**The back of the Casio EX-Z600 features an impressive 2.7-inch LCD screen with 153,600 pixels, a marked drop in resolution when compared to the 2.5-inch, 230K LCD screens being released by Kodak and Pentax at PMA 2006. The LCD screen is built out slightly from the back face of the camera and features a glossy black frame surrounding it on all sides.
In the upper right corner of the back face, the undersized playback and shooting mode buttons are positioned adjacent to one another in a tight fit. A raised horizontal bar is located directly beneath these two controls. Below this is a thicker horizontal bar that sweeps outward along the back face and curves into the wrist strap lug at the edge; on this bar are two buttons. The control located closer to the right edge is the Best Shot control while the control located towards the LCD engages the menu on the LCD. These two buttons are in close proximity to one another, much like the record and playback buttons. The menu and best shot buttons are labeled with embossed text connoting each control’s purpose, although it appears that Casio isn’t familiar with an alternate interpretation for the initials BS beyond the intended, and sweetly naïve, Best Shot mode.
The four-way controller with its set button in the center is positioned directly beneath the Menu and BS button. The up arrow on the four-way control controls the amount of information displayed on the LCD, including a live histogram. The down arrow will cycle the user between flash settings when in rec. mode and doubles as the delete button when the camera is in playback.
The left and right arrows do not have assigned features when the Casio EX-Z600 is purchased, but they can be assigned a function if the user chooses to do so. The possible settings for the left and right arrow are located within the rec. menu under the heading L/R Key submenu. The options for the L/R feature are Focus, EV Shift, White Balance, ISO, Self-timer and Off.
**There are no features on the left side of the Casio EX-Z600 since the A/V out and USB ports for this camera have been moved to an accessory dock. The dock is attached via a port located on the base of the camera.
**Right Side **
The only feature located on the right side of the camera is a small wrist strap eyelet, which extends slightly out from the body of the camera to allow for additional transportability.
The top of the Casio EX-Z600 does have some essential features, although they may not be immediately apparent upon first glance. A large polished silver shutter button is towards the right edge of the top face and is comfortably positioned for access with the index finger of the right hand. Surrounding the shutter button is a ring with a slight extending tab at the front. When the camera is placed in playback mode, these controls may be used for both playback zoom and multi-up display settings.
To the left of the shutter button is the On/Off control, which leaves much to be desired in terms of design and size. It is a petite sliver control whose polished silver finish becomes lost in the polished silver surrounding these controls. It would be nice if this control stood out from the rest of the camera so that it could be found a bit easier in poor lighting. As it is, this control is hard to find even in well lit situations until the layout is well-known to the user.
To the left of the on/off button are four square dots which form the in-camera microphone. While a frontal microphone will have a better pickup pattern for audio in front of the camera, the microphone for this camera manages to avoid the noise caused by lens mechanics, a problem often found when the mic is placed too closely to the optics of the camera.
**There are a number of features located on the base of the Casio EX-Z600. On the far left side is the in-camera speaker. While an in-camera speaker for playback audio is important, placing it on the base of the camera seems like an odd choice. Audio will be muffled if the camera is cradled in hands or placed on a hard surface, so is it necessary to hold the camera daintily when viewing footage with audio content.
To the right of the in-camera speaker, near the center of the camera, is a plastic tripod mount that will become easily stripped over time if misused. The camera dock for the camera is positioned directly adjacent to the tripod mount. The final set of features are located on the right side of the base underneath a cover, which protects both the battery and SD card slot, revealed when the cover is pressed down and slid to the right.
The Casio EX-Z600 does not come with an optical viewfinder, a feature becoming increasingly rare in the point-and-shoot market, which has been in favor of ever enlarging LCD screens. While small optical viewfinders do have a tendency to produce inaccurate frames, their use does conserve battery power.
LCD Screen **
**The LCD screen for the Casio EX-Z600 is located on the back of the camera and consumes most of the back face with its presence. In the point-and-shoot market the focus has been on larger LCD screens in favor of optical viewfinders, and with larger screens come higher resolution levels, or at least that’s the case with some manufacturers like Kodak and Pentax who are providing 230,000 pixels with 2.5-inch LCD screens. However, the Casio EX-Z600 has an even larger 2.7-inch LCD with a resolution of just 153,600 pixels. Casio has been hyping this screen as a SuperBright LCD with three times the brightness of its predecessor, the Z500. While it’s great to have an LCD with such a high level of brightness to help in low light situations, it would be even better if Casio had upped the resolution levels to at least equal those of the competition.
