Casio EX-Z3 Review
The EX-Z3 is Casio's first Exilim camera with an optical zoom lens and follows their very popular EX-S1 and EX-S2 models. These cameras are ultra-compact with the height and width of a credit card, they are called "wearable" cameras and fit easily in shirt or pants pockets. The camera body is metal clad for durability and all of the Exilims feature a large and bright two-inch color LCD monitor. We see this camera as a perfect companion for tourists, those into outdoor activities or anybody looking for a very small yet capable digicam. With a three-megapixel imager the EX-Z3 has enough resolution to create photo quality prints up to 8x10" size.
The Z3 is a robust performer. With the startup screen disabled the camera is ready to take the first shot in under three seconds. If you prefer to see the animated Exilim startup screen it takes a little over five seconds to "boot up." There is no sequential drive mode, exposure options include Single Frame, Best Shot scene and Movie mode. With the camera set to Large/Fine quality it captures a shot and is ready for the next shot in three seconds which includes a brief post-capture preview if the color LCD is turned on. If the mode switch is in the Play position it takes only two seconds to power up and display the last image captured. Going from one picture to the next picture in Play mode is virtually instantaneous. Pressing the Zoom button to magnify the picture requires about two seconds between zoom steps and there's a brief delay when you scroll up, down, left or right, it isn't the "smooth" type of scrolling. Pressing the Wide button displays nine thumbnail images per page and this is done very quickly, from here you can jump to any picture desired quickly.
The Best Shot exposure mode is what other makers call the Scene mode. Here you have 21 pre-programmed scenes to assist in getting the best possible picture in a variety of ordinary and unusual shooting conditions. The standard Best Shot scenes include: Portrait, Scenery, Portrait w/Scenery, Coupling Shot, Pre-Shot, Children, Candlelight Portrait, Party, Pet, Flower, Natural Green, Sundown, Night Scene, Night Scene Portrait, Fireworks, Food, Text, Collection, Monochrome, Retro (Sepia) and Twilight. Users can also create their own Best Shot scenes and store them using the Register Favorites function. These Best Shot modes make use of some of the Z3's unique capabilities such as color filters, multi-exposures, macro focus, slow shutter and slow-sync flash.
One of the most impressive features of the Z3 is the large 2-inch color LCD monitor. Most ultra-compact cameras use smaller 1.5-inch monitors and that extra half an inch makes a big difference. Not all of us have the eyes of teenagers anymore and the menu text and icons on those 1.5" and 1.6" monitors are difficult if not impossible to see. Casio uses larger text and icons and I found this LCD to be an absolute pleasure to view. It is also noticeably easier to view outside in the bright sunshine although for best battery life you should keep the display off as much as possible and use the optical viewfinder to frame your shots. Casio claims the NP-20 will power the camera for 1 hour and 50 minutes in playback or 1 hour and 5 minutes (approx. 390 shots) in record mode. If the camera isn't used it turns off the color LCD in one minute, a tap of the shutter button turns it back on until another minute passes and then it powers down completely and retracts the lens. As with all cameras that use a proprietary battery, we recommend the purchase of a second battery, you can't power this camera from any other source. The battery is charged in-camera when it's placed in the docking cradle.
We also recommend purchasing either a Secure Digital or MultiMedia Card as the internal 10MB of memory is sufficient only when shooting in 640x480 or 1280x960 size. We tested the Z3 using both a 128MB MMC card and a 256MB SD card so we can say confidently that either type may be used with this camera. Today's prices make it easy to buy a big memory card, a quick scan at Deal Time shows SanDisk 128MB SD cards selling for $39 - $67 and 256MB cards for $65 - $100. There's a gigantic jump in pricing for the new 512MB size SD cards so if you need this much capacity it's way cheaper to go with two 256MB size cards.
I like the design and ergonomics of this camera. Many small cameras are poorly engineered and no matter how you try to hold them your finger blocks the flash, covers the microphone or the tiny buttons are impossible to operate. The Z3 fits well even in my larger than average size hand and I had no trouble using the 4-way controller and making menu selections with the separate SET button. I hate those small 4-way controls that you have to press straight-in to "OK" a selection, most of the time you go Up, Down, Left or Right instead. The zoom buttons and the menu and display buttons are quite small but I had no trouble using them. As previously stated, the 2" color LCD makes using the menus a delight rather than an eye-straining chore. The build quality is excellent, the Z3 looks and feels like a high-quality photographic device.
The overall image quality is very good. The only weakness is in low light with no flash. Our non-flash test shot of the M&M Guy was too dark no matter what settings I used. The longest shutter speed is one second and even at ISO 200 it just wasn't enough. Other than that this is a great camera for indoor snapshots if you stay within the 2.3m range of the flash. And it's excellent for all types of outdoor daylight pictures. One of the most useful features of the Z3 is its ability to create HTML-based photo albums. For those travelling the World Time and Calendar features are also handy. Out of the current crop of ultra-compact 3-megapixel zoom cameras we put the EX-Z3 at the top of our list followed closely by the Olympus Stylus Digital 300 and the Pentax OptioS.
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