Cameras that combine good quality and value for money can be hard to find, but the 14.1-megapixel Casio Exilim EX-Z2000 looks like it could be one. It has a stainless steel body, 5x wide-angle zoom, 720p high-definition movie mode, a 580-shot battery life, and a high-resolution, 76mm (3-inch) LCD display. Despite all this, you should be able to pick it up for about £150.
À la modes
For a camera in this price bracket, the Z2000 is very well made. It's a tad larger than the average Casio compact camera, but that allows room for the bigger LCD and chunkier-than-usual controls. A rather small power button sits on the top, and you use the 'auto' button next to it to switch between standard auto operation and Casio's new 'premium auto' mode. Just to the right of that is a button for cycling through the vast range of 'best shot' scene modes.
The premium auto mode is surrounded by the usual technological smokescreen -- Casio says something about independently analysing exposure conditions and automatically configuring optimal settings -- but it appears to be much the same as the automatic scene-mode-selection feature provided on the vast majority of today's compacts. Whatever it's doing, it takes the camera between 1 and 3 seconds to process images taken in this mode. It seems particularly effective at lightening the darker areas of backlit shots, though, and produces particularly vivid scenery shots.
When you've finished playing with that mode, you might want to try out the 'dynamic photo' mode. This has been knocking around on Casio compacts for a while. You shoot a picture of your subject and then take another shot with the subject out of the frame, so you've just got the background. The camera can then subtract your subject from the background so that you can superimpose the subject on another image. You can even create animations, thanks to the high-speed 'continuous shutter' mode. It's clever, but it's also a pretty time-consuming process for a novelty feature you might use just a couple of times.
The Z2000's new 'art' modes are quite neat, though. Well, the oil-effect one is at any rate. The crayon effect is less impressive, and the watercolour effect looks like there's too much water and not enough colour.
Generally, though, the Z2000's pictures aren't bad. They're bright, colourful and crisp, the 5x zoom is sharp, and the lens maintains its definition quite well even at the edges of the frame and at full zoom.
Cum on feel the noize reduction
But, even at the minimum ISO, the effects of the Z2000's rather crude noise-reduction processes are obvious. Vegetation, brickwork, human hair and all sorts of other textured surfaces slip in and out of existence as the camera tries to guess at what's detail and needs enhancing, and what's noise and needs covering up. Casio's not alone, though. Every other camera maker also struggles to get any kind of quality out of these tiny 14-megapixel sensors.
There are other disappointments too. The 460,800-pixel display is big and sharp, but the brightness changes when you press the shutter release halfway down, and, if you're shooting into the light, any bright areas in the scene create huge white streaks across the screen.
The 720p movie mode is pretty limited, too -- you can't take advantage of the autofocus or zoom while you're filming. There ought to be a separate labelling system for cameras with this limitation.
For the price, the Casio Exilim EX-Z2000 offers good features and build quality, but it has its share of flaws and limitations. The real problem, though, is that it just doesn't have any standout features or qualities. It's competent but charmless.
Edited by Charles Kloet