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Casio Exilim EX-Z850

Mess with success: now more megapixel at a lower price!
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

Just to give you an upfront idea on how we feel about the Casio Exilim EX-X850, its almost identical predecessor, the Exilim EX-Z750, won an earlier roundup of 13 "thin-zoom" cameras outright, and here is what we had to say about it:

Only one other camera has ever dominated a roundup of its peers as thoroughly as the Casio Exilim EX-Z750 (more on that in a future issue). This unassuming little camera simply does everything right. It may not look like a million dollars and the name "Casio" doesn't have much clout (yet) with photography snobs, but the EX-Z750 clearly comes out on top. It has that gratifyingly large 7.2 megapixel resolution, a large 2.5 inch LCD so you can actually enjoy your pictures and movies, and it has superb voice recording and playback (though the audio snaps are a bit cumbersome). The Casio also has a bunch of fun movie modes that will keep you entertained for a long time. Finally, there are tons of features, more than most others have, and there is full manual control. Oh, despite its huge bag of tricks and features, the Casio Z750 is also small and handy enough to score a near perfect 9.9 in the "tiny factor" rating.

That is quite an endorsement, and we'd fear for any camera that'd have to follow up on such a home run product. In this case, Casio changed very little and the newer Z850 is essentially the same camera. We have no idea why Casio replaced the Z750 as 7.2 megapixel is definitely not obsolete just yet. Of course, Casio also replaced the stunningly slim and attractive Exilim S500 for the S600 which is the same camera with six instead of five megapixel. Maybe it's a CCD supply issue. Unlike the S500/S600, there are a few little visual differences between the world-beater Z750 and the new Z850, but overall you get the same awesome camer, only now it has more resolution and costs less. Can't argue with that.

Even though the Z750 participated in an "ultra-slim" shootout, that term is relative. The Z850 isn't as slender as Casio's "Card" cameras. But with a thickness of about 0.9 inches, which is thin enough, and a footprint of 3.5 x 2.3 inches, just a little bit larger than a credit card. Just as it was with the Z750, the thicker body allowed Casio to include a rather beefy battery. It's a 3.7 Volt, 1,230mAh Li-Ion pack that's good for a full 440 shots using the CIPA standard. What's amazing is that this surpasses the 325 picture rating of the Z750 even though the new camera has more resolution. That's progress. If you play pictures back in a slideshow, a charge will last no less than seven hours, and you can also do over three hours of movie recording and over eight hours of voice recording.

And the Z850 puts this long battery life to good use. Like most other Casios, this camera excels in the audio and video departments. You can, of course, record 640 x 480 clips at 30 frames per second and in the high quality MPEG4 format until your card is full, and you can zoom in and out during recording as well as during playback. The Z850 has what is called "Past Movie" and "Short Movie" modes. With "Past Movies" the camera continuously records the action but without saving it all; it just keeps the last eight seconds or so in memory. So if something happens -- like a goal is scored or the baby does something cute -- you push the record button and, even though you pushed it after the fact, the eight seconds leading up to the event are recorded. With "Short Movies" the camera also watches, then saves the four seconds before you pushed the shutter and the four seconds after. This is simply too clever and incredibly useful. Against that, the "Silent Movie" mode that records in black and white and speeds up the action so everything looks like an old-time silent movie seems a bit gadgety. There are six more movie modes. These are more like optimized settings. So if you plan on shooting movies in portrait mode, of scenery, night scenes, fireworks, backlit subjects, or in low light situations, the camera picks the best settings for you.

When shooting still photos, the Z850 lets you pick from no fewer than 34 scene modes. In addition to all the basics, you get such interesting and useful ones as "natural greeen," "splashing water," "text," "for eBay," "anti shake," "pastel," cross filter," "IFD photo" that creates multiple images in typical ID sizes, "business cards" where lines are automatically straaightened, and "old photo" where faded coolors are automatically restored. Some of those modes do stuff that can easily be done in an image manipulation program, but hey, why not start with something that's already corrected?

