Casio EX-Z70 Review
Building on the success of the EX-Z60 from earlier this year (2006), Casio has introduced the EX-Z70, yet another entry in this "ultra-compact" line of Exilim Zoom cameras. The Z70 offers almost an identical feature set to its sibling, with the only improvement being resolution has been increased to 7.2-megapixels (compared to 6-megapixels.) Both models share a 3x optical zoom lens, Anti-Shake DSP technology, 2.5-inch LCD, 640x480 (VGA) movie mode, 33 "Best Shot" exposure modes, all in a durable metal body. This is a point-n-shoot model that can be used by just about anyone. There's the "Easy mode" for the inexperienced users who don't want to fuss with any settings as well as various scene specific, fully automatic modes that help users capture pleasing photos in a variety of different shooting environments. And, the novice user will appreciate the added control of the Auto (Program AE) mode, with options for ISO, White balance, Metering, Focus, etc.
The Z70's ergonomics are identical to its predecessor. This is a very compact camera, measuring only 3.8 in. (W) x 2.4 in. (H) x 0.78 in. (D) (95.2 x 60.6 x 19.8mm). However, despite being so small, I found it still fit well in my hands when using the "pinch" technique. The various controls are well placed and functional, and 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 portion of the back of the camera. I found it worked well outdoors, however, there are still many angles which reflect the 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.
Shooting performance was Ok for a camera in this class. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 1.4 seconds. Shutter lag, the time from depressing the shutter release and capturing the image, was instantaneous when pre-focused, and less than 1/10 of a second including autofocus. Rapid shooting in single drive mode captured images at intervals of 2.1 seconds without flash, and between 2.9 and 3.5 seconds with flash, depending on your subject's distance.
You can choose from three continuous capture or burst modes (Normal, High Speed, Flash Cont.) Normal mode was disappointing, and allowed me to capture 5 images in about 6.5 seconds. While High Speed mode captured frames in only 5/10 of a second. Flash Continuous mode was also very robust, capturing 3 frames in only 8/10 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 1GB SD card, Auto recording mode, 7M 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 when using 7m Fine mode was Ok for a 7-megapixel model. The majority of our outdoor samples showed good overall exposure, and color balance. I did notice that on very sunny days, the sky was a bit overexposed in some of our shots, taking away from sky detail. The Z70 features a 3x optical zoom, that covers a 35mm equivalent range of approx. 38 - 114mm. While helping to produce sharp images throughout the focal range, there was some noticeable edge softness. However, this is typical for consumer models, and something you'll likely not see unless you are critically examining your photos. This lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion at full wide angle, and only slight pincushioning at the telephoto end. Image noise levels are average, becoming more noticeable when the sensitivity is increased past ISO 200. There was also noticeable amounts of purple fringing (also known as Chromatic Aberrations) around brightly lit objects.
The Anti-Shake system on both the Z60 and Z70 are designed to allow users to capture useable photos in marginal lighting conditions by boosting the ISO speed, which in turn, lets you use a slower shutter speed than normal. One issue we had with the Z60 was that the Anti-Shake mode produced so much noise, that our samples looked like they had been transformed into a water color painting. While the Z70 has improved, the noise level is still very high when using ISO 800. You can see what I mean by taking a look at the samples page. Like we said with the Z60, while 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. Using the Portrait "BestShot" mode produced pleasing results. Indoors or in low ambient lighting, you'll have to work with the short range of the flash (about 12 ft. at wide angle, ISO auto.) You also have to remember that the more you zoom, the less effective the flash will be. I was able to capture nice indoor portraits shooting from about 5 or 6 feet away, using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range. Overall, our portraits showed good flash exposure and pleasing skin tones.
Like all consumer digicams these days, the Z70 allows you to record video. There are three resolutions to choose from HG 640x480 (30fps), Normal 512x384 (30fps) or LP 320x240 (15fps.) The optical zoom may not be used during recording, however, you can preset it before starting. Our movie mode results were good, with samples showing low compression artifacts, and the exposure and AF systems did well with moving subjects.
Power is supplied 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. According to Casio, this pack can power the Z70 for up to 200 shots (using CIPA standards) or 230 minutes of continuous playback on a fully charged pack. I had no problems capturing all of our samples (over 60 shots) and concluded all of our other tests on a single charge.
Bottom line - I was a little disappointed with this latest addition to Casio's Exilim Zoom line. While image quality is up to par with many other manufacture's 7-megapixel models, the obvious Anti-shake high ISO noise issue and the average shooting performance might turn many users away. Therefore, with an MSRP of about US$250, I feel the EX-Z70 offers an Ok value for an "ultra-compact" 7-megapixel model.
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