With its 10-megapixel sensor and 4x zoom, the Casio Exilim EX-Z300, priced at around £190, hardly pushes the boundaries of optical science. But what it lacks in photographic innovation it makes up for in brains, with a list of features as long as your arm and so many different ways of automatically fixing things that you might wonder if you need to be there at all.
Where to start? How about the 'auto shutter' modes? We can take face-detection for granted these days (there are six different modes here), but in 'detect smile' mode, the shutter won't fire until your subject is wearing a happy face.
Seen it before? Okay, then how about 'panning' mode? It can be tricky getting a sharp picture when you're panning with a moving subject but, in this mode, the camera won't fire until the camera and subject movement coincide and there's no blur. In 'detect blur' mode, you can take shots in the dimmest light, safe in the knowledge that the shutter won't fire until the camera's steady. In these last two modes, a 'shake scale' on the LCD flickers up and down, showing you just how steady the camera actually is.
There's much more to play with on this camera too. Casio, as ever, offers a huge selection of 'best shot' modes (scene modes, in other words), all well illustrated with pictorial examples and brief descriptions. But you're more likely to want to play with the new 'make-up' function, which can give you the complexion of a porcelain doll via one of 12 different settings, or have a go with the new 'lighting' function, which can lighten up darker areas without affecting the rest.
This Casio's not all gadgets, either. The 28mm, 4x wideangle zoom is handier than most and there's a 1,280x720-pixel, high-definition movie mode too.
When you've finished playing with all of its features, you can customise the camera's menu colours, and choose a new autofocus frame to appear on the LCD while shooting.
If you're a techno-zealot who believes there's nothing in the world that can't be fixed with a smarter box of electronics, the EX-Z300 is the camera for you. But there is a rule in business -- the 'Pareto Principle' -- that states that 80 per cent of the work is done with 20 per cent of the tools, and this is what's happening with the EX-Z300. The Casio's gadgets are great but you're only going to use them for a fraction of your shots and, even then, your subject may have wandered off before you've figured out what to do.
The fact is that the pictures themselves are average. Casio's new processing engine does a marginally better job than most compacts at providing acceptable quality at high ISOs but the lens is a bit weak. Definition falls off noticeably in the corners of the frame and there's some colour fringing too. Electronics can only get you so far -- you've got to have the engineering and optics to back them up.
Gadget fans will love it but, while the Casio Exilim EX-Z300's features can improve the success of your shots in very specific circumstances, in overall terms, the picture quality is no better than average. Besides, automation is supposed to relieve you of the need to think, but some of the functions on offer here are halfway to rocket-science levels of complexity.
Edited by Charles Kloet