DCRP Review: Casio Exilim EX-Z55
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The Casio Exilim EX-Z55 ($449) is an ultra-compact 5 Megapixel camera with a large 2.5" LCD display and class-leading battery life. A slightly cheaper model, the EX-Z50 ($399), has a 2-inch screen and slightly lower battery life. Both cameras make up Casio's entry into the crowded ultra-compact field. I'll be looking at the Z55 here -- read on to find out how it stacks up against the competition.
What's in the Box?
The Exilim EX-Z55 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Casio is one of those camera manufacturers who doesn't include a memory card with their camera. Instead, they build some memory right into the camera. Unfortunately that's just 9.3MB, which borders on absurd, as that holds just four photos at the highest quality setting. So consider buying a memory card to be a required purchase (I'd recommend at least 256MB). The Z55 uses SD or MMC cards, though I recommend the former. A high speed SD card is not a necessary purchase with this camera.
I don't know how they did it, but Casio has managed to extract incredible battery life from the NP-40 battery used by the EX-Z55. You can take a whopping 400 shots per charge from a battery with just 4.5 Wh of energy! Just so you know how great that is, the Canon PowerShot SD300 gets 140 shots per charge, the Nikon Coolpix 5200 takes 150, while the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7 gets just 120. Casio should be commended for their efforts in this area!
My usual complaints about proprietary batteries like the one used by the EX-Z55 apply here. They're expensive ($45 a pop), and you can't put in a set of alkalines to get you through the rest of the day like you could with an AA-based camera. I'm willing to forgive Casio for this, though, as the battery life is awesome.
When it's time to charge the Z55, just place it in the included USB cradle. Unlike some cameras that use docks, the only way to charge the battery is by using the dock. It takes about 190 minutes to fully charge the battery. The cradle can also be used for transferring photos to your Mac or PC. The camera doesn't support video output,
The EX-Z55 has a built-in lens cover so there are no messy lens caps to worry about. As you can see, the camera is quite small.
The only accessories I could find for the Z55 include an external battery charger ($50) and a carrying case ($15).
The Z55 includes Casio's PhotoLoader and Photohands software. PhotoLoader is used to download and view stills and movies from your camera. The Mac version is not OS X native, but works in Classic mode. Photohands is for Windows only, and is used for retouching and printing images.
Casio has been imitating Olympus in the manual area lately. They include a skimpy "'basic manual" in the box, leaving the full manual on CD-ROM. My question is: if you're going to print a basic manual, why not print the whole thing and do the right thing for your customers? The quality of the manuals themselves is about average for a digital camera (not great).
Look and Feel
Like Casio's other Exilim cameras, the EX-Z55 is very compact and stylish. The camera is small enough to fit in any pocket, so it can be always ready for that quick snapshot. It's made almost completely of metal, and it feels very solid. The important controls are well-placed, though I found the buttons to be too small.
Now, here's a look at how the EX-Z55 compares with some of the competition:
So it's not quite the smallest of lightest in the bunch, but it's close enough. The EX-Z50 is a little lighter thanks to its smaller LCD screen.
That's enough of that, let's move on to the tour portion of the review now!
The Exilim EX-Z55 (and Z50 as well) use an F2.6-4.8, 3X optical zoom lens made by Pentax. Incidentally Pentax uses this same lens in their Optio S5i camera. The focal range of the lens is 5.8 - 17.4 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. The lens is not threaded, nor would I expect it to be.
To the upper-left of the lens is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.4 - 2.6 m at wide-angle and 0.4 - 2.0 m at telephoto, which is a bit below average. You cannot attach an external flash to this camera.
The only other items on the front of the camera are the optical viewfinder, self-timer lamp, and microphone. There's no AF-assist lamp on the Z55, unfortunately.
One of the big selling points for the EX-Z55 is its larger-than-average 2.5" LCD display. While the screen is big, the resolution isn't -- there are just 115k pixels, and you can tell when you look at the screen. I do recommend trying out the Z55 in person to see if the resolution is adequate for you. Low light performance depends on the shooting mode you're using. In normal Snapshot mode, the screen will be too dark to be usable in dim light. However, if you use one of the Best Shot (scene) modes, the screen will gain up nicely. You definitely want to experiment a bit to see which setting works best for you.
