The Z80’s performance is also exceptional. It starts up in a little over 1.5 seconds, and shuts down again in about the same. In single shot mode the shot-to-shot cycle time is also about 1.5 seconds in good light, but slows down slightly in lower light conditions. In normal continuous shooting mode it shoots at approximately one frame per second, but it also has a high-speed continuous mode which can rattle along at five frame per second, although only at two megapixel resolution. The stand-out feature though is the autofocus system, which is incredibly fast. I’ve got the latest compact cameras from Canon, Nikon and Panasonic in for testing at the moment, but the little Casio Z80 has a faster AF system than all of them.
The only slight disappointment from this otherwise excellent camera is the final image quality. It’s not totally awful, but given the camera’s excellent design and performance I had hoped it might be better, and as usual with Casio it’s the lens that bears most of the blame. It produces distinct barrel distortion at the wide end, and equally bad pincushion distortion at the telephoto end. Sharpness is acceptable at the centre of the frame, but away from the centre it gets progressively more blurred and also shows significant chromatic aberration. Corner blurring is very bad. There was a time when Casio used to get its compact camera lenses from Pentax; maybe it should start doing so again.
Other aspects of the image quality are also less than perfect. In high-contrast situations the exposure system tends to blow out highlights even when the dynamic range expansionisused, and some very bright colours also give it problems. In standard saturation bright yellow spring flowers were reduced to featureless blobs of yellow in some of my test shots. Noise control is also rather poor, with visible noise artefacts at 200 ISO, getting progressively worse up to the maximum 1600 ISO, although colour rendition remained reasonably accurate up to 800 ISO.
The Casio Exilim EX-Z80 is a remarkable camera in many ways. Not only is it the smallest 8-megapixel camera on the market, it has a number of advanced technical features not found on rival models. Design, build quality, performance and handling are all very good, and the AF system is amazing, but these attributes are somewhat let down by rather sub-standard image quality. Nonetheless, as a convenient pocket snapshot camera it’s hard to beat, and represents good value for its low price.
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