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Casio Exilim EX-Z120 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 29/03/06
Rating: Recommended
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Introduction: Announced in August 2005, the Casio Exilim EX-Z120 is a new 7 megapixel digital camera with a 3x optical zoom lens. The camera has two very similar "brothers", the Z110, which is an identical 6 megapixel version, and the Z10, which is a slightly different 5 megapixel version. The cameras 3x optical zoom lens is equivalent to 38mm - 114mm in 35mm terms, and has a built in metal lens-cover. The Casio Exilim EX-Z120 is available from £150, this makes it very good value for money as a compact 7 megapixel digital camera. The camera is enclosed in a silver metal body. The Z120 records 640x480 movies with sound at 30fps. The camera is very compact and fits easily into pockets. The camera takes two AA batteries and measures: 90 x 60 x 27.2mm (without protruding parts), and weighs 138g (without batteries and memory card).

Casio have this to say about the camera:

"Designed to be user friendly, fun, and convenient, as well as featuring CASIO’s renowned EXILIM Engine, the EXILIM ZOOM EX-Z120 is intended to introduce the ease and enjoyment of high quality digital photography and world-class performance to anyone, anywhere. With a choice of easy mode, normal settings, and advanced image control through fully adjustable manual settings the EX-Z120 is a camera that will grow with you."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Panasonic Lumix FZ30)


Front - Camera off.


Front - Camera on, lens extended, flash, led, optical viewfinder, microphone hole, small handgrip.


Back - Optical viewfinder, 2" screen, play / record button, mode dial, menu / display buttons, 4-way control, Set button.


Top: on/off, zoom control, shutter release.


Bottom - battery compartment with open latch, plastic tripod mount.


Left Side - speaker.


USB / Video out, DC in connection compartment, memory compartment.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Size comparison, compared to the 5 megapixel Ricoh Caplio R3.


Size comparison, compared to the 6 megapixel Pentax Optio S6.

Specifications / Features:

  • 7.2 Megapixel CCD Sensor
  • 3x Optical Zoom Lens - 38mm - 114mm film equivalent, F2.8 (W) to F5.1 (T)
  • 2.0" screen, 84,960 pixels
  • 4x Digital Zoom
  • ISO AUTO, 50, 100, 200, 400, (800, 1600 in Anti-shake mode)
  • Video mode: 640 x 480, with sound
  • Macro: 10 cm to 50 cm
  • Pictbridge support, USB2
  • 32 Scene modes (including user defined / downloadable scenes)

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera (with 8mb of memory built in)
  • 2x Alkaline AA batteries
  • AV Cable
  • USB Cable
  • CD-ROM
  • Strap
  • 19 page basic manual

Average / poor box contents - 8mb of provided memory is something you rarely see, even on 3 megapixel cameras! You will need to buy a larger memory card and a case (as with almost all digital cameras). Rechargeable batteries are also highly recommended, and it's a shame they didn't print a larger manual.

Battery usage: Up to 170 pictures with the supplied Alkaline batteries according to CIPA / CASIO testing. This is very good for alkaline batteries, and Oxyride or high-powered Ni-Mh rechargeable batteries should provide much better battery life. I managed around 2,800 (yes, two thousand and eight hundred) continuous VGA shots with 2350mAh Ni-Mh batteries, with the flash off!

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the back dial.

Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right below:

Photo mode Photo Menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen resolution with 84,960 pixels is below average, although text is still clear and the colour appears quite accurate on the screen. The camera has a live histogram that also shows you the green, blue and red channel. The text and menus are easy to read. Optical Viewfinder: There is a small optical viewfinder that may be useful in bright sunlight.

Photo menu options: Continuous, Self-Timer, Auto focus area, Anti Shake (enables ISO800, and ISO1600, and will try to use a higher ISO speed instead of using flash), L/R key customisation, Quick shutter, Audio snap, Grid, Digital zoom, Review, Memory.

Photo Quality Options Easy Photo Mode Menu

Photo Quality Options: Size, Quality, Video quality, EV shift, White Balance (includes shade, and custom white balance as well as the usual), ISO, Metering, Filter (Off, Black and White, Sepia, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Pink, Purple), Sharpness, Saturation, Contrast, Flash intensity, Flash Assist (lightens darker areas of images).

Easy Photo Mode menu options: Flash, Self-Timer, Image Size. Limited options, with the choices explained with a short paragraph when selected.

Scene modes Setup menu

Scenes: Each scene has a short explanation underneath. The scenes are: Portrait, Scenery, Portrait with Scenery, Children, Sports, Candlelight portrait, Party, Pet, Flower, Natural Green, Autumn Leaves, Soft Flowing Water, Splashing Water, Sundown, Night scene, Night scene portrait, Fireworks, Food, Text, Collection, Backlight, Anti-shake, High sensitivity, Pastel, Illustration, Cross, Monochrome, Retro, Twilight, ID Photo, Business cards and documents, White board etc, Register user scene. The last one allows you to customise / setup as many of your own scene modes as you want.

