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DCRP Review: Casio Exilim EX-Z850  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: August 3, 2006
Last Updated: January 4, 2012

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The Casio Exilim EX-Z850 ($399) is an update to their popular EX-Z750 model (see our review) that was introduced back in 2005. New features on the Z850 include an 8.1 Megapixel CCD, a "Rapid Flash" feature, more manual controls, improved battery life, and more. Some features that haven't changed include a 3X optical zoom lens, 2.5" LCD display, manual controls, AF-assist lamp, and a VGA movie mode.

There are a ton of high resolution compact cameras like the Z850 on the market today. To find out how it compares just continue reading!

What's in the Box?

The Exilim EX-Z850 has an average bundle. Inside the box you'll find:

  • The 8.1 effective Megapixel Exilim EX-Z850 digital camera
  • NP-40 lithium-ion battery
  • AC adapter
  • Camera dock
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Casio Photo Loader, Photohands, and Ulead Movie Wizard SE VCD
  • 21 page basic manual (printed) plus full manual on CD-ROM

Last year Casio started building memory into their cameras instead of including a memory card in the box. On the EX-Z850 they include a ridiculous 8MB of memory, which holds just one shot at the highest quality setting. I probably don't have to say this, but you'll want to buy a memory card right away, which drives up the initial price of the camera a bit. The Z850 uses Secure Digital memory cards, and I'd suggest 512MB or 1GB as a good starter size. Since camera performance (especially in continuous shooting mode) improves when using a high speed memory card, I'd recommend spending a little extra to get one.

The EX-Z850 uses the same NP-40 lithium-ion battery as its predecessor. Casio's engineers have a knack for getting the most battery life out of their cameras, and they've managed to squeeze 35% more life out of the NP-40 on the Z850 than on the Z750. Here are the battery life numbers for the EX-Z850 and the competition:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD600 160 shots
Canon PowerShot SD700 IS 240 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z750 325 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z850 440 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z1000 360 shots
Fuji FinePix Z3 200 shots
HP Photosmart R927 165 shots
Kodak EasyShare V603 150 shots
Nikon Coolpix S5 200 shots
Olympus Stylus 810 250 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX07 320 shots
Pentax Optio A10 150 shots
Samsung Digimax NV3 200 shots *
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1 300 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T30 420 shots

* Not calculated using the CIPA standard

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

As you can see, the Z850 turns in the best battery life numbers in the ultra-compact class.

As with all ultra-compact cameras, the NP-40 battery is expensive ($45), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when it runs out of juice.

When it's time to charge the camera's battery, transfer photos to your Mac or PC, or view pictures on a television then you'll need to pull out the included camera dock. In fact, the dock is the only way to transfer photos off of the camera without using a card reader. To get around the dock requirement for battery charging and video out, you'll have to buy the external charger and special video cable (EMC-3A, $25), respectively.

Speaking of USB, the dock supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

Back to batteries for a second: when the camera is in the dock it takes about three hours for the NP-40 to be fully charged.

As is the case with all ultra-compact cameras, there's a built-in lens cover on the EX-Z850, so there's no lens cap to worry about.

There aren't too many accessories available for the Z850. I've already mentioned the two most useful: the external battery charger and special video cable. Otherwise it's just camera cases and neck straps.


Photo Loader for Windows

Casio's software bundle leaves much to be desired. Photo Loader is what you'll use to get photos off the camera, and it's not user friendly to say the least. Once photos are transferred to the computer you view them in a web interface like this:


Browsing thumbnails generated by Photo Loader

About the only thing you can do here is start a slideshow or send photos to your printer. You can view photos as you can see above, or with EXIF data.

Mac users get an ancient version of Photo Loader that's not Mac OS X native. I'd skip it entirely and just use iPhoto instead.


Photohands

Photohands (WIndows only) lets you do basic editing of your photos. You can adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness, reduce noise, resize and rotate, and print your photos.

The final piece of software included with the EX-Z850 is Ulead Movie Wizard VCD SE. This software, which is Windows only, lets you put together videos, add a few effects, and then export the finished product to either a MPEG movie file or a Video CD.

