The EX-Z550 is designed as a pocket-friendly all-purpose compact for social photography. The aluminium body and scratch-resistant monitor screen are tough enough to survive an in-pocket encounter with your car keys with less than 1d4 damage, and the lens folds away completely flush with the body. It's not the smallest camera that Casio has ever produced, but it is still very light and compact, measuring just 99.5 x 55.4 x 22.4mm and weighing 137g including battery and memory card. It is available in a wide range of colours, including blue, black, silver, red, or the utterly fabulous chrome-and-pink version seen here.
Casio has a lot of experience making ultra-compact cameras, and as a result the Z550 is comfortable and easy to handle despite its size. There is plenty of room on the back to grip the camera, and the controls are all well placed for easy use. These include a rotary bezel zoom control and a dedicated button to start video recording.
The control layout and interface will be familiar to anyone who's owned a Casio camera before. It has the usual quick and simple sidebar menu for basic shooting operations, and as in some previous models this menu can be customised by the user. As well as this the Z550 has a comprehensive main menu system which includes a number of image adjustment options, including a lighting booster for high contrast shots, a range of colour filters and adjustable contrast, sharpness and saturation.
The Z550 is the first of Casio's new range of cameras to come across my desk, and so it's the first I've seen with the new Premium Auto shooting mode. This is a sophisticated scene recognition mode with continuous autofocus designed for maximum image quality with minimum hassle. As well as this it has Casio's usual extensive array of Best Shot scene programs and special functions. Most of these are useful, such as the usual portrait, landscape, portrait with scenery, sports, candlelight, pets etcetera. There are some unusual ones too, such as a couple of self-portrait settings, soft flowing water, various “art” modes such as watercolour or crayon, and a fun multi-exposure function. Others are less useful, particularly the Dynamic Photo mode, which uses multiple image captures to attempt to produce an animated image of just the subject, with the stationary background removed. The best thing I can say is that it might work properly under ideal circumstances, but I can't for the life of me think of a use for it.
The Z550 has what is fast becoming the standard video mode for compact cameras. It shoots at 1280 x 720 pixels and 24fps, with mono audio recorded via a small microphone on the front panel. Video is recorded in the compact but lossy Motion JPEG format.