The Casio Exilim EX-Z200 sits suavely at the top end of the Exilim range. Casio's compacts have been quietly making a name for themselves in recent years, so there's a lot of expectation on the Z200's metal shoulders. It's available in the shops and online now for around £195.
The Z200 has an extremely solid metal frame. It comes in black and silver, with slick silver accents, but our favourite colour is the red our sample was clothed in.
The Z200 sports the Exilim range's excellent onscreen sidebar that puts useful shooting options at your fingertips
At the back, it sports an enormous 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD screen. Part of this is taken up by the excellent Exilim sidebar, which minimises menu-sifting and button- pushing for quick access to oft-used options. The sidebar can be turned off, but even with it on, the screen has bags of room for composing images. As if this wasn't convenient enough, the circular clickpad can be assigned to functions of your choice.
Casio continues to include to include two buttons for switching between playback and shooting, which we find annoying. A best shot or scene mode button gives access to 39 scene modes, including the usual portrait modes, as well as more obscure options for shooting whiteboards or ID card photos. Also included is a dedicated movie button, removing the need to sift through menus to shoot video. When video is recording, a handy onscreen dual countdown shows both how long you have been recording, and how much memory you have left.
The Z200 has a head-spinning array of features and options. We start with a pleasingly wide-angle 35mm film camera-equivalent focal length of 28mm, and a 4x optical zoom, making it a versatile lens for different types of snaps.
There are three image stabilisation settings that minutely move the 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor to compensate for the tiny vibrations of handheld shooting. Auto and subject IS attempt to boost the camera's sensitivity to afford faster shutter speeds, so camera IS is probably the best way to go. Be aware that increased sensitivity often increases image noise, causing unsightly speckles in images.
There are various options to improve portraits. Casio was one of the first companies to offer a face recognition system that allows you to record and prioritise family and friends' faces to pick them out in the frame. As well as the usual 2- and 10-second timer, there is a triple self-timer that counts down onscreen from 10 seconds and captures three images a second apart, to save on to-ing and fro-ing.
An auto shutter can be set to fire -- or not -- when image blur, panning or smiling are detected. A blink detector would be good too, but you can't have everything. The sensitivity of the shutter can be altered so it's more or less likely to fire automatically, although we found that this didn't seem to have much bearing on whether the camera actually shot.
Other features include a soft flash to keep a cosy look in lower light, rather than harshly bleaching out subjects. Night-time options also include a long 4-second shutter that captures the stars or turns moving lights into fancy patterns.
Casio continues its YouTube branding tie-up with its video option. The Z200 records H.264 video, with 30 frames per second at 640x480 pixels. These can be uploaded to YouTube or watched in 16:9 on your television. Prerecord video mode records video constantly and when you press the shutter, it saves the previous 5 seconds of video.
Start-up time is the usual 2 seconds, with a shot-to-shot time of 1 second after that. Focusing is fast, even in low light and we took over 300 shots without troubling the battery. Continuous mode is nothing to write home about, recording 1 frame per second at full resolution. As is often the case, a faster option is available, but only at a pretty derisory 2-megapixel resolution.
Image quality was good, if not as crisp as we would like. Depending on your taste, you might consider increasing the in-camera sharpening. Optical image stabilisation made a definite difference, which distinguishes the Z200 from other point-and-shoots that don't yet include this feature.
Low-light performance is reasonable but not great. The Z200 focuses fine, but like most compacts, is all too keen to ramp up the sensor's sensitivity to light to improve visibility. Though the ISO maxes out at 1,600, the Z200 struggles with anything higher than ISO 400: image noise horribly speckles the picture. At ISO 200, noise reduction manages to keep artefacts from ruining things without smearing detail too much, but above images really suffer.
The Z200 also exhibited more purple fringing than we'd like, but we had to manufacture it by taking high-contrast images such as trees against a light sky. Images are easily good enough for the average consumer and definitely good enough for online sharing. We're just disappointed that such a polished point-and-shoot isn't quite perfect on the image front.
We struggle to fault the Casio Exilim EX-Z200, as the topmost entry to one of the current best range of compacts. Image quality isn't perfect, but isn't by any means the worst we've seen from a snapper this size. It ticks almost every box on the point-and-shoot wishlist, the solid build quality and delightfully simple controls of the Exilim range joined by a big screen, wide-angle lens and stacks of features. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35 boasts an even wider lens for a similar price, but few other compacts come close to the Casio in terms of features and usability.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday