Most of us have associations with brands from our childhoods, especially those that are no longer around (or as visible).
For me, when I hear “Casio” I think of pocket scientific calculators in folding vinyl wallets, maths exams where I couldn’t tap my fingers fast enough on my trusty Casio FX to crunch numbers in the time allotted, and making silly and slightly rude (to a seven year old boy) words with certain number sequences turned upside down.
I also recollect pioneering futuristic (again, to a seven year old boy) digital watches with cool additions like stopwatches, so you can get together with your mates and see who really was the fastest over 100m, or how long it took someone to eat their stodgy jam roly poly at school lunch.
Casio isn’t a name I associate with anything else, least of all cameras.
Late last year though, I picked up a few lots of compact cameras on eBay, for what I call my Two Bit Camera Toy Box, a shoebox collection of very cheap cameras to play with when I wanted a break from my core arsenal.
One of these batches contained what looked like a classy metal Casio Exilim, which appealed to me because a) it turns out they generally have a very good reputation and b) are not a camera brand I’ve ever tried before.
So I put in an opening bid of £6 near the end and won.
When the cameras arrived I could see the Casio was an Exilim EX-Z1000, something of a pioneering model when it was released back in 2006, as the first compact camera with a 10MP sensor.
Not only that, it’s a Sony made, 1/1.8″ CCD sensor, pretty large for a such a small compact where they’re typically 1/2.3″.
And anyone with half an interest in digital will know that Sony know what they’re doing with sensors (I read recently that 50% of digital cameras and 70% of smartphones now have a Sony sensor).
The rest of the spec thankfully offers similar promise, including a lens starting at 38mm and f/2.8 and which focus as close as 0.06m.
Add a decent screen, the overall very impressive build quality and feel, and a good range of user control in the menus, and the little Casio was looking more interesting by the minute.
But, aside from a quick test to see if it took pictures, I put it away in the shoebox for a rainy day.
Today, months later, in need of some new photographic inspiration after a dull month, I charged up the Exilim in its little dock, popped in an SD card and set off for the woods.
Here’s what I like about the EX-Z1000.
1. It’s very small, but not too small to handle.
After a few months mostly using DSLRs, it felt refreshing to return to a camera that disappears in the palm of your hand and weighs next to nothing.
And has a fixed lens, meaning I have no decisions to make about which lens to attach before I head out.
It also consolidated my feelings about my Lumix GF1 Micro Four Thirds camera, which feels almost the weight of a DSLR but with poor and awkward handling, and so fails on size and ergonomics, and falls between the stools of DSLR and compact.
2. The build is very good for a compact.
Pressing and adjusting the various controls is a tactile pleasure in itself, rather than just a necessary act to change a setting.
I continue to realise more and more that the difference in the final image between different cameras is far less (and less important) than how the cameras feel to hold and use.
3. It has a “Best Shot” scene mode.
This offers 36 different types of scene from the sensible enough sounding “sports” and “fireworks” to the more artistic “autumn leaves” and “soft flowing water” to, er, “business card”.
I can’t quite get my head around this Best Shot feature and if/how you can turn it off or if you have to choose one of the options all the time. Perhaps I should RTFM.
However, thankfully one mode is monochrome plus you can adjust saturation, sharpness and contrast (+2 to -2) across all modes too.
So not really ever seeing any digital compact as a reasonable colour camera option (I have my Pentax CCD DSLRs for that), I went with the mono option initially.
So this little Exilim has plenty to like about it, and very little to annoy.
The only thing I did notice is if it powers off, it resets a few things, like flash defaulting back to Auto, even though there is a memory function that supposed to remember the settings you tell it to.
Perhaps this is reliant on another battery internally that is now dead?
Anyway, to use, the Exilim is fun and pretty easy, with that quality coming through in the build.
This would mean less if the images were rubbish though.
Overall, the Exilim has considerable flexibility on this front.
If I really wanted to get the cleanest, sharpest images, I set the ISO to its native 50, made sure I held very steady, and delivered pretty impressively.
I usually like to get at least one image with a new-to-me camera that shows the optimum sharpness possible, so it gives me a yardstick for future images.
The photo below is it.
The barbed wire in focus is plenty sharp for my needs, and I like the shallow depth of field, created by going up close (it focus to 0.06m you’ll recall) and the camera, like many compacts, forcing the maximum aperture of f/2.8 unless the light is very bright.
I’m also happy with the contrast and tones, which are very pleasing, as most cameras on b/w mode then need additional processing to escape that fifty shades of grey blandness I dislike.
Perhaps of more interest though is what this Casio does when on Auto ISO and more likely to drop down to ISO200 or 400 before it moves from f/2.8.
The images are obviously not as clean and sharp, but I really like the look of them.
In this picture above of the leaf trapped in the fence, I like how the most out of focus areas are kind of grainy too, and even the parts of the leaf in focus have a slight grain to them. This I believe was at ISO400.
Above, one of my favourite subjects, the abandoned old Triumph bicycle in the woods behind us, is even more grainy, even in the areas most in focus.
Again the higher ISO (again ISO400 I think) contributes to this, and I like the more indistinct and enigmatic feel it gives.
In all of these images, again the on board options to use a monochrome setting, then increase contrast and saturation, meant zero processing for me afterwards, always my goal these days.
So overall, my first outing with the Casio Exilim EX-Z1000 has been pretty satisfying.
Whether I decide to keep it longer term depends on what else I have to compete.
The Lumix LX3 blows it away in terms of image quality, unsurprisingly, if I use that camera’s optimum settings. But it is quite a bit bigger and chunkier.
My minute Lumix XS1 makes the Casio look overweight, plus goes far wider (24mm, rather than 38mm) and has a dynamic monochrome mode that looks even better in the final image. But it doesn’t feel as classy to use.
In the end, when I’ve used as many cameras as I have and found 95% of them to be very capable of decent images, the criteria for those that become my keepers comes down to very minor details.
My hunch is, the Casio resetting features like the flash and ISO to Auto, and the contrast and saturation to 0 when it’s powered off (but not other settings, strangely) will probably be its death knell, for me.
Even though it does everything else very well and is very pleasurable and easy to use. But I’ll probably give it another outing or two before I make that decision, especially as it cost so little.
How about you, have you ever had a Casio Exilim?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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