Casio EX-Z120 Review
Casio has produced yet another 1-megapixel per ounce digicam with its 7.2-megapixel, 7 ounce (batteries and memory included) EX-Z120. A member of Casio's Exilim Zoom series, the EX-Z120 is a feature-rich, moderately-priced camera that incorporates a 2-inch LCD monitor and 3x optical zoom into its compact metal body. Its Easy Rec (automatic) and Best Shot scene modes will help beginners capture pleasing snapshots, and its Snapshot mode adds control of ISO, Exposure compensation and White Balance settings. Unlike most in its class, the EX-Z120 includes the manual, aperture-priority and shutter-priority exposure modes demanded by experienced photographers.
The ergonomics of the EX-Z120 were good, with enough space to place your thumb without interfering with any controls. Unlike ultra slim cameras, the EX-Z120 was easy to use with one hand. My only two issues with the EX-Z120's body were with the plastic tripod socket and the difficulty of removing the SD memory card. The latter may not be a problem for those who use the camera's USB port for downloading and do not remove the memory card.
The menu system is logically organized and easy to navigate. The camera features a 2-inch LCD which is used for composing, reviewing captured images and navigating the menu system. It was quite usable in most outdoor conditions, with only direct reflections of the sun at your back obscuring the display. When using it indoors with Auto ISO, it "gains up" the live image, helping you compose your shots in dim lighting. The EX-Z120 is also equipped with an optical viewfinder, useful in very bright sunlight, for saving battery power, and for panning with a moving subject while shooting in continuous mode.
The EX-Z120 is a very responsive performer. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 2 seconds. Shutter lag, the time from depressing the shutter release and capturing the image, was essentially absent when using the optical viewfinder and only 1/10 second when using the LCD viewfinder. Autofocus delay measured 3/10 second; it can be improved to 2/10 second by activating Quick Shutter in the menu system. Rapid shooting in single-shot mode captured images at a intervals of 1.5 seconds without flash, and between 3 and 9 second with flash, depending on subject distance; you must wait for the flash to recharge, as indicated by the Operation Lamp, before depressing the shutter button for the next shot. The Continuous mode captured 3 images in 1.9 seconds. During Continuous capture, the LCD viewfinder only briefly displayed the live image between exposures; you'll prefer using the optical viewfinder when following a moving subject. All tests were done using a fast 60x Patriot 2GB SD card, Snapshot mode, 3072x2304/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.
The 3x optical zoom lens produced sharp results throughout its range, although with noticeable softness in the corners at full telephoto. Its 38 - 114mm (in 35mm equivalence) focal length range is typical for a camera in this class. At 38mm, there's enough field of view for group portraits and landscapes, while its 114mm telephoto extreme will bring distant subjects a bit closer. The lens exhibits a very slight amount of chromatic aberration (purple fringing in high-contrast areas) and noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle, but the telephoto end of the zoom range is essentially distortion-free.
The overall image quality when using 7-megapixel (3072x2304) Fine mode was good. Our outdoor images were well exposed and colors were nicely saturated. Image noise was essentially absent at ISO 50 and 100, and detectable at ISO 200. While noise was noticeable throughout at ISO 400, those images were useable. Anti Shake mode is capable of boosting ISO to 1600; those images were very noisy and lacking in detail.
The autofocus system works very well in low-ambient lighting, although it would benefit from a focus-assist lamp. Its flash provides sufficient illumination for most indoor situations, seemingly more powerful than the 7.55-foot range claimed by Casio. Red eye reduction mode is effective, although the LCD viewfinder blanks between the pre-flash and exposure flash, a period of about 9/10 second; this is another example of the optical viewfinder's advantage. When shooting in Macro mode, the flash also does a good job of "throttling down" to ensure you do not over-expose your subject.
A Casio camera would be undeserving of its name without a host of "cool" features, and the EX-Z120 does not disappoint. In addition to Auto exposure mode, it has 32 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, Pastel and Illustration. Business Card mode allows you to capture images at an angle or bad perspective, then correct the images in-camera to make the perspective as if you had shot the picture dead on to the subject. The High Sensitivity Best Shot mode will boost ISO to as high as 1600 when necessary; it will allow you to get the shot in dim lighting, but image quality suffers.
The EX-Z120's movie mode was average for a camera in its class. It can record 640x480 clips at 28fps with either high quality or high compression, and 320x240 clips at 14fps. At its highest quality setting the EX-Z120 records about 1.2 megabytes per second of moving image; if you plan to record a lot of movies, be sure to get a high capacity SD memory card.
The EX-Z120 is powered by a pair of AA batteries; disposable Alkalines are included in the box. Using NiMH 2500mAh rechargeable batteries, I was able to capture about 150 shots before a low battery warning occurred. We always recommend using NiMH batteries when possible, they last longer, save you money, and you should always have an extra freshly-charged set on hand to avoid the disappointment of a unique photo op meeting a dead battery.
Bottom line - As 2005 has become 2006, Casio's Exilim EX-Z120 has pushed 7-megapixels of resolution to near entry-level affordability. With a street price of around $250, you also get very good image quality, responsive performance, very good low light AF performance and a wealth of features that will please both the beginner and experienced photographer. While its LCD is only 2-inches, that allowed Casio to equip the EX-Z120 with an optical viewfinder - a good trade-off in my opinion. Be sure to examine our Sample Photos to see what this small but resolute digicam is capable of.
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