|Fashionable, stylish and solidly built, is how you could
describe this credit card sized, slick little camera by Casio. The 3.2 megapixel Exilim EX-Z3 sports a 3x zoom lens together with a good mix of features and one of the biggest TFT color LCDs
we have seen in a long time.
It is aimed at serious amateur photographers who like to carry a camera wherever they go. Small enough to fit in any shirt or trouser pocket there is no excuse for leaving this one at home.
Using the camera
The body, which fits comfortably in the hand, is a sturdy magnesium-alloy that has a pleasant feel to it and is not easily marked by fingerprints. The camera's controls are well laid out
and have a responsive, solid feel to them. On the back is the zoom-toggle together with a four-way control and two buttons that are used to access the various menus which are presented in
bright large lettering on the TFT screen.
Power on time is less than two seconds and in our tests the auto focus locked on quickly and positively most of the time. In low light conditions however, the EX-Z3 sometimes had trouble
focusing as there is no focus assist light. One way to overcome this would be to choose manual focus in dark conditions. There was hardly any shutter lag to speak of, so action shots should
well be possible.
It should be mentioned that the four-way control on the back needs a precise touch as, especially with larger fingers, it is easy to activate other functions without realising.
Apart from the automatic program mode for snapshooters there is the possibility of choosing from 21 Best Shot scene modes ranging from portrait to fireworks, pets or food. Using the menus
and choosing the various options is easy as all the terms used are self explanatory. This is just as well since the printed manual that comes with the camera is rather concise and only
provides basic information on how to use the camera. For more detailed information you are advised to read the 167-page user's guide on the Cdrom that comes with the camera.
The list of features on this Casio is almost endless. In this short space we will only mention a few of the more noteworthy ones such as the possibility of cropping, resizing or rotating
images in camera, or memorising certain program settings on power off. Also there are Coupling Shot and Pre Shot, two features that enable you to combine two images into one.
There is a live histogram to assess the contrast range of images at the taking stage plus the option of programming the four-way control to set exposure compensation, recording modes or
white balance settings. Another handy feature is that shutter speeds and aperture are visible on screen when taking pictures.
In the box
The EX-Z3 comes complete with lithium-ion battery, USB compatible docking station, USB cable, AC adapter and wrist strap. For basic image manipulation like rotating images, removing
red-eye, or adjusting contrast or brightness, Photo Hands as well as Kodak Easy Share software are included.
Casio have decided not to include a memory card with the camera. A wise choice since cards that are bundled with digital cameras are infinitely too small in capacity to make any meaningful
impression. Now at least you can choose your own capacity Secure Digital or MultiMedia card. To make up for this though, the camera sports an internal memory of 10Mb, which is enough to store
five images at the lowest compression level and top resolution of 2048 x 1536.
Installing the software is a doddle. Just pop the CD in the drive, run Setup and choose which programs you would like to have installed.
Downloading images to your computer can be done in two ways. With the camera in its docking station, pressing the USB button will automatically start downloading images to Photo Loader,
which conveniently arranges the images in folders sorted by day and month.
An alternative would be to open Windows Explorer; press the USB button and locate the camera in Explorer where it presents itself as a separate drive letter. Now move your images from the
camera to your desired folders as you would while copying or moving Windows files between drives. Downloading a full SD card with 75 images took about 7 minutes.
When not in use for downloading, placing the camera in its cradle automatically charges the battery, whereas pressing the dock's Photo button turns the EX-Z3 into a digital frame, cycling
through the images in camera as a slideshow. The EX-Z3 can even act as a desk top alarm or a world-time clock, should you desire so.
When looking at the results of this little gem (see our sample images) you can't fail to notice that images are bright and clear. Sharpness is good for a 3-megapixel camera and colours are
lifelike and true. The zoom lens, which is the same as used in the Pentax Optio S, shows good sharpness through most of its range except for some slight softening in the corners in wide angle
images taken with the lens fully open. There is some barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom, which disappears completely when zooming in a little. In-camera sharpening is fairly strong
and causes minimal noise and artefacts, although if you stick to lower ISO settings you will never notice any.
In normal lighting conditions the camera's metering works excellent with a nice balance between highlight and shadow detail. When conditions get really contrasty though, the camera tends to
capture more detail in shadow areas but a little less in the highlights, in fact very bright highlights are frequently clipped then. This is not always desirable. A way round this would be to
point the camera towards the highlights a bit more, press the shutter halfway to lock the metering before recomposing the image and taking the shot. In doing so shadows will become somewhat
darker whereas highlights will retain more detail. This is especially important if you are going to print images, as bleached out highlights stand out like a sore thumb on prints. Following
the method outlined above is a good way to avoid them.
We fell in love with this camera from the moment we set eyes on it. After using it for a couple of days we had to admit that it didn't disappoint at all. Of course image quality is not in
the same league as a Canon G3, which attracts a completely different audience altogether, but for a camera aimed at serious amateur photographers and snap shooters this one must rank high on
the list of likely candidates. Image quality is easily good enough for A4 prints while operating the camera is fast and comfortable. Should you feel the need to delve deeper into its menu
system and program modes there are many nice features for you to discover and apply.
What would take some getting used to for me however would be its small size, which although very handy from a storage point of view, made operating this camera a bit awkward sometimes. I
found that I had to operate buttons very precisely if I didn't want to make a wrong menu choice. Especially accidentally selecting Best Shot or Movie Mode when I was only trying to set the
flash mode on the four-way control was a bit inconvenient sometimes. I am sure I would get used to this after some time though. The camera's light weight is a big advantage if you plan to
carry it around in your trouser pocket all day, but it also means more effort in holding the camera still to avoid blurred images through camera shake. However, for photographers who never
want to miss a photo opportunity and who desire quality images the EX-Z3 will truly be one of the nicest "pocketable" cameras available at the moment.