The in-camera flash for the Casio EX-Z600 is located above and to the left of the camera lens when facing the front of the Z600. The Z600 has a continuous flash shutter with user control over the following settings: auto flash, on, off, red eye reduction and soft flash. Flash settings may be rotated between by pressing the down arrow on the four-way controller and scanning the flash symbols which appear in the upper left corner of the LCD screen. When the camera is set to wide angle, the flash range is 7.6 to 17.3 ft, while in telephoto mode the flash range drops to 4.3 to 8.7 ft.
The off-axis positioning of the flash, in relation to the zoom lens will result in coverage that is uneven and will likely cast hard shadows to the side of the subject. It is ideal to place the flash above the lens, so shadows fall behind the subject and are not visible in the recorded image.
Zoom Lens **
**The zoom lens for the Casio EX-Z600 has an extending lens barrel that retracts when the camera is not in use. This extending lens barrel should protect the lens from accidentally being covered by the user, a common scenario with point-and-shoot cameras where the lens is recessed into the camera body. The variable focal length lens on the Casio EX-Z600 contains 3x of optical zoom with a focal length of 6.2 to 18.6 mm. The maximum aperture range for the EX-Z600 is f/2.7 in wide angle to f/5.2 in telephoto. The zoom lens is constructed with 6 lenses in 5 groups, with aspherical elements. It is controlled via a zoom ring that surrounds the shutter button. This zoom ring reacted cleanly and accurately when shooting and displayed a comfortable ability to start and stop without a noticeable lag. Only digital zoom can be altered in movie mode.
**Model Design / Appearance **
The camera has a generally rectilinear design, but the right edge peaks slightly when it reaches the middle of the camera. This echoes the raise that also occurs from the top and bottom edges as the center of the camera is reached. On the left side of the camera, the ring for the lens moves slightly out from the edge, a movement which is echoed in the sliver of camera which surrounds it.
The camera comes in either silver or black finishes, a trend among other manufacturers like Kodak, Fuji and Panasonic. The camera is fairly unembellished with polished silver highlights surrounding the lens and present on all of the controls.
**Size / Portability **
The camera is a slender 0.81 inches in depth, with a height of just 2.24 inches and a length of 3.48 inches. The overall weight for this camera is just 3.95 ounces, not including the battery. The Z600 can easily slide into a back pocket, a bag or a purse without the user needing to think twice, and while not nearly as small as other models by Casio, this model is certainly not going to overwhelm the casual photographer.
The zoom lens retracts into the body of the camera when not in use, and there are no other protrusions of note that could catch or snag on the pocket of the user. The only real benefit to the otherwise vastly undersized on/off control on the top of the camera is that it’s unlikely that users will accidentally turn this camera on when transporting it.
**The handling on the Casio EX-Z600 is comfortable, although the lack of grip beyond a small horizontal bar beneath the playback and rec. buttons on the back doesn’t make this camera a great option for the next family vacation to Niagara Falls, where slightly slippery hands mean inevitable doom for this camera. The camera itself is short enough and thin enough that the user can comfortably hold it in either one or two hands, and the placement of the microphone on the top and away from fingers means that accidental muffling will be extremely difficult. More grip or texture would’ve been nice for users with larger or less than mobile finger tips.
**Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size **
The control placement for the Casio Exilim EX-Z600 is a bit problematic, with the few external controls positioned too close to one another. It’s hard to imagine users with less dexterity or larger fingers using this camera without a fair amount of frustration. In addition to these placement concerns, the on/off button is undersized and indistinguishable from the polished silver detail which surrounds it, though its placement is fine. The four-way control is well sized and was simple to use in menu navigation and manual control manipulation, and because users can set the left and right arrows to control manual controls of their choice, at least this area of the Casio Exilim provides comfortable access.
