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Casio Exilim EX-Z750 Digital Camera Review
by Howard Creech -  6/28/2005
Casio's new Exilim Ex Z750 is a worthy alternative to Canon's Powershot SD500

Casio's newest digicam is a precision built imaging tool that absolutely radiates class. It reminds me of the iconic Rollei 35S and the sexy little Contax T2 film cameras. The Casio Exilim EX Z750 is a seven-megapixel digital camera that's small enough to be dropped in a shirt pocket and tough enough to go just about anywhere. It's very fast (across the board), has better battery life than the Energizer bunny, and is almost infinitely tweakable.


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Casio's little Flagship micro-cam also features a very good 3X zoom, a super large 2.5" LCD screen, and an incredibly broad selection of exposure options. Tiny feature rich digicams are as common as budget deficits these days, so why should consumers purchase the Z750 rather than the nifty little Canon Powershot SD500? Because the Z750 stuffs a lot into it's diminutive stainless steel body. This camera puts the fun back into taking pictures. It is remarkably well designed and user friendly, surprisingly versatile, and capable of consistently impressive results.

NUTS & BOLTS

Viewfinder/LCD

I generally like optical viewfinders, but the EX Z750's tunnel-style optical viewfinder is so tiny that using it is like peeping through a keyhole. There's no diopter correction for eyeglasses wearers and the offset between the optical viewfinder and the lens means that up to about 8-10 feet the viewfinder sees a substantially different view than the lens.

The Z750's large 2.5" LCD screen is, by comparison, absolutely superb (although I would have liked to see a bit better resolution). It's bright, fluid, color correct, and relatively sharp. Brightness can be adjusted, but the LCD doesn't automatically gain "up" in low light. The Z750's LCD info display provides so much information that it occasionally interferes with composition, but turning the info display off is easy.


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Lens

The Z750's f2.8-f5.1/38-114mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens extends from the camera body automatically when the camera is powered up. The zoom retracts into the body when the camera is powered down and a built-in lens cover closes over the front element. The Z750's tiny zoom is smooth, quiet, and very quick.

The 3X zoom exhibits some minor corner softness, but no vignetting (darkened corners). There is moderate barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range, but no noticeable pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center) at the telephoto end of the range. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is remarkably well controlled.

Minimum focusing distance (in macro mode) is about four inches (at the wide angle end of the zoom). Macro images are sharp with good detail and very saturated color. The Z750's 3X zoom is amazingly good for such a tiny lens.


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The Z750's tiny complex 3X zoom provides impressive resolution (Caterpillar on Bronze Fennel)

Auto Focus

The Z750's 9 AF point auto focus system is fast, responsive, and consistently accurate. Options include Spot AF, Multi AF, Free AF, Pan Focus (movie mode only), Macro focus, Infinity focus, and Manual Focus. In manual focus mode the compass switch (four-way controller) is used to adjust the focusing distance. A distance scale is displayed on the LCD and the center of the frame is enlarged as an aid to focusing accuracy.

Flash

The Z750's built-in multi mode (auto, fill, red-eye reduction and off) flash is adequate, but fairly weak. Casio claims the maximum range is about 10 feet, but realistically anything beyond 6 feet (unless there's lots of ambient light and the background is white) is going to end up being fairly dark. In dim lighting users can engage the Flash assist feature, which automatically brightens up underexposed areas in-camera.

The flash is immediately above and just slightly to the left of the lens, so redeye is an ongoing (and largely unconquerable) problem. Unlike most micro-cams the Z750's flash intensity can be adjusted (+/- 2 steps in 1 step increments) to compensate for environmental/ambient lighting factors.

Memory Media

The EX-Z750 saves images to SD/MMC cards. The camera also provides 8.3 MB of built-in memory. Casio doesn't include a "starter" SD card in the box.

Image File Format(s)

JPEG

Connectivity

USB 2.0 out, A/V out, DC in

Power

The EX Z750 draws its juice from a proprietary Casio NP-40 lithium battery that is charged in-camera (in about 3 hours) whenever the camera is locked into the (included) docking cradle. Casio claims the battery is good for up to 325 exposures, but keep in mind that battery life is actually dependent on a variety of random environmental and personal use factors (not a lab test or best case scenarios) so accurate power depth predictions are as rare as honest politicians. My personal shooting style (full time LCD use, regular flash use, constant review, delete, and re-shoot) uses up power profligately, but I never once ran out of juice over the two weeks that I used the Z750. The Casio Exilim EX Z750 manages power so well that most (typical) users won't need to buy a back-up battery.

