'Sleek and sturdy' is, we're told, the design concept behind the Casio Exilim EX-Z1. Sleek it certainly is, though its sturdiness is unproven. It feels well-made, but it's not guaranteed waterproof or shockproof or anything like that. That's a pity, because, with a typical street price of £150 or so, this 10-megapixel camera needs something clever to distinguish it from the rest.
It's conventional at this point to rattle off a long list of plus points and explain some of the clever features of the camera we're reviewing. This time it's not so easy.
The Z1 is slim, but the lens isn't a folding type, so it sticks out when you're shooting. It does come in a choice of attractive colours -- gold, blue, pink, black, silver and purple -- but then so do plenty of other cameras. It has, though, got a widescreen LCD and a reasonably high-resolution 848x480-pixel movie mode, not to mention Casio's neat and efficient on-screen 'sidebar' menu system. Oh, and you can customise the menu colour.
Looking at the LCD screen, you get the feeling that it isn't as crisp and smooth as it ought to be, and a quick check of the specs confirms that its total pixel count is around just 115,000. It's been a while since a camera from a leading maker has had an LCD this poor.
Widescreen LCDs are good when you shoot movies but can be confusing for stills. The Z1's native aspect ratio for stills is 4:3, which is standard with compact cameras. Other makers who use widescreen LCDs get around this by showing the whole image with black bars on either side. It's not brilliant, but it works. In playback mode, though, the Z1 crops off the top and bottom of your stills and, until you figure this out, you're going to think you didn't get everything in the frame that you meant to, when really you did -- it's just that the screen's not displaying it all.
Other disappointments lie in store. This camera's got Casio's Continuous Shutter technology, also seen in the 60 frames per second Exilim EX-F1 and the 40fps Exilim Pro EX-FH20. The Z1's manual is cagey about its continuous shooting speeds, though, and, in our hands, it managed no more than about 1.5fps. It is continuous and it is a shutter, but that's where the similarity with the other cameras' capability ends.
The picture quality's nothing to write home about either. It's only a 3x zoom and not even wideangle zoom at that, so how hard can it be to get decent pictures? The definition in the centre of the frame is fine, but it goes pretty soft in the corners and there's some fearsome barrel distortion at the shorter end of the zoom range. There's not much colour fringing, but, even at minimum ISO, the camera smoothes over fine, low-contrast detail. Having said that, the picture quality at ISO 1,600 isn't that bad for a compact.
The overall colour rendition, white balance and exposure accuracy are fine, but nowadays you can take these things for granted with whatever camera you buy.
The Casio Exilim EX-Z1 is a desperately dull little camera and, unless you count the range of colours available or its dinky little body as crucial selling points, it's hard to find anything interesting about it at all. It works, it takes pictures and its snaps are adequate. The bottom line, however, is that you can get a much better camera for the same money or an equally good one for far less.
Edited by Charles Kloet