Review: Casio Exilim EX-Z3
Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: August 28, 2003
August 28, 2003
Exilim EX-Z3 ($399) is an ultra-small camera with a 3X
zoom lens. The Z3 is quite similar to Pentax's Optio
S model (they share the same lens), with the main difference
being the Z3's larger LCD and thicker body. Both cameras are
high performance 3 Megapixel cameras in a nicely designed metal
those who want more resolution, Casio recently introduced the
EZ-Z4U model. It's also priced at $399, so I expect the Z3 to
drop in price soon.
this a great "take anywhere" camera? Find out now in
note that since the EX-Z3 is so similar to the EX-S3 that I
recently reviewed, some text will be reused where appropriate.
in the Box?
Exilim has a good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
3.2 (effective) Mpixel Exilim EX-Z3 camera
Lithium-ion rechargeable battery
featuring PhotoLoader software and drivers
page basic manual (printed) + full manual on CD
does not include a memory card with the EX-Z3. Rather, you get
10MB of on-board memory, plus a slot for a Secure Digital (SD)
or MultiMedia (MMC) card that you can buy separately. I recommend
picking one up right away, as 10MB doesn't hold many 3 Megapixel
you have a camera this small, you've gotta have a proprietary
battery. The EX-Z3 uses the same NP-20 Li-ion battery as the
EX-S3. This 2.5 Watt/hour battery will get you about 75 minutes
in record more, or two hours in playback mode, according to Casio.
That's not great, so I recommend picking up a spare battery ($30
it's time to recharge the battery, just pop it into the included
cradle. A full charge takes about two hours. The cradle is also
used for transferring photos to your Mac or PC over a USB cable.
EX-Z3 has a built-in lens cover, so there is no lens cap to worry
about. As you can see, this is one small camera.
terms of accessories, don't expect a lot. You can buy a spare
battery ($30), an external battery charger ($40), and a variety
Exilim includes Casio's PhotoLoader and Photohands software.
PhotoLoader is used to download and view stills and movies from
your camera. It's not Mac OS X native, but works in Classic mode.
Photohands is for Windows only, and is used for retouching and
has "pulled an Olympus" and is now including the full
manual only on CD. This is a bad move, in my opinion. Once you
actually load up the manual, expect its quality to be about average.
you like small metal cameras, then you'll really like the EX-Z3.
It's very attractive, with a finish reminiscent of Canon's Powershot
S400. I'll pass along my usual warning: metal cameras scratch
easily, so take care of them.
Z3 is easy to hold and operate with just one hand. You won't
have any trouble finding room in your pocket for it, either.
EX-Z3's dimensions are 3.4 x 2.2 x 0.9 inches (W x H x D, excluding
projections), and it weighs a measly 126 grams empty. The Pentax
Optio S is a little smaller, with numbers of 3.3 x 2.0 x 0.8
and 98 grams, respectively. The main reason for the size difference
lies on the back of the two cameras: the Casio has a 2" LCD,
while the Pentax has a 1.6" model.
begin our tour of the EX-Z3 now, beginning with the front.
I mentioned at the start of the review, the Exilim shares the
same 3X optical zoom lens as the Pentax Optio S. The lens in
question has a maximum aperture of F2.6-4.8, with a focal range
of 5.8 - 17.4 mm. That's equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. The lens
is not threaded, nor would I expect it to be.
the upper-left of the lens, you'll find the built-in flash. The
flash has a working range of 0.4 - 2.3 m at wide-angle, and 0.4
- 1.5 m at telephoto. That's not great, but you can't put a huge
flash on a tiny camera.
the flash is the microphone, with the self-timer lamp to the
upper-right of it.