**There are a number of menu options available on the Casio EX-Z600 in recording mode, playback mode, and camera setup. The menus available in still image and movie modes are identical even if the features themselves (like manual control over focus) aren’t available in both modes. The menu structure is a transparent overlay, which allows continual live view of the frame while moving through the menu structure. Manual control features like white balance have a linear list structure alongside this live view window, so the user can instantly monitor the changes made each time the white balance setting is altered. The Casio EX-Z600 has four menu structures that have this linear structure.
The rec. mode menu is accessed by pressing the menu button directly above the four-way control when the Z600 is in shooting mode. The rec. mode menu options for the Z600 are as follows: Focus, Burst, Self Timer, Anti Shake, AF Area, AF Assist Light, L/R Key, Quick Shutter, Audio Snap, Grip, Digital Zoom, Review, Icon Help and memory settings spread over three pages.
The quality menu is also accessed by hitting the menu button in shooting mode. This quality menu functions as the major source of access to manual control, which is a bit odd since one would assume that these features would be placed in the most immediately accessible menu. The quality menu settings are as follows: Size, Quality Still, Quality Video, EV Shift, White Balance, ISO, Metering, Filter, Sharpness, Saturation, Contrast, Flash Intensity and Flash Assist options also spread out over three pages.
The third and final menu located within the shooting mode options allows access to the setup controls of the Casio EX-Z600 and provides choices of: Screen Brightness, Sounds, Startup, File No., World Time, Adjust Date, Date Style, Language, Sleep Auto Power Off, Rec/Play for powering on, USB, Video Out, Format and Reset.
When the camera is placed in playback mode the options for user control are; Slide Show, Calendar, Motion Print, Movie Editing, Keystone, Color Correction, Favorites, DPOF, Protect, Date/Time, Rotation, Trimming, Dubbing and Copy settings.
**Ease of Use
**The Casio EX-Z600 certainly has a basic structure for menus and provides a live view screen beneath a transparent menu display that allows users to constantly monitor the frame as they navigate the menu and change settings. The controls themselves are undersized as previously mentioned; the only really comfortably sized controls are the zoom, shutter and four-way control. Better control labeling (or different colors) would be beneficial to this camera too, since the on/off button is lost on the current model. The minimal level of external controls and the intuitive menu structure do make these shortcomings surmountable however as the user becomes more accustomed to the layout and design.
**Auto Mode **
The default auto mode setting may be shot with full auto controls, or the user can choose to engage one, some or all of the manual control options while shooting in this mode. The camera reacted well when shooting with full auto mode, although tailoring the auto settings with manual override worked even better. The manual controls accessible in auto mode are; white balance, focus, metering, EV shift and ISO, while aperture control and shutter speed are outside the control of the Z600 user. If you desire a middle ground, the 33 preset modes found within the Best Shot mode may be of use, although in all honesty, 33 of anything on a camera (except for saved images) is not enjoyable to wade through.
**The movie mode has three settings, located within the rec. menu when the camera is in either still or movie mode. Although setting movie controls can be accomplished when in still image mode, actually shooting in movie mode will necessitate the user entering the Best Shot mode and selecting the movie option. The movie mode does allow digital zoom to be engaged, however quality is poor and this option should probably be avoided unless massive pixilation is part of what you want to record. The settings for movie mode are 640 x 480 at 30 frames per second (HQ), 640 x 480 at 30 fps (Normal), and 320 x 240 at 30 fps (LP). All three of these options should have a smooth quality to them in playback, although the resolution did show marked degradation when switching out of HQ mode. Audio is recorded simultaneously when shooting in any of these three modes via the microphone placed on the top of the camera.
During playback the user can edit the beginning, center or end of the video clip, as well as capture 9 frames of video to one photo image for a motion print. Audio during playback is pushed through a monaural speaker located on the bottom of the camera. If shooting video clips is desirable, consider getting more memory; the 8.3 MB of internal memory captures about 6 seconds (and that’s being generous) of HQ video before it’s out of space.
**Drive / Burst Mode
**The burst mode on the Casio EX-Z600 is placed within the rec. menu under the submenu entitled Burst mode. The burst mode for the EX-Z600 has an advertised rate of 3 frames per second for up to 3 shots before the camera needs to take a lengthy delay to save images to memory.
