Casio EX-Z60 Review
New for 2006, the EX-Z60 and EX-Z600 are the latest entires in Casio's "ultra- compact" Exilim Zoom line. While both models share many features like a 6-megapixel imager, 3x optical zoom lens, Anti-Shake technology, durable all metal construction, VGA (640x480) movie mode, and 33 "Best Shot" exposure modes. The EX-Z60 differs by including a smaller 2.5-inch (versus a 2.7-inch) LCD screen and it does feature Audio/Video output in both record and playback mode as well as a slightly different body design.
The EX-Z60's ergonomics are good. This model is very compact measuring only 3.75"(W) x 2.39"(H) x .78"(D), and despite this model's small size, it still fits well in your hands. The various controls are well placed and functional. There's a small amount of space between the Record/Playback buttons and the Zoom controls to place your thumb without interfering with any buttons. The onscreen menu system was very easy to navigate, allowing for quick changes to camera settings. The 2.5-inch LCD is the only viewfinder on the camera, and is used for composing your shots, reviewing captured images and navigating the menu system. This is a high-quality display that occupies a large proportion of the back of the camera. I found it worked well outdoors, however, there are still many angles which reflect sun, and the display's coating is also very prone to finger prints. Indoors, the display "gains up," which is crucial when composing your shots in these marginal lighting conditions.
Like its brother, the EX-Z60 is a very robust performer. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 1.5 seconds. Shutter lag, the time from depressing the shutter release and capturing the image, was instantaneous when pre-focused, and only 1/10 of a second including autofocus. Rapid shooting in single drive mode captured images at intervals of 1.3 seconds without flash, and between 2.3 and 3 seconds with flash, depending on your subject's distance.
This model offers three continuous capture or burst modes to choose from (Normal, High Speed, Flash Cont.) Normal mode allowed me to capture 5 images in about 3.8 seconds. While High Speed mode captured 3 frames in only 4/10 of a second. Flash Continuous mode was also very robust, capturing 3 frames in only 5/10 of a second, with the flash (note you may also use the flash in Normal mode, but not High Speed.) The LCD viewfinder briefly displayed the live image between exposures in Normal mode, but in Both High Speed and Flash Cont., it blacked out completely; this is where an optical viewfinder would be nice. All tests were done using a fast Lexar 2GB SD card, Auto recording mode, 6M Fine size/quality, Anti-Shake on, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless noted otherwise.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The EX-Z60 also had mixed results with the quality of its 6M Fine images. Our outdoor samples were very nice, showing good overall exposure and pleasing color saturation. Thanks in part to its 3x optical zoom, the majority of our shots were sharp, but they did exhibit some edge softness. This lens covers a 35mm equivalent range of 38 - 114mm, which is typical for a camera in this class. The 38mm wide angle extreme will afford pleasing outdoor landscapes and group shots, while its telephoto range will help produced nice close-up portraits. I saw noticeable traces of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) around brightly lit objects as well as moderate barrel distortion at wide angle.
While it did great outdoors, our indoor ambient light shots of the M&M man were disappointing. The Anti-Shake technology helps reduce the effects of camera shake and subject blurring by boosting the ISO sensitivity. Unfortunately, in lower lighting, the ISO is boosted so high that image noise becomes very noticeable. When you look at our ambient light M&M man photo at 100%, there is so much noise that it almost looks like some sort of PhotoShop effect to change a picture into a water color painting. You can see what I mean by taking a look at our samples page. Although this can be corrected by simply turning off Anti-Shake via the menu system, It kind of defeats the purpose of this technology as it was meant to be used in these low light conditions. On a better note, the EX-Z60 did very well in the portrait department. When shooting flash portraits indoors or any marginal lighting, you will have to work with in the range of the flash, which Casio claims can cover 12 feet at wide angle (ISO Auto.) I had no problems capturing our indoor portraits from about 4 to 5 feet away, using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range. Overall they showed pleasing facial detail and natural skin tones.
Like its predecessors, the EX-Z60 is loaded with helpful and "cool" features. In addition to Auto exposure mode, it has 33 Best Shot scene modes ranging from the typical Portrait, Scenery and Sports to the unusual Soft Flowing Water, Splashing Water, Text, White Board, Business Card, and even eBay. eBay mode uses a lower resolution of 2-megapixels, which allows for smaller file sizes; something very important when posting photos on the web for on-line auctions.
You can also record video at resolutions of 640x480 (HQ 30fps or Normal 15fps) and 320x240 (LP 15fps.) I was pleased with our samples, they showed the usual amounts of compression noise. Its AF system did a good job of keeping up with moving subjects and the microphone didn't pick up offensive wind noise, even while recording in a slight breeze. I found that the Anti-Shake system did help reduce camera shake when recording movies without using a camera support.
The EX-Z60 is powered by a small 3.7-volt 700mAh NP-20 rechargeable Lithium Ion battery, which is charged in the included BC-11L Lithium Ion battery charger or whenever the camera is docked in the cradle (EX-Z60DX model only.) Using CIPA Standards, Casio claims a battery life of approx. 180 shots or 90 minutes of continuous playback on a fully charged pack. I had no problems capturing all of our samples (over 80 shots) and concluded all of our other tests on a single charge.
Bottom line - Casio's Exilim EX-Z60 is yet another "ultra-compact" model to add to its ranks. With the exception of the Anti-Shake noise issue in low lighting, it offers great image quality and robust performance as well as an exposure mode for every member in your household. With a street price of $249 or less it offers an excellent value for a very pocketable 6-megapixel consumer model.
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