Setup menu options: Sounds (Startup, Half-shutter, Shutter, Operation, Play), Battery type, Startup, File number, World time, Adjust Date/Time, Date style, Language, Sleep, Auto power off, Rec/Play, USB, Video out, Format, Reset.

Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the playback menu screen as shown on the right, below:

Playback mode Playback Menu

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is very quick. The zoom is quick, and allows you to zoom up to 8x.

Playback menu options: Slideshow, Motion print, Movie editing, White balance (adjustable after taking the photo!), Brightness, Favourites, DPOF, Protect, Rotation, Resize, Trimming, Dubbing, Copy.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of images will fit on the 8mb memory provided with the camera:

Image Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality
  Ratio Fine Normal Economy
7mp 3072 x 2304 (A3) 4:3 1 2 5
7mp 3072 x 2048 (A3) 3:2 2 3 6
5mp 2560 x 1920 (A3) 4:3 2 3 7
3mp 2048 x 1536 (A4) 4 6 11
2mp 1600 x 1200 6 9 18
VGA 0.3mp 640 x 480 21 32 59

As shown in the table above, you can fit a very small number of images on the 8mb provided - a large memory card is needed, using the internal memory is simply not an option - unless you want to take VGA photos on the Economy setting! The memory should only be used to test the camera in my opinion. There is a good choice of image sizes and aspect ratios, and a good choice regarding image compression.

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, or larger, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Casio Exilim EX-Z120:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £9.99, 512mb: £16.99, 1gb (1000mb): £32.07, 2gb (2000mb): £54.49
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is fairly quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in just under two seconds. Focusing seemed fairly quick even in low-light taking roughly 0.5 - 1 second to focus depending on lighting and the subjects distance from the camera. The camera shutter response seemed very quick (less than 0.1 seconds) when pre-focused. Shot to shot time was quite sluggish, with a delay of 3 - 4 seconds between shot when using flash, as you had to wait for the flash to recharge before you could take the next photo - without flash shot to shot time was better, with a delay of 1 to 2 seconds between shots. The flash recharge time was a bit slow - taking between 1 and 2 seconds. The cameras menu's seemed very quick and responsive. Continuous shooting is average, it is unlimited at roughly 1fps (without flash). The playback mode is very quick with pictures appearing instantly as you scroll through them. In use, it felt like a quick and responsive camera, thanks to the quick focusing and very quick shutter response.

Ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, especially in the EASY mode, or one of the scene modes, even though the camera has a lot of options. The camera is easy to use in any mode, even in manual mode, it's easy to work out how to set the shutter and aperture without having to refer to the manual. The controls on the back of the camera are very straight forward with clear play / record buttons (a favourite of mine). The menus are very responsive and easy to read and navigate. They are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple, mainly thanks to the clear and easy to use dial and buttons on the camera.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are very easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seem to be the right amount of buttons - and dials allowing easy access to the most commonly used functions and features. The buttons feel good, and only the power button is on the small side - the others are quite "normal" sized, and not as small as other cameras, although not especially large either. The shutter release is quite good. The buttons are labelled fairly well. I thought the camera felt good ergonomically, although there is little in the way of a hand grip. I like the zoom control that surrounds the shutter release. The camera, with it's metal body, feels like a solid, robust and well built camera.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Casio Exilim EX-Z120 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower* Group photo (ISO200)

Inside: The camera has good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is very little red-eye in the photo. It has a fairly decent flash (despite its small size), and copes well with group photos, although red-eye was more noticeable. The camera did a good job at focusing even in low-light. Images were slightly soft, and seemed better with sharpness turned up in camera. * Paler than usual due to pale foundation.

Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 80, 100, 200, 400, 800*, 1600*) - below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings. * ISO 800 and ISO1600 are available with "Anti-shake" mode turned on or by using the "Anti-shake" or "Natural Light" scene modes.


ISO Noise Test Photo - Flash on (unless otherwise stated)

ISO50 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels (Flash off) ISO1600 - Actual Pixels (Flash off)

Noise is visible in photos taken at ISO50 and ISO100, at these low ISOs you would normally expect (or hope) there to be no noise, however the noise isn't too bad - as it appears more like film noise, rather than blue, red and green spots. Noise at ISO200 and ISO400 is quite noticeable, and at ISO800 or ISO1600 noise is very high and details is much softer. ISO800 and ISO1600 may be appealing if you only want to print or view small images and if you prefer natural light rather than flash.

These increased ISO settings (ISO800 and ISO1600) are part of Casio's "Anti-shake DSP" and are an occasionally useful feature that a lot of manufacturers (Panasonic, Olympus etc) seem to be adding - but they aren't as good as real hardware anti-shake, such as Panasonic's "Mega Optical Image Stabilisation", or Konica Minolta's Anti-shake CCD sensor, as they often dramatically reduce image quality. The only manufacturer who seems to have provided very good high ISO performance in a compact digital camera is Fujifilm, with the Fuji FinePix F10/F11.

