Casio was one of the early pioneers of digital photography, helping to define the market with the launch of the innovative QV-100 in 1996. Only Kodak, Canon and Olympus have been making digital cameras for longer.
Today, Casio has a lineup of digital cameras consisting of 15 models, divided between the QV and Exilim series and ranging from the ultra-slim 3.2 megapixel EX-S100 to the powerful semi-professional 7.2 megapixel EX-P700. The EX-Z50 fits in to the middle of the range, as a powerful but extremely compact camera with some versatile shooting options for the more creative photographer.
With Casio’s long pedigree, it’s no surprise that the EX-Z50 is a well-designed, well-made and well-specified camera. It has an all-metal body, an ultra-compact Pentax Sliding Lens System 3x optical zoom, and a high definition 2.0in TFT LCD monitor with 84,960 pixels. The overall style is generally similar to some of the cameras in Pentax’s Optio range, as is the range of features on offer. However, the similarities are only skin deep.
From a standing start the EX-Z50 starts up in a little over two seconds, which is half a second faster than the Pentax Optio S5i, arguably its closest rival. Shot-to-shot time in the highest quality setting is a respectable three seconds using a standard Lexar 128MB SD card, and is slightly faster at lower quality settings. However, the camera has no continuous shooting mode, so this is as fast as it gets. Using the flash will slow things down somewhat, since in Auto or Flash On modes the camera will sensibly refuse to fire until the flash is fully charged.
The 7-point AF system is very quick, taking under half a second to lock on, and as a result there is virtually no shutter lag. Focusing also works extremely well in low light, especially impressive considering that there's no AF-assist illuminator on this model. The control layout is fairly conventional, with a recessed power switch on the top, the usual menu and display mode buttons, a zoom rocker that also controls playback magnification, and separate buttons for recording and playback mode. As well as being used for menu navigation, the up and down controls on the four-way pad operate flash mode and macro mode, or print tagging and deletion in playback. Left and right on the pad are user-programmable. Functions including white balance, ISO or exposure compensation can be mapped to this control for quick access. There are also separate buttons for shooting and playback modes, which can cause a little annoyance during spur of the moment shooting.
You see, many cameras have what is called “shooting priority”, which means that if you are in playback or menu modes, tapping the shutter button will instantly switch back to shooting mode, which is great for catching quick snaps. Unfortunately the Casio does not have this feature. If you are in playback mode you have to press the shooting mode button to cancel it. Other than this the overall handling is very good.
The camera is small, but the controls are sensibly laid out and are easy to operate even for someone with large hands. There is a sculpted chrome feature on the front panel that serves as a grip, and the shutter button falls neatly and comfortably under the right forefinger. The optical viewfinder is a tad on the incredibly tiny side, but at least it has one.
Casio’s big claim for the EX-Z50 is that it has a 390-shot battery life, which is remarkable if true and if our test model is anything to go by it certainly seems to be. With a brand new freshly charged battery I was able to take around 350 shots, using the flash about 50% of the time, before the battery was exhausted. Since new rechargeable batteries typically take a few charge-discharge cycles to reach optimum performance it seems that the claim holds up.