The Casio Exilim EX-Z300 is what we used to call a "user camera." It is small enough to be carried, sports enough features to be usable in most situations, and is simple enough to be used without having to reference a manual. It comes in a variety of bright colors, has face recognition and anti-shake, along with a respectable zoom range, a wide selection of pre-programmed "Best Shot" settings, and a built-in and easily accessible YouTube capture mode for shooting videos destined for the web.
On the surface, then, the EX-Z300 looks and sounds like a lot of other cameras in this class, but some unique features and options may help set it apart.
The EX-Z300 is a 10.1 megapixel camera with an equivalent 28-112mm, f/2.6-5.8 zoom lens and a built-in flash. It utilizes SD/SDHC/MMC/MMCPlus cards plus has 38.5MB of internal memory. It has a 3.0 inch LCD, but optical no viewfinder.
The Z300 takes auto exposure to new levels, with a very limited selection of top-level shooting modes that includes:
As noted above, Casio labels its scene preset menu the "Best Shot" mode, and there are 39 different Best Shot presets from which to select! While this may seem to be a formidable number (it does to me!), they are readily accessible via a "BS" (Could they have picked a better acronym? – Ed.) button on the back in the lower right. Scrolling through them via the ubiquitous d-pad/joystick is quite easy. There is even a built-in help system that shows a brief preset description when the zoom lever is used to assist you in determining which Best Shot mode might be most appropriate to your particular situation.
The EX-Z300 packs in all of the typical scene presets (landscape, portrait, sports, and so on – see the specs at the bottom of the page for a complete list), but there are some really interesting and unique shooting options in the Best Shot list as well, including:
In addition to its HD video capture capabilities, the Z300's Best Shot system also features some movie modes unlike anything else we've seen on an ultracompact.
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
Styling and Build Quality
The EX-Z300 exhibits the classical lines of most point-and-shoot digital cameras of today with its smooth surfaces and thin body.
Judging by the "tap test" method of determination, the case seems to be made of plastic; however, it also appears to be mounted onto a substantial sub-frame if the body's eleven small screws are any indication. Overall, the Z300 feels rigid and without flex during handling.
Ergonomics and Interface
The control layout of the Casio Exilim EX-Z300 is simple and straightforward. The menus are rational as well. The camera is designed to be used after all: no need to refer to the manual for most functions. Speaking of which, the manual is only available on the CD in PDF format. I miss the days of hardcopy manuals.
The Z300 weighs in at 4.6 ounces without the battery, and the dimensions are an accommodating 3.8 by 2.3 by 0.9 inches.
The top deck features a very small "Make-Up" button (which activates the skin-tone evening Make-Up Mode for shooting portraits), the on/off button, the shutter release, and the zoom control.
The back is dominated by the LCD screen. To the right of that, top to bottom, are a Movie Mode button, Play and Record buttons, the d-pad (with the Set button in the center), the Menu button, and the BS button.
I found two major annoyances with this camera in general usage: first, the Movie Mode button is located on the back in the upper right corner. I found that it was being pressed without my meaning to have pressed it. Often. Not well placed at all.
Second, the Make-Up button is located on the top of the camera on the upper left. Yet again, I found that it was being pressed without my meaning to have pressed it. Often. Not well placed at all, either. Fortunately, it is a toggle button, so pressing it again changes settings back.
By default, the d-pad can be used to adjust exposure compensation (+/-2 EV), and the effect of this change is shown in the LCD. Other custom functions for this control can be set up via the menu, however. The other possible targets for this custom function are:
The d-pad is a bit small. A person with larger hands would find it difficult to operate. It is quite easy to move up/down when you meant to move left/right, or vice-versa...
The 3.0 inch LCD is becoming quite standard these days. The one found on the Z300 is viewable in most lighting situations.
The current settings can be displayed on the LCD – including a histogram, if you are so inclined. I usually set the display to show the focus points and highlight the active one(s), and also to overlay a composition grid screen. The EX-Z300 permitted all of that easily. It also allows for toggling the display so that it is not necessary to traverse the menus to quickly view certain settings.