Outside:

Shops* Audi A6

Outside, the camera had very good colour, with good contrast and saturation. There was good detail although images did seem slightly soft. There seemed to be good dynamic range. Noise seemed quite low, especially on sunny days. I didn't notice jpeg artefacts in the images. * Manually under exposed with -0.7 exposure compensation.

Zoom: The camera has a 3x optical zoom lens, and a 4x digital zoom - I've included examples below to show what the zoom range of the camera is. Using the digital zoom degrades image quality and is best avoided.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom Optical and Digital Zoom

Exposure / Metering on the photos of the clock tower seems good, with the dark areas of the photo not too dark, and the bright areas of the photo still visible.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is quite quiet, slightly quieter than average. The shutter is quiet. There are roughly 6 steps between wide and telephoto giving you good control on how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing seemed very low.

Macro: You can use the flash in macro mode, although this has a tendency to wash out the picture when the subject is too close. The camera can be roughly as close as 10cm away from the subject from the front of the lens in wide setting, when set to macro mode.

Macro Timex Watch Actual Pixels (ISO100)

The macro mode is average - colour and detail is very good, although images could do with being slightly sharper, and it would be nice if you could get closer to the subject.

Movie: The movie mode on this camera is very good with VGA resolution at 30fps, with sound. The camera also has a 320x240 video mode with sound. The camera did well even in low light. Videos are recorded as .AVI files.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is good to very good, the images have very good colour, with good saturation, contrast and detail - although images are slightly soft, and could do with sharpening, either in camera or afterwards. The camera did a good job focusing - although the camera occasionally struggled in low-light, the majority of the time focusing in low-light was successful. I did not notice vignetting in photos, nor did I notice barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a good range of image sizes, and a good choice of compression options. The macro mode is average, although it does provides good detail and colour. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be very good the majority of the time. Red-eye was a problem in some of the photos, however purple fringing was very low. The movie mode choices are good, providing 640x480 and 30 frames per second with sound. Noise was slightly high at the higher settings, but at the lower settings wasn't a problem. The camera's "Anti-shake" mode using ISO800 and ISO1600 may be useful if you don't want to take flash photos, and if you intend to print at a small size, although it isn't as successful as real anti-shake such as optical image stabilisation or anti-shake sensor, nor is the high ISO mode as successful as the Fujifilm FinePix F10/F11. (8/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is compact, stylish with a solid metal body, and it fits easily into trouser pockets. The camera feels well built. The camera is very easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a good layout of buttons and controls. The camera speed is a mixed bag, with some aspects of the camera very quick, and others quite slow, in use the sluggishness isn't that noticeable, and the very quick aspects are noticeable, such as the very quick menu response, the very quick playback mode, and the very quick shutter response. The camera has a lot of features and options suitable for all levels, the easy mode and scene modes should make it easy for beginners, and the range of advanced manual, aperture, shutter priority modes and customisation of scene modes should make it advanced enough for the more creative and adventurous. (8/10)

Value for Money: Despite the poor box contents, the Casio Exilim EX-Z120 is excellent value for money for a compact 7 megapixel digital camera - it is one of the cheapest 7 megapixel digital cameras available, yet doesn't sacrifice features or build quality. Alternative 6/7 megapixel digital cameras worth considering include the 6 megapixel Fujifilm FinePix F10/F11 with high ISO settings, the Canon Digital IXUS 750, the Sony Cybershot P200, the Nikon Coolpix 7900, and the weatherproof Olympus Mju 700. See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here. (9/10)

Summary: The Casio Exilim EX-Z120 is a compact, metal bodied digital camera that provides very good 7 megapixel images. The camera provides a good 2" screen, excellent battery life, a good video mode, and an average macro mode. The camera provides a mode for every type of digital camera user, from the very beginner, to the advanced expert and the digital camera is very easy to use in all modes. The camera doesn't appear to cut back on features, yet still manages to provide excellent value for money as one of the cheapest 7 megapixel, 3x optical zoom digital cameras available. The Casio Exilim EX-Z120 is definitely recommended!

Casio Exilim EX-Z120 Rating: Recommended (8/10)
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What I like:

  • Excellent value for money
  • Very pleasing, natural colour
  • Takes AA batteries
  • Compact Metal Body
  • Very easy to use
  • Manual Controls (Shutter / Aperture / Manual focus etc)
  • Sharpness, Saturation, Contrast controls
  • Numerous Scene modes (including customisable, and downloadable scene modes)
  • Very quick menus, playback mode, shutter response, quick focusing
  • Low purple-fringing
  • Good movie mode

What I don't like:

  • occasionally over-exposes images
  • Very Small memory card (only 8mb provided!)
  • Short printed 19 page basic guide (full manual on CD)
  • Slow shot to shot time, slow flash charge time, average continuous shooting speed

Remember to have a look at the test photos in the Casio Exilim EX-Z120 Sample Photo Gallery.

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