By Josh Fate
This extremely compact camera will fit comfortably into a large pocket or small purse, making it easy to keep with you at any time. Operation of the camera is very easy, either with one hand or two via the "pinch" technique. The compact controls on the back can be difficult for anyone with large fingers, but allow for quick and easy navigation of the menu's and settings. Framing your shots and viewing your images is accomplished thanks to the camera's 2.7-inch LCD screen, which appears huge on the back of such a small camera. The screen is very bright, but it is very reflective and can be hard to see in bright lighting.
Performance from the Z90 is OK for an entry level camera, and falls right in line with rest of Casio's "Z" series. When turning the camera on, 2.3 seconds will elapse before the camera is able to capture its first image. It's shutter lag, the time between pressing the shutter release and when the camera actually captures the image, is less than 1/10 of a second when the camera is pre-focused. When allowing the auto-focus to work, the shutter lag can take anywhere between 3/10 of a second and 1.0 second, depending on light, distance and the zoom. The camera's shot-to-shot delay is 2.64 seconds or if you are using the flash 3.28 seconds.
This camera also comes equipped with three continuous shooting modes. First, normal continuous allows the camera to capture 5 images in 12.7 seconds and 15.4 seconds when using the flash, which is barely faster than using the camera in single shot mode. The only advantage is you do not have to let up of the shutter release. High Speed continuous is capable of capturing 8 images in just 2.0 seconds, a frame rate of 4fps. The only drawback to this is the camera is only capturing a 2-Megapixel image. The same is true for the final continuous shooting mode, flash continuous, which can capture 3 images in just 1.3 seconds with the flash firing each time. All of our tests were completed using a SanDisk Ultra II, 1GB SD memory card, Auto shooting mode, Auto ISO, flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.
Image quality from the Z90 is a little disappointing as you can see in our outdoor image samples. Although they show very good exposures and realistic colors, they display a higher than normal amount of noise, especially for an image captured at ISO 64. You will also see aberrations in a lot of the high contrast areas in all of the photos. The camera's 3x optical zoom lens has a 35mm equivalent of 35-105mm, which works well for shooting individual and group portraits. It does OK for shooting landscapes, but doesn't have the wide zoom range that most compact digicams now include. The telephoto end of the zoom is a very useful tool when it comes to creating your composition, but does not get you very close to distant objects. At the wide end of the zoom, you will see some barrel distortion and aberrations throughout the zoom range.
Our indoor samples show the same problems with noise as our outdoor images. Our M&M man shots make it easier to see the amount of noise in the ISO 64 images and how the noise really takes the sharpness and fine detail out of the image. ISO 400 is the highest that you will want to use while shooting, as ISO 800 and 1600 have lost a lot of the image's detail. The auto white balance also struggled under our tungsten lights, leaving us with a yellow tint. Macro mode also produced terrible results when using the auto white balance both with and without the flash. The Z90's built-in flash has a range of up to 12-feet at ISO auto, which falls to less than 6-feet when using ISO 64. Our flash sample shows the camera at mid-telephoto zoom and ISO 64 from 6-feet away, which is clearly underexposed.
Casio's portrait shooting mode and face detection software helps to capture sharp, well exposed faces under the right conditions. As long as the face is still and facing the camera, the face detection works very well, but it struggles a bit if the faces move or turn. Along with the face detection comes the red-eye reduction flash, which you can see in our Portrait sample, did not work very well. The camera's selection of ISO 400 softens the face but really takes away from the detail of the rest of the image.
Shooting movies with the Z90 is incredibly easy and thanks to the one-touch record button. No matter what shooting mode you have the camera in, it is always ready to start recording. Another exciting feature is the camera's ability to capture 720p HD video along with the standard 640x480 and 320x240 settings. Both of our sample videos, 720 and 480, show a little noise throughout the video. Playback of the 720 sample is very choppy due to the 24fps compared to the 30fps of the 480 movie. As you can hear in our samples, the built-in microphone is very sensitive and picks up any sounds that are around it, many of which you do not notice while you are shooting. A lot of these sounds are from furnaces and air conditioners when shooting indoors or the wind when outside. To help cut down on these sounds, try to position yourself as far away as possible from any items that make noise.
Powering the Z90 is a 3.7V, 720mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery. During our tests I was able to capture 215 images plus several movies and smaller burst images before the battery icon started flashing red. This confirms if not surpasses Casio's claims of being able to capture 230 images or 1 hour and 40 minutes of video on a single charge. Also included with the camera is an external charger, which allows you to keep a second battery charged and on hand at all times. This is a great idea if you plan on taking long day, weekend or longer trips with the camera.
Bottom Line - The Casio Exilim Z90 is not only the smallest in the "Z" line, but also includes as many if not more features than it's siblings. Sporting a 12-Megapixel imaging sensor, 3x optical zoom, Auto Scene selection, 720p HD movie mode and one touch video recording, this is one of the best equipped entry level ultra-compacts on the market. Thanks to the camera's three auto shooting modes and numerous scene modes, this is one of the easiest cameras for anyone to pick up and start shooting. The camera's performance was a little slow and the image quality could be better as well. With a MSRP of US $149.99, it is priced well for the features, but you may also want to look at the Panasonic Lumix FS25, its $100 but has much better performance and image quality.
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