The new 8.1-megapixel $399 Casio Exilim camera isn't perfect, but it takes great shots and has plenty of cool features.
A couple of years ago, you couldn't find a 5-megapixel pocket size camera, let alone 8-megapixel. Today, all the camera companies have high pixel-density pocket cameras, so what are they doing to separate themselves?
In addition to its super-fast Exilim engine, the new EX-Z850 sports a whopping 8.1-megapixel CCD, a bright 2.5inch TFT-LCD screen, and a 3x optical zoom all for $399. Like its predecessors, this camera is feature rich with fully automatic snapshot mode, aperture and shutter priority, as well as full manual mode.
Some useful new features include high and low flash options to light subjects up to "approximately 39.7 feet" away (I guess they couldn't quite manage 40 feet) and soft flash to prevent over-exposure of close subjects.
The battery life on this camera is fantastic. I took it on two weekend trips in a row and, on a single charge, snapped close to 250 pictures and short videos, turning it on and off continuously. After all this, it looked like I didn't even make a dent in the battery indicator.
The EX-Z850 has several presets, or Best Shot mode, for particular lighting situations like backlighting, night shots, or high-sensitivity. In addition, there are several presets for video mode as well.
Interestingly, they've invented a new preset called eBay mode. In eBay mode, the camera lowers its resolution to 2MP so that your photos are pre-sized for displaying on Ebay, and employs an auto-macro feature so it's easier for the photographically-impaired to get close up shots in focus. It seems to me simple enough to take sharp close-ups and then resize them myself, but many people have trouble with that sort of thing. Judging from the countless out-of-focus images on Ebay, this just may be a useful bit of idiot-proofing.
Another interesting tweak is a flash update. Not only can you do some multi-shot stuff, you can also do a multi-flash -- three quick shots with three distinct flashes in less than a second. I did some sports photography and was able to capture some decent, well-lighted action photos. This was surprising to me, as I have always been action shot-challenged.
You can also use a multi-continuous technique where the camera takes 25 images in very quick succession. If you're working on, say, your golf stroke, this is a great way to see your swing broken down into 25 parts.
The camera isn't perfect. For instance, the viewfinder is not only too small, it doesn't reflect the reality of what you are actually shooting. Granted, on a bright sunlit day, the screen can be a little hard to see, but Casio has really pumped up the brightness on this screen and, unless you're constantly taking pictures in the noon-day sun, the viewfinder is useless.
The other thing that bugs me is zoom operation. The zoom trigger didn't seem to have fine enough adjustment, so I was forever going past where I wanted it to go. After a while I just gave up and moved closer to my subject.
I do like the camera, though. From its super-fast startup time, massively long battery life, and multi-flash, multi-shot features, I really had to struggle to come up with something to complain about.
One caveat: The camera may be just a bit too complex for a beginner. Best Shot mode is great for newbies just trying to get a decent shot, but it seems like this camera (and many others for that matter) tries to be all things to all people. Sure, you can leave it in fully automatic mode and let the camera do everything for you, or you could use one of the many presets. But why would you buy a camera with this many features if you won't be using them?
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