I am not a big fan of what Casio does with their manuals. Inside the box you'll find a very thin manual covering the basics. If you want more details (and you will) then you'll need to stick a CD-ROM into your computer and view it there. The quality of the manuals themselves is just average.

Look and Feel

The Exilim EX-Z850 looks more or less the same as its predecessor, the EX-Z750. It's a compact camera made mostly of metal, and it feels very solid for the most part. The usual exceptions to that include the plastic door over the battery/memory card compartment and the plastic tripod mount. The camera is easy to hold and operate, though some useful buttons are hidden on the side of the camera.

Here's a look at how the Exilim EX-Z850 compares to other ultra-compacts in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD600 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.4 cu in. 140 g
Canon PowerShot SD700 IS 3.6 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 7.9 cu in. 165 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z1000 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 139 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z750 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.2 cu in. 127 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z850 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.2 cu in. 130 g
Fujifilm FinePix Z3 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.2 cu in. 130 g
HP Photosmart R927 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.0 in. 9.1 cu in. 170 g
Kodak EasyShare V603 3.6 x 2.0 x 0.9 in. 6.5 cu in. 120 g
Nikon Coolpix S5 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 6.8 cu in. 135 g
Olympus Stylus 810 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 145 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX07 3.7 x 2.0 x 1.0 in. 7.4 cu in. 132 g
Pentax Optio A10 3.5 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.6 cu in. 125 g
Samsung NV3 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.7 in. 5.7 cu in. 142 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1 3.8 x 2.4 x 0.9 in. 8.2 cu in. 151 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T30 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.9 cu in. 134 g

It's not the smallest or lightest camera in its class, but the Z850 still fits into any of your pockets with ease.

Alright, let's start our tour of the Z850 now.

The EX-Z850 has the same F2.8-5.1, 3X optical zoom lens as its predecessor. The focal range of the lens is 7.9 - 23.7 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. The lens is not threaded, nor would I expect it to be.

To the upper-right of the lens are the AF-assist lamp and optical viewfinder. The AF-assist lamp is a bit different than on the Z750: it's now a white LED that can also be used as a "lamp" in both still and movie recording modes, which brightens up the immediate area around the camera a bit. Here are some examples:

At close distances the lamp is pretty effective...
... but when your subject is further away it doesn't help as much

While I probably wouldn't use it for still recording, it may be worth fooling around with the lamp when recording videos in the dark.

Moving to the left we find the Z850's built-in flash. One of the weak points on the Z750 was its flash, and Casio has remedied that on the new Z850. The working range of the flash is 0.1 - 4.3 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.4 m at telephoto, which is competitive with other ultra-compact cameras. The flash has some other tricks up its sleeve as well, and I'll cover those later in the review.

The last thing to see on the front of the camera is the microphone, which is located to the lower-left of the lens.

While the LCD is the same size and resolution as the one on the Z750, Casio says this one is brighter and easier to see in bright outdoor light. The screen's resolution of just 115,200 pixels isn't great, and as expected it's not as sharp as some other LCDs out there. When you're shooting outdoors the camera will brighten the screen automatically, and I found the LCD easy to view in those conditions. A similar thing happens in low light conditions: the screen brightens automatically, so you can see what you're trying to take a picture of.

To the upper-left of the LCD is the optical viewfinder. It's nice to see that Casio kept this feature on the camera, as viewfinders are becoming increasingly rare on ultra-compact cameras. The viewfinder is about as small as they come, and there's no diopter correction feature, but I'll take what I can get.

