It seems to have become a habit for some people to start off any review of a Casio digital camera with a humorous quip about pocket calculators and cheap digital watches. It’s as though the very idea of Casio making cameras is slightly comical, like a dog performing an amusing trick. I’m not sure if this betrays a somewhat immature sense of humour or a total ignorance of the digital camera industry, because the truth is that Casio has been making digital cameras since the early 1990s, longer than any other manufacturer except Sony and Kodak. Casio’s current range ranks among the very best on the market, surpassing most others for build and picture quality, performance, ease of use and value for money.
With such an exemplary pedigree, it should come as no surprise that Casio is the first company to launch a compact camera boasting a massive 10.1 megapixel CCD, equal in resolution to a mid-level digital SLR. At the time of writing, the Exilim EX-Z1000 is currently the most powerful digital compact camera in the world.
However awesome as that may be, the brutal truth is that most people have absolutely no need for that kind of power. The megapixel resolution of a camera relates directly to print size, and most people only print their pictures at 6×4 inches, the size of a traditional snapshot. To produce true photographic quality a picture should ideally be printed at 300 pixels per inch, so for a perfect 6×4 print you only need a maximum resolution of 1,800 x 1,200 pixels, which actually is equal to a mere 2.16-megapixels.
If you can afford the ink to print all your pictures at A4 size and full photo quality, you still only need 8.7MP at the most, and a 6MP camera will produce perfectly acceptable results.
As usual though, the marketing experts have managed to convince the sheep-like masses that the product they bought last year is now suddenly inadequate, and that they really need to upgrade to something with bigger numbers printed on the box.
On the other hand, it has to be said that the EX-Z1000 really is a superb camera, and at £299.99 on the high street or around £242 online, it’s also great value for money. What’s an honest reviewer to do?
The fact is that the EX-Z1000 would still be a superb camera even if it had half the resolution that it does. For a start, it’s beautifully put together. It has a strong stainless steel case with an attractive matt finish that resists finger marks. It is very small, just a few millimetres larger than the EX-Z500. At 22.4mm thick and weighing 139g dry, it is slim and light enough to carry in a shirt pocket.
Despite the presence of a huge 230,000 pixel 2.8-inch wide format LCD monitor on such a small camera, and the restricted space this leaves on the rear panel, the camera is still comfortable and easy to hold, thanks to a textured thumb grip on the top right corner.
The Z1000’s control interface is also beautifully designed and fantastically easy to use. It has a bare minimum of external controls, with the display mode, shooting mode and playback mode buttons positioned on the reverse angle of the top plate, leaving just the menu and Best Shot mode buttons, and the D-pad on the back.
However thanks to an innovative permanently-displayed sidebar menu full control over all main shooting functions is instantly available by simply scrolling up and down on the D-pad. The LCD monitor is 4 x 6cm, an aspect ratio of 3:2, but the CCD has an aspect ratio of the usual 4:3 in full resolution, so the on-screen sidebar doesn’t obscure any of the image.
The sidebar can be turned off, and the camera can also shoot in 3:2 and 16:9 widescreen mode, but this crops off part of the full resolution image at the top and bottom.
For all its raw pixel power, the Z-1000 is designed to be an easy point-and-shoot compact, so it lacks any real manual control. However it does have that staple of the Exilim range, the Best Shot mode. This provides a menu with example pictures to set the camera up for common shooting situations such as portraits, landscapes, sports and night scenes, and also more specific situations such as candlelight, sunset, fireworks, flowing water, autumn leaves and natural greens.
It also includes a number of digital effects, including a mode that tries to restore colour and brightness when copying old photograph prints, and a four-point starburst filter effect, neither of which I have never seen on any other camera before. There are 36 Best Shot options in all, although it has to be said that one or two of them are a little redundant.
The Z1000 also has an Anti Shake DSP mode, however this is just an electronic system that incorporates setting the ISO to 800, sacrificing picture quality to ensure a high shutter speed. It does reduce blurring, but it’s not as good as the mechanical or optical anti-shake systems found on some rival cameras.
Apart from that little grumble the overall performance of the Z1000 is almost as quick as its Kawasaki namesake. It starts up in a fraction over one second, shoots continuously at 1.5 seconds per frame, or a burst of three frames in five seconds in high-speed mode. In movie mode it can shoot at 640×480 and 30fps, although clips are limited to a maximum of 10 minutes.
