In the past, Casio Exilim cameras have won our praises. We loved the EX-Z1000, and the EX-P505 won an Editors' Choice award. We expected this trend to continue with the EX-Z77, which features a YouTube Capture setting and H.264 video compression. Unfortunately, for those looking to do more than upload images and video to the Web, this camera leaves much to be desired.
Well Designed, Both Inside and Out
The newest member of the Exilim family, the 7.2-megapixel EX-Z77 features a 2.6-inch widescreen display that fills the majority of the back side of the 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.8 inch camera. Although the Z in the name stands for Zoom, you get only a 3X optical. To the lower right of the screen are the Camera, Playback, Menu, and Best Shot (Casio's term for scene selection) buttons, and a large round Set button surrounded by a too-skinny directional ring. The zoom buttons are conveniently located above these controls, although they too are small, even for tiny fingers.
A long shutter button sits on the top bezel, and the power button is well positioned discretely near the middle of the bezel, where it has no chance of being mistaken for the shutter--a very wise design choice. The SD card slot and proprietary mini-USB port sit on the underside of the camera. At a mere 4.2 ounces, the EX-Z77 (available in silver, black, blue, and pink) is virtually unnoticeable in your pocket or hanging from your wrist.
EX-Z77 Interface and Photo Features
The EX-Z77's interface takes only a few minutes to figure out; just choose from one of the 41 Best Shot modes, then point and click. In addition to the scene modes typical of most digicams, the EX-Z77 offers original options such as Layout, which allows you to combine up to three snapshots into one image arranged like a scrapbook page, and Auto Framing, which locks in a moving subject. Like the EX-Z850 and other Exilim cameras, this digicam features an eBay shooting mode. We liked that you can customize up to 99 Best Shot settings, although with no manual control besides ISO and white balance, we're not sure we could come up with that many.
New to the Exilim line is a feature that gives pre-programmed faces focus priority. After programming in our friends' faces--a very simple process--we were glad to see that the camera really did put them in sharper focus over those not in the EX-Z77's system. It also worked flawlessly in the middle of a crowd in Times Square.
The EX-Z77 is one of the first Casio cameras to offer a YouTube filming mode. This setting lets you record up to 10 minutes of video at 640 x 480 resolution and 30 fps using the next-generation MPEG-4 H.264 codec. A crude but efficient included program lets you tag and upload the videos to YouTube in one step. The EX-Z77 also offers three other video settings: Short Movie, Past Movie, and Standard. In Short and Past settings, the EX-Z77 thoughtfully tacks on the few seconds of footage from just before you click the shutter to ensure you get everything you wanted. However, the only difference between the two modes is that the former limits your film to eight seconds. The Standard video mode has nothing special--no early recording, no special uploading features--although like YouTube mode, it limits your video to ten minutes.
The EX-Z77's Vision Impairment
Even though it was destined for YouTube, we expected the quality of videos recorded by the EX-Z77 to be better. A video of ducks in a pond shot in bright daylight in YouTube mode was choppy, blurry, and pixelated when viewed online. On the plus side, you can shoot video in widescreen or standard aspect, and the camera has quite a few on-board editing features for both videos and stills. This camera will do in a pinch, but if you're trying to make it as a YouTube shorts director, we recommend the Flip Video Ultra camcorder for $179.
We were extremely disappointed by the EX-Z77's 479 x 240 LCD display. Most photos appeared blurry, and all bright colors looked oversaturated and blotchy on the screen. Greens looked yellowed or muddy, purples were dark and bluish, and magentas were so over-saturated that we couldn't see any detail at all. Indoors, we were constantly tilting the camera at weird angles to try to view the screen with decent contrast. And you can forget about shooting outdoors completely; we couldn't see the screen at all in sunlight.
Off-camera, however, photos looked much better. What was blurry on-screen was perfectly sharp, and all colors looked as they should. Greens returned to their bright, fresh state. We were impressed by the realistic rendering of a tree when the photo was taken in Natural Green Best Shot mode. Most Best Shot settings really do make for better photos than Auto mode shots.
If you're looking for a tiny, lightweight camera to take basic photos and shoot videos, the Exilim Zoom EX-Z77 might fit the bill at a wallet-friendly $179. However, more advanced users--or just those who want a better digital camera--should aim higher. We'd recommend spending $70 more for the Casio Exilim Card EX-S880. The 8-megapixel EX-S800 still has a YouTube mode, face-detection, and is easy to use, but the LCD experience is better, as is the video.
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