EXPOSURE

The Casio EX Z750 provides users with an incredibly broad range of exposure options including Auto/Program (Snapshot mode), *30 Scene modes (Best Shot mode) including a "custom" user created scene mode, Aperture priority AE, Shutter priority AE, Manual mode, and 3 movie options. Users can also rotate, crop, adjust brightness, and resize images in-camera. However, there are a couple of important caveats for potential purchasers. Manual mode allows users to choose the shutter speed, but limits aperture choices to f2.8 or f4.0 (at the wide angle end of the zoom) f5.1 or f7.4 at the telephoto setting. The anti-shake scene mode doesn't provide any form of image stabilization, rather the resolution is dropped to 1600x1200 and the CPU boosts ISO sensitivity, increases shutter speed, and selects larger apertures to improve blur free image capture.

*Scene Modes: Portrait, Scenery, Portrait w/Scenery, Children, Sports, Candlelight Portrait, Party, Pet, Flower, Natural Green, Soft Flowing Water, Splashing Water, Sundown, Night Scene, Night Scene Portrait, Fireworks, Food, Text, Collection, Backlight, Anti-Shake, Pastel, Illustration, Cross (star), Monochrome, Retro (Sepia), Twilight, ID Photo, Business Card, Whiteboard, and Custom (user created).

Movie Mode

EX-Z750 users can record video clips (AVI format using MPEG-4 codec) with clip duration limited only by SD Card capacity at 640x480 @30 fps with monaural (Ed: corrected - used to say stereo) sound. The EX Z750's Best Shot movie mode allows users to select from one of five (portrait, scenery, night scene, fireworks, backlight, and silent) movie Scene Modes with all exposure settings automatically optimized for the scene mode selected. For the Past Movie mode, the camera continuously saves video to the buffer and every time the shutter button is pressed the prior five seconds is transferred to the SD Card, great for doting parents trying to time historic footage of initial infant steps. The Short Movie mode merges the last "past" five-second clip with six seconds of current video. Still frames can be captured from video clips (motion print) and movies can be edited (post exposure) in-camera.

Metering

The EX Z750's default multi (evaluative) metering system consistently renders accurate exposures in all but the most difficult lighting situations. A Spot metering option biases exposure on a small area at the center of the frame (useful for portraits, back lit subjects, and high/low contrast subjects), and the center-weighted option allows savvy users to create traditional looking landscapes.

White Balance

The EX Z750's White balance system is consistently accurate and pretty versatile. Options include TTL Auto, daylight, cloudy, shade, fluorescent 1&2, tungsten, and manual (custom).


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Breakfast at a Diner with cool Fluorescent Ceiling fixtures, Incandescent lights above each table, and window (day) light -- but the Z750's Auto WB got it just right.

Sensitivity

TTL Auto, and settings for 50, 100, 200, and 400 ISO (35mm equivalents).

In-Camera Image Adjustment

The EX Z750 provides users with a high level of tweakability, skunking most of it's competition in this often neglected area. Options include Sharpness (+/- 2 EV in 1-step increments), Saturation (+/- 2EV in 1-step increments), and Contrast (+/- 2EV in 1-step increments). Shooters can also utilize the Z750's easily accessible Exposure Compensation mode (+/- 2EV in 1/3 EV increments) to quickly adjust exposure to overcome environmental/lighting problems.


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In difficult lighting (like these backlit Primroses) the Z750 is able to preserve color and detail (with minus 1EV of Exposure Compensation).

CONTROLS, DESIGN, & ERGONOMICS

Ergonomically the Z750 is an amazingly well thought out imaging tool, clearly designed for photographers by photographers. This tiny digicam provides users with tons of useful features and a raft load of Record, Play, and Exposure options. All controls are logically placed and come easily to hand. The Z750 has the best compass switch (4 way controller) to function/menu integration that I've seen to date; navigation/operation is easy and intuitive.