To the right of the viewfinder are buttons for entering playback and record mode. Continuing to the right we find the mode dial, which has these options:

Option Function
Snapshot mode Auto record mode
Best Shot mode This is Casio's name for scene mode. Choose a situation and the camera picks the proper settings. Available scenes include portrait, scenery, portrait w/scenery, children, sports, candlelight portrait, party, pet, flower, natural green, autumn leaves, soft flowing water, splashing water, sundown, night scene, night scene portrait, fireworks, food, text, collection, eBay, backlight, anti-shake, high sensitivity, pastel, illustration, cross (star filter), monochrome, retro, twilight, ID photo, old photo, business cards, white board. You can also create your own Best Shot mode if you desired.
Aperture priority mode You choose the aperture and the camera picks the correct shutter speed; you can only choose from two apertures at any one time; choices will vary depending on focal length, but range between F2.8 and F7.4
Shutter priority mode You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture; shutter speed range is 60 - 1/1600 sec
Manual exposure You choose both the aperture and the shutter speed; same ranges and restrictions as above
Voice recording Records audio in WAV format until you run out of memory
Movie Best Shot Scene modes but for movie mode. Choose from portrait, scenery, night scene, fireworks, backlight, high sensitivity, silent, short movie, past movie, custom
Movie mode More on this later

Some of the Best Shot modes

There is a lot to talk about before we continue the tour. First, some details about some of the interesting Best Shot modes. The anti-shake mode attempts to digitally reduce the blur in your photos caused by "camera shake". This is not the same technology as the optical image stabilization feature found on other cameras. Does the digital anti-shake feature work? Have a look:


Normal shot

Anti-shake mode

The short answer is "yes, it works". Both photos were taken at 1/5 second, and you can see that the one with anti-shake is indeed sharper. The downside to the anti-shake feature is that since it's digital, image quality is reduced a bit. This is something that does not happen with optical image stabilization.


High sensitivity mode

I want to throw in a crop taken in high sensitivity mode here, as its comparable to the two above. In this mode the camera boosted the ISO to 1600 in order to ensure a sharp photo. Unfortunately, what you got instead was a ton of noise. I'd avoid using this feature and just raise the ISO manually if need be.

One other Best Shot mode that Casio has hyped up is the "eBay mode" (I kid you not). As far as I can tell this just adjusts a few things like focus points and resolution -- it doesn't post the photos on eBay for you.

While the Z850 now has aperture and shutter priority modes, the former is quite limited. You can only choose from two apertures at any given time. For example, at wide-angle you can choose from F2.8 or F4.0 -- nothing else. The aperture controls in full manual mode are just as limited.

Back to the tour now. Below the mode dial are the Menu and Display buttons plus the four-way controller. The menu button does just as it sounds, while the Display button toggles what is shown on the LCD, which includes turning the whole thing off entirely. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, choose manual settings, and also:

  • Up - Focus mode (Auto, macro, infinity, manual)
  • Down - Flash (Auto, flash off, flash on, high power, soft flash, redeye reduction)


Manual focus

In manual focus mode you'll use the four-way controller to set the focus distance. A guide showing the current focus distance is shown on the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged, as well.

On the top of the camera you'll find the power and shutter release buttons as well as the zoom controller. The zoom controller, which feels a bit too stiff, moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 0.8 seconds. There are just six steps available in the 3X zoom range.

On this side of the camera you can see the speaker plus two more buttons. The placement of the buttons leaves much to be desired in my opinion. Anyhow, the buttons open up the Drive and EX Menus.

The drive menu lets you choose from single-shot, normal and high speed continuous, flash continuous, zoom continuous, and multi continuous modes. In normal continue mode you can keep shooting at 1 frame/second until you run out of a memory. I noticed a big difference between memory cards here, so you want a fast one for best continuous performance. For faster snapping you'll want to use the high speed mode, which takes three shots in a row at 3.1 frames/second. Unlike in regular continuous mode, the LCD is dark while the photos are taken in high speed mode.

The Z850 has a very unique "flash continuous" mode. Here the camera will take three flash shots in a row at about 3 frames/second. The only "catch" here is that the flash power is turned down by about a third in order to pull off this trick.

The zoom continuous feature isn't as exciting as it sounds. You first select an area of the frame that you want enlarged, and then the camera takes a single photo, saving both the full scene and a digitally enlarged version of the area that you selected previously. You could do the same thing in a photo editor on your PC.

