DCRP Review: Casio QV-3500EX
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2001
Last Updated: Thursday, June 28, 2001

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Though perhaps better known for electronic watches, Casio is actually a pioneer of consumer digital cameras. Their QV-3000EX (see our review) was the first 3 Megapixel camera on the market, and they have cameras that date back to the days before digicams were cool (anyone remember the QV-10?). The QV-3500EX is an enhanced version of the QV-3000EX, with the two biggest features being Best Shot Mode (explained later) and support for Epson's PRINT Image Matching (for best quality prints of your digital photos).

The QV-3500EX comes in two packages: the standard package ($599) includes a 16MB CompactFlash card, and a "plus" package (under $900) which includes the 340MB IBM Microdrive! I tested the standard package.

Read on to find out about Casio's latest 3 Megapixel camera!

What's in the Box?

The QV-3500EX has a pretty good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.3 Mpixel QV-3500EX camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card (standard bundle) -or- 340MB IBM Microdrive (plus bundle)
  • 4 alkaline AA batteries
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring PhotoLoader and drivers
  • 151 page manual

First, the good news. If you get the "plus" package (recommended), you can have a photo bonanza. The 340MB Microdrive can literally store thousands of your photos. Casio includes a lens cap with strap, so the lens will be protected from the elements (or clumsy camera reviewers). The QV-3500's manual is pretty good as well.

Now, the warning: if you get the Microdrive and plan to take it to high altitudes, you may have trouble. And I quote:

The Microdrive may not operate properly in areas where barometric pressure is low. Because of this, you should avoid using it at high altitudes.

And last but not least, the bad news. Casio includes 4 lowly alkaline batteries which will be gone in no time (especially with the power hungry Microdrive). They'll end up in the trash quickly, so when it's time to replace your batteries, try some NiMH rechargeable batteries instead.

My other complaint is about the PhotoLoader software. It's ... not great ... and that's being polite. It will get your photos off the camera but don't expect miracles.

As far as accessories go, the lens is threaded (58mm), and you'll need to pick up the Conversion Lens Adapter (LU-35A) before you can use any external lenses. Those include Wide, Tele, and Macro converters.

Look and Feel

The QV-3500EX is a good-sized camera that won't fit its way into your pockets. Like most of Casio's cameras, it's made almost exclusively of plastic -- and feels a bit cheap, to be honest. That said, it is easy to hold, and the controls are well-placed.

The dimensions of the camera are 5.3 x 3.2 x 2.3 (W x H x D) and it weighs just 320 grams, which is surprising considering its size. Let's begin our tour of the QV-3500 now...

The 3500's F2.0 lens is actually made by Canon, and has been seen on many other cameras, not just from Casio. The focal range of the lens is 7 - 21 mm, which is equivalent to 33 - 100mm.

The QV-3500's flash has a working range of approximately 0.5 m - 4 m. The flash intensity is adjustable in the menus.

Now onto the back of the camera. The 1.8" LCD is bright and fluid, as is placed in an area where you're less likely to smudge it.

The optical viewfinder is large, and has a diopter correction knob for those of you with glasses.

To the left of the LCD are buttons for invoking and navigating the 3500's menu system. The four-way switch also adjusts the manual settings (up/down) as well as exposure compensation (left/right) while in record mode.

Holding down the shift key gets those three icons at the bottom of the LCD.

To the right of the LCD are the Shift and Preview button. The Shift button is used to quickly change the Exposure, Metering, and White Balance modes, without having to enter the menu system.

Towards the far right of the above photo, you can see the zoom control lever. This lever has very little "play", which I found annoying, though it does responsively operate the zoom lens.

Now let's take a look at the top of the camera. The LCD info display shows things like flash status, battery life, and shots remaining. To the right of that, you'll find the following multifunction buttons:

  • Flash setting [rec] / Change folder [play]
  • Focus (Macro, Infinity, Manual) [rec] / Resize photo [play]
  • Best Shot (more on this later) [rec]
  • Self-timer (2 sec, 10 sec) [rec] / Delete photo [play]

Just above all those buttons, you can see the shutter release button, with the power switch around it.

