Who says point-and-shoot cameras have to have wimpy little zooms? See how the
Casio EX-V7's 7x optical zoom fares in our hands-on review.
If you've read any of my previous reviews, you'll know that one of the many "themes" I have is that point and shoot cameras need to have greater zooming power. In many instances, you'll typically see a (3x) 30-something to 100-something millimeter (35mm equivalent) range lens. And while I'll be the first to admit that this is useful, it's also limiting.
For example, you're at your kids' baseball game and you want to get a shot of them from across the infield. You pull out your point and shoot camera and they take up about 1/10th of the frame. And sure, you can crop that down, but the resolution (and in many cameras, the noise) makes for a less than stellar image of your future big-leaguer.
Until now, the only real answer has been to walk around to the other side of the field and shoot. But, what if the light's wrong on that side, or you have to shoot through a fence? Up until now, this has meant a compromise for the casual photographer who wants the greater magnification zooms in a smaller package. In virtually every camera line, this has meant a choice between smaller camera sizes or bigger, bulkier cameras that have a stronger "reach" because of their more robust optics.
Just when you're about to give up hope, in walks Casio, who at January's CES show, announced that they are making a statement about wimpy little zooms on point and shoot cameras. The 7.2 MP Hi-Zoom Exilim EX-V7 (street $ 400) fits in your shirt pocket and is the latest in Casio's line of slim, sleek point and shoots. But, unlike the ultra-slim competition, the EX-V7 has a 7x (38-266mm f/3.4 - 5.3 35mm equivalent) optical zoom and a host of other features that make it an attractive option for those who want great features in a small package.
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According to Casio, the EX-V7 has the highest magnification zoom in a slim-series camera. Casio accomplishes this by using an internally zooming lens paired with a mirror along the width of the camera. The result is that the camera has no protruding zoom lens and maintains a very small size at all focal lengths. The camera also features a 2.5-inch Viewfinder/LCD screen that has a respectable 230,400 pixels and is quite bright and clear in all viewing conditions. Casio has also placed its new Exilim Engine 2.0 processor into the EX-V7, giving enhanced tracking for autofocus, more saturated colors, faster processing and the ability to selectively eliminate noise -- particularly in areas such as the sky, where it can be most problematic.
The camera is small, even by compact standards. The EX-V7 stands at a slight 25mm thick, or about 0.7 of an inch, and is similar to a Palm Z22 PDA in overall dimensions. The camera feels solid and has a highly brushed silver finish with less-brushed accents and a highly polished chrome band that travels the perimeter of the camera and surrounds the shutter release button, which is conspicuously alone atop the camera. This is because all of the other controls, including the zoom toggle, are on the back right quarter of the camera. I had to wonder why Casio would move the zoom toggle from the top to the back because it just seems like it was placed so arbitrarily. To make matters worse, the zoom toggle moves up and down rather than the more traditional side-to-side. The end result is that this is less than intuitive for the user and makes the zoom lens control foreign and uncomfortable. Other controls on the back are more traditional, and I even liked having the function dial on the back of the camera with the other controls. And to be fair to Casio, it does make choosing your settings easier simply because all of the dials, displays and buttons are oriented in the same direction and are grouped together. In theory, I think this is desirable, but in actual practice, it's less than convenient.
The front of the camera is similar in design to the Sony DSC-T10 and likewise uses a bar to turn the camera on and off. Unlike the Sony, the Casio's bar moves from side-to-side rather than up and down and the first time I turned the camera on, I smudged the lens quite badly. There's also a difference in the feel of the bar on the Casio in comparison to the Sony. In the Casio, you can feel the spring changing from a push to a pull as the bar moves, which isn't the case for the Sony, which feels much more solid.
Because of its small size and high zoom magnification, the Casio can be pretty shaky when you're hand-holding and the zoom is fully extended to its 266mm optical limit. Casio has smartly designed four anti-shake features that all but eliminate this issue in the final image. The first is the camera's CCD Shift System, which physically moves the sensor to counter the movement introduced by the user. The camera also incorporates Casio's Antishake DSP technology, which raises the ISO and shutter speed to a level that will eliminate any shake introduced by the user. Additionally, Casio includes speed and vector analysis for moving targets. The camera will judge these and adjust ISO and shutter speed on-the-fly to compensate. In video mode, the Casio uses an electronic camera shake function that eliminates blur while shooting video. To test these technologies, I hand held the camera with my right hand only at the full 266mm optical limit and was amazed at the sharpness of the images (See the quality gallery for examples). All of this stability comes at a price though, and one of the annoyances is that there is often a lot of shutter lag because of the antishake technology. In most situations, this isn't a deal breaker, but if your shooting sprouting leaves on a tree, and the wind is blowing, you'll miss many shots.