Timings and Shutter Lag
I evaluated Casio's EX-Z150 and EX-Z300 models simultaneously, and the EX-Z300 was a pleasure to use in comparison to the EX-Z150. The EX-Z300 is responsive and predictable.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T500||0.02|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.02|
|Canon PowerShot SD990 IS
|Casio Exilim EX-Z300
|Fujifilm FinePix F60fd||0.05|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.23|
|Casio Exilim EX-Z300||0.35|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T500||0.40|
|Fujifilm FinePix F60fd||0.42|
|Canon PowerShot SD990 IS||0.55|
The shutter lag and AF acquisition times as measured in standardized testing, were both quite respectable, with the Z300 turning in especially good focus speed numbers.
|Fujifilm FinePix F60fd||3||2.5 fps|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||10||1.6 fps|
|Canon PowerShot SD990 IS||∞||1.4 fps|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T500
|Casio Exilim EX-Z300
Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.), as tested in our studio. "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
The standardized studio tests determined that continuous shooting at 0.5 full-res frames per second is possible. Other small cameras perform much better in this regard, leaving the Casio toward the bottom of the list for taking back-to-back shots.
The Z300's auto focus seemed a bit difficult to predict in the default Multi-AF mode. However, in Spot mode it is a quite snappy.
As noted above, the AF lag time was measured in the studio at 0.35 seconds, which is again quite fast – putting the Z300 in the company of some other solid performers in its class.
Lens and Zoom
The zoom controls function quickly and respond to slow taps for making fine adjustments.
As regards the camera's basic 4x wide-angle zoom, there's really very little else to see. As noted in the Image Quality section below, at the wide angle end of the zoom range there is some barrel distortion, but this is not uncommon in this class of camera.
Using flash with this camera one will want to become familiar with the range and intensity of the flash. As one would expect, the distance is somewhat limited and if used too close, can be overpowering. I found the Auto setting to be reasonably accurate in most situations. There is also a flash intensity setting available in the menus. Given the usefulness of this control for limiting flash power when shooting close-ups, it might have been nice to have that function be available under the d-pad custom options.
Full-power flash recycle time was measured at 5.3 seconds – a fine time in its own right, though as with most point-and-shoots, you will not be able to successfully dash off too many continuous flash pictures with this camera most of the time.
Using flash does yield images with vibrant and accurate colors when the distance is correct.
The EX-Z300 has a menu entry with several "Anti-Shake" settings, which control the camera's sensor-shifting and ISO boosting image stabilization systems. In practice I found no significant differences between the resultant images using most of them, though do be aware that under some settings, ISO boost is used to raise shutter speeds.
As with most cameras these days, the Z300's battery is a lithium-ion type that is specific to the camera. While I always prefer to have at least one spare battery on hand, the battery life seemed quite good in my time with the camera. I do minimize my display usage when possible, which helps in this regard.
Keep in mind that the recharge time is over two hours for the Z300's battery, so you will need to plan accordingly with spare batteries if you want to get back to shooting quickly.
As can be seen in the progression of studio shots that follow later in the section, the image quality is better at the lower ISO settings, just as one would expect.
Evaluating the 100 percent crops of the studio images, the image quality up to and including ISO 400 is generally acceptable for most applications, and through ISO 800 when needed. The results with ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 are mostly disappointing, but still, if there is no other way to get the shot, having those settings versus not having them available is everything.
Exposure, Processing, and Color
As described previously, there are many "Best Shot" presets; probably too many. It feels a bit gimmicky and takes too much time to scroll through them finding the one you might want to use. Many of them seem to have similar descriptions (you can get the text descriptions by toggling the zoom lever). Also, while most of the commonly used settings are available, a few others (such as Snow and Beach modes) are absent.
There is a built-in color filter that includes the common black-and-white and sepia settings, along with more garish/vibrant colors. These are selected by scrolling through a palette that has no text, which seemed a bit odd.
Sharpness, saturation, and contrast can all be manually fine-tuned as well, on a five step scale.
You have three metering choices with the Z300: multi-area, center-weighted, and spot. The spot metering mode is limited to the center area of the image and cannot be tied to other focus points.
The image size is user-selectable as is the image compression/quality. Unless I have a specific purpose in mind for an image that makes making this choice in-camera (or a very full or very small SD card), I always leave these on the highest settings to permit that decision to be made later in a computer. It is relatively easy to downsize an image, yet difficult to upsize one.
In addition to the customary white balance settings (e.g. Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent) there is the ability to set a custom white by using a baseline source, such as a sheet of paper. This is particularly useful in situations where there is more than one type of light source.