The multi continuous mode takes twenty-five shots in a row and combines them into one collage-style image.


EX Menu

The EX Menu is a shortcut menu for adjusting image size, white balance, ISO, and autofocus area without having to go diving through the regular menu.

While there's nothing to see on this side of the camera, it's worth pointing out that the lens is at the full telephoto position in the photo.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a plastic tripod mount (not visible here), the dock connection, and the battery/memory card compartment. The door over that last item isn't terribly sturdy, and its proximity to the tripod mount means that you won't be able to swap memory cards while using a tripod.

The included NP-40 battery is shown at right.

Using the Casio Exilim EX-Z850

Record Mode

It takes about 1.2 seconds for the Z850 to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's pretty good.


A fancy live histogram is shown in record mode

Focus times were very good on the camera. Typically it took between 0.1 and 0.3 seconds to lock focus, with just slightly longer delays at the telephoto end of the lens. Low light focusing was very good thanks to the Z850's bright AF-assist lamp.

I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds where it often occurs.

Shot-to-shot speeds were excellent, with a delay of about a second between shots.

There's no way to delete a photo while it's being saved to the memory card. You must enter playback mode and delete it from there.

There are quite a few image quality options available on the EX-Z850. They include:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 8MB onboard memory # images on 1GB card (optional)
8M
3264 x 2448
Fine 4.8 MB 1 192
Normal 3.2 MB 2 288
Economy 1.6 MB 4 560
8M (3:2 ratio)
3264 x 2176
Fine 4.3 MB 1 216
Normal 2.9 MB 2 324
Economy 1.5 MB 5 628
6M
2816 x 2112
Fine 3.6 MB 2 260
Normal 2.3 MB 3 404
Economy 1.2 MB 6 744
4M
2304 x 1728
Fine 2.4 MB 3 388
Normal 1.6 MB 4 572
Economy 810 KB 8 1084
2M
1600 x 1200
Fine 1.2 MB 6 784
Normal 780 KB 9 1144
Economy 390 KB 17 2120
VGA
640 x 480
Fine 360 KB 20 2500
Normal 240 KB 30 3752
Economy 120 KB 57 6968

As you can see, the built in memory holds an appallingly low number of photos -- and I'm being diplomatic here. Like most ultra-compact cameras, the EX-Z850 does not support the RAW or TIFF image 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 Exilim EX-Z850 has a pretty standard tabbed menu system. In record mode you'll find three tabs, with record, quality, and setup as options. Here's what you'll find in the first two of those tabs:

  • Rec Tab
    • Self-timer (Off, X3, 2 sec, 10 sec) - X3 takes three shots in a row
    • Anti-shake (Auto, off) - I discussed this feature earlier
    • REC light (Auto, on, off) - when the video lamp is used
    • AF Area (Spot, multi, free) - see below
    • AF-assist light (on/off)
    • L/R key (Off, self-timer, metering, ISO, white balance, exposure compensation) - customize what the left/right directions on the four-way controller do
    • Quick shutter (on/off) - when this is on the camera takes the picture without focusing first when you press the shutter release all the way down
    • Audio snap (on/off) - add 30 second voice clips to your photos
    • Grid (on/off) - helps you compose your photos
    • Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best to keep this off
    • Review (on/off) - post-shot review feature
    • Icon help (on/off) - shows "guidance text" on the LCD when you change certain settings
    • Memory (Flash, focus, white balance, ISO, AF area, metering, self-timer, flash intensity, digital zoom, MF position, zoom position) - what settings are remembered when you turn off the camera

  • Quality tab
    • Image size (see chart above)
    • Image quality (see chart)
    • Movie quality (HQ, normal, LP) - more on this later
    • EV shift [exposure compensation] (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
    • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, shade, day white fluorescent, daylight fluorescent, tungsten, manual) - see below
    • ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
    • Metering (Multi, center-weighted, spot)
    • Filter (Off, black & white, sepia, red, green, blue, yellow, pink, purple) - digital effects
    • Sharpness (-2 to +2 in 1-step increments)
    • Saturation (-2 to +2 in 1-step increments)
    • Contrast (-2 to +2 in 1-step increments)
    • Flash intensity (-2 to +2 in 1-step increments)
    • Flash assist (Auto, off) - see below

The "free" AF area option lets you use the four-way controller to select from 222 possible focus points.

