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Casio EX-Z850 Test Review and User Guide
© 2006 KenRockwell.com

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Casio Ex-Z850

I'd get it here on closeout. It helps me publish this site when you get yours from those links, too. Cute doggies compliments of Casio's PR department.

More Casio Reviews

August, 2006: New firmware available here.

INTRODUCTION

Casio announced this on February 25th, 2006. I bought one for myself on April 6th, 2006. I bought it and carry it everywhere so I never miss a shot.

It's a subtle but big improvement over my my 2005 EX-Z750. It's the same camera, with a zillion improvements. The biggest is that the LCD screen is now so bright it's easy to see even in direct sunlight. I had to turn mine down a click from it's default! It dims automatically. The lens is also a little sharper than the one I had on my EX-Z750. For all I know this is just luck of the manufacturing draw. Default sharpening seems higher. Mine seems to overexpose just a little now and then, so I'm keeping an eye on it.

Resolution goes from 7 to 8MP. Image size goes up to 3,264 x 2,448 pixels, compared to my EX-Z750's 3,072 x 2,304 pixels. No big deal.

The 850's high ISO noise reduction has been greatly improved. The 850's noise at ISO 800 is less annoying than the 750's noise at ISO 400. The 850's NR smoothes noise while leaving edges sharp. The 750's noise reduction just softened everything.

Read my review of my almost identical Z750 for the rest of the details. I can't see anything that's been taken out, only features added. They both have 2.5" LCDs, full manual settings and 3x optical zooms. The 850 also adds a few new BS modes, like "eBay."

The new screen is for daylight visibility, so it's blinding when seen indoors at a trade show. It's rated at 1,200 cd/m^2, which is twelve times brighter than my laptop screen measures and twelve times as bright as I usually set my 30" monitor. My 30" monitor is blinding at it's maximum measured brightness of 300 cd/m^2, which is a quarter of the rating of the new Casio cameras. I'll test the camera's actual brightness when I get my colorimeter and a camera in the same room.

SPECIFICATIONS

CCD Sensor: Big 1/1.8"

Lens: 7.9 - 23.1 mm, f/2.8 - 5.1, 7 elements (one aspherical), 5 groups (about 38 - 114 mm on 35 mm)

Close Focus: 16" normal mode, 4" in macro mode (at wide setting)

ISO: 50 - 400. Up to 1,600 in trick modes.

Image Sizes: 3,264 x 2,448, 3,264 x 2,176 (3:2), 2,816 x 2,112, 2,304 x 1,728, 1,600 x 1,200 and 640 x 480 image sizes. Movies in 640x480 and 320x240, 30 and 15 FPS.

LCD Screen: 2.5," blindingly bright and auto-adjusting.

Size: 3.50” W x 2.30” H x 0.93” D.

Weight: 4.6 oz. empty

Power: Li-ion battery recharged in cradle, which also allows data downloading.

Price and Availability: $399.99 MSRP, mid-April 2006, silver only. Darn, I really love full black for incognito use.

PERFORMANCE

It does everything my Z750 does and then some.

MECHANICS: It's darker silver than my EX-Z750. The EX-Z850 looks like maybe it's stainless steel instead of aluminum; I'll have to ask. The rotary function knob still pokes out and gets reset when put in or out of a pocket, but it seems like it may poke out a little less than the one on the EX-Z750. The knob of the EX-Z750 would tend to scratch other items in my pocket; my EX-Z850 seems better.

PICTURE QUALITY: The lens has the same focal range and distortion, and for all I know it's probably the same lens. My EX-Z850 is sharper than my EX-Z750, especially in the corners. I suspect this is sample-to-sample variation and possibly some more default in-camera-sharpening. I buy mine at retail; no one is slipping me tweaked cameras. I preferred the compactness of the EX-Z750 over the slight lens softness. My EX-Z850 is sharp all over. TIP: The default sharpening is harsh. I prefer the look of images on my monitor at 100% with the sharpness set to -1.

COLOR: The color quality of the Casios has never seemed up to my Nikon SLRs or Canon point-and-shoots. I'm unsure if this is for real, or just suspicion. Obviously I use these other cameras more carefully and in better conditions. I need to compare these directly against one another and see.