To the upper-left of the screen is the optical viewfinder, which is quite small.
Speaking of small, I found the two zoom buttons at the top-right of the photo to be tiny. I didn't have any trouble using them, but I wish they were larger. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.3 seconds. I counted seven steps throughout the zoom range.
Below the controller are buttons for switching between record and playback mode. Further down is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation as well as:
Manual focus; sorry these are so bad, they're photos and not captures
I want to mention two of those focus modes now. Pan focus chooses a focus distance that's best for snapshot photos of people and places. If you fully press down the shutter release without stopping halfway, the camera will automatically use this. In manual focus, you will use the left/right directions of the four-way controller to set the focus yourself. The focus distance is shown on the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged so you can make sure your subject is in focus.
But the four-way controller are the Display and Menu buttons. The former toggles the LCD on and off, as well as the information shown on it.
The only things to see up here are the power and shutter release buttons.
The only thing to see here is the speaker.
On the bottom of the Z55 is the tripod mount (hidden in photo) , dock connector, and the battery / memory card compartment. This compartment is covered by a plastic door of average quality. As I mentioned, the EZ-Z55 uses Secure Digital or MultiMedia (MMC) memory cards.
The tripod mount is plastic -- a shame considering the metal body on the rest of the camera -- and you cannot swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod, either.
The included NP-40 battery is shown at right.
Using the Casio Exilim EX-Z55
It takes about 1.8 seconds for the Z55 to extend its lens and "warm up" before it's ready to shoot. That's pretty snappy.
The Z55 features a live histogram in record mode
Autofocus speeds were very good, with typical focus times of 0.4 seconds or so. On the other hand, low light focusing was poor, due in part to the lack of an AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag was not a problem, even at slower shutter speeds.
Shot-to-shot speed was good, with a delay of about a 1.7 seconds before you can take another picture, assuming you've turned the post-shot review feature off.
There's no way to delete a photo immediately after taking it -- you must enter playback mode.
Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the EX-Z55:
See why I recommend buying a larger memory card? The Z55 does not support the RAW or TIFF formats.
Images are named CIMG####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.
Now, onto the menus!
The menus on the Exilim EX-Z55 aren't terribly attractive, but they are fast and easy-to-navigate. Here's what you'll find in the menu:
The only thing up there I want to cover is the REC mode menu. Snapshot is your everyday shooting mode. I'll cover movie mode later. Voice mode can record WAV audio until your memory card fills up. Bestshot mode is Casio's name for scene mode. There are plenty of scenes to choose from, too:
The EX-Z55 also has a "memory menu". This lets you choose what settings are remembered when you turn off the camera.
And finally, there's a setup menu. Here's what you'll find in this menu:
Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
The EX-Z55 did a fine job with our usual macro test subject. Colors look pretty good, and the subject is nice and "smooth". Manually aperture control would've helped with the "blurry nose" problem, but the only manual controls on the camera are for focus and white balance.
The focus range in macro mode is 6 - 50 cm, which isn't too bad.
The night shot looks quite nice. As you can see Embarcadero Center buildings are all lit up for the holidays. Everything is nice and sharp, though the image is a little noisy. There's a bit of purple fringing as well, but its nothing to be concerned about. The only way to take long exposures like this is to use one of the Best Shot modes -- shooting in Snapshot mode won't use a slow enough shutter speed. I used the Night Scene mode here.
The distortion test shows moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens. There's also some vignetting (dark corners) and blurry corners to be seen. I didn't have any trouble with vignetting in my real world photos, but I did encounter blurry edges in several photos. These are the tradeoffs that come with buying an ultra-compact camera like the EX-Z55.
Compact cameras mean big redeye, and the Z55 is no exception. While your mileage may vary, I would plan on dealing with it most of the time. This can be cleaned up fairly well on your computer.
