DigitalCameraReview.com
Casio Exilim EX-Z80 Review
by Jim Keenan -  6/2/2008

If you were to ask folks the first name that comes to mind upon hearing the word "camera" chances are you'd get a preponderance of "Canon," "Nikon," "Olympus," and "Pentax," with perhaps a smattering of "Sony" and maybe even a "Leica" or "Hasselblad" thrown in. Truth be told, "Casio" didn't leap to mind when I tried it myself. Casio has always meant calculators and watches in my universe, but when DCR.com editor David Rasnake dangled a Canon or a Casio as my next review subject, I bit on the Casio Exilim EX-Z80. After all, Canon compacts tend to be predictably good overall and I've reviewed quite a few, but the Casio would a first-timer.

Casio Exilim EX-Z80

Turns out Casio is "one of the leading consumer electronics companies in the world," established in 1957. That's barely two years before Nikon introduced their now-iconic 35mm "F" SLR, and if I read Casio's history correctly, it would be another 45 years before the introduction of their first "Exilim" camera in 2002. The Casio website describes Casio's corporate creed as "creativity and contribution" and expresses the company's "commitment to contributing to society by offering the kind of original, useful products that only Casio can." Let's see how they do with a compact digital.

 


FEATURES OVERVIEW

The EX-Z80 features an 8.1 megapixel sensor and Casio's Exilim Engine 2.0, which "delivers sharper photos and higher-quality videos using less energy than ever before-and at faster speeds, thanks to an improved signal processor." There's a 2.6-inch monitor, face and smile detection technologies, an interesting auto shutter feature, a 3x optical zoom lens, a little over 12 MB of internal memory, and an ISO sensitivity range of 64 to 1600. The camera accepts SD, SDHC, MMC and MMCplus memory media and Casio includes a rechargeable lithium ion battery, battery charger with AC power cord, USB and AV cables, a wrist strap, CD-ROM, and basic reference material with each camera.

There are four primary shooting modes:

One of the Best Shot scenes is titled Pastel, which produces an image that is, shall we say, different. Here are shots of a windmill on Auto and Pastel.

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Auto mode (view large image)
Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Pastel scene preset (view large image)

The EX-Z80 also allows the user to take existing photos or movies and apply and save the camera setup that produced the image(s) as a user-designated Best Shot – the camera can save up 999 such custom settings.

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT AND FEEL

The EX-Z80 fits the standard mold for a compact digital – rectangular body with gentle curving on the edges and overall size of a small deck of cards.

Styling and Build Quality

Our review unit featured a light blue brushed metal and bright chrome body, but there are pink, red, black, silver and yellow versions available.

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
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The camera seems well built.

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
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Ergonomics and Interface

Most controls on the EX-Z80 presented no problems, but I found the control and set buttons were close enough (the control button surrounds the set button on the camera back) to cause fairly frequent unintended activations of one while attempting to use the other. Folks with big fingers or long nails, you've been warned.

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
(view large image)

Otherwise, the EX-Z80 is a fairly intuitive camera, and the "movie button" at the upper right on the camera back provides a quick, one-push transition to movie recording should the user so desire. One of the movie shooting modes is a "You Tube" optimized format, so Casio is going out of their way to make the EX-Z80 internet movie friendly.

Display/Viewfinder

The 2.6-inch monitor is of typical size for this class of camera, but specs out to about 115,000 dot composition – about half that of many competitors. Like most monitors, it can be difficult to use for composition in bright conditions, and I would hesitate to use it for image review in-camera for deletion purposes in any but the best of lighting conditions.

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
(view large image)

The relatively low dot composition did not do justice to images in my experience with it – images I thought marginal on the monitor virtually always looked much more acceptable on the computer, and users deleting via the in-camera route might find themselves deleting otherwise decent images.

There is no optical viewfinder.


PERFORMANCE

Looking at the EX-Z80 from a features standpoint, there is not much to readily distinguish it from the crowd of compacts on the market today. The lens is not particularly wide nor long, the ISO sensitivity range is typical, as are styling, size, and resolution. Do any surprises lurk beneath that Clark Kent-like exterior?

Timing and Shutter Lag

With focus acquired, the EX-Z80 produced a consistent .09 to .10 second shutter lag; shots requiring acquisition of focus were in the .7 to .8 second range: both decent, if unspectacular performances.

Casio lists a 1.4 second shot-to-shot time; I got 1.6 seconds for a shoot, write, re-acquire focus, and shoot sequence with a SanDisk Extreme III memory card. My times with a standard SanDisk card for the same routine ran closer to two seconds.

