Slide this little camera out of your pocket, and people are sure to go gaga over its large and bright 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD. In typical Casio Exilim fashion, the 6-megapixel EX-Z600 is slender, stylish, highly portable and easy to use -- even for beginners.
Its 3x optical zoom (38mm-to-114mm 35mm-equivalent) provides sufficient range for typical snapshot situations. And with its budget-range price -- significantly less expensive than erstwhile competitors such as the Canon Digital IXUS 65 and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T9 -- you can spend the extra cash on clothes. Ironically, however, the biggest 6-megapixel, ultracompact competitors to the Z600 are other Casio models, namely the S600 and the Z60.
Given the camera's small 89mm by 56mm by 20mm body and large LCD, it's no surprise that the EX-Z600 has few dedicated control buttons. A tiny and low-profile power button sits on the camera's narrow top ledge, next to a small shutter button, which is encircled by the zoom control.
On the back, playback and record tabs also power-on the camera, a feature we've come to appreciate for spontaneous shooting (or playback). Two additional tabs provide access to the camera's clear and easily navigated menu system and 33 Best Shot (scene) modes. The up arrow on the camera's four-way controller cycles through display options, while flash modes are accessed via the down arrow, which also doubles as a delete key in playback mode. The left and right arrows can be programmed for direct control over one of several features including white balance, exposure compensation or ISO, otherwise most functions are only accessible via the menu.
Although strictly a point-and-shoot, the EX-Z600 has a well-rounded feature set. With the big selection of Best Shot modes and a built-in help system that explains each setting, the Z600 covers most common -- and some uncommon -- shooting situations. New this year from Casio is the eBay mode. Although this does nothing more than capture a small-size image (you can achieve the same effect by setting the image size to 2 megapixels) this Best Shot mode may be an appealing option for those who don't want to fuss with setting changes.
Users can adjust sharpness, saturation and contrast adjustments. The camera also features multiple autofocus modes, three metering options, manual white balance, adjustable flash intensity -- including a special soft-flash mode to avoid overexposed close-up images -- as well as various filter effects (black-and-white and colours).
As an alternative to scanning, the EX-Z600, along with other Casio models, offers built-in colour correction so you can shoot old photos (such as those prints you have stashed in a shoebox or an ancient photo album) so they can be restored. There's also a keystone correction feature to eliminate the odd angles that come from shooting flat objects such as old photos or buildings. While it's convenient to have this feature built in, there's little leeway for correction. Part of this process includes cropping the image, and while you'd still have to crop when correcting the perspective using an image-editing program, be prepared to lose part of your picture.
The Casio Exilim EX-Z600 is generally responsive, with respectable start-up time regardless of whether the camera is turned on using the power button or the direct record/playback buttons. It zips along quite nicely from shot to shot, although using the flash -- with the exception of the special Rapid Flash, that fires three times in a little over a second -- slows the time between shots to a laggardly 4.7 seconds. But there's minimal shutter lag, and under really dark conditions, the AF locks in pretty quickly. High-speed continuous shooting is almost instantaneous, although capture is limited to three consecutive frames. For more than three images, the capture rate slows to a little less than one frame per second.