Casio Exilim Zoom EX Z77 digital camera review

The new Exilim EX Z77 sits snuggly in Casio’s Exilim line up above the EX Z75 and beneath the EX Z1050 so it is in the upper echelon of the mid-range models. The £149.99 pricing makes it look attractive, as does a couple of neat new features, which I’ll detail in a moment. What undoubtedly makes it attractive is its slim all-metal build, as does the fact it comes in silver, blue, pink, red, and black livery.

Usual kit includes a 7-megapixel sensor and a 3x optical zoom lens providing a 38-114mm focal range in 35mm format terms. This is by no means exceptional and while the range include most useful focal lengths you might need for general snapping, a wider wide end to the lens would be helpful particularly for group or landscape type shots, where you need to cram in as much as you can.

The Casio info panel is a clever display on the nice, 2.6-inch colour widescreen LCD, on the camera’s back. The panel is nice as it allows you fast access to a range of (vertically aligned) control options including ISO, white balance (WB), flash and resolution to name a few. This does take a small slice out of the available screen real estate but the fast access usability it affords is worth the loss in my view.

The large screen has no optical viewfinder as back up and one of the shortfalls I found is brighter conditions can make viewing difficult but the screen exhibits none of the flare problems of previous models, which is a big improvement.

Image storage is a combination of 11.4MB of internal storage (just enough for a couple of high quality images) or SD/SDHC, MMC or MMC+Plus external media. The external cards slotted into a flap on the base alongside the sliver-like lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack on the base which on a full charge is enough for around 200-shots so modest by today’s standards. An extra battery pack charged and ready might be a good investment.

Handling is good despite the svelte dimensions of the Z77; the 19.8mm (at its fattest) is still a remarkably slim body and it weighs just 118g without the battery. Controlling the camera is not a problem with a two handed “pinch”, this allows easy use of the admittedly small zoom controls and the strip-styled shutter button on the top plate.

Other buttons on the back include the ubiquitous four-way jog button and central “Set” button for scrolling options in menus, on the aforementioned info panel and for changing and confirming a particular setting. Separate playback and capture mode buttons seem a little clumsy and to shoot video clips you have to go into the BS (Best Shot) modes, more on these shortly.

My overall impression of the four-way button system employed on the Z77 is it’s simple to use but very fiddly for anyone with fat fingers or little in the way of finger nails; the one real handling foible in view.

And now onto some of those new features that mark this camera out from the mediocre crowd that is the mid-range camera market. First up is a new twist on Face recognition auto focus. Casio have developed the system further to be able to recognise specific saved faces and focus only on those, say, when snapping a group of people.

There are six modes (including switching the system off) where you can give priority to any saved faces in the camera system. It can be set to look and shoot all faces equally without looking for saved faces, you can assign priority to speed of focus or the number of faces; it looks for the largest number of faces and focuses their for example.

Finally, you get two modes for shooting and storing family and friends faces then saving them and a set up option to change the assigned name (dad, mom, family or friend for example) and so. In practice, this worked rather well and certainly helps when snapping friends a family.

The value of the face recognition options I remain to be convinced of and to get a good face focus, the system works best when the subject is face on to the camera not in profile for example.

The other feature that Casio have included is a YouTube movie feature where all the settings are optimised for use with video clips on YouTube, the popular Internet video-networking site. And with the supplied YouTube Uploader software, it makes it a simple process to move video shot in that mode onto the website.

However, the YouTube movie mode is, predictably, rather poor quality particularly when compared with the two UHQ (ultra high quality) movie settings of 640 x 480 and 848 x 480-pixel widescreen video clips (both with sound at 30fps) are very nice indeed. One mystery, however, is why the YouTube (and other movie functions) are buried within the Best Shot subject scene functions YouTube mode is 40th out of 41 options!

As a key element to the camera’s features, an external YouTube button would be nice and make more of the feature that will undoubtedly be a key reason to buy for those consumers out there hooked on the popular internet social networking site. This emphasis on video makes the sue of the high capacity memory cards essential and on a 4GB SDHC memory card you’ll get around an hour and twenty minutes of video, so not bad at all.

In terms of image quality, the camera performs well with the focusing and metering working well for most shots. The software based anti shake DSP system uses post processing to help rid you of camera shake, boosts the ISO and shutter speeds to help reduce its affects.

A dynamic range booster allows to steps of tweakability while noise problems are well controlled; surprisingly well for a Casio up to ISO 400. At ISO 800, things are quite bad but not as bad as some of the companies other higher resolution models such as the Z1200 or Z1050.

So Casio have made real steps forward in terms of image processing but, as usual, noise reduction processing does strip detail away the higher you go on the ISO range. White balance is good for general scenes and the auto WB processing is rather good, higher ISO leaching some saturation. However, colour is natural and while you can apply presets for a variety of colour modes (monochrome and retro for example) all within the BS (Best Shot) modes.

Verdict

While the Casio Exilim EX Z77 is a mid-range model, it has a few classy features that make it look attractive. Better than average image quality help too and the improved face priority AF set up is uncanny.

The price is nice and the handling is the fiddly side of easy so if you really must have optimised for YouTube video capture, the Z77 might be the camera for you and worth a closer look.