Using the EX-Z80 continuous shooting setting (full resolution), the camera took eight captures in 7.6 seconds with the Extreme III card; the standard card required 12 seconds for the same eight shots. The EX-Z80 also has "high speed" continuous shooting at 2MP resolution – this produced eight shots in 1.7 seconds with the Extreme III, and I didn't bother to try with the standard card. It seems clear that high speed cards offer some advantage in-camera with both single and continuous shooting modes. One caution on the continuous modes, however: the focus and exposure are calculated with the first shot and applied to all others as long as the shutter is held down, so moving subjects may cause problems with these pre-set values.

There is a somewhat interesting "auto shutter" feature with modes for blur, panning, and smiles. With the appropriate mode selected, once the shutter is pushed, it won't activate until the camera determines that there's minimal blur, or the subject of the panning is steady in the frame, or the subject has smiled. I tried the blur option, and deliberately moved the camera about after pushing the shutter. Once I stopped the camera movement, the camera took the photo. In a camera lacking a true stabilization system (more on this later), perhaps this sort of option is the next best thing.

Lens and Zoom

The 3x optical zoom starts out at 38mm and ends up at 114mm, with maximum apertures at each end of f/3.1 and f/5.9, respectively. There is a 4x digital zoom that may be enabled via internal menu. Macro focus range is about 3.9 inches at wide-angle, but the not-that-wide 38mm lens works in your favor here to allow you to get fairly close to small subjects.

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
(view large image)
Casio Exilim EX-Z80
(view large image)

The 114mm telephoto end isn't going to get you close to distant subjects, but the lens covers the 85 to 105mm focal range many users favor for head and shoulder portrait work.

Auto Focus

There are spot, multi, and tracking AF area options available, with spot being the default. It proved to be my favorite as it insured I could consistently focus on what I deemed most important in the frame. You can focus with a half-press and then recompose the image while holding the shutter button halfway. If you don't care for the small rectangular focus frame, the EX-Z80 will let you substitute a heart, snowflake, flower, or gingerbread man instead.

Flash

The flash on the EX-Z80 is of relatively limited range – Casio reports under nine feet at wide angle, and less than five feet at telephoto. Flash recycle times in good light that required less than full discharges averaged two or three seconds. Seemingly full discharges (telephoto, ISO 64, pitch black conditions) required six to seven seconds to recycle. Color reproduction and fidelity with flash was good.

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
(view large image)
Casio Exilim EX-Z80
(view large image)

Image Stabilization

The EX-Z80 user manual is somewhat vague about the camera's "anti shake" feature that may be enabled via internal menu, but the bad news is that it's of the "lets open the diaphragm and boost the ISO to keep the shutter speed high" variety – the least desirable method in my opinion. Or, as the user's manual coyly admits, "Shooting with anti shake can cause an image to appear somewhat coarser than normal and can cause slight deterioration of image resolution."

Battery Life

Casio rates the Ex-Z80 battery for about 210 images, and while I seemed to be doing somewhat better than that, I'd use their figure to be safe. Carry a spare.


IMAGE QUALITY

The EX-Z80 produces nice images right out of the box at the default settings, in keeping with its "no manual controls need apply" philosophy

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
(view large image)

Images from the EX-Z80 were generally pleasant and accurate with regard to color fidelity and sharpness. However, I was surprised to find the camera offers users a fairly comprehensive set of advanced settings, including sharpness, contrast, saturation, and dynamic range that one would ordinarily not expect to find in what is essentially an entry-level digital. There are, for example, 5 settings of sharpness: -2, -1, 0 (the default), +1, +2. Here are shots at the default and +2 settings:

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Default sharpness (view large image)
Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Sharpness +2 (view large image)

Exposure, Processing and Color

The EX-Z80 performs fairly typically in this arena, doing a generally good job of exposure on average lit scenes while tending to lose some highlights in high contrast situations. The default exposure seems to be set to bring out a bit more detail in shaded or darker areas while letting the brightest highlights fend for themselves – a situation that reminds me of shooting slide film. Slide film tended to have much less latitude than print film, so I was always metering in the shaded areas to keep details and hoping the bright spots weren't too burned out. The EX-Z80 strikes me as doing somewhat the same thing.

As mentioned earlier, there are a number of user-specified settings that may be made to the camera when shooting in the auto mode. Here's a shot with default values of 0 for saturation and contrast, then with saturation at +2, and finally with saturation and contrast at +2.

