Really, she did. Not the review, the camera itself. As if our house –as full as it is of kids, cats and dogs- didn’t contain enough hazards for a gadget geek like myself, we recently adopted a new puppy. The newest arrival is a (currently) 60 pound Shepherd cross and it would appear that she likes electronics as much as I do; only Ellie prefers to chew on them. More on that later.
Our camcorder recently gave up the ghost and my wife’s old Canon point and shoot digital camera is ready to be passed on to the kids; while a decent camera at the time, by current standards it’s big, clunky and underpowered. I’ve been intrigued by the Flip Video camcorders and they recently became available in Canada, so I was seriously looking at one of those as a possible replacement for the camcorder. But then I decided it might make more sense to go for a point and shoot camera small enough that my wife will actually carry it around for those casual shots, while also offering reasonable video capability.
After a few weeks of research, I surprised myself by deciding on a Casio Exilim EX-Z80. Why that choice and a brief review of the camera after the jump.
Casio isn’t exactly up there when you think of high quality electronics –inexpensive electronics, sure, and I think they still make calculators, but the point and shoot digital camera market is ruled by the likes of Sony, Nikon and Canon. What the Casio had going for it was a tiny and stylish form factor (about the size of a credit card but 3/4″ thick), cool color options in brushed metal (i.e., the “eye candy” factor), an 8.1 mega pixel image sensor, video capability (including a widescreen 848 x 480 mode) and excellent integration with iTunes.
The final point was actually the deal maker. My house is firmly entrenched in the Apple ecosphere and the ability to drop home movies into iTunes with no conversion required (the camera writes movies using the iTunes-friendly H.264 format and Apple’s AAC audio codec) is a welcome relief from having to use HandBrake or Popcorn before importing files. Since we use an AppleTV to display home movies and photos, this compatibility has made life a little easier and the results much faster. The camera itself can shoot in a 16:9 widescreen mode to match the AppleTV display as well- you lose some horizontal pixel capability, but it makes framing the shots for a widescreen TV much easier. The camera also has a dedicated video shoot button, so no fumbling between functions to switch between video and photo modes.
And the verdict? iTunes/iPhoto/AppleTV compatibility has been flawless and the movies look very sharp. You can shoot video to your memory card’s capacity and a 2Gb card holds somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 hours of high quality footage. There’s also a YouTube video mode, by the way. Photos are surprisingly good, especially outdoors shots. Optical zoom is limited to 3x, but that’s par for the course on an entry-level point and shoot. Low light photos can be a bit noisy, and this is obviously no rival for a DSLR, but for a casual use camera that can be carried in a shirt pocket, it’s hard to find fault, especially at the $179 MSRP.
Back to Ellie. Jody had the camera in her backpack, tucked in one of those iPod socks. Having a real camera case for a little number like this kind of negates the purpose –a case means it’s now too big for a pocket and by the time you unpack the camera, your picture opportunity has moved on. Ellie quietly helped herself to the backpack contents one morning and had chewed on the Casio for a few minutes before we realized what she was up to. I had my doubts the camera would ever power up again. The metal case was seriously bent (as you can see in the photo), but at least it hadn’t cracked open like a plastic one likely would have. The menu button was inoperable, chewed to mush- but I’d already set the camera up with appropriate defaults, so we could live with that. We fired it up, held our breath, and it worked. It’s not so cool looking anymore, but until it fails or the shame of waving around a mangled camera wears thin, my wife is willing to live with it.
Wired: Good picture quality for a relatively inexpensive camera, seamless iTunes integration, tiny size means you might actually carry (and use it) it on a regular basis, stylish appearance, metal case is capable of surviving a dog attack.
Tired: Tiny buttons are tough for larger hands, cheap plastic doors on card and battery slots, form factor means video can be shaky without steady hands. Proprietary battery will be tough to find in stores if you run out of power on vacation, so bring a recharger with you.