If there is such a thing as a camera with too many automatic features, the 9-megapixel Casio Exilim EX-Z250 might be it. This ultracompact is brimming with detection, recognition, and preset shooting options to the point where the camera's Auto mode ironically provides you the most control. Luckily it also produces very good photos, as long as you don't mind some softness. It's also not all that fast, but that still doesn't stop it from being a respectable sub-$250 pocket camera.
The Casio Exilim EX-Z250 with battery and SD/SDHC card weighs a mere 5 ounces and its diminutive dimensions--3.8 inches wide by 2.3 inches high by 0.8 inch deep--are a good fit for a pants pocket or small handbag. The camera body is a combination of metal and plastic and feels like it can take a little abuse, though the battery/card slot-compartment door opens a bit too easily.
On top is a power button and shutter release with a zoom ring for controlling the wide-angle 4x f2.6-5.9 28-112mm-equivalent lens. A 3-inch LCD that performs well in bright conditions occupies most of the back. To its right are the remaining controls, all of which are flat and near flush with the body. I never had any problems using them except for the four-way control pad and the Set button in the center of it; while navigating menus I would occasionally hit a direction on the pad when trying to hit Set. It's not a big issue, but it's not fun either. The Z250 has a dedicated movie record button so you can start shooting video instantly. It's a nice design feature to have, but its placement--just to the right of where your thumb naturally falls when gripping the little camera--can result in movie-related accidents.
Casio calls its menu of scene modes Best Shot (accessed with a press of the BS button, of course). It offers no fewer than 37 choices, playing all the hits like Portrait, Landscape, Children, Pets, and Night Scene along with B-side selections including Text, ID Photo, Business Card, Splashing Water, and Autumn Leaves. Then there are the branded settings for eBay photos and YouTube videos. Don't feel like picking out the appropriate scene? Set it to Best Shot Auto and the camera does it for you.
There are also three Auto Shutter settings: Detect Blur, Panning, and Detect Smile. Smile detection is self-explanatory, as is blur detection, and Panning stops a subject in motion while allowing the background to blur. All of them worked well, particularly the blur detection; it adjusts shutter speed, ISO, and optical image stabilization to determine when the subject is at its sharpest, then snaps a photo. Used in conjunction with continuous shooting, it delivered more candid shots than I'm usually able to capture with a standard point-and-shoot. Granted, photos were softer due to the ISO boosting, but still usable for prints and online. It offers three levels of trigger sensitivity as well as a little control over the detection.
Finally, the camera's regular Auto mode falls more in line with other manufacturers' Program AE modes. It essentially gives you a full selection of settings for focus, autofocus area, ISO, exposure compensation, white balance, color, sharpness, saturation, contrast, and metering.
For its class, the EX-Z250 can produce some very good photos. Colors are true, and white balance, exposure, and detail are good through ISO 400, but as usual the lower ISOs are best. From ISO 800 and above (sensitivity goes up to ISO 3,200), the camera's noise reduction softens everything and starts to affect overall color. I'm pleased with the level of detail that remains in photos at ISO 800 despite their smeary, oil-painting-like appearance, so low-light and action shots aren't out of the question. However, there are a couple of lens-related negatives. As with many inexpensive cameras, photos are relatively sharp in the center, but on the sides there's distortion, which results in softness as well as a tendency to exhibit purple fringing. Also, there's noticeable barrel distortion at its widest and, to a lesser degree, pincushioning when fully zoomed out.
But what really brings down the Z250 is its performance. Its single-shot speed is great: 0.3 second to focus and shoot in bright conditions and 0.5 second in dim. Everything else about the camera is comparatively slow. It takes nearly 3 seconds to power on and shoot, but more importantly, it needs an overlong 3.1 seconds for two sequential shots under well-lit conditions and 3.7 seconds if the flash is used. Its full-resolution continuous shooting speed is a comparatively low 0.5 frame per second. The camera does have a high-speed continuous, but the resolution drops to 2 megapixels.
Aside from the slow performance and lens deficiencies, the Casio Exilim EX-Z250 rewards by otherwise being a solid and fun ultracompact. If you can't overlook its issues, though, there are, of course, other budget options worth considering instead.
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|