EX-Z3 does not have an AF-assist lamp.
of the biggest features on the EX-Z3 is its 2.0" LCD display
(no pun intended). If the 1.6" display on the Pentax model
is too small, then you may want to check this one out. Don't
get too excited though -- the resolution of this screen is quite
low (85k pixels), and you'll notice. The LCD brightness isn't
adjustable (not that it needs much adjusting).
the LCD is the optical viewfinder which, as you'd expect, is
very small. There's no diopter correction feature available,
to the right, you find a switch which moves the camera between
playback and record mode. Next to that is the zoom controller,
which doesn't have enough "play" (freedom of movement)
for me. Try it and you'll understand. The zoom controls move
the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in under two seconds. There's
a bit of a delay before the lens starts moving.
that you'll find the menu and display buttons, as well as the
four-way controller. The four-way controller doesn't have enough
play either, in my opinion. It's used for menu navigation, plus
changing the focus (auto, macro, infinity, manual) and flash
(auto, on, off, auto w/redeye reduction) settings. The function
of the left/right directions can be defined in the menu. In playback
mode, the up button displays the Album menu (more on that later),
while the down button deletes a photo.
quick note about the manual focus feature. With this turned on,
you use the four-way controller to focus. The center of the image
is enlarged so you can make sure the subject is sharp. A guide
is shown on the LCD showing the (very approximate) focus distance.
only things to see on the top of the camera are the power and
shutter release buttons.
is also a nice shot for seeing just how amazing that lens is.
here's another one!
to see here, either! If you're looking for I/O ports... well,
there aren't any (the Optio S has both USB, video out, and power
on the side of the camera). You need to use the dock for everything.
Even with the dock, there's no video out support.
but not least, here's the bottom of the Exilim EX-Z3. You can
see the SD/MMC card slot (card not included), the battery compartment,
and the metal tripod mount. The door covering all this seems
like it could bust off if forced.
NP-20 battery is shown at left.
the Casio Exilim EX-Z3
Z3 starts up very quickly, taking just about two seconds to extend
the lens and "warm up".
speeds were average at best. Expect about a one second delay
before focus is locked. The camera did not focus well in low
light -- an AF illuminator would've helped here.
camera did a much better job with shutter lag -- it's barely
A live histogram is displayed in record
speed is good as well. You will wait about two seconds before
you can take another shot, at the fine quality setting. That
assumes that you turn off the post-shot review feature.
no way to delete a photo right after it is taken; you must enter
let's take a look at the image size/quality choices on the EX-Z3:
photos on 10MB built-in memory
no TIFF or RAW mode on any of the Exilim cameras. The file numbering
is simple: CIMG####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. File numbering
is maintained as you switch and erase memory cards.
take a look at the menus now.
Exilim has an attractive and easy-to-use menu system (it looks
better in person than it does in my screen shots). Here's what
you'll find in the record menu:
mode (Snapshot, best shot, movie)
(Off, 10 sec, 2 sec, x3)
Shift [exposure compensation] (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
balance (Auto, sunlight, shade, light bulb, fluorescent, manual)
(Auto, 50, 100, 200)
(on/off) - whether picture is shown on LCD after it is taken
key (REC mode, EV shift, white balance, ISO, off) - define
what left/right on the four-way controller does
you can see, the EX-Z3 has manual white balance -- the only manual
control on the camera.
Exilim has a rather unique "x3" self-timer feature.
The camera takes three shots in a row, with a 10 second delay
for the first shot, and a 1 second delay for each subsequent
EX-Z3 has the same "Best Shot" modes that have been
on Casio cameras for years. Here's how it works: you select a
scenario on the LCD, and the camera picks the best settings for
it! The choices are:
shot - combine two shots into one
- Shoot the background first, then have someone shoot you in
front of it
- a bizarre one: macro mode + displays a "composition
- low contrast + sepia filter
- high contrast + magenta filter
favorites - create your own Best Shot using a photo you've
memory tab in the menu lets you choose what settings are stored
when the camera is turned off. The choices include REC mode,
flash, focus, white balance, ISO, and digital zoom, and manual
is also the standard-issue setup menu for setting the date and
all that fun stuff. Interesting items here include:
[screen] (on/off) - you can select your own image if you want
no. (continue, reset) - file numbering
time - choose your home city and another one abroad
(Japanese, English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese,
plus 3 mysterious Asian languages)
(Off, 3 sec, 1, 2 min)
power off (2, 5 mins)
- go back to default settings
enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
EX-Z3 did a fine job with our macro test -- I have no complaints.