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light
Auto white balance performance was predictably weak indoors under incandescent/tungsten light, but did quite well in one of the more difficult outdoor situations: snow.
Practically all lenses exhibit some distortions and the lens in the EX-Z300 is no exception in this regard. Most prominent is barrel distortion at full wide-angle. The effect, while noticeable, might not be as pronounced as in some other cameras in this class, and can be minimized (or exaggerated for effect) by keeping the camera level (or not).
Sensitivity and Noise
The images from the studio, taken at various ISO settings clearly show the expected changes in noise and color shift as speed increases.
ISO 64, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
ISO 3200, 100% crop
Taken as a progression, evaluating each image against the images above and below it in ISO, one can readily observe the changes. Each step of increase in sensitivity softens the image. It is rather subtle up through ISO 400, makes a significant jump at ISO 800, and finally deteriorates completely at ISO 3200. This is, of course, when looking at the 100 percent crop images.
Up through the ISO 400 setting is usable for most purposes as long as there is not a great need for fine detail. And having ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 available opens up shooting situations (indoors without a flash, for instance) that would simply be impossible without them. While quality is pretty weak at this point, if you need them they are there.
Additional Sample Images
I often follow the general rule to shoot the slowest ISO possible in order to maximize the image quality; however, with this camera I found myself using ISO 200 and ISO 400 fairly regularly. While they might not be printed at poster size, they are, for the most part, capable of going to 8x10. The AF and shutter release speed (and of course the resolution) of the EX-Z300 makes this possible. I don't know about you, but even though I sometimes mount a little camera on a tripod, I always feel a tad funny doing it. Being able to take the shots handheld is a measure of a usable small camera for me. None of these images were shot off a tripod.
Exposing for the foreground and for depth of field washed out the sky a bit in this image of a walkway taken at ISO 200, but there is detail all along the path.
In this close-up of a fungus and the image of the groundcover, both taken handheld and without flash, there is still quite a bit of detail even taken at ISO 400.
But notice the additional detail present when ISO 200 is used...
The following similar samples show a nice mixture of flash and no flash images taken at a range of ISOs.
Not to belabor the point, but one more pair of flash/no flash images that specifically demonstrate the color changes that use of flash imparts. Both of these were taken at ISO 400: one with and one without flash.
There are a number of small digital cameras in the $300 price range of the Casio Exilim EX-Z300, but the Z300 more than holds its own when it comes to shooting speed alone.
That said, though, some competitive models definitely handle low light situations better than this particular model. Depending on what your shooting needs are, these trade-offs are worth considering.
|Sensor||10.1 megapixel (effective), 1/2.3" CCD|
|Lens/Zoom||4x (28-112mm) zoom lens, f/2.6-5.8|
|LCD/Viewfinder||3.0", 230K-dot TFT LCD
|Shutter Speed||1/2-1/2000 seconds|
|Shooting Modes||Auto, Best Shot (scene), Auto Best Shot, Movie
Portrait, Scenery, Portrait with Scenery, Self Portrait, Self Portrait (2 people), Children, Sports, Candlelight Portait, Party, Pet, Flower, Natural Green, Autumn Leaves, Soft Flowing Water, Splashing Water, Sundown, Night Scene, Night Scene Portrait, Fireworks, Food, Text, Collection, eBay, Backlight, High Sensitivity, Monochrome, Retro, Twilight, Multi-Motion Image, ID Photo, Business Cards and Documents, White Board,Silent Movie, Prerecord Movie, YouTube Movie, Voice Recording, Register User Scene
|White Balance Settings||Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Shade, Day White Fluorescent, Daylight Fluorescent, Tungsten, Manual
|Metering Modes||Multi, Center, Spot|
|Focus Modes||Spot, Multi, Macro, Pan, Inifinity, Manual
|Drive Modes||Normal, Continuous, Self Timer
|Flash Modes||Auto, Forced On, Forced Off, Red-Eye Reduction
|Self Timer Settings
||10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
|Memory Formats||SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus
|File Formats||JPEG, MOV (H.264)
|Max. Image Size||3648x2736|
|Max. Video Size
||1280x720, 24 fps
|Zoom During Video||No
|Connections||USB 2.0, AV output|
|Additional Features||Face Detection, sensor-shift image stabilization, HD video capture, YouTube mode, Best Shot scene presets, Make-Up portrait retouch mode|