Here is one side of the camera, where all the I/O ports are found under a sturdy plastic cover. Here you'll find:

  • Digital (for optional serial connection and wired remote control)
  • USB
  • Video Out
  • DC in

Now onto the other side of the camera. The CompactFlash slot on the QV-3500EX is probably the worst one I've seen in years. The plastic door is hard to open and the card almost impossible to remove -- it's even hard to load!

This is a Type II CompactFlash slot, so the IBM Microdrive is fully supported, even the 1gb model.

Finally, the bottom of the camera. Down here you'll find the battery compartment, as well as as tripod mount. I'm not 100% sure, but I think the tripod mount is plastic.

Using the Casio QV-3500EX

Record Mode

The QV-3500EX takes just about four seconds to extend the lens and prepare for shooting. Focusing takes under a second in most circumstances. Shot-to-shot speed is very good, with about a 2 second delay between shots at Normal quality. If you use any of the Best Shot modes, or longer exposure times (!), the shot-to-shot speed slows dramatically, as the camera appears to be doing some kind of processing of the image.

While the zoom lens responds quickly to the controls, the zoom action itself is on the sluggish side.

Recording an uncompressed TIFF file will take upwards of 40 seconds, though the camera lets you cancel recording if you like.

The Best Shot mode is one of the newest and coolest features of the QV-3500EX (and all new Casio cameras). You can pick one of 64 "scenes" and the camera will pick the best settings for you! You can even make your own scenes if you are so inclined.

There are 28 scenes built into the camera, and there are 36 more on the CD-ROM that you can put on the CompactFlash card and then use. Be sure to lock those scene files first so they don't get erased if you format the memory card!

Below are a selection of scenes available on the QV-3500EX:

I love that last picture... I'd like to try my hand at that one myself!

Now, let's take a look at the menu options available on the QV-3500. Casio has fancy, animated menus on the surface, and more traditional menus underneath. The top level choices are:

  • Normal
  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Night Scene
  • Best Shot
  • Function - goes to more menus
  • Movie
  • Movie (Past) - more on these later
  • Panorama - assists you in taking panoramic shots

Selecting Function brings up the more traditional menu, with the following options:

  • Continuous Shooting (on/off) - captures 3 images at an interval of 0.5 sec
  • Size/Quality - see chart below
  • TIFF mode (on/off)
  • Sensitivity (ISO 100, 180, 300, 500)
  • Filter (Black & White, Sepia, Red, Green, Blue)
  • Exposure Mode (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Full Manual) - more below
  • Metering (Multi, Center, Spot)
  • White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Manual)
  • Enhancement (Off, Red, Green, Blue, Flesh Tones)
  • Grid (on/off)
  • Flash Intensity (Strong, Normal, Weak)
  • Sharpness (Hard, Normal, Soft)
  • Saturation (High, Normal, Low)
  • Contrast (High, Normal, Low)
  • Time Stamp
  • Digital Zoom (Off, Auto, 2X, 4X)
  • and various basic camera settings (date, etc.)

There are four exposure modes, as I mentioned above. Here's a rundown:

  • Program Mode: camera picks best exposure settings
  • Aperture Priority: you pick aperture (F2, F2.3, F2.8, F4, F5.6, F8), camera picks shutter speed
  • Shutter Priority: you pick shutter speed (60 sec - 1/1000 sec), camera picks aperture
  • Manual: you pick both the shutter speed and aperture

Okay, here's that chart of the various resolution and quality options I was promising, for both the standard and plus packs:

Image Size Quality # images on 16MB CF card # images on 340MB Microdrive
2048 x 1536 Fine 10 245
Normal 12 342
Basic 22 562
1024 x 768 Fine 38 943
Normal 54 1292
Basic 86 2054

I think the above chart says it all - the Microdrive rocks.

Another feature, not found in the menus, is the Focus Frame Location feature. This lets you choose one of 9 areas on the LCD for the camera to focus on.

Now, let's take a look at some sample photos.

