The headline feature of the Casio Exilim Zoom EX-Z1200 is its image resolution of 12 megapixels. This is the first compact to boast such a high resolution.
Impressively, the heavyweight pixel count, gigantic 71mm (2.8-inch) screen and a bunch of extra features are all housed in a package no bigger than many other compacts out there. You'll shell out £200 or more for the EX-Z1200, so we set out to discover if there's more to this camera than a high pixel tally.
The EX-Z1200 looks pretty nifty, and comes in silver or stealth-cam matte black. The metal body has an almost rubberised quality that feels strokeable yet sturdy. It's slim but feels quite heavy.
The 71mm screen dominates the back of the camera, with a click pad sat right on the edge of the body. Some of the extra real estate on the screen is taken up with an options sidebar that makes changing settings a simple matter of quickly scrolling up or down with the click pad and pressing OK.
This frees up your settings from being buried in the interface, and gives you control of your pictures without tedious button-pressing and menu-sifting. The sidebar can be turned off to fill the giant screen with image, but even with it on there's still loads of space for your subject.
If we were being picky, we would argue that there's one too many buttons on the top. The somewhat erratic functions of these three buttons, which change the play mode depending on the context, could have been combined into two. While it's good for Casio to give us the choice, we prefer one button that switches things on and then switches them off, over the choice of several buttons that behave in an inconsistent way.
The mechanical image-stabilisation method used by the EX-Z1200 is always good to see in a compact. This system fractionally moves the workings of the camera to compensate for the infinitesimal vibrations caused by naturally shaky hands. When taking snapshots without the benefit of a tripod, this kind of anti-shake system is essential.
The face-detection system finds the faces of up to ten subjects and adjusts the focus and exposure to suit them. In a neat twist, the EX-Z1200 not only finds and focuses on faces in the image, it also saves your nearest and dearest and picks them out first.
Other stock features are present and correct: video capture, in-camera photo editing and voice recording. The EX-Z1200 also takes shooting modes into a whole new realm, with no less than 33 different situations covered. This includes three different options for photographing water and four types of portrait. In the unlikely event you find yourself in a situation not covered, you can even save your own settings as an extra shooting mode for future use.
The camera comes with a user-friendly dock, which has a button for viewing pictures onscreen and another for connecting via USB. The camera must be docked to charge, but won't charge via USB.
With 12 million pixels jam-packed into every image, the EX-Z1200's images are packed with detail. Pictures are clear and sharp, and can be blown up to A3 or larger with ease. The amount of data in each photo also means that you can be ruthless with the crop tool, as there's enough detail in the image to cut unwanted areas and enlarge what's left without a loss of image quality.
We were hoping that
the high number of megapixels would mean the digital zoom was actually
of some use. Digital zoom is usually best avoided, as it effectively
reduces the amount of information in the image, but the EX-Z1200 has so
much detail to start with this is less of a problem. Nonetheless,
you're still better off using the fairly standard 3x optical zoom,
which refocused quickly when moving in and out, and cropping later.
The high resolution could have caused problems with grainy noise on the image as the sensor tried to jam more pixel information into the same area. But noise is less of a problem than on other, lower-resolution cameras. Despite a fairly limited maximum sensitivity of 400 and a slightly red-eye-prone flash, the EX-Z1200 holds its own in low-light situations, the bane of compact cameras everywhere. That said, lifting the brightness when processing the image on your PC quickly exposes some noise, so take care when manipulating darker pictures.
main concern with ever-increasing megapixel counts is that
manufacturers may be putting the pixel cart before the sensor/lens
horse. Image quality from the EX-Z1200 suggests that Casio has worked
hard to avoid this. Purple fringing is rare, but there is some lens
barrel distortion at the edges of the picture.
Now, here comes the big catch: file size. The highest quality 12-megapixel images regularly weigh in above the 4MB mark. Our lab test shots topped out at a memory-clogging 5.4MB, twice the size of even an 8-megapixel image. In a market full of devices with frankly laughable built-in memory, the Z1200 plumbs new lows with an internal memory that holds a grand total of... one photo.
But nobody uses the internal memory anyway, and the EX-Z1200 supports the ubiquitous -- and cheap -- Secure Digital (SD) memory card format. A 1GB card holds 123 pictures, which doesn't seem much in the digital age, but remember how we used to get by with measly rolls of 25 back in the dark days of film? If you plan to use the EX-Z1200 at its highest setting, it would definitely be worth your while investing in an external hard drive or online photo storage.
Shot-to-shot processing speed is slow compared to lower-resolution cameras, which is to be expected with such titanic files to process. There's no continuous mode, presumably because the processing time would jam the camera for several seconds. Face detection also slows focusing down a little, especially when low light occasionally confuses the system and little green boxes jump around the screen looking for faces.
The EX-Z1200 is the first 12-megapixel compact camera, and pulls it off in style. The monster megapixel count is no gimmick, with great picture quality and decent speed, despite the massive file size. If megapixel count was all there was to this camera, you'd have to have a very good reason to justify spending the extra money for the number 12 on the front. Equally, the other features, while useful, are available in cheaper cameras of the same size.
Fortunately, this camera includes all these features in a stylish frame and rounds off the package with an enormous screen. All of these add up to make the Casio Exilim EX-Z1200 the digital compact other digital compacts want to be when they grow up.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide