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Casio Exilim EX-Z120 Digital Camera Review
by  -  11/22/2005

Announced back in August, the 7.2 megapixel Casio Exilim EX-Z120 (and its 6 megapixel little brother, the EX-Z110) was introduced as an easy to use, entry level, compact digital camera. Casio touted these cameras as easy to use for any level. With an icon-driven easy mode for beginners, 28 Best Shot scene modes for beginning to intermediate users, and manual modes for people who want to experiment more.


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In the Box

Bundled with the camera are two AA batteries, USB cable, A/V cable, strap, manual, and software CD.

Camera Design

The camera is very compact. It's not an ultra slim camera, but it's pretty tiny. The mostly metal case makes for a solid feel in your hand and it's very pocketable. I'm only just ok with the layout of the controls. I like to put my right thumb on the back of the camera, but this camera isn't conducive to that. As with any camera, it's always a good idea to visit a store to see if a camera is comfortable in your hand.


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On the front of the camera, you'll see the lens (with built-in lens cover), flash, and optical viewfinder. On the very top right is a hole for the microphone and to upper left of the lens, there is a timer indicator lamp.


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The top of the camera has the power button, shutter release, and zoom control (ring around the shutter).


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The back of the camera has the viewfinder, LCD, two buttons for easy access to playback or capture mode (these buttons also power the camera on). The shooting mode selector dial, Menu button, Disp button, and directional pad can be found on the right side of the back.


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The bottom of the camera has a tripod mount and battery compartment access.


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The right side of the camera (when looking at the back) has two access doors. One, with a rubber door, provides access to the USB jack and jack for an optional power source. Below that is a flipping plastic door for access to the SD/MMC memory card. For those of you with larger fingers, you will have a hard time extracting cards from this camera. More than once, I asked my 3 year old to pull out cards for me. Also, on this same side, is the eyelet to attach the included strap.


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Camera Features

Packing the ability to capture a whopping 7.2 million pixels, the Z120 also has a 3x optical zoom and 2 inch LCD. Images, movies and audio clips are stored on a SD/MMC memory card.

A big marketing point for the Z120 is its convenience and ease of use. When the "easy mode" is selected on the mode dial, the settings configurable by the user when pressing the Menu button are limited (on purpose). You can set the Flash mode, timer mode, and image size. For each option, there is some short text that describes what the option is. For example, the auto flash option says: "Flash fires when required". While this is about as easy as you can get, I expect that most people will graduate from this pretty quickly.

For those that are ready to "graduate", the Z120 has many other shooting modes. Snapshot mode is essentially auto mode. The Best Shot mode lets you choose from 28 modes that include things like Portrait, Scenery, Flower, Candlelight Portrait, Autumn Leaves, and Sundown.

Next up in the modes is an aperture priority mode (A on the dial). You can select the aperture (f/2.8 or f/4.0) and you can adjust the exposure compensation. The camera does the rest.

The shutter priority mode (S on the dial) lets you adjust shutter speed and exposure compensation while the rest of the exposure settings are determined by the camera. The shutter speed possibilities range from 60 seconds to 1/1600 of a second.

The next option on the mode dial is a full manual mode, where you can select the shutter speed and aperture setting easily.

The last options on the mode dial are the Audio capture and Movie capture options. Audio is captured in mono and stored on your memory card. Movies can be captured at 640x480 in two quality settings and at 30 frames per second or you can choose to capture at 320x240, 15 frames per second.

Even though there are all these modes, you can adjust the ISO sensitivity (50,100,200,400), the white balance (six different modes and manual), the metering method, color filters, sharpness, saturation, contrast, and flash intensity.

The focus rang on the Z120, while in Auto mode can focus on objects from 15.75 inches to infinity. In Macro mode, the range is from 2.36 inches to 19.69 inches.

There is an Anti Shake system in the Casio. However, in order to provide the anti shake, and lessen any blur, the camera boosts the sensitivity in order to increase the shutter speed. The problem with boosting the ISO sensitivity is that the images are more "noisy" and you'll start to see the speckling that occurs with higher noise.

Camera Performance and Image Quality

The Z120 is a snappy little camera. Start up time (and power down time) is under a second. Shutter lag, when the shutter has been depressed and exposure/focus lock has occurred, is minimal. If you don't have a chance to get that exposure/focus lock, there is noticeable lag. Focus time is good. The continuous mode is also impressive -- you can just hold down the shutter and let it shoot away, capturing somewhere around 1-2 frames per second until the memory fills up.

The minimum focus range for the macro mode of 2.36 inches is not that impressive and during my testing, I had difficulty achieving a focus lock on some close up shots of a houseplant.


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Zoom performance was also good, moving from wide to telephoto quickly enough.

The flash range is limited, as is usually the case with compact cameras. You'll be ok shooting in the same room, but when shooting at anything over 20 feet (and that's being generous) the flash will be ineffective.