Technical Specifications

Resolution: 7.2 megapixels (3072 x 2304)
Lens: f2.8-f5.1/38-114mm (35mm equivalent) all-glass 3X zoom lens
Viewfinders: Optical viewfinder& 2.5" LCD screen
Auto Focus: TTL 9 AF point contrast detection autofocus system
Exposure: Auto/Program (Snapshot mode), 30 Scene modes (Best Shot mode), Aperture priority AE, Shutter priority AE, Manual mode, and 3 movie modes.
Metering: Evaluative, Center-Weighted, or Spot
Exposure Compensation: Yes +/- 2EV in 1/3-step increments
White Balance: TTL auto and presets for daylight, cloudy, shade, fluorescent 1&2, tungsten, and manual (custom)
Sensitivity: TTL Auto and ISO 50, 100, 200, & 400 (35mm equivalents)
Flash: Built-in multi mode
Memory/Storage Media: SD/MMC cards
Image File Format: JPEG
Connectivity: USB 2.0 & A/V out
Power: Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery (Casio NP-40)

Street Price Range $349.00 -- $399.00

Included

NP-40 rechargeable lithium-ion battery, AC adapter, USB cradle/charging dock, Wrist strap, USB & A/V cables, software CD-ROM, printed "quick start" manual

PERFORMANCE

Image Quality

Saturation is a bit high, but colors are consistently accurate and I suspect that the Z750's target audience won't be at all troubled by its "hot" color. Casio's engineers managed to keep Caucasian skin tones fairly accurate, somehow avoiding most of the ruddy look that usually goes hand in hand with oversaturated colors.

Image noise is very well controlled. ISO 50 images look like Velvia slides -- sharp as a tack with very bright and highly saturated colors and hard contrast. ISO 100 images are still very good, with sharp resolution, bright colors, and lots of snap. ISO 200 images are pretty good, but grain is starting to show and colors look more like print film than slide film. Results at ISO 400 are pretty flat and detail is starting to go, but noise is very well controlled (better than most of the Z750's competition).

Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is very well controlled. I didn't see the dreaded purple edge in anything I shot, even in high contrast color transition areas. Indoors, the Z750 (based on my very limited indoor use) does a somewhat better than average job.

Image quality should always be the number one consideration when assessing camera performance -- and in this arena, the Z750 delivers. My Z750 images showed consistently excellent resolution, (slightly too) vibrant color, great highlight and shadow detail, and a very nice dynamic range. Shooters who insist on constantly tweaking their images will love the Z750's ability to produce photos that truly reflect the personality and creative vision of the individual behind the camera.

Colors are visibly over-saturated, check red and blue in this Palm/Tarot Readers sign.

Timing/Shutter Lag

The Z750 boots up in about 1 second. Operation is very quick, easily as fast or faster than its competition. AF is essentially real time (with pre focus) and much better than average from scratch. Outdoors, shutter lag is a non-issue. Shot-to-shot (1.5 --2.0 seconds) and write to card times are a bit better than average. In the final analysis, the Z750 is fast enough for most sports/action and keeping up with infants and toddlers.

A Few Concerns

My only major complaint with the Casio Exilim EX Z750 is the fact that there is no printed user's manual -- the per unit savings can't be sufficient to balance the disservice (and irritation) this causes Casio's customers. Forget what the bean counters say, the Z750 is a complex and feature rich digital camera -- Casio should include a well written and well organized printed user's manual with each and every camera.

Like all micro-cams, the Z750 has serious red-eye issues. This is an insurmountable problem (despite the red-eye reduction flash setting) because it is not possible (with tiny cameras) to physically separate the flash and the lens sufficiently to avoid, in essence, having them on the same plane. Photographers who shoot lots of portraits may want to consider investing in a larger digital camera. With the Z750's weak flash and built-in red-eye issues indoor portraits (especially group/party shots) will often be under-exposed with indistinct subjects peering out of the gloom through blazing red eyes.

Conclusion

The new Casio Exilim EX Z750 is often compared with the Canon Powershot SD500 and that's a reasonable comparison (since these two digicams are similar in many ways). Photographers looking for a easy to use point and shoot or a stylish ultra compact bar/party camera should probably opt for the SD500. Shooters who want the ability to intervene in the creative process by tweaking settings until they get just the "look" they want are probably going to be happier with the Z750. As the icing on the cake, the Z750 will still be going after the SD500 runs out of juice and it costs less than it's chief rival, too. I really liked the Canon Powershot SD500, but when push comes to shove I like this little Casio better.

Pros: Very fast, compact, 7 megapixels, user friendly, very good image quality, tough stainless steel body, large LCD screen, very good battery life, manual controls, 30 scene modes

Cons: images are slightly over-saturated, the full camera manual is on CD-ROM (PDF file), the printed quick start guide is virtually worthless, no SD Card is included with camera, lots of Redeye, LCD doesn't "gain up" in low light; and weak flash

The Bottom Line: The EX Z750 is the best choice for Photographers looking for an ultra-compact digicam that performs like a full sized camera.