It's a secret -- don't tell anybody. Hybrid cameras aren't true hybrids. Photo cameras inevitably make poor camcorders, and camcorders inevitably take terrible photos. You'd think it wouldn't be that difficult to combine the two functions, but apparently it is. However, Casio's Exilim Pro EX-P505 does inch us closer to a device that's equally adept with both functions.
In addition to being a compact and lightweight 5-megapixel camera with a 5x optical zoom, the EX-P505 takes passable 640x480 MPEG-4 video at 30fps. The video side has full use of the camera's zoom, captures its audio through a built-in stereo microphone, and can even record the action 5 seconds before you press the shutter release. So are we at the point where one device can serve for both high-quality photos and decent video? Not quite. This model doesn't perform well in low light, and its zoom mechanism is loud enough to be audible on some video shots. If you can live with its limitations, the small size and the 5x zoom could make this a convenient all-purpose camera.
Don't be fooled by the Casio Exilim Pro EX-P505 product photo. The deep grip and the rubber tread under the lens barrel suggest a hefty camera. In reality, everything is scaled down to a dinky size. Weighing less than some mobile phones and PDAs, the 215g EX-P505 measures a scant 99mm wide, 56mm high and 74mm deep. You can buy thinner cameras, but they probably won't have a 5x optical zoom. As you might expect from the weight, this camera has a plastic body. Only time will tell whether it can hold up to abuse, but as plastics go, it feels sturdy.
There's no optical viewfinder, so you'll be totally dependent on the LCD screen for composing your shots. The 51mm (2-inch) screen swivels across a 270-degree arc, letting you easily capture overhead and low-level shots, as well as self-portraits. We like that the camera turns on automatically when you swing open the screen and turns off when you close it.
Because this is a big-camera design that's scaled down to suit a small camera, the EX-P505 can be difficult to handle, particularly for larger hands. The front has a curved indentation for a right-hand grip, but the surface is so narrow, you may be able to grasp it with only two fingers. Similarly, the rubber tread underneath the lens is so small that you may find the fingers on your left hand colliding with the fingers on your right hand.
The onscreen menus are bright and easy to navigate. You manoeuvre using a back-mounted four-way navigation array with a centre-selection button. You can quickly back out of menus by pressing the menu button. Despite the camera's small size, all the controls are conveniently positioned.
Casio has loaded the Exilim Pro EX-P505 with thoughtful features. In addition to the fully automatic and manual exposure settings, you can select from 22 Best Shot modes. These modes select -- and provide guidance for -- subject-related settings, such as candlelight portraits, pets, splashing water, fireworks and flowers. You can also create your own Best Shot.
Experienced photographers will appreciate the EX button, which provides quick access to white balance, ISO, meter and AF parameters. Beginners and seasoned veterans will benefit from the 5x optical zoom; it's equivalent to a 38mm-to-190mm zoom on a 35mm-film camera, which doesn't give it as wide an angle as we would have liked. Its maximum aperture of f/3.3 to f/3.6 is remarkably consistent, though it's a bit slow for low-light photography. The macro mode focuses down to 10mm. Even more impressive is the camera's ability to automatically switch to the macro mode, as needed. There are three focus options: spot, which concentrates in the centre; multi, which combines seven different areas; and free, which you can position anywhere.