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Default saturation and contrast (view large image)
Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Saturation +2 (view large image)
Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Saturation +2, Contrast +2 (view large image)

While I found the auto color to be accurate, I also preferred the color with both saturation and contrast enhanced over the default values, and the EX-Z80 certainly gives the user a range of adjustment options in this regard. If you choose to shoot in Easy mode or use the Best Shot presets, your range of adjustments is quite limited compared to Auto shooting mode.

White Balance

Auto WB produced generally good results in natural light ranging from direct sunlight to moderate to heavy overcast, as well as flash. Incandescent light produced a disappointing result, as can be seen in following studio photo. However, the camera did an excellent job on auto with the 3200K lamps I used to light the close up shots of the camera itself, suggesting some performance inconsistency.

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light (view large image)

Lens Faults

Barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from center of image) is present at the wide end of the zoom, and pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center of the image) at telephoto; neither fault is overwhelming, but either could impact an image visually under the right conditions.

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Wide-angle
(view large image)

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
Telephoto
(view large image)

There was color fringing noted in some high-contrast boundary areas; it was generally not objectionable at normal image sizes.

Sensitivity and Noise

Thus far the EX-Z80 has proven to be a capable compact digital, producing nice images with accurate color fidelity. Nothing changes in the arena of ISO performance – the EX-Z80 exhibits comparable noise traits with most of its competitors.

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
ISO 64
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Casio Exilim EX-Z80
ISO 64, 100% crop

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
ISO 100
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Casio Exilim EX-Z80
ISO 100, 100% crop

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
ISO 200
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Casio Exilim EX-Z80
ISO 200, 100% crop

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
ISO 400
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Casio Exilim EX-Z80
ISO 400, 100% crop

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
ISO 800
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Casio Exilim EX-Z80
ISO 800, 100% crop

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
ISO 1600
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Casio Exilim EX-Z80
ISO 1600, 100% crop

In the full size shots ISO 64 and 100 were largely indistinguishable, with 200 just a bit behind and beginning to show some noise in the white background. ISO 400 shows a bit more noise but is still not too bad, and there's a fairly noticeable increase to be found at 800, particularly in the background. ISO 1600 is clearly going downhill in comparison to 800.

Looking at 100-percent crops confirms my impressions of the full-size shots. The EX-Z80 is certainly happiest in the ISO 64 to 100 range, but even ISO 800 is fairly usable in a pinch with 1600 the choice of last resort.

Additional Sample Images

Casio Exilim EX-Z80
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Casio Exilim EX-Z80
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Casio Exilim EX-Z80
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Casio Exilim EX-Z80
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Casio Exilim EX-Z80
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Casio Exilim EX-Z80
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CONCLUSIONS

While a relative newcomer to the imaging world, certainly at least insofar as cameras are concerned, Casio has produced a capable compact in the EX-Z80. The camera breaks no new ground in its class – the lens focal range is average, as is ISO sensitivity performance. Shutter performance is good, but not spectacular. Image and color quality are good, and the EX-Z80 does stand out somewhat from the pack in affording the user a nice palette of image quality adjustments when shooting in auto mode.

Slotted into the middle of the Exilim "zoom" line of cameras, at least price-wise, the EX-Z80 appears competitive in image quality with other brands in this class. Whether this will be enough to draw buyers from more established names in the field remains to be seen, but for a camera that carries a suggested price under $200, the EX-Z80 generally acquits itself pretty well. And if a gingerbread man is your idea of the perfect focus frame icon, this is the camera for you.

Pros:

Cons:

 

Casio Exilim EX-Z80 Specifications:

Sensor 8.1 megapixel, 1/2.5" CCD
Lens/Zoom 3x (38-114mm) zoom lens, f/3.1-5.3
LCD/Viewfinder 2.6", 115K-dot TFT LCD
Sensitivity ISO 64-1600
Shutter Speed 4-1/2000 seconds
Shooting Modes Auto, Easy, Best Shot (Scene), Movie
Scene Presets 30 presets
White Balance Settings Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Shade, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Tungsten, Manual
Metering Modes Multi, Center, Spot
Focus Modes Auto Focus, Pan Focus, Infinity Focus, Manual Focus, Macro
Drive Modes Normal, Continuous, High-Speed Continuous, Flash Continuous
Flash Modes Auto, Forced On, Forced Off, Soft Flash, Red-Eye Reduction
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats SD, SDHC
Internal Memory
None
File Formats JPEG, MOV, AAC, WAV
Max. Image Size 3264 x 2448
Max. Video Size
848x480, 30 fps
Zoom During Video Not Specified
Battery Rechargeable lithium-ion
Connections USB 2.0, AV output
Additional Features Auto Shutter, YouTube Capture Mode