Casio has been making a name for itself in the camera market of late. The Exilim EX-Z19 won't win any prizes for innovation, but it is designed to win friends as an affordable point-and-shoot. The Z19 will set you back less than £100, but is it good value or false economy?
The Exilim brand is known for its excellent build quality. The Z19 is no exception, with a brick-like frame completely free of flex. Despite this sturdiness, it's still small and light enough to slide happily in and out of a trouser pocket.
The 66mm (2.6-inch) widescreen LCD panel, however, feels too small. This is probably more to do with the raised bezel it sits in and the black surround, giving the feel of wasted real estate. We like Casio's efficient options sidebar, but it feels somewhat oversized here. The screen itself is bright in different lighting conditions, but it's not as crisp as it could be, with a lower-than-average resolution.
The raised screen bezel also interfered with the buttons placed directly to its right, which are too small and flat to the frame for clumsy, larger thumbs. The zoom is certainly brisk and moves in jerky steps -- even with our deftest touches we could only move it six steps.
The camera comes in several colours: black, silver, pastel green and not one, but two pinks. The pastel and pinks suggest that this camera is pitched at the ladies, which looks to us like yet another example of patronisingly under-specced and anonymously styled gadgets being resprayed and punted to girls.
In addition to boasting an underwhelming 3x zoom, the Z19 is disappointingly light on features. There's no optical image stabilisation, for a start. You do get face detection, and can select whether you want the autofocus to prioritise focusing faster or finding more faces. But you don't get the face recording feature offered in other Exilims.
That said, there are plenty of tweakable options, including sharpness, saturation, contrast and flash intensity. You can assign different shooting functions to the circular clickpad for quick access and there's an on-screen sidebar, meaning it's a doddle to control the camera. Menus would benefit from more accessible top tabs, however, as you have to scroll all the way back to the top of each list to select a different menu.
There are the usual 30 best-shot preset scene modes including portrait, landscape, pet and assorted low-light modes. We also like the inclusion of a mode for shooting soft, flowing water.
Although it sports the gaudy YouTube sticker on the front, Casio has inexplicably removed the one thing that, for us, justified that sticker on previous models: the handy dedicated video record button. Now, as on the first iterations of the YouTube tie-up, you have to scroll through menus to fire up video, and right to the bottom of the best-shot scene modes for a specific YouTube mode.
The Z19 is pleasingly fast to focus, with face detection doing particularly well. It picked out faces quickly, even in less-than-perfect lighting situations, and seemed to do less hunting around than some cameras.
In decent lighting the Z19 is a perfectly capable little point-and-shoot, focusing quickly and accurately. When the sun goes down, however, things are less promising.
While we're glad to have the option to dial down the flash, we found it didn't make a huge difference: even with the flash dialled down, subjects were still pale unless they were well away from the camera. With the flash off, the camera struggled in low light, so it's not great for crowded social situations.
Noise is a particular problem, even as low as ISO 400. In darker conditions the camera is quick to up the ISO level past its ability to deal with the resulting noise, and we found that tweaking the exposure compensation led to blurry pictures. It seems the answer is to stick with the flash but stand well back.
The Casio Exilim EX-Z19 is head-and-shoulders above most of the cameras in the sub-£100 bargain basement, thanks to excellent build quality, a wealth of tweakable shooting options and decent images. It may be short on specs, features and low-light performance, but for that price you can't go wrong.
Edited by Marian Smith