Casio EX-Z850 Review
Building on the success of the popular EX-Z750 from last year, Casio's new EX-Z850 is one of the many offerings in their "ultra-compact" Exilim Zoom line for 2006. It includes many of the same features found on its predecessor, like a 3x optical zoom, 2.5-inch LCD, MPEG-4 video at VGA (640 x 480, 30fps), AF- assist lamp, 9-point AF system, and 8.3MB of internal memory. However, it has improved by increasing resolution to 8-megapixels, adding a few new pre-programmed scene modes, as well as the introduction of Anti-Shake technology. As with past models, this is a fully automatic point-n- shoot that is perfect for the beginner to novice user. However, it can also appeal to those more advanced users who want to grasp more control over the exposure process, with Shutter speed priority, Aperture priority and full Manual modes.
Ergonomics are good for such a small camera. Although it is only about the size of a deck of playing cards, I found that it still fit well in my hands. With the mode dial and various other controls right at my finger tips they are very logically and comfortably placed. I especially like the Zoom control mounted around the shutter release as well as the EX button on the left hand side of the LCD. This enters a handy shortcut menu that gives access to image size, white balance, ISO and AF area. The large 2.5-inch LCD is a high-quality display. Outdoors there are still some angles which reflect the sun, thanks to its reflective coating, however, I had no problems and hardly ever found myself cupping the display. Indoors or in marginal lighting, it "gains up" the live image to help you see your subject, which is very helpful for framing in these situations. It also has an optical view finder.
I was pleased with the EX-Z850's shooting performance. Power up to first image captured measured only 1.5 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 1.3 seconds without flash, but slowed to about 2 - 3 seconds with flash, depending on your subject's distance and battery life.
You can also choose from four continuous capture or burst modes (Normal, High Speed, Flash Cont. and Zoom 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 5/10 of a second, with the flash (note you may also use the flash in Normal mode, but not High Speed.) Zoom continuos mode allows you to capture two images at different focal lengths at the same time. The LCD viewfinder briefly displayed the live image between exposures in Normal mode, but in all other modes it blacked out completely; this is where an optical viewfinder would be nice. All tests were done using a Lexar Professional 133x 2GB SD card, Auto recording mode, 8M 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.
Movie mode allows you to record MPEG-4 video clips at 640x480 (30fps) or 320x240 (15fps) with audio. The length of these clips is limited only by available memory. Anti-Shake can also be enabled, and will help reduce the effect of camera shake when shooting handheld movies. Our movie samples were Ok, showing noticeable traces of compression noise. (See below for a firmware update to improve the HQ movie mode image quality that was released after our review.)
When trying to decide which digital model to purchase, the most important factor in that equation is of course image quality. The 8MP Fine images are excellent. Every single shot we took was in sharp focus and the exposure system did well in a variety of different lighting situations. Colors are pleasing for a consumer model, and the white balance system seemed to produce accurate color temperature almost every time. The only time I saw any problems was when there was a fingerprint on the lens. This will cause your pictures to have a "haze" to them as well as looking a bit on the soft side. So make sure you check the front of the lens often. Image noise was well controlled when the ISO was at 200 or below. As with almost all compact consumer models, once you reach ISO 400 or beyond, noise is very visible. The Anti-Shake system on the EX-Z850 allows you to capture images in lower lighting without the flash, by boosting the ISO, which will give you a higher than normal shutter speed. I found it helped reduce the amount of camera shake and motion blur during our testing, but image quality does suffer sightly. However, it is much less than we have seen on many of the current Casio and other manufactures' cameras.
Our indoor results were also good. The flash has a nice range, covering up to 14 feet at wide angle. I was surprised at how well it did, especially when you compare this one to its siblings. I was able to produce pleasing results when shooting portraits from about 6 - 8 feet away. Indoors is when the Anti-Shake system really "kicks in" and if there isn't much ambient light, you will see more noise in your photos due to the higher ISO setting. But, you can only see this when viewing images at 100%, and it is very unlikely you will see anything in your typical 4x6-inch prints.
The EX-Z850 is powered by a proprietary lithium battery that's charged in-camera whenever the camera is placed in the included docking cradle. Casio claims that the NP-40 3.7v 1230 mAh battery pack will allow you to capture up to 440 shots or 220 minutes of continuous playback (following CIPA Standards.) We had no problems capturing all of our sample photos (about 140 images) and concluding our other tests and still had power to spare. As always, we recommend the purchase of a second battery, and keep it charged and ready so you won't have to worry about missing out on a unique photo opt.
Bottom line - Casio's EXilim EX-Z850 will make a great choice for anyone who wants or needs an "ultra-
compact" model with loads of useful scene modes, 8-megapixels of resolution, and robust performance, all for
a reasonable price. With the 8m Fine images, you'll have plenty of resolution to create poster size prints, or
photo-lab quality 13x19-inch prints of a cropped image. With an MSRP of $399, it does offer a great value,
however you can purchase Casio's 10-megapixel EX-Z1000 for the same price, and it
includes many of these features, plus has a large 2.8-inch LCD.
8/4/2006 - Casio EX-Z850 Firmware Upgrades
Casio releases two firmware upgrades for the Exilim EX-Z850 Zoom camera, so users can choose the HQ movie mode they desire. Both firmware updates give the EX-Z850 SDHC memory card support so it can use the new SD cards with capacities over 2GB. The differences between firmware Version 1.10 and Version 1.1B is that with Version 1.1B the HQ Mode movie quality is better, with less digital noise and smoother lines than the previous v1.0 firmware. This update also makes the field of view angle 40% narrower than the previous firmware version. Version 1.10 does not affect HQ Mode movie quality or the field of view angle.
See the Casio EX-Z850 firmware update page. Note that you can switch back and forth from one firmware version to the other but each time you face the risks involved in the firmware update process.
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