The manual white balance feature completes the Z850's set of manual controls. This lets you use a white or gray card for accurate color even under unusual lighting.

The flash assist feature is similar to D-Lighting on Nikon cameras and Adaptive Lighting on HP cameras. This brightens up areas of your photos that the flash just can't reach. Below isn't the best example, but it's all I could come up with on short notice:

Flash assist off Flash assist on

The differences are very subtle, but they're there.

Now here are the options found in the Setup tab of the menu:

  • Screen brightness (Auto 1, auto 2, 0, 1, 2) - let the camera adjust the screen brightness automatically, or do it yourself
  • Sounds (Startup, half-shutter, shutter, operation, operation volume, playback volume) - adjust all the blips and bleeps plus the volume
  • Startup (on/off) - you can use your own startup image if you'd like
  • File numbering (Continue, reset)
  • World time
    • Home/world - choose the current time zone
    • Home time setup
    • World time setup
  • Timestamp (Off, date & time, date) - print the date on your photos
  • Adjust (time setting)
  • Date style (YY/MM/DD, DD/MM/YY, MM/DD/YY)
  • Language (Japanese, English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean)
  • Sleep (Off, 30 sec, 1, 2 mins)
  • Auto power off (2, 5 mins)
  • Rec / Play (Power on, Power on/off, Disable) - what these two buttons do
  • USB (Mass Storage, PTP/PictBridge)
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • Format
  • Reset camera

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The EX-Z850 did a fairly good job with our macro test subject. Colors are generally accurate, though I notice a slight brownish cast to the image. The subject is very smooth, though you can still pick up fine details like dust. Noise levels were low.

The minimum distance to your subject is 10 cm at wide-angle and 50 cm at telephoto while in macro mode.

At first glance, the night shot looks great. Upon further inspection, though, you'll see that it's not very good at all. Enlarge the image and you'll see that it's loaded with noise, with lots of lost details. The first time I took the night shots I thought I must've done something wrong, so I went out and did it again, only to get the same results. It's a shame that the noise levels are so high, as the camera did take in plenty of light, and purple fringing is minimal.

There are two ISO tests in this review, and the first one uses the night scene above. Since the Z850 is starting out noisy, you know that it won't be pretty:


ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400

All I can say is "yuck". This is not a camera for night photo lovers.

There's mild to moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the Z850's 3X zoom lens. The chart doesn't show any vignetting (dark corners), and it wasn't a problem in my real world photos either. You will, however, find small amounts of corner blurriness in some of your photos.

Compact cameras tend to have a redeye problem, and the EX-Z850 is no exception. While it's not the worst I've seen, it's still pretty noticeable. Remember that while your results may vary, odds are that you'll have to deal with this annoyance at least part of the time.

Here's the other ISO test for the EX-Z850. This one is taken in my studio, and is comparable between cameras. While the crops below give you a quick idea about the noise levels at each ISO setting, viewing the full size images is always a good idea. Enjoy:


ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400

With more light to work with, the EX-Z850 fared better in this test. The ISO 50 and 100 images look nice and clean, and you can still (probably) get an 8 x 10 inch print out of the ISO 200 shot. At ISO 400 things get soft and fairly noisy -- not horrible, but some of the competition does a better job.

Overall, the Exilim EX-Z850 took good quality photos. My one beef with them as that the camera overexposed almost all of the shots in the gallery, so do yourself a favor and turn the exposure compensation (called EV shift on the Z850) down a notch. Otherwise the news is pretty good. The Z850's color rendition is light years better than that of the Z750, which had the saturation turned up to eleven. Noise levels are reasonable given the resolution of the camera, and purple fringing was not a major problem.