The focal range in macro mode is 6 - 50 cm.
do, however, have complaints about the night shot. The Z3's slowest
shutter speed is a mere 1 second, which means it cannot capture
enough light to properly expose this shot. There's no way to
set the shutter speed manually, either. Do note that the Optio
S is the same way, but it has much better 4 second shutter speed
limit. There's quite a bit of noise in this shot as well.
on a tiny camera? You bet! The poor flash range forced me to
set the ISO to 'auto', which adds a lot of noise to the image,
as you can see.
distortion test results are the same as on the Optio S -- not
surprising, since they use the same lens. You've got above average
barrel distortion at wide-angle, plus vignetting (shadows) and
blurriness in the corners. You'll find both of these phenomena
in the gallery as well, like here and here.
as whole have a soft, grainy look to them, reminiscent of video
frame captures. Photo quality isn't bad by any means, but there
are definitely tradeoffs that come along with the Z3's compact
lens. Purple fringing was seen occasionally, but it wasn't a
major problem. Color and exposure were good in almost all of
my test shots (with the exception of the torture
always, don't just take my word for it -- have a look at the photo
gallery and judge the quality for yourself!
EX-Z3 has a rather outdated movie mode. You can record up to
30 seconds of video, with sound. The resolution is 320 x 240.
Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.
cannot use the zoom lens during filming, though can you position
it where you want before you begin.
is a sample movie for you to check out. The low (12 fps) frame
rate makes the video pretty choppy.
Click to play movie (852KB, AVI format)
view it? Download QuickTime.
Exilim has a pretty full-featured playback mode. The basic features
like slide shows, DPOF print marking, zoom and scroll, and image
protection are all here.
zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom up to 4X into your photo
and then move around in it. This feature was quite sluggish.
can also rotate images, or resize them to 1280 x 960 or 640 x
there's more -- the Exilim has three very unique playback features.
first is favorites, which lets you "tag" your best
photos for easy retrieval later.
feature number two is the "create album" item, which
will make an HTML photo gallery automatically! You can then copy
over the album folder to your website, and that's it! You can
choose from 10 different album layouts, or make your own. This
is a useful feature that is (surprisingly) still unique to Casio
last interesting playback feature is the calendar. This shows
a calendar of the current month, with a tiny thumbnail picture
shown on the day it was taken. This is a nice (and different)
way to jump through your photos by date!
pressing the display button, the Exilim can display exposure
information for your photos, including a histogram. The camera
moves through photos instantly.
Does it Compare?
Casio Exilim EX-Z3 is a fairly nice ultra-compact camera, but
I must confess that I prefer the Pentax version more. Here's
why. The Casio may have a larger LCD, but the resolution isn't
great, and the camera ends up being larger than the Optio. The
Optio's 4 second max shutter speed gives you much more flexibility
that the 1 second limit on the Z3. The Optio also has a few more
controls than the Exilim, namely saturation, sharpness, contrast,
cameras share the same lens, and therefore the same limitations
in terms of photo quality. Barrel distortion is higher than average,
and dark and blurry corners are common. The Casio seemed to be
a little more "video capture-like" than the Pentax.
terms of performance, the Casio offers fast startup, shutter
lag, and shot-to-shot speeds, though its AF performance left
much to be desired. In direct contrast to the Optio, there are
no I/O ports at all on the Casio camera -- you must use the dock
to get at the AC adapter and USB connectors. There's no video
out on the Z3, at all. And finally, the 10MB of on-board memory
seems a little skimpy to me.
you want an ultra-compact camera like this, I'd go for the Pentax
instead (in case you didn't notice). The only advantages of the
Exilim EX-Z3 over the Optio S that I can think of are the larger
LCD and cool Best Shot modes. In the end, you can't go terribly
wrong with either camera.
all-metal body with 3X zoom lens!
performance (except for AF)
(though low resolution) LCD
dock for photo transfer / battery charging
of useful "best shot" (scene) modes
calendar, favorites, album features in playback mode
I didn't care for:
have "video capture" look to them
and blurry corners common in images
resolution is poor
AF illuminator means poor low light focusing
and four-way buttons need more "play"
zoom and scroll feature in playback mode
of on-board RAM is not much
software not Mac OS X native
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try
out the Exilim EX-Z3 before you buy!
cameras worth looking at include the Canon
PowerShot SD100, Fuji
FinePix F410, Minolta
DiMAGE Xt, Olympus
Stylus 300, Pentax
Optio S, and the Sony
how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample
photos in our photo gallery!
a second opinion? How about a third?
case you think I'm making this all up, get more options at Steves
Digicams and DP
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking
for a personal recommendation.