When shooting in High Speed, the reported 3fps burst rate may be attained, but when switched into normal speed, the rate of capture could hardly be called a burst mode. A rapid flash burst mode shoots at nearly the same rate as the High Speed mode and provided images that were successfully illuminated.
**Playback Mode **
To enter the playback mode the review button in the upper right corner on the back of the Casio EX-Z600 must be pressed. The playback menu has a number of control features that aren’t often found on point-and-shoot digital cameras, with options for Rotation, Resize, Trimming, Dubbing, Copy and Movie Editing easily accomplished. The playback mode can display images as one image, multi-up with nine thumbnails or in a calendar view, the third of which allows users to move between days of the month to access photos quickly from various sessions. The camera allows playback zoom through the telephoto control of the zoom ring.
The Keystone feature is one of the unique playback features that sets this Casio apart from the competition. It digitally reorients photos of text or other subjects so the once skewed and misaligned content appears as though it were captured from straight ahead. While it worked with moderate success when used at PMA, there were a couple of times when the camera was unable to straighten images or when the straightened image displayed an unacceptable level of distortion. The original is saved in addition to the new image so users can always change their minds.
Other features besides the aforementioned include Slideshow, Motion Print, DPOF, Protect, and Date/Time.
**Custom Image Presets **
Well, the custom image presets for the Casio EX-Z600 are certainly not lacking. The 33 settings are located within the Best Shot menu, which may be accessed by pressing the BS button on the back of the camera.
The best shot menu has an opaque blue background and thumbnail photographs that can be selected so that the preset option will appear with a larger example photo and a full text description detailing when this control could be applicably used. The Best Shot preset shooting options for the Casio EX-Z600 are: Portrait, Scenery, Portrait with Scenery, Children, Sports, Candlelight Portrait, Party, Pet, Flower, Natural Green, Autumn Leaves, Soft Flowing Water, Splashing Water, Sundown, Night Scene, Night Scene Portrait, Fireworks, Food, Text, Collection, Backlight, Anti-Shake, High Sensitivity, Monochrome, Retro, Twilight, Old Photo, Business Cards and Documents, White Board Etc, Voice Recording, For Ebay, Recall User Scene and Register User Scene.
The latest feature for this camera and several other models released by Casio this year is the inclusion of the unique Ebay feature, which captures images at a format which is the most Ebay-friendly. While I’ve personally never had a problem selling and posting photos on Ebay, this new setting could be useful perhaps to users who are less photographically-inclined or Internet savvy.
While some users are bound to love having this number of settings, I think 33 is frankly a little ludicrous. No longer is it easy to quickly flip between settings, and with this many options the user is bound to search for the proper mode for what could be an eternity.
Manual Control Options **
Manual control settings on the Casio EX-Z600 are not as limiting as those found on the Kodak EasyShare models but also are not nearly as extensive as those found on Canon’s A-series, either. The manual control options for the Z600 are manual focus, exposure compensation, metering, white balance and ISO, with no manual control options for the shutter speed and aperture levels (other than EV compensation). The Casio EX-Z600 is a fine camera for those who want to start tinkering with manual control but lack any experience. And with 33 preset shooting modes, the user will have plenty of options to fall back on.
*Focal settings for the Casio EX-Z600 provide a number of options, located within the rec. menu under the logically named Focus submenu. The focal options for the Casio EX-Z600 are auto focus, macro mode, pan focus, infinity mode and manual focus. These controls are easily switched between by scanning the settings with the four-way controller. The auto focus reacted with a fair level of clarity although the camera did struggle a bit when fast alterations were made to zoom levels.
*Manual Focus *
The manual focus setting is located within the Focus submenu found within the rec. section of the shooting menu. The manual focus setting is easily selected from the linear list and once selected it is possible to control the focal levels by pressing the Set button. This then displays a focal scale along the lower edge of the LCD screen for the user to navigate with the left and right arrows of the four-way controller. The focus scale has numerical levels as well as macro and wide angle symbols placed alongside it.