Battery life appears to be excellent, however since it comes with a handy charger/USB cradle it’s hard to let the batteries run down during normal use. The built-in flash has a stated maximum range of a useful 3.6 metres, but I found that it actually quite a bit more than that.
The camera uses fairly light compression, resulting in image files that are around 4MB each, and a 1GB SD card provides enough space for 230 full-resolution shots
It takes more than just a big CCD to make a good picture. In fact above five or six megapixels lens quality and image processing are far more important. However a camera that has a good lens, a good processing engine (I)and(/I) a huge 1/1.8-inch 10MP CCD clearly has a major advantage. The EX-Z1000 produces images that are sharper and more detailed than any other compact camera I’ve ever tried. I’ve included a 100 percent crop in the test shots. It’s interesting to compare it with the similar shot from my review of the Nikon D200 DSLR, which also uses a 10MP sensor. The D200 is sharper, but not by much.
The 3x optical zoom F2.8-5.4 lens on the Z1000 is very good lens, providing excellent sharp detail with no corner blurring and minimal barrel distortion at wide angle.
Focusing is quick and exposure nice and accurate even in difficult conditions, and the image processing engine produces excellent colour rendition in standard snapshot mode. Noise is very well controlled at 50 and 100 ISO, although there is some unobtrusive mid-tone noise at 200 ISO, which becomes more visible at 400. 800 and 3200 ISO are also available in Anti Shake and High Speed modes, but the former suffers badly from image noise, while the latter suffers from the over-application of noise reduction.
Despite, and not because of, the megapixel willy-waving, the EX-Z1000 is a superb camera. It possesses first class build quality, brisk performance, outstanding image quality and an innovative and easy-to-use control system that makes it ideal for a first-time user. As to whether you really need 10 megapixels, only you can decide.
”A range of test shots are shown over the following pages. Here, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it in order for you to gain an appreciation of the overall quality. The following pages consist of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure. For those with a dial-up connection, please be patient while the pages download.”
Note: These ISO test shots were taken indoors using diffuse natural light, auto exposure and auto white balance. The 800 ISO shot is taken using Anti Shake DSP mode, and the 3200 ISO shot is done using High Speed Mode. These ISO settings are not available in other modes. The camera was mounted on a tripod, and the 2-sec self timer was used.
¼ sec, F3.8, ISO 50
At the lowest ISO setting the image is crystal clear and sharp as a metaphor. However the auto ISO system will hardly ever select this setting except in really bright weather. Best to use manual.
1/10 sec, F3.8, ISO 100
At 100 ISO the image is still sharp, smooth and noise free, just as it should be.
1/20 sec, F3.8, ISO 200
At 200 ISO there is a hint of noise in some mid-tone areas, but it hasn’t affected the lighter or darker areas.
1/40 sec, F3.8, ISO 400
At 400 ISO, the highest normally available setting, there is some image noise visible in the darker areas, but it is very fine and unobtrusive.
1/80 sec, F3.8, ISO 800
In Anti-shake mode the camera selects 800 ISO to ensure a fast shutter speed in low light conditions. It reduces shake, but there is a lot of image noise and the picture quality is seriously degraded.
1/320 sec, F3.8, ISO 3200
In High Speed mode, the ISO setting is pushed up to 3200, but the noise reduction system has removed a lot of fine detail and added a lot of artefacts. Not a good picture.
The metering system does a good job with this unusual exposure, and the image processor captures the bright sunset colours.
The Z1000 has a minimum macro focusing range of 6cm.
The stated maximum flash range is a healthy 3.6 metres, but I found that was a bit on the conservative side. The back wall of this room is at least 5 metres away.
Like many 3x zoom cameras, the wide end of the Z1000’s range is equivalent to 38mm…
…while the telephoto end is equal to 114mm.
As you can see from the parallel lines on the front of this Land Rover, the Z1000’s lens manages to avoid severe barrel distortion at wide angle
See below for a crop of the full-size version of this picture.
This is a small section of the previous photo blown up to 100 percent, so you can see the fantastic level of detail that the 10MP sensor can capture
Score in detail
Image Quality 9
|Camera type||Digital Compact|
|Megapixels (Megapixel)||10.1 Megapixel|
|Optical Zoom (Times)||3x|