You'd expect Kodak to cut some corners with its budget-conscious superzoom, the EasyShare Z650, and you'd be right. Unlike the more expensive Kodak EasyShare Z612, which includes a 12x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilisation, the EasyShare Z650 comes with a 10x optical, 38mm-to-380mm (35mm equivalent), f/2.8-to-f/3.7 lens without image stabilisation.
On the one hand, the fast maximum aperture of the EasyShare Z650's lens makes it useful for low-light shooting, but we expect to find image stabilisation on a camera with such a long zoom lens.
One-handed shooting is definitely possible with the prominent, rubber-accented right-hand grip, though we found that our little fingers were left dangling uncomfortably. A rubber ring on the lens barrel provides a perfect left-hand grip, which should help when shooting at longer focal lengths. Dedicated buttons for flash, macro/landscape mode and drive mode sit on top of the grip, along with the shutter button and on/off switch.
All other controls, including the mode dial, are on the camera's back. A small five-way joystick in the middle of the mode dial lets you navigate and select from the easy to navigate menu system. Depending on the mode you choose, the joystick also lets you change camera settings on the LCD, including shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation and ISO. Strangely, program, aperture- and shutter-priority, and manual modes all occupy one spot on the mode dial and can be selected using the LCD in the same manner as the aforementioned settings.
Metering options include multipattern, centre-weighted and spot, and they can be tweaked with as much as plus or minus 2EV exposure compensation. Focus can be set to multizone, centre-spot or full auto, but manual focus is not available. As with most of the cameras in Kodak's Z series, sensitivity ranges from ISO 80 to ISO 400, with a boost mode that gives you ISO 800 at a reduced resolution of 1.7 megapixels.
Video lovers should note that this camera's video-capture mode can serve up only 11fps at 640x480 pixels, or 20fps at 320x240 pixels. Either way, that's well short of the 30fps of regular TV, making for choppy video if you choose to use that feature.
With the exception of shutter lag, the Kodak EasyShare Z650 was slow in our lab tests. It took 3.6 seconds to start up and capture its first image and 3.6 seconds between images thereafter without flash. With flash, it took 3.9 seconds between shots. Shutter lag measured 0.4 seconds on our high-contrast test pattern and 1 second on the low-contrast pattern. The camera fared slightly better on continuous shooting, capturing VGA-size images at 5fps, slowing to 2.5fps when capturing 6.1-megapixel images.
Auto white balance yielded a slightly warm image with the tungsten lights in our test lab. While the tungsten preset turned in more neutral results, they look just slightly cool. Either setting should work though, with auto preserving that touch of warmth that some people prefer for indoor shots. In general, colours looked natural, and exposures were typically accurate, though very bright whites tend to become blown out.
Noise fared slightly worse. At ISO 80, noise was minimal, with just a few speckles showing up, mostly in darker colours, and it remained well under control at ISO 100. By ISO 200, noise was obviously noticeable, and at ISO 400, it grew to the point of obscuring finer details and gave images an overall softer look. Images we shot at ISO 400 were usable as 100x150mm (4x6-inch) prints but they probably wouldn't be pleasing at larger sizes.
Casual photographers who need a long zoom lens might be happy with the Kodak EasyShare Z650, though if you plan on shooting in lower light, you are likely to want to look for a camera that has less noise at higher ISO, such as Canon's PowerShot S3IS, or at least step up to a Kodak with image stabilisation, such as the EasyShare Z612.
Additional editing by Kate Macefield