The slim, 8-megapixel Casio Exilim EX-Z150 point-and-shoot camera aims for the teen-friendly sweet spot of slick looks and functionality. For US$200, this little camera comes in a variety of bright candy colors, in addition to black and silver. It also has an impressive 3-inch LCD on the back, a feature that several of my friends with older cameras saw and coveted. Mostly metal, this camera feels sturdy, and its matte shine is quite attractive.
The EX-Z150 has a design similar to that of other Exilim cameras, and allows for a steady grip in the hand. The video button is close to the top-right corner on the back, and the camera's various function buttons are arrayed below. Few buttons have a dedicated function; you have to access most features through the menu. However, the playback, flash, delete, and video controls are easy to press without getting into menu malarkey.
The "Best Shot" button takes you to a series of presets, including auto, backlight, text, nighttime, portrait, landscape, kids, and macro. Face-detection and antishake options are also in the mix, and the EX-Z150's color filters allow you to take black-and-white and color-tinted shots. The camera's two more-unusual presets are a YouTube-video mode (a low-res setting optimized for the popular site) and an eBay mode, which saves smaller-size JPEG image files for online posting. The software also comes with a handy YouTube uploader that makes posting clips to the site easy.
For a $200 camera, the EX-Z150 produced decent-quality video, but with hissy audio. My short flicks, shot outdoors, were generally vivid, and the camera was quite responsive in making exposure changes as I panned around. As is usually the case with lower-end digital cameras, videos shot indoors were a bit noisier, and some clips had a reddish tint.
The EX-Z150 attained a high score in overall image quality during the PC World Test Center's lab tests. Color accuracy and exposure quality were this Exilim's strong suits, while it earned only middling marks for both sharpness and distortion levels (my test images were a little soft in subdued light). Overall though, our jury testers rated the EX-Z150's image quality as Very Good, edging out top-rated point-and-shoots such as the Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS and Pentax Optio A40.
In my own tests, photos yielded good exposure much of the time. My shots exhibited good color and sharpness under outdoor lighting. The 28mm wide-angle lens was a definite plus; I enjoyed being able to take wider-than-usual wide-angle shots, though the image quality was somewhat lower when I zoomed in to 3X or 4X, the camera's maximum optical zoom level.
The EX-Z150 shone brightly in our battery tests: It fired off 302 shots on a single charge, bettering the vast majority of point-and-shoots we've tested and earning a Very Good rating for battery life.
My chief complaint lies with the camera's spotty focus and frequently slow performance. The EX-Z150 is slow to focus and suffers from a bit of shutter delay--often I found I was shooting before or after the lens had found the subject, causing blurred pictures. This was particularly frustrating in low-light settings when in auto mode. And in my tests, the highest ISO the camera would automatically select was 400, simply not enough to grab a sharp shot in many scenarios other than landscape photography. For shooting in the dark, the camera offers a high-sensitivity mode for extended ISOs up to 1600, but you must access it through the Best Shots menu. I'd rather not be slowed down hunting for high ISO levels while my subject--be it animal, human, or vegetable--decides whether to wait around during my fumbling.
High-contrast settings also proved a weak spot for the EX-Z150. I took many of my test shots in a woodsy setting--admittedly a tough testing ground for many digital cameras, consisting of dark, earthy colors and sometimes bright skies. Areas along high-contrast edges showed wide halos and artifacting that made many of the images unusable. Then again, for a camera in this price range, expecting a dynamic range expander is a tall order.
The flash could sometimes be intense and overwhelming, producing a washed-out subject in some of my test shots. Unfortunately, you can't fine-tune the flash settings; it's either on, off, or in auto mode. However, the EX-Z150 does offer contrast adjustment, as well as controls for white balance, flash intensity, saturation, and spot-metering modes. I took advantage of all of those control options, and all had a helpful (though not always completely successful) effect.
The Casio Exilim EX-Z150 was fun to shoot with. Its wide-angle lens and big screen were a joy, but the camera's shutter lag and slow focus were handicaps that made me use a lot more brain power ("Will this be in focus?") than I'd prefer when taking simple, happy snaps. That said, for a $200 camera, the EX-Z150 holds its own and looks awesome doing it--not a bad choice for people not looking to spend a fortune.