The EX-Z57 is another 5-megapixel, 3x optical zoom "Exilim" camera from Casio and is basically identical to the EX-Z50 and EX-Z55, but adds a larger 2.7-inch LCD that covers nearly the entire back of the camera; however the addition of this massive display costs you the useful optical viewfinder found on the other models. This credit card-size "pocket rocket" is loaded with features that are usually found only on larger and more expensive digicams. There are 23 pre-programmed "Best Shot" scenes modes that optimize the camera's settings for specific shooting conditions, which allows it to be used by any member of your household. You can also opt to create your own Best Shot scene mode using the Register Favorites function.
Ergonomics are good. The controls are well placed and functional, and changing settings is a snap thanks to its user friendly menu system. Its all-metal body has a well-built feeling to it, and the camera is large enough to make one handed shooting a breeze. Its enormous 2.7-inch color LCD monitor works great outdoors in bright sun light, with only a few angles that reflected the sun and made it difficult to use; this is when an optical viewfinder would come in handy. Indoors it works well in most low ambient lighting conditions, however don't expect to use it in total darkness as the LCD does not gain up. Since the monitor is larger than most, the menu text is also bigger and more legible.
Shooting performance was very robust. From power up to first image captured averaged 1.7 seconds, which confirms Casio's claim of extremely fast start-up times. This is pretty amazing when you consider it has to extend the lens and boot up. The all important shutter lag is almost non-existent at less than 1/10 of a second when pre focused and only 2/10 of a second including autofocus. The shot-to-shot delay averaged just under 2 seconds without the use of the flash and 3.8 seconds with the flash. The EX-Z57 does not offer a continuous or burst mode. Our tests were done using a High-speed ATP 1GB SD card, SnapShot mode, Large/Fine size/quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Image quality of its 5-megapixel Fine mode was excellent for a camera in this class. The majority of our outdoors samples were very sharp and well saturated, however some were slightly overexposed. This is easily fixed by using a little exposure compensation. There was very little noise in high contrast (open blue sky) areas as well as low contrast (shadow) areas, however I did see an average amount of chromatic aberration (purple fringing around extreme highlights.) Its Pentax 3x optical zoom lens covers a 35mm equivalent range of 35-105mm, with moderate barrel distortion at full wide angle but almost no pin cushioning at full telephoto. Its zoom mechanism was quick and smooth as it goes from wide angle to telephoto in six steps.
Indoors it also performs well. Considering it lacks a focus-assist lamp, the AF system does an excellent job of focusing in low ambient lighting. Our indoor samples were sharp, well exposed, and skin tones appear natural. Its flash and 35mm wide angle equivalent zoom range are sufficient for most indoor situations; but don't expect to illuminate the entire dance floor or reception hall. We achieved the best results shooting portraits of individuals or small groups. However, due to the position of the flash (just above the lens), you will notice that the majority of your "people" shots will have traces of Red eye, even when using its Red Eye Reduction mode. But a few seconds in any image editor/viewer will take care of this problem. The EX-Z57 also features a movie mode that allows you to capture motion video at 320x240 (15 fps) with audio. Overall our movie samples were good with the AF system having no trouble keeping up with fast moving subjects but it does show some compression noise. The only annoyance I found was its microphone picks up even the slightest breeze.
Power is supplied by a proprietary lithium battery that's charged in-camera whenever it's placed in the included docking cradle. Casio claims that the NP-40 3.7v 1230 mAh battery pack will allow you to capture up to 400 shots, and has a continuous playback time of over 7 hours. We had no problems capturing all of our sample photos and concluding our other tests before the battery was close to being exhausted. As always, we recommend the purchase of a second pack and keep it charged at all times; there's nothing more aggravating than missing a photo opt due to a dead battery. The EX-Z57 only has 9.3MB of internal memory, so you will need to consider purchasing a larger SD card. Currently a high-speed 1GB SD card (like the one we tested it with) can be had for $100 or less and will serve you well.
Bottom line - Casio has done it again with the Exilim EX-Z57. We feel it will make an excellent choice for anyone in the market for a digicam with great image quality, speedy performance, and a durable metal body that can be slipped into almost any size pocket or purse. Its 5-megapixel Fine images have plenty of resolution to create photo-quality 13x19-inch prints. Not bad for just $399! If you need higher quality movies and greater zoom capabilities, check out our review of the Exilim Pro EX-P505.
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