Prices fall, pixels rise and bodies keep getting slimmer in the compact digicam market. Casio's latest size-zero snapper, the EX-Z8, has a spec that rivals cameras from classier brand-names costing twice as much. So should the boys from the specialist names be losing sleep?
Full metal jacket
On first impressions, yes. The EX-Z8 has fantastic build quality: sturdy metal casing, bright 2.6in LCD screen and cool black body. The microSD card/battery cover snaps open in a satisfyingly sturdy way, and the Casio own-brand 3x optical zoom lens purrs in and out of the casing like a good 'un. The few buttons it has are also well-placed and obvious - essential in a point-and-shooter.
The on-board software is extremely intuitive, so even a digital virgin should be up and running in seconds. A touch of the 'BS' button brings up pages of icons for pre-programmed settings, from shooting documents (handy for spies) to running water. And wait - under the movie options there's a YouTube logo.
Do you 'Tube?
Yes, all the new crop of Exilims offer 'YouTube capture' mode, shooting at the required 640x480 size in H.264 format. Bother to install Casio's clunky image editing software on your PC (Mac users can go fish) and there's a one-click upload option. It's all the sort of thing that, had we encountered it six months ago, would be wondrous indeed.
But today, high-end camphones like the LG KU990 'Viewty' will do all that and beam it to your computer over Wi-Fi, or indeed straight to YouTube via broadband-speed HSDPA. Suddenly, fiddling around with USB cables, computers and software installs feels like old hat.Low light difficulties
The first page of BS settings, and most of the subsequent ones, are set outdoors, bathed in the sort of full sunlight you'd expect to find on a beach holiday - conditions in which every camera should shine. But Stuff tested the Z8 in a gloomy British November, and colour saturation was sadly lacking on our low-light shots, whether with added flash or without. Focus, however, was excellent, and at the highest resolution pictures were full of detail and free of artifacts.
Of more concern was shutter lag when using the flash. This Exilim is obviously being targeted at casual users, so taking snapshots in clubs and pubs would be exactly the sort of situation where the camera should be in its element. But under poor light conditions it took a good second before an image was captured, making any kind of spontaneous shooting a matter of guesswork.
The LCD panel, though bright, is fairly low resolution (479x240 pixels), and colours looked false. Video performance, however, was perfectly adequate for YouTube's bar-set-low requirements.
In favourable conditions, the EX-Z8 produces terrific images, and the easy-to-use YouTube mode is a good idea. But under testing circumstances, more expensive compacts like the Sony DSC-T200 and Canon Ixus 960 IS really outperform it and begin to justify the price gap.