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Battery life was impressive with the Z120. During my review, I used high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries and they were good for between 150-200 shots. The camera will take alkaline, NiMH, or lithium ion batteries, as long as they're AA size. There's an option in the Set Up menu to choose the type of battery to modify the camera's power usage profile.

Image quality was good with a few exceptions caused by some very high levels of noise. Colors were accurate (at low ISO sensitivities) and exposure was good.


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One of the Best Shot settings is a High Sensitivity setting and it should really just be thrown out. According to the information on the LCD, the camera shoots at ISO 1600, when the specifications say the camera only goes up to ISO 800. Regardless, these "high sensitivity" images are pretty horrible. The noise (at whatever ISO) is out of control. If you have a dark shot, you're much better off by capturing a lower noise (lower ISO) underexposed image and adjusting in an image editing program.

Specifications

Imaging Element: 1/1.8-inch square pixel color CCD (Total pixels;7.41 million, Effective pixels; 7.2million)
Recording Formats: Snapshots: JPEG (Exif Ver.2.2), DCF1.0standard, DPOF compliant; Movies: AVI (Motion JPEG), Audio: WAV
Recording Media: 8.3MB Built-in flash memory, SD Memory Card, MultimediaCard
Image Size: Still Images: 3072 2304, 3072 2048(3:2), 2560 1920, 2048 1536, 1600 1200, 640 480; Movies : 640 480(HQ), 640 480(Normal), 320 240(LP)
Lens: F2.8(W)to 5.1(T), f=7.9 to23.7mm(equivalent to approximately 38 to 114mm for 35mm film) , 7 lenses in 5 groups, with aspherical lens
Zoom: 3X optical zoom, 4X digital zoom (12X in combination with optical zoom)
Focus: Contrast Detection Auto Focus, Focus Mode...Auto Focus, Macro mode, Pan Focus (movie only), Infinity mode, manual focus), AF Area...spot, multi,
Focus Range: Auto Focus-40cm to 8, Macro-10cm to 50cm, Infinity Mode-8,
Manual-10cm to 8
Exposure Control: Light metering: Multi-pattern, center-weighted, spot by CCD;
Exposure: Program AE, Aperture priority AE, Shutter speed priority AE, Manual AE; Exposure Compensation: -2EV~+2EV (1/3EV units)
Shutter: CCD electronic shutter, mechanical shutter, Snapshot mode (auto-1/8 to 1/1600 second.
Aperture: F2.8/F4.0, auto switching
White Balance: Auto WB/ fixed (6 modes) / manual switching
Sensitivity: Snapshots; Auto* /ISO50/ISO100/ISO200/ISO400, Movies; Auto
Recording Functions: Snapshot / audio snapshot; continuous shutter, self-timer; macro; BEST SHOT; movie with audio; Voice Recording
Self Timer: 10 sec. or 2 sec., Triple Self-timer
Built-in Flash: Flash Modes; Auto Flash, On, Off, Red eye reduction; Flash Range; 1.31' to 7.55' (W); 1.31' to 3.94 (T)
Viewfinder: Monitor screen and optical viewfinder
LCD: 2.0-inch TFT color LCD, 84,960 pixels (354 240)
Timekeeping functions: Date and time recorded with image data; auto calendar up to 2049
World Time: 162 cities (32 time zones); city names, date and time, summer time
Other Features: USB: USB 2.0 (Full-Size) compatible; Audio: microphone (mono); speaker (mono)
Input/Output Terminals: AC adaptor connector(DC IN 3V), USB/AV port (NTSC/PAL)
Power: Two AA-size alkaline batteries, Two AA-size rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries, Two AA-size lithium batteries, AC adaptor (AD-C30)
Dimensions: 90 (W) x 60 (H) x 29 (D) mm; 3.54"(W) x 2.36"(H) x 1.07"(D) inches
Weight: Approx. 4.87oz (without batteries and accessories)
Bundled Accessories: Alkaline batteries (LR6), USB cable, AV cable, Strap, CD-ROM

Conclusion

The Z120 is a good camera for the beginning digital camera owner. The easy mode provides a lot of convenience for someone who doesn't want to deal with all the options available on the camera. Even though there are many manual modes (aperture priority, shutter priority, full manual mode), I think the user that will want to use them will demand higher image quality.

The images suffer from high rates of noise at higher ISO (sensitivity) values, but colors are good and exposure is good as well. Pick and choose the best "Best Shot" modes and beware of modes that increase the sensitivity (High Sensitivity, Night). Also, use the Anti-Shake feature sparingly also, as this increases sensitivity.

Pros
- Quick operation (start up, shut down, "ok" shutter lag)
- Easy mode provides shallow learning curve for beginners
- Plenty of manual modes to "grow" with the camera
- Good battery life

Cons
- Unimpressive macro focus range
- Hard to extract SD/MMC card
- Some Best Shot settings should be avoided -- ones that increase the sensitivity (and increase noise)