The Z450 measures 96.9 x 57.6 x 21.4mm, average dimensions for a compact camera. It slips easily into a pocket, but isn't the slimmest camera out there. The design is rather plain and the mainly plastic construction of the body doesn't show off any obvious weaknesses - it doesn't wow like some of the metal-bodied rivals out there, but then you don't pay top-whack for it either.
The top plate offers the usual power, shutter and zoom controls, but an additional button that toggles the "make up" and "vivid landscape" effects hints at the sector of the market that this camera is aimed. We said the body didn't show any obvious weaknesses in its construction, well the zoom control encircling the shutter button is the exception here. A great deal of movement is present, so it feels sloppy to use and feels as though it might not last as long as you want it to.
The back of the Z450 offers a 3-inch, 230k-dot display with the remainder of the controls ranging down the right-hand side. There is the usual four-way controller with a central "set" button, which features shortcuts for the screen display icons and flash controls.
The left- and right-hand options on this controller are blank, but can be programmed to give you control over a range of settings including metering modes, exposure compensation, white balance, ISO and self-timer. It's a welcomed addition, although pressing the central "set" button gives you access to a shortcut menu with all these options on anyway, and the loss of the usual suspects (typically self-timer and macro mode) from this control means you have to hunt out the latter in the menu. Macro mode then only gives you 10cm focusing, which isn't particularly macro.
A BS (best shot) button gives you access to the normal scene modes, as well as the BS Auto mode which will attempt to recognise the scene and provide the best results. The level of control you get (through the shortcuts mentioned above or the menu key) varies depending on what you select. If you choose "Auto" (as opposed to BS Auto) you get the most control.
It is worth using the scene modes with caution and investigating the menus when you come to use a new scene. If you take a look in Portrait you find that there is a "make up" level applied, which you might not want if you prefer your subject to remain natural-looking.
There are a further three buttons on the rear of the camera, giving image playback, instant video record and a final camera button, which takes the Z450 to still shooting from any state, be it turned off, in the menus or wherever.
The instant video is a nice touch, but without a conventional "movie" mode, you find that the settings for the video capture are displayed on your regular display on the screen as one of the display settings. So you can either have no information, stills camera only, or the whole hog, including the movie mode (HD, STD, LP), the length of time you can record in that mode (a maximum of 10 minutes as M-JPEG) and a live histogram, all of which makes the display rather cluttered.
You get headline video capture at HD 720p, 24fps, which outdoors, in good light, gives you reasonably good results. But it gets very noisy indoors, even in daylight, and is very noisy in lower light conditions. Lower resolution settings are available, and you can shoot stills in the middle of video, but you end up with a jump in your movie.
The only connection on the Z450 is a bespoke AV/USB connection, which allows you to extract images via your PC, or connect to your TV with the supplied cable. This is only at standard quality, so if you want to view your HD video, you'll have to have some other means of getting it to your TV.
The lens is a 4x zoom, offering you 28-112mm (35mm equiv), which deploys from the body in about 2 seconds to be ready to take your first shot. The wide angle shows some signs of barrel distortion as you'd expect, but it isn't too drastic. Sitting under the hood is a 12-megapixel sensor.
The Z450 comes with the boast of improved intelligent focusing, although we still found a number of test shots where focusing wasn’t great. Generally though, results are good, with good natural colour reproduction. The biggest problem the Z450 seems to be faced with though is sensor noise as the ISO increases.
At the lowest ISO settings images are noise free, but noise is obvious at ISO 400 and intrusive at settings above this. The top setting - ISO 3200 - looks as though someone has smeared oil across the lens, the results even look poor on the 3-inch display, so is best avoided. Image stabilisation is present and seems to be effective enough, providing greater scope for hand-holding longer exposures where you might be tempted to use a higher ISO.
The flash gives a range of options too, with the soft flash worth a try with some darker indoor shots. We found that red eye was something of a problem with the standard flash and the red eye correction is overly aggressive, although if you are mostly going to keep your shots small, or use them for the likes of Facebook, then that probably won't be an issue.
Digging into the menus you'll find more options than you might expect, such as continuous shooting options, including a 10fps mode, although this is captured at 1 megapixel with the 4fps mode, at 2 megapixels. There is a lot hiding in the menus, perhaps too much, as the chances are you won't go looking for these things.
Writing images to the SD card is a little on the slow side, especially when you employ some of the additional effects, for example the "make up" mode. The SD card hides in the bottom next to the battery - with a boasted 550 image life-span. We didn't set out to disprove this, but after about 200 shots and some video, it was still showing as fully charged.
The Z450 isn't that exciting though. From the design, to the handling of the on-screen icons, it feels a step behind some of the other players in this market. The dubious quality of the zoom ring was a cause of concern for us, something that rivals have no problem with.
Overall, the results from the camera are pleasing enough in good conditions, but the lower light performance is poor - the headline HD video capture suffers from the same problem. A range of options do give some creative scope, but this camera is mostly pitched to those wanting a simple point and shoot with a few fun features.
Online discounts are starting to make the Z450 more appealing over the RRP of £199, which is a little on the high side.
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