As usual, I urge you to take a look at our photo gallery, printing the pictures if you can. Then you'll be able to decide for yourself if the Z850's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The Exilim EX-Z850 has a very good movie mode. You can record video at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound until you run out of memory. That takes just 16 seconds using the built-in memory, so you'll want a decent-sized memory card for longer movies (a 1GB card holds more than 30 minutes). Since the camera uses the efficient MPEG-4 codec you can fit more video on your memory card than you could on a camera using the old M-JPEG codec. Mac users will need to install the codec in order to view the movies you record (don't worry, it comes with the camera).

You can also reduce the quality a bit (the resolution and frame rate remain the same) for double the movie length. If you want smaller movies, a "long play" mode (320 x 240, 15 fps) is also available.

There are two other movie modes available as well. In the Past Movie mode the camera is always saving video to its buffer memory. When you press the shutter release button, the last five seconds of buffered video are saved to the memory card. The Short Movie function is similar to the "hybrid" movie mode on the Sony DSC-M1/M2. The camera records a total of 8 seconds of video -- up to 5 seconds before the shutter release is pressed and up to 6 seconds after. I guess this gives your movies some "context".

As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming. A digital image stabilization feature is available to smooth out any "shakes" in your recording, and I already mentioned the video lamp earlier in the review.

Here's a sample movie for you. For the record, I took this movie with the brand new 1.1B firmware loaded on the camera.


Click to play movie (5.1 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Exilim EX-Z850 has a full-featured playback mode. The basic features like slideshows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, voice annotations (30 secs), and image protection, and zoom and scroll are all here. This last feature lets you enlarge a photo by as much as eight times, after which you can scroll around in the zoomed-in area. In addition to showing photos in thumbnail view or individually, you can also view your pictures by date on a calendar.

Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped quickly. If that's still not enough you can adjust the white balance of a photo you've taken (and it works fairly well), change image brightness, and perform keystone correction (for fixing photos of things like business cards and white boards). A rather strange color correction feature can "correct the old color of a photograph taken with a digital camera". Now that's what I call overkill.


A nine-frame collage created using Motion Print

A movie editing feature lets you cut unwanted footage from what you've recorded. You can also create a still image from a movie frame using something that Casio calls Motion Print. In fact, you have two choices: you can just grab a single frame (which will be saved at 640 x 480) or you can create a nine-image collage of sorts which has one big image in front with eight other frame grabs behind it (see above). The collage is saved at the 1600 x 1200 resolution.

By default, the camera doesn't show much information about your photos. But press the display button and the Z850 displays exposure information and a histogram too (see above). The camera moves through photos instantly -- very nice.

How Does it Compare?

On the Exilim EX-Z850, Casio has crammed in just about every bell and whistle imaginable, ranging from helpful to useless. And for the most part, they've created a pretty good camera. Though not without its flaws, the Z850 is a pretty good ultra-compact camera that's well suited for just about everyone -- as long as they don't take many night photos.

The EX-Z850 is a compact metal camera with an 8.1 Megapixel CCD and 3X optical zoom lens. While not the smallest camera out there, it's still compact enough to go anywhere that you do. Build quality is very good in most respects, save for the usual weak points: the plastic tripod mount and flimsy battery/memory card compartment door. On the back of the camera you'll find a large 2.5" LCD display. The good news about the LCD is that it's quite visible in both bright outdoor light as well as in dimly lit rooms. The bad news is that the resolution of the screen isn't great. While many ultra-compact cameras are missing an optical viewfinder, the Z850 isn't one of them. A unique feature found on the camera (that is more common on camcorders) is a white LED lamp, which is used for both low light focusing assistance and for putting some light on your subjects for both still and movie recording.

The Z850 is packed with every feature you could ever think of, and then some. Some of them are quite useful, while others left me scratching my head. Point-and-shoot users will be thrilled with the camera's selection of scene (Best Shot) modes, which cover everything from sunsets to eBay product photos. There's a high sensitivity mode here, but I wouldn't recommend using it unless you're absolutely desperate, as the resulting images are really too noisy to be worth keeping. The camera has a digital anti-shake system, and it seems to work okay, though a true optical-based stabilizer will do a better job, and without degrading the image. In playback mode you'll find some handy tools, including keystone and white balance correction and the usual things like rotation/cropping/resizing.

