DCRP Review: Casio QV-3EX
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, March 7, 2001
Last Updated: Thursday, March 8, 2001

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These days, cameras seem to be getting smaller -- and more stylish. The PowerShot S100 Digital ELPH from Canon was a big hit. A few months later, Casio quietly announced the QV-3EX ($799), which offered a small, metal body, 3.3 Mpixel resolution, and an IBM Microdrive in the box. It's too bad an optical zoom didn't make it with the rest of those features. Read on to see what I thought about the QV-3EX.

What's in the Box?

The QV-3EX has a great bundle, with everything you need (and then some) right in the box. Inside you'll find:

  • The 3.3 Mpixel Casio QV-3EX camera
  • 340MB IBM Microdrive (which is a CompactFlash Type II card)
  • NP-L7 Li-ion rechargeable battery
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • Soft case
  • USB cable
  • Serial cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring PhotoLoader software and drivers
  • Manual in English and German, plus manuals for software and AC adapter

I should note up front that there may be a configuration of the QV-3EX that doesn't come with the Microdrive -- instead it will have a measly 8MB CF card.

I can't complain about a bundle that includes all this great stuff -- heck, they even give you a carrying case!

The QV-3EX is the first Casio camera that uses a proprietary rechargeable battery. The NP-L7 looks familiar (anyone know what other cameras use it?) and can last between 65 and 270 minutes, depending on the LCD usage.

The IBM Microdrive continues to impress. Now available in sizes as large as 1gb, you can store a lifetime of photos on a single card. Do keep in mind that the Microdrive is not recommended for use in high altitudes.

Casio's PhotoLoader software is pretty bad. I guess it does what it's name implies-- it loads photos. It displays photos. That's about it (it can't even rotate them). The Panorama Editor is Windows only and isn't automatic like some other products out there. I'd consider picking up a copy of PhotoDeluxe or PhotoShop instead.

The manual included with the camera covers all the QV-3EX's features and is fairly well put together.

Look and Feel

The QV-3EX is a small, metal-bodied camera that is heavier than it looks. It does feel well built, and fits snugly in your hands. The QV-3EX works well as both a one and two hand camera. The dimensions of the camera are 4.5 x 24 x 1.3 inches, and it weighs 215 grams empty. Let's begin our tour of the camera now, shall we?

The main item of interest here, not to mention the biggest disappointment with the camera, is the lens. The F2.6 lens has a focal length of 8.1 mm, which is equivalent to 40mm on a 35mm camera. There's no optical zoom here, and the 3.2X digital zoom is no substitute. The lens is auto-focus luckily, and has macro and infinity settings.

The lens has a built-in cover, so no lens cap is needed.

Now onto the back of the camera, which has the traditional Casio "look". The 1.8" LCD is fluid and bright (though you can't make it any brighter).

Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder. There's no diopter correction for those of us with glasses. I did find the viewfinder to be just the right size for this little camera. If you're a left-eye viewfinder user, you'll find nose smudges on the LCD display.

The controls to the left of the LCD invoke and navigate the menus, The Set button also doubles as the zoom button in playback mode. The Disp(lay) button turns the LCD on and off.

The top of the camera is pretty standard for a digital camera. The LCD info display shows remaining photos (yep, 240), battery strength, and flash settings (among other things).

Below that are buttons for:

  • Flash settings [rec] / Info [playback]
  • Focus (manual, infinity, macro) [rec] / Change Folder [play]
  • Self-timer (10 or 2 sec) [rec] / Delete [play]

To the right of all that, you'll find the shutter release button. I wish it had a little more range of motion. Just below that is the power switch -- there's play, off, and record.

