My search for the ideal digital camera is over. Having written a wish list for optimum still digicam features nearly a year ago, I spent every month since then reading about and testing as many models as possible, a total of several dozen.
David Pogue introduced me to Casio’s diminutive Exilim in his New York Times Circuits column from last June. With a review unit now in my possession for a month, I am sold. If you can actually obtain this or a similar Exilim for under $300, you will be glad you took the plunge. It is exceptionally small, well-designed, and easy to operate – especially all the menu features and settings.
I didn’t receive an instruction manual at first, so I had to figure out how to set up and use the darn thing by the seat of my pants. Within a few minutes I was taking top-quality photos, and I’ve only used the instructions (received a week later) to fine-tune my self-taught knowledge.
Casio provides a seven language Basic Reference printed mini manual. It has fifteen pages per language of quickie setup instructions covering package contents, battery insertion and charging, USB operation, and a surprisingly comprehensive amount of menu and LCD settings plus other info for the intrepid new owner who is able to follow written instructions. Nemo says: disregard this little guide at your own peril.
EX-Z50 ships with a small built-in memory capacity, sufficient for a handful of digital photos in an emergency, such as a faulty or missing memory module. SD cards are required for this line of cameras. SD’s are affordable in every size, and I located two for the price of less than one, with the help of generous rebates. I have already benefitted from Exilim’s 9MB of internal memory for trouble-free snapshots in a pinch, while awaiting delivery of my SD cards.
An enormous complete manual of more than 200 pages in each language comes on an included CD that also contains cross-platform software for using an Exilim. My advice is to print out all pertinent PDF pages from the manual and to ignore the Casio software. In OS X the camera icon mounts on your desktop and images are easily imported and edited via Apple’s free, versatile iPhoto. In OS 9, desktop mounting and image access are equally simple, and Adobe’s bargain Photoshop Elements is far superior to bundled applications from Casio or any other camera manufacturer. No software installation is required for Mac OS (either OS 9 or X).
Toll-free phone seven-day numbers are provided for tech support calls or repair requests, as are web sites with links for support and registration. Speaking of URL’s, I intended to provide a list of specifications for EX-Z50, but they are so numerous that the dedicated web address at the top of this page will give you more than you ever wanted to know. Here it is again:
With somewhat small but agile middle age fingers (and middle age eyeballs), I’m not usually a fan of all the menu and display and flash and zoom and trash and review and push buttons crammed onto the rear real estate on pip-squeak digital cameras. Recent attempts to master comparably compact cameras from Pentax, Nikon, and Sony left me with a wish that my dog would bury them in a spot to be discovered in the next millennium. Casio somehow places each button or rocker switch in just the right location, with just the right visual and physical response when required, plus no unpleasant surprises (unlike the Pentax, which has its on/off switch in the perfect spot to be pressed when the user thinks it’s the shutter release).
EX-Z50 is very small, but it’s constructed of highest quality metal and glass, for a substantial handhold. Twelve teensy weensy machine screws hold the body together with impressive stability. In a shirt or pants pocket the camera is lightweight enough to be almost imperceptible, with no sharp edges or clumsy bulges. The included wrist strap is secure, yet pathetically small, so you should invest in a larger, thicker neck strap for serious drop-free photography.
Exilim’s versatile triple-function USB bus-powered cradle enables users to quickly insert the camera and then choose image transfer into computer, or LCD viewing, or charging via an included ultra-lightweight electrical cable. I was not previously a proponent of camera cradles, but now that I’ve used the best in the business, I accept their benefits.
All photos taken with my review unit are either very good or excellent in quality, with acceptable image “noise” under adverse lighting conditions, and even illumination in every shot. Startup time is rapid, and first-shot lag is the least I’ve experienced in anything less than a jumbo digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera. Focusing is swift, as is shutter response. A typical pause between photos is necessary to allow for the image to be read by the memory card. Exilim’s 3X standard zoom is not precise in its focusing, but it does its job quickly and quietly. The usually-dreaded digital zoom is good enough to use in a situation when no computer is available for proper image editing.
The flash has a decent range and spread, and it blasts off in short order, as you would expect given my previous comments on the engineering and specs of EX-Z50. Switching between different flash modes is easier than describing the the process, as is deleting image files when their in-camera time has come and gone.
On the bottom of the chassis is a sliding trap door covering the SD memory card slot and Casio’s proprietary long-life, multi-shot, low-dispersal battery. Remaining bottom space has a secure, metal tripod socket and the tiny interface that inserts into the aforementioned featherweight docking unit.
A massive (given available space) high-definition LCD rear display is an impressive standard feature on Exilim cameras. In bright outdoor Arizona sunshine, the screen’s viewability is adequate, and under all other lighting conditions it excels. The miniscule old-style eyeball rangefinder does not warrant much commentary or usefulness, except when outdoor brightness is overwhelming.
MyMac.com will not be evaluating this camera’s ability to print directly onto compatible printers, because we don’t have such a model available, and we always prefer using a computer and Photoshop software for best printed reproduction. Casio includes other enhancements that we will cover in future, such as movie mode, so check back in 2005 for our ratings on subsequent developments in this camera lineup (usually announced mid-January) and production cycle.
What’s my favorite feature? Ignore the on/off switch on top, and instead press the bold red camera icon button above the LCD screen, and in less than two seconds you are ready to take photos, having seen the battery level, image size and photo settings, date, time, and a couple more bits of data. Then press your shutter release and quickly you’re able to continue the process, having observed a brief glance at your completed photo. Then switch back and forth in an instant between camera and preview modes, because the green preview icon button is adjacent to the red camera icon button. No other pocket digital camera combines so many obvious, straightforward niceties, from my experience. Second favorite is Exilim’s macro mode – totally a class act, even in close range flash photography. Wowzer.
Would I buy Casio’s Exilim EX-Z50 today? Yes, as quickly as it takes to switch it on and fire off a couple of photos. Would I worry that a newer, snazzier model will make this one obsolete? Ha! You should see my closet full of Nikon dinosaurs, all going strong. Do I give it our highest recommendation? With the tiny concern about its complete manual living on a CD in Acrobat Reader PDF format, all photographic and user operations and image results deserve special praise and our MyMac.com rating of 5 out of 5. Keep ’em coming, Casio, and thanks for allowing us to continue to borrow this camera for live action photos from San Francisco’s Macworld Expo early next month.