Kodak EasyShare V610 Camera

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For a few weeks this spring, Panasonic had the world's smallest 10X optical-zoom camera. No larger than the average point-and-shoot, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 has a single compact Leica lens that can crawl right up someone's nose, or at least up to it, at 20 paces. Though Panasonic's $350 camera is still available, Kodak has just usurped Panasonic's title of world's smallest 10X zoom camera.

The EasyShare V610 looks, at a glance, like other compact point-and-shoot cameras. Only a bit larger than an iPod and hardly thicker than a deck of cards, it has a spacious 2.8-in. LCD screen. However, as you power it up, the front cover slides open and you realize something strange is going on: the V610 has two lenses.

The V610 is not the first two-lens camera from Kodak. It follows closely on the heels of the EasyShare V570, launched in January. The V570 uses its second lens for ultra wide-angle shots four people crammed into a chair lift, for example. The V610, as you can guess, has a telephoto lens as its Number Two, to achieve super zoom.

The results are surprising. I haven't been crazy about Kodak cameras' picture quality of late, but the 6-megapixel V610 took some terrific pictures. Outdoors at full zoom, shots were crisp and clear. Indoors, where Kodak's compact cameras tend to have more trouble, shots came out clean, without the blurring or graininess that sometimes occurs. In fact, I tested the Kodak alongside the chunkier Panasonic's Lumix TZ1, and the Kodak outperformed the TZ1 shot for shot. I was not expecting that.

Compact size is not the only reason Kodak's 10X camera lists for $100 more than Panasonic's. The V610 also has built-in Bluetooth, for transferring photos to nearby cell phones or computers. In the past I've had some hard times with Bluetooth file transfers, especially from a phone to a Windows PC. This time I was able to send full-resolution shots from the camera to a Bluetooth-enabled iMac on my first try. It only took seconds. If you're sending shots to a phone, you have the option of downgrading them to QVGA or XVGA resolution, or send at the full six megapixels.

Kodak has been earning respect for innovation and ease of use — this camera not only embodies both, but it takes pretty good pictures, too. And that's a nice thing, for a camera.