EasyShare Z915 uses optical image stabilisation, which worked like a charm in our testing even when subjected to severe shaking.

Though the 10x optical zoom range is impressive, it's only one of several features that make the budget-friendly Kodak EasyShare Z915 camera an outstanding bargain. Its Kodak Retinar zoom lens doesn't offer much at the wide-angle end (35mm wide angle to 350mm telephoto), but the camera's generous array of features should make it a big draw for anyone who wants to learn photography without dropping a ton of money on a megazoom camera or a digital SLR.

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The Kodak EasyShare Z915 comes through with the best range of manual controls we've seen in a camera at this price. Its shutter response is insanely (and admirably) fast, too: we were able to turn the camera on and snap a shot in about a second. You won't miss many shots with this camera.

It's a bit bulky - 107x35.7x72.4mm - but that's not entirely a bad thing. The Kodak EasyShare Z915 conveniently runs on two AA batteries, and the battery compartment on the right side of the camera body makes for a handy and stable grip. Still the EasyShare Z915 isn't the most fashionable camera on the planet. The 2.5in LCD on the back is smallish and a bit dim, but the camera has a durable, hard-plastic build.

The manual controls start with two modes traditionally found on cameras that cost £250 or more: aperture priority mode and shutter priority mode. Aperture settings are limited (F3.5, F6.2, and F8.3 only), but they enable you to experiment with different depth-of-field effects. Shutter speeds are much more extensive, ranging from 0.001 second to 16 seconds in shutter priority mode.

Along with Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes, the dial on the top of the Kodak EasyShare Z915 offers seven other mode options: Smart Capture mode optimises the camera's settings for the shooting environment; Sports mode handles fast-motion shots; Panorama mode stitches together up to three shots in-camera; Manual mode lets you adjust ISO levels, shutter speed, and aperture; Program mode allows you to adjust ISO levels and exposure compensation; Scene mode gives you 17 scene presets to choose from, including Portrait, Landscape, Beach, Snow, and Fireworks; and Video mode supports video capture.

Video mode holds another pleasant surprise. You can zoom in and out with the Kodak EasyShare Z915's big lens while you shoot movies, a rarity with point-and-shoots at any price point.

Unfortunately, video quality isn't much to email home about. The standard-definition, 640-by-480 .mov files that the Kodak EasyShare Z915 produces are fuzzy, and the auto-focus struggles mightily to adapt every time you zoom in or out.

The Kodak EasyShare Z915 has several other features that usually appear only in more-advanced, more-expensive cameras. Exposure bracketing, for instance, allows you to take three shots in rapid succession at different exposure compensation values, and then pick the best one. This is also a great camera for low-light, no-flash shots. ISO equivalency settings range from 100 to 1600, and you can also resort to an Auto ISO setting and a High ISO scene mode. With manual ISO settings at 800 and 1600, we saw virtually no noise in our test shots; the High ISO scene mode, however, did produce a bit of noise.

The Kodak EasyShare Z915's image quality is fairly high. In jury evaluations, the camera earned an overall score of Good, scoring especially well in colour reproduction and exposure quality, but noticeably worse in sharpness and distortion level. Battery life is a bit iffy: the camera took 194 shots before its AA batteries ran out, for a battery life score of Fair. Many point-and-shoots exceed 300 shots before their batteries expire.

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