While it’s not the fastest to adjust, the manual focus did react with a clean and smooth precision that accurately settled on the proper focus setting. If users are more comfortable with dedicated buttons, there is the L/R Key option located within the rec. menu. When this option is selected the user can choose to set the left and right keys of the four-way controller to set focus, EV shift, white balance, ISO, self timer or off.
The metering parameters for the Casio EX-Z600 are manually controllable and allow access through the quality menu which is accessible when the camera is in shooting mode. The metering mode options are center, spot and multi-zone metering controls which can adjust to more complicated lighting situations than one fixed automatic control. With metering options like center-weighted users can compensate for problems like the extreme backlighting of subjects. With multi-zone metering the user can properly control settings for lighting situations where multiple light sources are present.
The exposure controls for the Casio EX-Z600 are accessible by entering the quality menu, engaged through the menu control on the back of the camera. The EV shift scale for the Z600 is a predominately standard scale in the point-and shoot-market of +/-2 EV with 1/3 EV steps occurring throughout this range.
**White balance is a manually controllable feature on the Casio EX-Z600 and accessed by entering the same quality menu which contains manual controls for ISO and EV shift. The white balance controls display a live view screen without overlay so the user can immediately view changes made to the composition. The white balance settings are scanned via the up and down arrows on the four-way control and include Cloudy, Shade, Fluorescent N, Fluorescent D, Tungsten and Daylight.
**The ISO settings for the Casio EX-Z600 are also controllable through the quality menu and are ISO 50, 100, 200 and 400. Supposedly, the auto ISO levels have a maximum ISO setting of 800 when the anti-shake or high sensitivity controls are engaged, although this claim will need further testing in our full review. Check back in the near future to see how the EX-Z600 performs in terms of noise and light sensitivity.
**Shutter Speed **
Shutter speed, like aperture, is not manually controllable by the user, although the preset Night Scene mode will extend the shutter speed dramatically beyond the capacity of the auto mode setting. The automatic shutter speed range for the EX-Z600 is 1/8th of a second to 1/2000th of a second, while the Night mode extends that scale to 4 seconds through 1/2000th, and Fireworks mode alters the scale to 2 seconds (fixed).
**Aperture controls are not accessible to the user of the Casio EX-Z600. The EX-Z600 has an aperture range of f/2.7 to f/4.3 with auto switching, beyond the control of the user.
Picture Quality / Size Options
**The picture quality and size options for both still and movie mode are located within the same rec. mode menu accessed by pressing the menu control on the left side of the camera when the camera is set to shooting mode for either stills or video. The image quality settings for still mode are Fine, Normal and Economy with a maximum resolution of 2816 x 2112. Other resolution settings for still mode include 2816 x 1872, 2304 x 1728, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200 or 640 x 480.
When shooting in movie mode the user will have the following options available within the movie image size section of the rec. menu: 640 x 480 with a top frame rate of 30 fps (HQ), 640 x 480 at 30 fps (normal), and 320 x 240 resolution with video recorded at 30 fps as well (LP). According to the specification sheets supplied by Casio, the user should be able to attain 6 seconds of video at the highest quality and 2 still images at 2816 x 2112 in Fine mode using only the EX-Z600’s memory.
**Picture Effects Mode
**The picture effects settings for the Casio EX-Z600 are located within the Best Shot mode menu in shooting mode and allow the user to access a number of image alteration settings which include: Old photo, Natural Green, Retro and Monochrome. However, the picture effects can be easily lost in the sea of 33 control settings which surround them. Located within the quality menu a smattering of other picture effects options to control sharpness, saturation and contrast. All three are fairly standard for point-and-shoot digital cameras these days.
*The Casio EX-Z600 does come with a basic editing software suite on CD-ROM and while it’s a start for the budding photographer, it surely won’t be able to stand up to the quality of controlled by Photoshop. Check back later for a full review of the Z600 when we can fully use and evaluate this included program.
*Jacks, Ports, Plugs
*The only port on the body of the Casio EX-Z600 is the one to connect it to this included dock. This dock has two ports on it for connection to a PC or printer via the USB port or to a television via the A/V out port. A DC in port is also located on the back of the dock for charging the battery.
