Casio EX-Z600 Review
New for 2006, the EX-Z600 and EX-Z60 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-Z600 differs by including a larger 2.7-inch (versus a 2.5-inch) LCD screen, AF-assist lamp to assist in accurate focusing while in low lighting, stylish as well as a slightly different body design.
I was very pleased with the EX-Z600's ergonomics. This is a very compact model that measures 3.48"(W) x 2.24"(H) x .81"(D), comparable to a deck of playing cards. Despite the size, it fits well in your hands, even those of us with large hands, and I especially like the zoom control mounted around the shutter release. The various other controls are also well placed and functional. There's a small amount of space between the Menu/BS buttons and the Record/Playback controls to place your thumb without interfering with any buttons. The onscreen menu system was very easy to navigate, and I had no troubles making quick changes to camera settings. The large 2.7-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 almost 3/4 of the back of the camera. I found it works well outdoors, but still has a reflective coating that helps to deter the sun's rays from several different angles. The coating is also very prone to finger prints; so plan on cleaning it off with your T-shirt quite often. When shooting in marginal lighting conditions, the LCD display "gains up," which is very helpful for framing your shots in these conditions.
The EX-Z600 is yet another blazing fast Casio model. Power up to first image captured measured an astonishing 1.1 seconds! Shutter lag, the time from depressing the shutter release and capturing the image, was instantaneous when pre-focused, and about 1/10 of a second including autofocus. Rapid shooting in single drive mode captured images at intervals of 1 second without flash, and between 2.2 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 3.6 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 4/10 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 Lexar Professional (133x) 1GB 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.
Image quality was a mixed bag. Outdoors it produced pleasing photos that were sharp and well exposed. Colors are nicely saturated, and noise levels were low as long as the camera is using an ISO speed of 100 or lower. However our indoor ambient light shots of the M&M man were troubling. Its 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 M&M man photo at 100%, there is so much noise that it almost looks like some sort of PhotoShop tool 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. When shooting flash portraits, you will have to work within the range of the flash, which Casio claims can cover 9 feet at wide angle (ISO Auto.) While I found it was sufficient for most indoor portraits, it does not have to power to illuminate open rooms. Our close-up portraits were good, showing sharp facial details, and pleasing skin tones.
The EX-Z600's 3x optical zoom helped in producing sharp images throughout its 38 - 114mm (equivalent) zoom range. Although our samples are nice and sharp at the center, it did exhibit some softness at the edges. Its focal range is typical for a camera in this class. At 38mm, there's enough field of view for group portraits and landscapes, while its telephoto end is good for filling the frame during portrait photography and bringing distant subjects a bit closer. I saw noticeable traces of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) around brightly lit objects as well as noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle.
Like its predecessors, the EX-Z600 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 or 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, the AF system did a good job of keeping up with moving subjects, and its microphone didn't pick up offensive wind noise even during the slightest breeze. Compression noise was average, and I found that the Anti-Shake system did help reduce camera shake when recording movies without using a camera support.
The EX-Z600 is powered by a small 3.7-volt 1300mAh NP-40 rechargeable Lithium Ion battery, which is charged in-camera when placed in the included camera dock. Using CIPA Standards, Casio claims a battery life of approx. 550 shots or 275 minutes of continuous playback on a fully charged pack. I had no problems capturing all of our samples (over 100 shots) and concluded all of our other tests on a single charge.
Bottom line - the Casio Exilim EX-Z600 is a feature-rich, 6-megapixel model that offers
amazing performance, loads of useful exposure modes, and good image quality. The only real
issue I had with the camera was the degrading effects of its Anti-Shake mode - it often uses a
very high ISO setting and produces noisy images. However, as long as you are using it in
plenty of ambient light, you will not see any of these negative effects. That said, I feel
with a street price of $299, it offers a great value for an "ultra-compact" 6-megapixel model
that is packed with a handful of "cool" features.
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