At £90, this super-svelte snapper is little short of a bargain. A 14.1-megapixel sensor, 5x optical zoom and the promise of HD movie recording sounds too almost good to be true.
Naturally we were eager to get our hands on the Casio Exilim EX-ZS10 and find out whether it lived up to our expectations, or embodied the maxim 'you get what you pay for'. It turns out it was a bit of both.
First up we'll look at the ZS10's movie mode. It has two quality settings -- 640x480 and 1,280x720 pixels, each at 30 frames per second. We opted for the latter. The ZS10 won't film anything longer than 29 minutes, regardless of spare capacity on your memory card, so bear this in mind of you plan on filming a graduation, nativity play or other crucial event. There's no such limit on audio-only recordings. Let's see how the footage turned out.
Our chosen resolution may well have matched HD, but the results didn't live up to our expectations. Static shots demonstrated 'movement' across flat surfaces, even in good light, where the camera applied some tight compression. And to get around the problem of the loud zoom action, which might otherwise have featured on the soundtrack, Casio has disabled the optical zoom, leaving you only the digital option. So, the further you zoom, the more you degrade your captured scene.
The digital zoom isn't smooth, either, stepping rather than sliding from one level to the next. The result is a jumpy progression from a grainy wide angle to a rough narrow focus. Casio recommends setting the zoom before you commence filming, and while this certainly gets around the problem, it does so at the cost of flexibility.
Sadly, then, we can't recommend the ZS10 for anything but casual filming for personal use or uploading to video-sharing sites.
Switch it on and the ZS10 doubles in size. The lens pops out well beyond the body to deliver a 5x optical zoom, equivalent to 26–130mm in a 35mm camera, backed up by a 4x digital zoom to take the total magnification to 20x. The motor behind the optical half of this equation is far from discreet, though, so try and take a picture during a wedding and you're sure to get nasty looks from the aunties.
The digital zoom is neatly implemented when zooming in: the on-screen scale is notched where optical ends and digital begins. Digital zoom relies on cropping and enlarging a central portion of your image, which impacts quality, so to pass this point you must briefly release the rocker and then pull it a second time to continue. That's both logical and welcome, but implementing the same control when zooming back out is an over-cautious hindrance.
If you're willing to compromise on image size you can employ the digital zoom without impacting quality. Drop to 6 megapixels and you can safely zoom to 7.7x. Take it as low as VGA and you'll reach 33.8x, but seriously restrict your options when it comes to later cropping the results. The maximum zoom, with both digital and optical combined, is an unrealistic 79.7x.
In-built facial recognition -- now fairly common in budget cameras -- is well handled. The Exilim overlays a box around the eyes, nose and mouth of your subjects and follows their movement about the screen, keeping them sharp and well exposed. There are limits to its abilities, though, and Casio warns that sunglasses and hats will fox it, so bear this in mind for holiday shots or when fixing on subjects with polarising glasses.
Access to the battery and media card is through a door on the underside, which will be a problem if you've fixed it to your tripod. With the mount screw right by the hinge you'll have to unscrew it every time you need to change the card or replace the battery. Charging takes 1 hour 50 minutes from the main, and 20 minutes longer via USB.
The internal memory runs to 14MB, which is good for only three shots at the highest resolution, so don't rely on that to help you out. SD, SDHC and SDXC cards are all supported.
Casio's menus are well thought-out, with the ZS10's options explained in plain English. Scroll through its resolutions and each is accompanied by a suggested use. 14 megapixels is ripe for poster printing, 16:9 for display on a widescreen TV, 6 megapixels for A4 prints and so on. While it's true that 3 megapixels will be plenty for printing at 3.5 by 5 inches, though, no attempt it made to explain that shooting at this resolution seriously impacts flexibility and what you can do with your images later.
There's a dedicated easy mode that strips down the number of options and the length of the menus, but while this expands on the help offered for the most basic functions, it's still easy to stray into unknown territory where you're asked to choose between, say, lighting on or off, and the same for Eye-Fi, with no explanation of what they mean without referring back to the manual.