Casio EX-Z1 Review
The Casio EX-Z1 (also known as the Casio EX-S5) is a new ultra-slim and stylish compact point-and-shoot digital camera. Featuring a a 10 megapixel sensor, 3x optical zoom lens and a 2.7-inch LCD screen, the Casio Z1 also offers 23 Best Shot scene modes, Face Detection, Easy Mode for beginners, electronic anti-shake, YouTube mode for uploading video and 16:9 wide-screen format movies. Available in no less than 6 different colours for a recommended price of £149.99 / $159.99, find out if the Casio EX-Z1 / EX-S5 is a great introduction to digital photography in our expert review.
Ease of Use
The Casio EX-Z1 is an extremely well-made, very compact digital camera, with a shiny metallic pink metal body (other colours thankfully available) and excellent overall finish. It's easily small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, measuring just 96.8 (W) x 56.5(H) x17.8(D) mm.
The Casio Z1 features a 3x optical zoom lens that's equivalent to a focal length of 35.5-106.5mm in 35mm terms, not the widest of zooms, but it does benefit from a longer telephoto length ideal for head and shoulder portraits. The maximum aperture is a fairly quick f/3.1 at the wide end, but a much slower f/5.8 at the other extreme of the zoom range. The EX-Z1 is very slim, making it well suited to either a trouser or shirt pocket or handbag, and it weighs just 100g without the battery or memory card fitted.
As with almost every Casio camera that we've reviewed before, the EX-Z1 is one of the better models around in terms of build quality, despite being made predominantly of plastic. The overall finish is excellent, looking and feeling much more expensive than its budget price-tag might suggest. The only minor criticism is the lack of any handgrip on the front, with just a smooth, flat finish embossed with the Exilim brand name, making it more difficult to hold than it really should be. Also, changing cards or batteries is not possible while the Z1 is mounted on a tripod, because the compartment door hinge is too close to the tripod socket.
The Casio EX-Z1 has relatively few external controls, just 10 in total, which reflects the fact that this is a simple camera in functionality terms, with very limited photographic control on offer. All the controls are clearly labeled using industry-standard symbols and terminology, with just a couple of Casio-specific buttons that require a quick read of the manual. Located on top of the EX-Z1 are the On / Off button and the tactile Zoom Lever and Shutter button. On the bottom are the tripod mount and battery compartment, which also houses the SD memory card slot.
On the rear of the EX-Z1 is the 2.7 inch LCD screen, with a number of controls to the right, including a traditional round navigation pad. You can directly access the various flash options by clicking down on the navigation pad, whilst up is used to toggle between the various Display modes (no information, shooting info, shooting info with histogram). The Set button in the middle performs two main tasks - it selects menu options, and also accesses the EX-Z1's Control Panel.
This is a vertical list of options displayed on the right of the LCD screen, which provides quick access to some of the camera's more important options, including image size, ISO speed, white balance, and exposure compensation. This system is a good compromise given the size of the camera's LCD screen and therefore the limited space for external controls. It takes a little while to get used to the presence of this on-screen list, but you can toggle it off using the Display mode if it proves too distracting.
Directly above the navigation pad are the self-explanatory Playback and Camera buttons, which switch between the two modes. Above these buttons is the very welcome inclusion of a dedicated Movie button, which makes it quick and easy to shoot a movie without missing the start of the action. The EX-Z1 can record standard quality movies at 640x480 pixels at 30fps in the AVI format, or wide-screen quality movies at 848x480 pixels at 30fps.
There are some limitations to the EX-Z1's movie mode. The AVI format choice results in some massive file sizes that quickly fill up your memory cards, and the length of a movie is bizarrely limited to only 10 minutes. The sound quality is not that great, with the usual background noise that accompanies movies shot with cameras that only have mono sound. Even worse, you can't use the optical zoom at all during movie recording (although there is a digital zoom setting available).
The Menu and Best Shot buttons are positioned below the navigation pad. The menu system on the Casio EX-Z1 is perfectly straight-forward to use. Quite a lot of the camera's main settings, such as white balance, exposure compensation and ISO speed, are accessed elsewhere, so the main menu system isn't actually that complicated. A row of 3 icons along the top of the LCD screen represent the Record, Quality and Set Up sub-menus, with most of the options being the kind that you set once and then forget about. Due to the large and bright LCD screen, the various options are easy to access and use, especially as only 6 are shown onscreen at one time.
Easy Mode is targeted at beginners, effectively setting all of the camera options apart from the flash, self-timer and image size. It's perfect for the less experienced members of the family who literally want to just piont the camera and press the shutter button. Accessed via the Best Shot button, the Casio EX-Z1 offers Auto and a comprehensive range of 23 different scene modes aimed at the user who just wants to point and shoot, making this camera particularly well-suited to the beginner.
There is a single port on the right side of the Casio EX-Z1 (when viewed from the back) which accepts both the USB interface cable required to connect the camera to a printer or computer, and the AV cable. There are no controls on the left side of the EX-Z1. Overall the camera body feels very well-designed and not at all cluttered, despite the presence of the large 2.7 inch LCD, which has a wide viewing angle from left to right, rather poor resolution of just 114,960 dots, and is visible in most conditions. There is no optical viewfinder on this model.
If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the comprehensive and fairly easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Unfortunately Casio have chosen to cut costs and only supply the full manual as a PDF on a CD, rather than in printed format. Not much use if you're taking pictures and need to find out what a particular option does.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The start-up time from turning the Casio EX-Z1 on to being ready to take a photo is quite quick at around 2 seconds, and it takes about 3 seconds to zoom from the widest focal length to the longest. Focusing is very quick in good light and the camera happily achieves focus indoors or in low-light situations, although there's no focus-assist lamp. It takes about 0.5 second to store an image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card - there is a very quick LCD blackout between each image. In Continuous mode the camera takes just 0.7 frames per second at the highest image quality, which is very slow for this class of camera, although the shooting rate is at least maintained until your memory card is full.
Once you have captured a photo, the Casio EX-Z1 has an average range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view up to 12 thumbnails onscreen at once, and zoom in and out up to 8x magnification. You can view slideshows with different effects and interval settings and set the print order and the transfer order.
You can also protect, rotate, resize, trim, and copy an image. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and white balance, and there is a small histogram available during playback which is helpful in evaluating the exposure. A third press of the Display button shows just the image with no information displayed.
In summary the Casio EX-Z1 is a stylish and well-built point-and-shoot digital camera. Now let's take a look at its image quality...