The tiny Casio Exilim EX-Z80 packs a lot of features for US$180, going above and beyond much of its competition. About the length and width of a credit card and just 0.5 inch thick, this camera fits into a pocket with the ease of a flip phone. Encased in a combination of sleek brushed metal and matching faux-metal plastic, the EX-Z80 is available in a range of metallic colors. And at 8 megapixels, it produces acceptable prints at 8 by 10 inches, with nice colors but a bit of blur.
By forgoing a viewfinder and relying on very small buttons elsewhere, Casio was able to fit an impressively large 2.6-inch LCD on the EX-Z80. The back of the camera sports a handy button dedicated to video, eliminating the archeological exploration of menus that many other cameras require.
But with the streamlined form comes a sacrifice: the Casio's miniature buttons nest very close together, and the video button is so close to the top right corner that a clumsy dip at the end of each clip became a signature motif of my video work. In addition, if you aren't particularly dexterous or haven't grown out your fingernails, you may have trouble pressing the buttons at all.
Its drawbacks notwithstanding, the Exilim EX-Z80 is a solid little snapper, highly intuitive to navigate, and impressively fast at autofocusing. It offers some interesting 'Best Shot' scene modes to supplement the expected sunset, night portrait, landscape, and food options. These included a helpful eBay mode and the entrancing pastel and star-effect modes.
Also uncommon in a camera of its price are the EX-Z80's advanced custom controls, such as flash output adjustment, white balance, and spot metering. You can program the joystick on the back to change various settings, such as metering methods. In addition to providing several face-recognition focus options, the camera automatically reduces blur when panning along with a subject. Or you can arrange for the camera to trip the shutter only when the subject stays still or smiles. These features didn't always work in my informal tests, but they did help stabilize images.
One feature that Casio seems especially proud of is the camera's YouTube video capability. In that mode, the EX-Z80 records .mov files in YouTube's preferred H.264 format, optimized for online viewing. The software even includes a special YouTube video uploader. By and large, movies came out quite well, particularly at higher quality settings. Autofocus, exposure, and color compensated quickly for the changing scenery as we drove along the beach.
Alas, like most cameras in the sub-$200 range, this Exilim doesn't have crystal-clear optics. Though color was very good and easy to alter with the camera's white balance and filter settings, photos lost sharpness at their outer edges, artifacts popped up along high-contrast edges, and a bit of noise was evident in shots taken at ISOs above 200. Fortunately the EX-Z80 starts out at a low ISO of 64, and in brightly lit environments--especially outdoors--it did just fine. For an inexpensive pocket camera, it delivers a slew of worthwhile features.