While eliminating ports helps reduce camera size, moving them to a docking device seems to be a poor choice. By placing ports on another device, the user literally can’t afford to lose the dock. And personal experience tells me that docks are likely to get lost.
*Direct Print Options
*The Casio EX-Z600 is Direct Print compliant and includes features such as a motion print option for capturing and printing nine video frames into one single image for printing, in addition to the standard EXIF 2.2 and DPOF capabilities found today on nearly every digital camera. A cradle dock can be used for connecting camera to printer or PC via a USB port.
*The battery for the Casio EX-Z600 is impressive, with a total capacity per battery charge of 550 shots. The battery for the Z600 is a Super Life rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which comes included with the purchase of the digital camera. This is certainly an impressive shot count, and it will be interesting to see how successfully the camera lives up to this is during testing for our full review.
*The included memory for the Casio EX-Z600 is 8.3 MB, which is about enough memory to take one or two higher resolution photographs before the card is filled. Users shouldn’t expect to be able to capture more than a few fleeting moments of video either. Users will need to purchase additional memory in the form of SD/MMC memory cards, which can cost a fair amount depending on the size. SD/MMC cards are easily found both on and offline, and the Z600 is compatible with cards up to 1 GB.
***Angle Correction Feature -* The angle correction feature is an interesting option. It can take photographs of white boards, business cards or displays, and automatically adjust them to look as though the photo was taken head-on. While it did work successfully most of the time, a certain amount of finesse was needed to properly misalign the photograph to begin with, which is a little ironic.
*Motion Print - *The motion print feature, like the keystone feature, is available in playback mode. This feature allows the user to take nine frames of video footage and produce one printed image with all nine images displayed simultaneously.
**The Casio EX-Z600 puts forth some impressive features that separate it from the fairly clogged 6 MP digital camera market. Its impressively large 2.7-inch LCD is bright, even if equipped with less than stellar resolution. The menu structure is intuitive and has live views for manual modes throughout. The areas where Casio really stands out in comparison to other digital cameras in its price range involve specific image alteration features, like motion print, movie editing, still image editing with rotation, resize, trim, and copy while still in-camera, and the 33 preset modes which could come in handy for many users who ride the fence between auto and manual control settings.
The only major detractor for this camera is the placement of ports on the accessory dock. Moving these ports to a dock allows ever smaller camera sizes but necessitates knowing where the printer dock is at all times, unless users have an SD card reader.
**Who It’s For
***Point-and-Shooters -* For the point and shoot user, the Casio EX-Z600 will certainly be a strong contender with its excessive number of preset shooting modes, auto modes, and intuitive menu design that allows users to become slowly acclimated to manual controls.
Budget Consumers - The budget consumer can purchase this camera for a fairly reasonable $299 (MSRP), but if more extensive manual controls or a higher resolution LCD is wanted, options by other manufacturers would be a cheaper alternative.
Gadget Freaks - There really isn’t a reason that the gadget freak would turn to the Casio EX-Z600, although the in-camera movie editing, motion print feature and preset options may be of interest to the wannabe gadget freak.
Manual Control Freaks - For the beginning or amateur user, the manual controls found on the Casio Exilim EX-Z600 will cover many of their needs,, but for the true manual control freak the lack of aperture or shutter speed control will make this camera unappealing.
Pros / Serious Hobbyists - There would be no real reason for the pro or serious hobbyist to consider the Casio EX-Z600, with less than full manual controls, a low resolution LCD, and a preset heavy layout. The Casio is definitely a camera more tailored to fit the point-and-shoot crowd.
**The Casio EX-Z600 is equipped with a 3x zoom, a 2.7-inch LCD with low resolution but a bright display, a 1/2.5-inch, 6 MP CCD, and access to a handful of manual controls which are provided with live view screens and simple interactivity. The EX-Z600 separates itself from the crowd with its wealth of preset modes and in-camera editing features with clear interfaces and full text descriptions. With these preset options, manual settings and a good movie mode, the Casio EX-Z600 should give competing manufacturers a run for the money at this price point. Check back for the full length review when we’ll be able to test and evaluate the camera’s performance in terms of resolution, color accuracy, noise, low light, dynamic range and speed/timing to see how it really stacks up to the competition.
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