To the right of that is the mode wheel, which has the following options:

  • Full manual mode
  • Aperture priority mode
  • Program mode
  • Nightshot mode
  • Landscape mode
  • Movie mode
  • Panorama mode

Some notes about the manual modes:

  • Aperture priority mode - choose from F2.6, F4.2, or F6.6
  • No shutter priority mode
  • Full manual mode - same aperture choices plus shutter speeds ranging from 1 sec to 1/3000 sec

On the side of the camera you'll find the I/O ports. There's normally a rubber piece that goes over these, and it can be removed completely. Ports here include digital (for serial), video out, USB, and DC in.

On the other side, you'll find the CompactFlash Type II slot, with the included Microdrive shown in the foreground. My only comment is that the door is bit awkward to open.

Here you can see the bottom of the camera, as well as the battery. The battery cover stays closed and has a lock for double protection. There is also a plastic tripod mount.

Using the Casio QV-3EX

Record Mode

The QV-3EX takes about three seconds to start up. The lens retracts its cover, and extends slightly. There's a pretty good amount of lag while the camera focuses when you depress the shutter release halfway -- between 1 and 2 seconds (that's below average). When you fully depress the button, the photo is taken in about half a second. In Fine mode, there's around a 4 second wait before you can take another photo. As I've mentioned, the camera has only a stepped digital zoom -- which is smooth (as you'd expect). Do note that when using the digital zoom, the recorded image size is 1008 x 768!

Here's what you'll see on the LCD in record mode

One nice feature in record mode is a histogram that can be displayed on the LCD during composition. A histogram displays brightness (vertical axis) in terms of the number of pixels (horizontal axis).

Simple Menus

Advanced Menus

I still contend that Casio has the best menu system in the business. They're designed well, look nice, and are quick to navigate. What has also impressed me is that Casio gives you a choice (in record mode): for beginners there's a simple, graphical menu with limited options. When you're ready for more complex options, you can switch to a more traditional hierarchical menu. Here's a list of all the options available in the record mode menus:

  • Picture
    • Quality (Fine, Normal, Economy) - more on this below
    • Size (2016 x 1536, 1008 x 768) - more below
    • Sharpness (Hard / Normal / Soft)
    • Saturation (High / Normal / Low)
    • Contrast (High / Normal / Low)
  • Functions 1 (I have no idea why they called it this)
    • Drive Mode (Single, Continuous, AE Bracketing)
    • Metering (Multi / Average / Spot)
    • White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Manual) - more on this below
    • Flash Intensity (Strong / Normal / Weak)
    • Sync Speed (Fast / Normal / Slow)
    • Sensitivity (High / Normal) - Similar to ISO setting on other cameras
  • Function 2
    • Movie Mode (Normal / Past) - more on this later
    • Color (Color / Black & White / Sepia)
    • Grid (Off / On) - displays grid on LCD during composition.
    • Time Stamp (Off / YMD / D H:M / YMD H:M)
  • Setup (the usual stuff)

Ok, now a few more details about some of these. First, the quality and size choices:

Image Size Quality File Size Images on 340MB Microdrive
2016 x 1536 Fine 1.4MB 245
Normal 1MB 342
Economy 600KB 562
1008 x 768 Fine 350KB 943
Normal 250KB 1292
Economy 150KB 2054

Well, the chart above should illustrate just how absurd (in a good way) the Microdrive is. 2000+ photos on one card? Yep.

Another nice feature (that I think every camera should have) is a white balance mode. Sure, you've got the usual white balance choices (described in the list above), but what about those situations where the presets just don't work? Like, my "studio" which is a dining room in real life. No matter what you try, the preset white balance settings just don't cut it. With manual white balance, you shoot a sheet of white paper (or whatever you want to be white), and you're set. The QV-3EX has this feature and it's appreciated. Now onto our photo tests:

Our macro test came out a little dark, but it was pretty good nonetheless.

I first tried the "Night Shot" mode but the results were too dark for my taste. So I set the camera into full manual mode (F2.6 / 1 sec) and got the result you see above. Since the slowest shutter speed you can get is 1 second, this is as bright as this scene will get. You can see what everything is, though I wish it was a bit sharper. There is no noise to speak of in this shot.

Overall, I'd give the QV-3EX an "average" rating on photo quality. The photos I took (see the gallery) seem a bit noisy/grainy to me. I couldn't see any evidence of chromatic abberations (purple fringing) in the shots that I took. One way to really make the photo quality fall is to use the digital zoom. Take a look at the shots with the 1008 x 768 resolution in the gallery to see what I mean.

Special Modes

I'm going to discuss the movie and panorama modes on the QV-3EX next.

The camera can record 30 second clips at 320 x 240, in AVI format. No sound is recorded. There's also a "past" movie mode, that can be best described by an example. Suppose you're going to record a movie of your baby. You're getting set to start filming, and 5 seconds before you start, baby utters her first words. You first think "darn, I can't believe I missed that!" But if you're using Past mode, it would've recorded it. Past mode records the 10 seconds preceding the moment you hit the shutter release button.

Click to view movie
(AVI format, 3MB)

The sample above is a Normal movie, taken from high above Union Square in San Francisco.

The QV-3EX has a panorama helper mode, which is designed to make it easier to stitch a bunch of shots together into one. After you take each frame, it creates a transparency of what was on the far right, and you're supposed to pan over to the right until what was on the right is now on the left (what a mouthful). This sounds good in theory but is tough out in the bright sunlight -- but I guess there are no good solutions here.

You can have the camera stitch the photos together for a preview, but unfortunately, you still have to use Panorama Editor (Windows only) to do it "for real". I guess I've been spoiled by Canon's great PhotoStitch software, which does it automatically. With Panorama Editor, you've go to move each frame into position which isn't easy. I got so frustrated that I used Canon's software instead and got the result you see below.

Yes, things are a little wacky in this shot.

Playback Mode

The QV-3EX has a very complete playback mode, with all the necessities and then some. The basics are here: slideshows, DPOF print marking, protection, and 9 thumbnails mode.

Scrolling between photos is exceptionally fast, though a low res thumbnail is shown before a high res version replaces it.

With the "zoom and scroll" feature, you select the area you want to zoom into first and then hit a button. You can zoom in as close as 3.2X the original size. Once zoomed, you can move around in the photo.

The "Info" button on the top of the camera adds a histogram and some basic exposure information over the photo -- a first for a Casio camera -- and much appreciated.

One last, nice feature I will comment on is the "Card Browser". If you turn this on, the camera will create HTML pages for all your photos when it shuts off. You get an instant photo album! You can't add comments or anything, but it works if you want just the photos in an easy-to-browse format.

How Does it Compare?

The Casio QV-3EX is a full-featured, small, easy-to-use camera, that I would recommend unconditionally if it had just one more feature: an optical zoom lens. At $800, it's overpriced. The 340MB IBM Microdrive sells for around $360 retail, so I would imagine that it's considerably less from an OEM standpoint. If you deduct, say, $300 for the Microdrive, you're left with a $500 camera. Casio's QV-3000EX Plus camera is larger, but a 3X optical zoom, shutter priority mode, and more -- for the same price. I can't recommend a camera this pricey that doesn't have a zoom lens, unfortunately.

What I liked:

  • Well designed controls and menus
  • Lots of manual controls (but no shutter priority mode?)
  • Very nice playback mode
  • Two words: IBM Microdrive
  • Great bundle

What I didn't care for:

  • Too expensive
  • No optical zoom!
  • No shutter priority mode
  • Long autofocus lag
  • No sound in movie mode
  • Software is lacking (to say the least)

If you're looking for a small camera with a zoom lens, check out the Canon PowerShot S10, S20, S100, or S300. The first two support (but do not include) the Microdrive. If you want a Microdrive bundle and like the Casio "style", take a look at the QV-3000EX. Don't write off the Fuji FinePix 4700 or upcoming FinePix 4800 either.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local reseller to try these cameras 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?

Be sure to read Steve's Digicams review of the QV-3EX!

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

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