Aside from those issues, the Z55's photo quality was very good. Exposure was nice, as was color. Purple fringing popped up occasionally but it was not too horrible. Subjects were sharp for the most part, save for blurriness at the edges/corners of the frame in some photos. While not a camera for perfectionists, the Z55 does a good job for prints smaller than 8 x 10 and web photos.
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery and print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide if the Z55's picture quality meets your expectations!
The EX-Z55 isn't going to win any awards for its movie mode. You can record 320 x 240 video at 15 frames/second until the memory card is full. Sound is recorded as well. The 9.3MB of built-in memory can hold a grand total of 30 seconds -- so you'll want to use a decent-sized memory card instead.
You cannot use the zoom lens during filming.
Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.
Here's a brief sample movie for you:
Click to play movie (2.7 MB, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Exilim EX-Z55 has a full-featured playback mode. The basic features like slide shows, DPOF print marking, zoom and scroll, voice annotations (30 secs), and image protection are all here. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to compatible photo printers.
The zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom up to 4X into your photo and then move around in it. This feature was nice and snappy.
You can also rotate, crop, or resize your images right on the camera.
But wait, there's more -- the EX-Z55 has three very unique playback features.
The first is favorites, which lets you "tag" your best photos for easy retrieval later (kind of like bookmarks in your web browser).
Cool 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 exclusive to Casio cameras.
The final cool playback feature is the calendar view. 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. My example above doesn't really show its usefulness, though.
By default, the camera doesn't show much information about your photos. But press the display button and the Z55 displays exposure information and a histogram too. The camera moves through photos instantly -- very nice.
How Does it Compare?
Overall, the Casio Exilim EX-Z55 is a good "go-anywhere" point-and-shoot camera that holds up well against the likes of the Canon PowerShot SD300, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7, and the Sony DSC-T1. While I haven't tested it yet, the Pentax Optio S5i shares the lens and many of the internals of the Z55. The camera does its best work outdoors, where it takes very nice photos, save for some blurriness around the edges of the frame. Indoors you'll be frustrated with an LCD that only "gains up" in a few of the scene modes (most of which aren't appropriate for indoor flash shots), poor low light focusing, redeye, and a fairly weak flash. But for a compact camera for vacation photos the Z55 fits the bill.
The Z55 has a compact, all-metal body that fits in your pockets with ease. It's well put-together, though I would've liked to see a metal tripod mount and larger buttons. The camera has a larger-than-average-sized 2.5" LCD display which is marred by so-so resolution and poor low light viewing in most situations. Camera performance is excellent with fast startup time and very little lag while taking pictures. One area in which the Z55 blows away the competition is in terms of battery life: for whatever reason, the Z55 can last for 3 times as long as the other cameras in this class.
With the exception of white balance and focus, the Z55 has no manual controls, which may be frustrating to some. But for those taking simple snapshots, this isn't a huge deal. The camera's movie mode is pretty outdated, as well. The Z55 doesn't offer video output, which is a feature that I always find handy. Finally, I must take issue with the Z55's bundle: you get no memory card, instead relying on a puny 9.3MB of on-board memory, and the full manual is only on CD.
Each of the cameras have their own advantages and disadvantages. For the EX-Z55, it's battery life, scene modes, and a large LCD. For the Sony DSC-T1, it's style, movie mode, and LCD size. The Panasonic FX7 offers and image stabilizer and a large LCD. As for the Canon, I'd say it's continuous shooting, an AF-assist lamp, and the movie mode. All are recommended cameras, so you need to decide what features are most important to you, put the cameras in your hands, and then choose which you like best!
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other ultra compact cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SD300 and S500 Digital ELPH , Fuji FinePix F450, Konica Minolta DiMAGE X50 and G600, Nikon Coolpix 5200, Olympus AZ-2 Zoom and Stylus Verve, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7, Pentax Optio S5i, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T1.
To save some money you can also buy the Exilim EX-Z50, which has a 2" LCD and slightly less battery life (but it's still great).
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the EX-Z55 and its competitors before you buy!
Photo GallerySee how the photos turned out in our gallery!
Want another opinion?
Read another review at Steve's Digicams.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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