In addition to the 34 scene modes, the Z850 also allows manual control. You get aperture and shutter priority modes, as well as full manual control of both aperture and shutter.

Like the Z750 and more and more cameras, the Z850 relies on a cradle for charging and for all cable communication with a PC. That means you have to take along the cradle wherever you go -- something else to get all tangled up or forgotten in a hotel room. With the camer's price now lower compared to its predecessor, I'd use the savings to buy a separate battery charger (about USS$50).

The Z850 has a nice 2.5-inch LCD that is more than bright enough. Its resolution, however, is only average (115k pixels), which means even if you zoom in, you can't always tell if a picture is truly sharp. Also, after having experienced the Casio S770's wide-format 2.8-inch LCD that allows for various formats and also a sidebar menu, this LCD seems no longer as satisfying as it'd have a year or two ago.

As of early December of 2006, the Exilim Z850 is no longer a new camera. It was introduced earlier in 2006, and we've been putting it through its paces for many months. It probably traveled tens of thousands of miles, and it never let us down, consistently delivering reliable performance and terrific pictures. The camera is so good that we often felt no need to take along a "big" camera; the little Exilim usually did just as well, and sometimes better. Sure, it only has a 3X optical zoom, but that's still good enough for most situations.

Perhaps a general comment about cameras like the EX-Z850: they are so useful, so powerful, and so easy to carry around that many people do just that, they take them along wherever they go. The Casio can handle that and it never failed, but its solid, gleaming body does show a bit of wear and tear. It fell twice, just from a few inches, but that was enough each time to leave small scratches and dents. We love the pleasing design with its combination of chrome, brushed and powdercoat finishes, but maybe a bit of old-fashioned protection might make sense. As is, the jewel-like body really does require a protective case, and that makes it bulkier than it has to be. Me, I use a brightly colored woven "sock" that is meant to be used on an iPod. It works great on small cameras and cellphones as well.

We like:

  • 8.1 megapixel resolution
  • Lots of features and full manual control
  • Various high innovative and quality movie modes
  • Superb battery life
  • Excellent voice recording and playback
Not so much:
  • Jewel-like body easily scratches
  • manual mode a bit cumbersome
Specifications CASIO EX-Z850
Status Added 11/2006
Camera Type Ultra-compact
Size 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.93
Weight (oz.) 5.7 with battery
Effective Pixels 8.1 mp
CCD Type 1/1.8
Max pixel size 3264 x 2448
File formats JPEG, AVI (MPEG-4), WAV
Compression fine, normal, economy
Movie recording (best) til full, with audio @ 30 fps
Max movie pixels 640 x 480 (zoom)
Voice recording Yes + audio snaps
Lens 7 lenses, 5 groups
Focal length 7.9-23.7mm (38-114mm)
Zoom (optical/digital) 3X/8X
Aperture f/2.8 - f/8
Focus modes A/M/macro, lock
Focus minimum/macro 4 inches, 1.3 feet
Shutter speed 1/1600 to 60 sec
Sensitivity (ISO) auto/50/100/200/400
Autofocus system contrast type: spot/multi/center; AF assist light
Metering multi-pattern
White-balance modes auto, A/S/M, 6 presets
Shooting modes auto, 6 best/A/S/movie, voice
Exposure compensation +/-2EV in 1/3 steps
Viewfinder Type optical
LCD size 2.5" LCD (115k) (480x240)
LCD type outdoor viewable
LCD construction fixed
Flash type built-in
Flash range up to 14 feet
Flash modes 6 (auto, on, off, high-power, soft, red-eye reduction)
Camera internal memory 8.0MB
Storage Medium SD/MMC
I/O USB "B" + AV via cradle
Battery type NP40 Li-Ion (3.7V, 1230mAH)
CIPA Battery life (LCD/off) 440 images
"Estimated Price" US$349.99

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