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Casio Exilim EX-Z300 review

Verdict:

Needs Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later

Review Date: 21 Oct 2008

Price when reviewed: (£196 ex VAT)

Reviewed By: Kevin Carter

Our Rating 4 stars out of 5

Casio may not be the first name that springs to mind when weighing up your next digital compact camera purchase, but it's well regarded by industry insiders for its cameras' user-friendly operation, sturdy build and image quality.

Casio cameras don't lack anything when it comes to innovation, either, as these two new models - the Exilim EX-Z250 and EX-Z300 - show.

Packing fully retractable wide-angle to short-tele (28-112mm) zoom lenses with CCD shift stabilisation, the 9.1-megapixel EX-Z250 and 10.1-megapixel EX-Z300 share a slew of outwardly similar features, including 3in LCDs and well-made, metal-clad bodies.

Like previous offerings from the maker, what's particularly appealing about the two Casios is their ease of use. Both have a well-implemented shortcut menu that's quickly accessed from the central cursor key. In the default display mode, important camera settings are arranged vertically on the right-hand side of the screen as a set of icons and keep the user informed at all times. And, depending on the shooting mode selected, anyone of these options can be altered quickly and without fuss.

As well as the usual choices for flash and burst modes, image sizes and the like, both models add a face-recognition priority option to the standard multi-face detection feature. Several faces can be registered with the intention that the camera will focus on a certain person instead of the nearest subject. While it works well enough, we would have preferred to see a system judging the distance of each subject and delivering the aperture for the required depth of field.

A novel-sounding Make-up mode works in conjunction with the face-detection options using the image processor to both lighten and smooth the subject's face, drawing the viewer in. With 12 user-selectable strength settings there's plenty of control, but we found the standard settings up +6 were usually sufficient.

Neither model has an optical viewfinder; the 3in screen takes up most of the rear on both. While it's not the sharpest panel we've seen, it's reasonably detailed and quite legible in both bright and low-lighting. It's particularly good in the latter, making the two Casios ideal for a quick snap at the pub or a party. You can see the screen change colour as the white balance is being corrected and, by and large, colour accuracy is better than many DSLRs under mixed lighting.

Metering accuracy is another strength. Night scenes are particularly impressive, but you'll need a tripod to prevent blur. The built-in anti-shake systems, a CCD-shift stabilisation mechanism and Casio's image-processor based Anti-shake DSP go some way to prevent the wobbles.

In problematic daylight scenes, heavily backlit subjects with washed-out highlights and crushed shadows can benefit from both cameras being able to apply adaptive dynamic range correction with the Lighting function, although this can significantly add shadow noise in good light with low ISOs. For low-light shooting, sensitivity can be cranked up to a DSLR-like ISO3200, but a combination of colour blotching and lowering of detail means you won't want to stray above ISO400 too often.

Although on paper the lenses of both models seem similar, they're constructed differently. In real world terms, there's little between them in sharpness or outright resolution. In the labs, though, there's less distortion and fringing with the Z300's optic. While you're unlikely to notice the extra million pixels between the two models, there are more obvious differences. The EX-Z300 has a handy AF assist lamp, for instance, and even though the more film-like 24fps HD (1280 x 720 pixel) video clips of the EX-Z300 can be a little grainy, we were a little disappointed with the EX-Z250's average-looking 848 x 480 pixel, 30fps footage.

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