It took a lot of tinkering to get the QV-3500 to produce the image above. They always came out too dark in Program mode, so I had to take matters into my own hands. The shot above (I believe) had a shutter speed of 1/4 sec. You can get as close as 6 cm (2.4") in macro mode, at full wide-angle. You can NOT zoom all the way to full telephoto in macro mode (two-thirds of the way).

For our nightshot this time, I decided to try something other than the San Francisco skyline. So here's Coit Tower, at night. Of the 5 cameras I took with me on the trip, this one fared the best. There are chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) at the top of the tower, and a bit of noise, but otherwise it's not bad.

Overall, photo quality on the QV-3500 was kind of a mixed bag. Some shots in the gallery look great (the macro flower shot, for example), while others (the Fisherman's Grotto shot) show lots of JPEG compression. For the record, the Fisherman's Grotto shot was taken with "Normal" compression. Blow it up and you'll see a lot of JPEG jaggies. Check out the gallery and decide for yourself about the QV-3500EX's photo quality.
Additional photos added 6/28/01!

Movie Mode

Casio made some of the first cameras with a movie mode, and sadly, it hasn't improved much since. There's no sound recorded with the movies -- most other 3.3 MP cameras support this now.

One nice thing is that you can use the optical zoom while filming -- now this is a rarity!

There are two movie modes: regular, and past. Regular is the traditional movie mode we all know, where you depress the shutter release and film for 30 seconds. Past is kind of the opposite: it records the 30 seconds BEFORE you pressed the button. I can't really see the use of this, but there you go.

The file format for these movies is AVI, using the M-JPEG codec. The resolution is fixed at 320 x 240.

Here's a somewhat exciting sample movie for you:

Click to play movie (1.4MB, AVI format, 10 secs)

Playback Mode

Casio's playback mode has always been very good, and that continues here. The basic features such as slide shows, DPOF print marking, and image protection are all here.

So is the "zoom and scroll" feature, which lets you zoom into your photos 2X or 4X, and then "scroll" around in them. The scrolling speed on the QV-3500 is nothing short of amazing, especially when compared to the other cameras I'm testing.

One feature that most camera makes skip over is the ability to delete a group of photos, as opposed to all or one. The QV-3500EX has that feature, and I think all cameras should have it.

Another feature unique to the QV-3500EX is the one-touch resize button (on top of the camera). With this button, you can resize your photo down to 640 x 480, perfect for e-mailing.

You can get a decent amount of information about your photos as well, including exposure settings, resolution/quality settings, and even a histogram!

One neat trick that the camera can do is create HTML pages containing your photos and their specs. Here's a sample, from our classic QV-2000UX review.

How Does it Compare?

The area in which the Casio QV-3500EX stands out the most is value. For less than $900 (probably closer to $800), you can get a full-featured 3.3 Megapixel camera, with full manual controls, unique Best Shot mode, and an IBM Microdrive with virtually limitless capacity. The three major downsides for me were the cheap-feeling plastic body, over-compressed "Normal" quality images, and lack of sound recording in movie mode. This is one camera you'll want to try in person before you buy, to see if these issues bother you. (If you can't find a QV-3500EX in the store, try the QV-2000UX or QV-3000EX, which are very similar).

What I liked:

  • Great value with Microdrive (costs less than most cameras that include 8MB cards)
  • Full manual controls
  • Best Shot mode - handy
  • Uncompressed TIFF support
  • Very good playback mode
  • Zoom works in movie mode

What I didn't care for:

  • Cheesy plastic body, crummy CompactFlash slot
  • Some photos seem over-compressed
  • No sound in movie mode
  • No rechargeable batteries included; PhotoLoader software isn't great.

There are tons of 3.3 Megapixel cameras, so here are a few I recommend you check out before you buy: Canon PowerShot G1 (also supports Microdrive), Casio QV-3000EX (older version of QV-3500EX), Nikon Coolpix 990 and 995, Olympus C-3000Z and C-3040Z, Sony DSC-S75, and the Toshiba PDR-M70.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the QV-3500EX and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Check out Steve's Digicams review of the QV-3500EX.

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not ask for personal camera recommendations.

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