With a Super Bright LCD and long battery life, the compact Casio Exilim EX-Z600 has a lot to recommend it. It's in the current resolution sweet spot of 6 megapixels, and the LCD is 2.7 inches diagonally with 153,600 pixels of resolution. A pretty typical 3x optical zoom gives you some flexibility when composing your shots.
Since I recently reviewed the Casio Exilim EX-Z1000, I've reused parts of that review for this one. The Z600 is a 6 megapixel camera with a different LCD and slightly different styling and controls. However, the feature set and menu system between the two cameras is very similar.
NUTS & BOLTS
The Z600 has a 1/2.5 inch CCD image sensor that captures 6 megapixels (2816x2112). You can also capture pictures at 3:2 (2816x1872), 2304x1728, 2048x1536, 1600x1200, and 640x480 resolutions. Three compression settings (Fine, Normal, Economy) also impact image quality. At full resolution and Fine compression, image size is approximately 3.63MB. Economy quality at the same resolution produces files that are approximately 1.21 MB.
The only method of framing (and reviewing) images is the 2.7 inch Super Bright LCD. A resolution of 640x240 (153,600 pixels) provides a nice sharp image. It does gain up or down, depending on the brightness of your subject. A brightness adjustment lets you adjust the LCD brightness to your taste.
The LCD does well in bright sunlight and the image on the screen is nice and fluid. However, colors are a little bit punched up (reds in particular) and depending on the lighting, colors may be off completely. But don't let inaccurate colors rule this camera out. The brightness and fluidity of the screen still make it very good for framing your shots.
The 3x optical zoom lens on the Z600 has a focal length of 6.2 -- 18.6mm (35mm equivalent of 38 -- 114 mm). The aperture ranges from f2.7 -- f5.2.
Focus Modes and Focus Ranges
The Z600, by default, uses a center spot auto focus, but you can also choose to use multi-area auto focus. Keep in mind that a center spot auto focus will typically achieve focus faster, if you have a need for speed. You can focus on subjects as close as 15.75 inches in Normal mode and between 5.9 and 19.7 inches in Macro mode (at wide angle). With manual focus, you can also focus as close a 5.9 inches.
While shooting, you can choose normal, macro, pan focus, infinity, and manual focus modes. A focus assist light helps out during low light conditions to illuminate your subject.
The camera also has a Quick Shutter mode that is enabled by default. With Quick Shutter turned on and you perform a full press of the button, the camera performs a quick focus (that is faster than the normal AF process). The downside is that you may not get as accurate a focus as you want. So, either disable the Quick Shutter, or always do a partial depress of the shutter to achieve focus lock first.
Besides capturing just a single frame, the Z600 provides a few additional modes for different continuous shooting conditions. Normal Speed continuous takes shots continuously until memory is filled up. High Speed takes a burst of three images at high speed. Flash Continuous lets you capture a three image burst with the flash firing for each one.
If you need a timer, the camera lets you set a 10 second timer, a 2 second timer, and an "x3" timer. With the "x3" timer, one image is captured after 10 seconds and then two more shots are taken one second after the first and after the second shot.
The built-in flash has a claimed range of 0.5 feet to 9.2 feet at wide angle and 1.3 feet to 4.6 feet at full telephoto. If you shoot in continuous mode with the flash, you lose some intensity and get a range of 2.3 feet to 5.25 feet at wide angle and 1.3 feet to 2.65 feet at full telephoto. For flash modes, you get Auto, Forced On, Forced Off, Soft Flash, and red eye reduction.
The range, as usual, seems to be a little optimistic. The flash is not quite enough to illuminate a room indoors.
The flash intensity can be adjusted between -2 and +2 in whole stop increments.
You can store images on approximately 8MB or use the SD/MMC slot in the battery compartment for more storage.
Image and Media File Format(s)
Images are stored as JPEG and movies are recorded as AVI format. Voice can also be recorded as WAV files.
The only connection option is to use the included cradle. The AC adapter, USB cable (to transfer pictures), and AV connection can be plugged directly into the cradle. You have to use the cradle to do any charging.
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The Z600 is powered by a 3.7v, 1300mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery (NP-40). Charge time is around three hours.
Casio uses the CIPA standard to provide an estimate of battery life. According to their measurements, you can get 550 shots on a single charge. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to fully discharge the battery. I don't think you'll get 550 shots in real use, but I believe you would still get several hundred shots.
The Z600 is a simple point and shoot camera, aimed at users who don't need any manual modes. The Auto mode will suffice in most situations, but if you want to play around with some scene modes, you can use Casio's Best Shot system. For Best Shot choices, Casio provides over 30 different modes. Just click the BS button and make your choice using the directional pad.
The Z600 allows a couple different quality settings for movie capture. The highest quality (HQ) is 640 x 480 at 30 frames per second. The Normal captures the same resolution and frame rate, but the compression rate differs so that file sizes in normal mode are just over half the size of movies captured in HQ mode. If you are really short on storage space, you can also record at 320x240 at 30 frames per second.
You cannot operate the optical zoom during movie capture and you can record monaural audio with your clips. If you have the camera set to allow digital zoom, you can do a digital zoom during movies.
Multi-pattern, center-weighted, and center spot metering
Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Shade, Day White Fluorescent, Daylight Fluorescent, Tungsten, and Manual
Auto, ISO 50, ISO 100, ISO 200, ISO 400
In-Camera Image Adjustment
During image capture you can apply one of the color filters: black & white, sepia, red, green, blue, yellow, pink, or purple. You can also adjust the sharpness, saturation, and contrast.
During image playback, you can apply a keystone correction, color correction, rotate, resize, or trim images.
CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS
The Casio Z600 is very compact, stylish, and comes in silver and black. It's small enough to easily fit in a pocket. If you do, a clear cover over the LCD protects it from minor bumps with whatever else you may have in your pocket. A built-in lens cover protects the lens when it is retracted into the body of the camera.
For the most part, the controls are good. The shutter button is sized nicely. The zoom ring around the shutter button is easy to operate and a little texture on the upper right of the back of the camera gives you a good place to rest your thumb. The power button is recessed enough to prevent accidental presses. If you read my review of the Z1000, I wasn't a big fan of that directional pad. Luckily, the Z600 has a different button that is much easier to use.
The only "shortcuts" available on the camera (other than using the menu system) is an "up" press cycles through the display modes, and a "down" press cycles through flash modes. If you want to use the left and right directions on the directional pad, you can assign it to adjust focus, exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, or the self-timer modes.
Build quality is good. The mostly plastic body still feels solid. Since you have to charge and transfer pictures using the cradle, there aren't too many little access doors with flimsy lids. The only door is the one to the battery/memory card compartment and it's nicely done. The Z600 also has a nice touch that you don't see on every camera (I'm not sure why) - a little tab that prevents the battery from sliding out when you open the compartment door.
In Casio's nice, compact box, you'll find the camera, battery, cradle, wrist strap, CD-ROM with software and advanced manual, USB cable, A/V cable, quick start guide, and AC power cord. (The power cord will vary depending on where the camera is purchased.)
The Z600 has good image quality. Images had plenty of detail and color was good, when the white balance was set correctly. You'll notice the images below of the flowers. With a soft flash, colors were much more accurate (on the left). In the right image, the mixture of overhead halogen lamps and some natural indirect light from outside challenged the camera's automatic white balance a little too much.
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Indoor images were good as long as the sensitivity (ISO setting) doesn't get over ISO 100. If you notice the camera trying to shoot at ISO 200 (when ISO is set to Auto) and are not pleased with the results, then manually set the ISO where you want it.
Macro performance was average. While images were sharp at close range, the "close range" is not as close as many cameras. You still have to be at least 6 inches away from your subject in Macro mode.
Noise performance was good at ISO 50 and starts to become noticeable at ISO 100. ISO 200 and 400 are very noticeable in images when viewed on the computer.
The Z600 performed relatively quickly. While not the fastest camera (as far as shutter lag) out there, it was still good. Make sure that you achieve a focus lock with a partial depress of the shutter button in order to minimize the shutter lag. A full press of the button had a click to capture time of just under a second (indoors when it was bright enough for no flash).
Cycle time was pretty good. When using the flash (and a healthy battery), the shot to shot time was under five seconds. If you need to shoot faster with the flash, consider using the Flash Continuous mode.
A Few Concerns
My biggest complaint is the graininess of indoor shots taken with Auto ISO (and pretty high noise levels overall). Better results can be had by manually setting the ISO of the camera.
The quick operation, bright LCD, and battery life of the Casio Exilim EX-Z600 are enough to put it on your list for consideration if you're looking for a compact, easy to use, auto-only digital camera. The image quality is good and with a little practice, you can get consistently good pictures. As with many compact point and shoot digital cameras, the more you know how your camera works in certain conditions, the better you get at taking good pictures with it.
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