If you're more advanced then you'll be mostly satisfied with the Z850's manual controls. It has the full suite, including exposure, white balance, and focus. The only weak spot here is in terms of aperture control. Whether in aperture priority or full manual mode you can only choose between two aperture settings at any time. The Z850 has several burst modes, though none of them are terribly exciting. The normal burst mode chugs along at 1 frame/second until you run out of memory -- other cameras do a better job. While the high speed burst mode is a lot faster, it takes only three shots, and the LCD is blacked out during filming. The most interesting burst mode has to be the flash burst feature, which takes three flash photos in a row at over 3 frames/second.

Regardless of your skill level, you'll probably like the EX-Z850's movie mode, which lets you record high quality video at 640 x 480, 30 frames/second. Since the camera uses the efficient MPEG-4 codec you can fit quite a bit of video on a 1GB memory card (30 mins versus 8 mins on Canon's SD-series models). Videos can be trimmed down right on the camera, and you can grab frames or create collages at the push of a button.

The EX-Z850 is a very capable performer. It starts up a in a little over a second, focuses very quickly (even in low light), and shutter lag was minimal. Shot-to-shot speeds were impressive, as was battery life.

Photo quality was good for the most part, though the Z850 did encounter a few problems in my testing. On the positive side, the camera had nice color rendition (light years better than its predecessor), pleasing sharpness, and low purple fringing levels. Noise levels were reasonable given the resolution of the camera, though at ISO 400 some of the competition does better. As for negatives, I found that the Z850 overexposed pretty much all of my gallery shots, so turn the exposure compensation down a bit to get around that. The camera had a big problem with my night shots, with noise destroying most of the details. If you take a lot of night scenes then this camera is not for you. And finally, like most ultra-compacts, the Z850 has a redeye problem.

There are a few other negatives that I want to mention. The most annoying thing about the EX-Z850 is its reliance on its camera dock. Straight out of the box, this is the only way to charge the battery, transfer photos over the USB connection, or view them on a TV. You can get around all of those, but they all involve shelling out money for an external charger, card reader, and special video cable, respectively. The 8MB of built-in memory on the Z850 is absurd -- it holds just one photo at the highest image quality setting. And finally, the included software is pretty uninspiring, and most of it isn't Mac compatible.

The Casio Exilim EX-Z850 puts a ton of features into a compact and stylish body. And for not much money, either -- this thing sells for about $325. It's a capable performer, and a camera that I can recommend to just about everyone, save for those people who take a lot of night scenes. It's not a perfect camera (but what is), but most people will really like what the Z850 offers.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
  • Compact, stylish metal body
  • Large 2.5" LCD can be seen in bright outdoor light plus dimly lit rooms (though see issues below)
  • AF-assist lamp, good low light focusing
  • Snappy performance
  • Tons of Best Shot modes
  • Full manual controls (though see issue below)
  • Electronic anti-shake feature seems to work
  • Unique flash burst mode
  • White LED lamp can be used for brightening subjects
  • Very good movie mode
  • Class-leading battery life
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Camera tends to overexpose at default settings
  • Poor night shot performance
  • Redeye a problem
  • High sensitivity mode not worth using
  • Tiny amount of built-in memory
  • Limited aperture options
  • Low LCD resolution
  • Dock required for just about everything (unless you buy expensive accessories)
  • Plastic tripod mount; flimsy door over memory/battery compartment
  • Can't swap memory cards while camera is on a tripod
  • Software bundle isn't great; most software is Windows-only

Some other cameras in this class worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SD600 and SD700 IS, Casio Exilim EX-Z1000, Fuji FinePix Z3, HP Photosmart R927, Kodak EasyShare V603, Nikon Coolpix S5, Olympus Stylus 810, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX07, Pentax Optio A10, Samsung NV3, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1 and DSC-T30.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Exilim EX-Z850 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

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.

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