WHITE BALANCE: At low light levels with flash it's just like the other Casios: regardless of how you set you WB, you get it defaulted for you without notice to daylight. Weirder, unlike my other Casios, at high light levels, like outdoors, your WB setting does take some effect with flash. I'd rather it do what I tell it, but at high light levels it's still better than the other Casios.

EXPOSURE: Some shots are overexposed. This seems worse than my EX-Z750. No big deal, I set my L/R key to provide instant access to exposure compensation. Unlike my Nikon DSLRs, the Casio has a real-time YRGB histogram, so I can set exposure more accurately than I can on my D200. Of course the D200 does this automat

Exposure compensation works more easily with flash than the other Casios. It's still weird. The exposure compensation control only effects the ambient light exposure. To adjust the flash exposure one needs to tweak menus. I'd rather Exposure Compensation adjusted everything at the same time as my SLRs do. The 850 is the same as my other Casios.

FLASH RECYCLE TIME: It still takes a while, just like the other Casios.

BATTERY LIFE: I have shot as many as 384 shots on a charge and the battery gauge still read FULL. This is perfect; that's a day's shooting. I haven't been able to run the battery down yet. I'm using the LCD at full brightness and doing a lot of playback just like anyone else, too.

I would suspect that battery life will be shorter if you use the LCD cranked up to maximum burn, but that's how I had it and everything was fine.

Even with the battery removed overnight, the internal, secret battery kept the clock set.

DATA:

Transfer: I can transfer 100MB of photos in under 40 seconds via the USB cradle. A 500 MB download takes three minutes. Uploads are as fast. This is with my 1GB 32x Lexar SD card.

Format:

My 2 GB Sandisk Extreme III formats in 1.5 seconds, fast!!!!

My 1GB 32x Lexar SD card formats in 10 seconds.

My old (May 2006) blue 256MB Sandisk SD card formats in 1.8 seconds.

VIDEO: Movies with sound are a free feature. I don't use them except to embarrass my friends. With a 1GB card you can record a full hour in normal mode. A 10 second shot runs 2.6MB. Select HQ mode and you have a half hour, or three hours in LP mode. You could shoot a feature-length motion picture with this, edit the files together on your Mac and output them to DVD for your friends, or film out to 35mm motion picture film to enter at Sundance.

Default focus mode is PF (pan focus), which is how Casio says "hyperfocal distance." This keeps everything in focus based on the huge depth of field. You may select AF, however you'll hear the lens focusing in the camera's audio.

The movie quality of my EX-Z850 is worse than my EX-Z750 or EX-Z600. I have no idea why. Unlike the other Casios, my EX-Z850 makes video loaded with resampling artifacts (jaggedness) on diagonal lines and has more MPEG artifacts. These extra artifacts are probably excited by the extra edge information from poor resampling. All the cameras are making the same file sizes.

Firmware version 1.10, given away in August 2006, doesn't make it much better. The EX-Z750 and EX-S600 still make better video than the EX-Z850. Then again, the EX-Z850 video is much better than the EX-Z1000 and has much smaller files size than the Canon SD550.

The EX-Z850 adds a first to pocket cameras: a built-in movie light! The Japanese never cease to amaze me. What would we do without them? The built-in light appears balanced for daylight. This is too bad, since the indoor conditions under which it will be used are usually tungsten. Unless you gel the built-in light you'll probably get nasty results where the light looks way too blue!

You can see a clip from an upcoming music video I shot with my EXZ-850 here. Of course this isn't the original file. It's been reduced, compressed and titled, but you can see what I mean about the weird lighting. The original clip was 10MB; it's only 850kB here so don't worry about the quality.

Best Shot Editor

Hackers will want to try this to create and edit their own best shot modes.

Crashes

It has ceased to turn on twice. Taking out the battery didn't rectify it.

I took out the battery, put it on the cradle, hit USB, dismounted it, and unhit USB.

Jacking it around like this on the cradle woke it back up.

RECOMMENDATIONS

I bought one of these for myself and carry it everywhere.

It's tiny, light, nimble, agile, easy to use and makes great images.

I prefer it to anything similar from Canon because it handles faster.

I prefer it to Nikon compacts because the Nikons have menus I can't understand.

I love it. Just get one and have a ball.

The resolution is the same as my SLRs. Huge enlargements look great.

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