Casio's Exilim EX-Z9 has what every camera buyer wants: a slim and sturdy body, lots of flexibility, and good image quality. This budget camera also makes uploading videos to YouTube simple. We wish it were a little faster, but you won't find a better digicam for less than $150.
Small and light enough to slip into a tight jeans pocket, the Exilim EX-Z9 is one of the few cameras at this price with an all-metal body, which offers better protection against damage than does plastic. It's available in black, orange, pink, and silver. However, the camera's slimline design, compounded with Casio's placement of the control buttons, make one-handed holding and operation difficult. Control buttons are small, and while several are colored for better visibility, others have engraved icons that are hard to read.
Although the power switch is on top of the camera, next to the shutter button, you can also turn on the camera by pressing either the Replay or the Camera button. The shooting mode and playback buttons, as well as the menu and mode buttons, are small and positioned side by side. Unlike most rocker switches, the EX-Z9's has only two, not four, active positions: Display and Flash/Delete. We appreciate that the memory card slot is conveniently on the side, however.
EX-Z9 Shooting Modes
The EX-Z9's two basic modes are Easy Mode On and Easy Mode Off. Easy Mode Off allows you to choose and set a variety of parameters (f-stop, shutter speed, ISO, focus, and so on). Easy Mode On simplifies everything by allowing you to set only Flash, Self-timer, and Image Size and displays basic help information that explains each option you select.
You can access a third mode by pressing the Best Shot button, which displays 23 icon/text labels that automatically set the correct parameters for a variety of scenes or shooting situations, including a special setting for eBay auction pictures. Depending on which scene you select, irrelevant parameters still display while you're focusing and framing, which you can't change.
Good Facial Recognition, Not the Best Speed
Face recognition on the EX-Z9 is outstanding. You can select the speed option, which scans up to five faces and averages the focus point, or the quality option, which averages up to ten faces. The focus boxes even move as the subject moves. The EX-Z9 offers five focus modes, including auto and manual focus, which may appeal to sophisticated users.
The camera powers on within 2 seconds, though it's not a particularly fast shooter, having both a noticeable shutter lag and a poky recycle time of 2 seconds, even in Sports mode. In Continuous mode, however, it's rated for one shot every 1.3 seconds.
Overall Image Quality
We generally liked the EX-Z9's image quality. Its autofocus was almost always on the money, with sharp images, good depth of field, and accurate colors. Flash-lit close-ups tended to be slightly overexposed, though our indoor low-light shots were perfectly exposed, even at ISO 800. However, the highlights blew out in our bright sunlight landscape shot. While the EX-Z9's digital image stabilization helps reduce motion shake, it also slightly degrades image quality.
It doesn't feature true HDTV resolution, but the EX-Z9 can capture smooth 30-frame-per-second videos in the widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio (at 848 x 480 pixels) as well as standard 3:2 ratio (640 x 480 pixels). It also offers a specific YouTube mode, which automatically sets the appropriate resolution and frame rate for the site. And Casio's included software makes uploading to YouTube easy as well.
The Casio EX-Z9 is a quality on-the-go camera that can capture crisp pictures and videos. The similarly priced Nikon Coolpix L18 is faster, but we prefer this budget digicam because it provides more shooting options and has a sleeker design.