Budget Camera Shootout: Casio Exilim EX-Z75 vs. Pentax Optio M30

See how the two ruggedly built point and shoots compare in this head-to-head shootout.

Budget-Camera-Shootout-Casio-Exilim-EX-Z75-vs.-Pentax-Optio-M30

Budget-Camera-Shootout-Casio-Exilim-EX-Z75-vs.-Pentax-Optio-M30

Budget Camera Shootout: Casio Exilim EX-Z75 vs. Pentax Optio M30111753CasioEX-Z75On the surface so many 3x zoom compact digicams look virtually identical. How do you tell them apart, and what really separates one 3x zoom budget digicam from the next? A lot of times it comes down to the little things, like menu navigation, fit and finish, and price, that make one compact camera a better deal than the next. Here we look at two cameras that at first glance could be mistaken for one another -- the Pentax Optio M30 (street $174.95) and the Casio Exilim EXZ75 (street $229.99), to see if there's really a difference beneath their almost identical skins. It astonishes how closely the 7.2MP Casio Exilim EX-Z75 and the 7.1 MP Pentax Optio M30 compare physically. Even the lens design and embellishments look virtually identical. The shutter release on each is in the same location and both buttons have a similar look and feel. The flash on each lines up in position and strangely, even the back portions of the cameras have similar button placement. The menu button, for example, is placed on the lower right side of the preview/viewfinder screen on both cameras, with the preview button and function dial also consistently placed as well. It's as if both of these companies had a common engineering staff design one camera, and then Casio and Pentax tweaked it to their own standards. Yet, for all of these physical similarities, the Pentax is priced a full $55 less than the Casio. I had to wonder if the differences went deeper than physical attributes and if so, are they worth the upgrade in price from the Pentax to the Casio, or is the Pentax simply a great deal?Budget Camera Shootout: Casio Exilim EX-Z75 vs. Pentax Optio M3027075126794PentaxOptio M30On the surface so many 3x zoom compact digicams look virtually identical. How do you tell them apart, and what really separates one 3x zoom budget digicam from the next? A lot of times it comes down to the little things, like menu navigation, fit and finish, and price, that make one compact camera a better deal than the next. Here we look at two cameras that at first glance could be mistaken for one another -- the Pentax Optio M30 (street $174.95) and the Casio Exilim EXZ75 (street $229.99), to see if there's really a difference beneath their almost identical skins. It astonishes how closely the 7.2MP Casio Exilim EX-Z75 and the 7.1 MP Pentax Optio M30 compare physically. Even the lens design and embellishments look virtually identical. The shutter release on each is in the same location and both buttons have a similar look and feel. The flash on each lines up in position and strangely, even the back portions of the cameras have similar button placement. The menu button, for example, is placed on the lower right side of the preview/viewfinder screen on both cameras, with the preview button and function dial also consistently placed as well. It's as if both of these companies had a common engineering staff design one camera, and then Casio and Pentax tweaked it to their own standards. Yet, for all of these physical similarities, the Pentax is priced a full $55 less than the Casio. I had to wonder if the differences went deeper than physical attributes and if so, are they worth the upgrade in price from the Pentax to the Casio, or is the Pentax simply a great deal?

On the surface so many 3x zoom compact digicams look virtually identical. How do you tell them apart, and what really separates one 3x zoom budget digicam from the next? A lot of times it comes down to the little things, like menu navigation, fit and finish, and price, that make one compact camera a better deal than the next. Here we look at two cameras that at first glance could be mistaken for one another -- the Pentax Optio M30 (street $174.95) and the Casio Exilim EXZ75 (street $229.99), to see if there's really a difference beneath their almost identical skins.

It astonishes how closely the 7.2MP Casio Exilim EX-Z75 and the 7.1 MP Pentax Optio M30 compare physically. Even the lens design and embellishments look virtually identical. The shutter release on each is in the same location and both buttons have a similar look and feel. The flash on each lines up in position and strangely, even the back portions of the cameras have similar button placement. The menu button, for example, is placed on the lower right side of the preview/viewfinder screen on both cameras, with the preview button and function dial also consistently placed as well. It's as if both of these companies had a common engineering staff design one camera, and then Casio and Pentax tweaked it to their own standards. Yet, for all of these physical similarities, the Pentax is priced a full $55 less than the Casio. I had to wonder if the differences went deeper than physical attributes and if so, are they worth the upgrade in price from the Pentax to the Casio, or is the Pentax simply a great deal?

Hands on Feel

The Pentax does have a little more refinement and sculpting in the body. I like the gentle, sloping curve on the (photographer's) left side of the camera. I enjoyed the way that it molded to the gentle curve that my hand has when holding a camera of this type. I liked the combination of brushed silver and chrome mixing in the Pentax body and to me, it simply wouldn't look as good if they'd chosen a color instead of the shiny silver. The Pentax feels solid in your hands as well and it's obvious to me that Pentax has this part of the design and manufacturing process mastered. The camera feels like a high-tech rock in your hands -- and that's a good thing!

The Casio has a larger 2.6" (14:9 ratio) LCD screen that's as bright and sharp as the other Exilim models we've seen and a slightly taller body in comparison to the Pentax. The Casio swaps the rounded side and changes it to the width of the body, giving the camera a pure rectangular look when viewed head-on and a long, stretched oval when viewed from the side. The Casio also has a plethora of colors available with a linear-brushing that's similar in look and feel to stainless steel. Likewise, the Casio has a mostly solid feel to it, but does show some play in the shutter release and other controls, making its build quality slightly less solid than the Pentax. And even though the Casio has a larger screen, it shows fewer pixels and side by side, has less apparent sharpness in comparison to the 2.5 inch Pentax Viewfinder/display screen. This makes sense though, since the Pentax is cramming more pixels into a smaller space.

Lenses

Both lenses also have a 38-114mm (35mm equivalent) lens with nearly identical aperture ranges as well. Both cameras have a maximum aperture of f/3.1 at the wide-angle end of the zoom, but differ at the telephoto end with the Casio winning with an aperture of f/4.4 while the Pentax is more than a full stop slower at f/5.9. Another similarity between these cameras is that they use higher ISO settings as a form of pseudo image stabilization -- as is typical for this camera class. The Casio has a range of up to 400 ISO while the Pentax has the ability to use ISOs up to 3200. This simply raises the shutter speed to a point that image shake isn't an issue but doesn't do any mechanical or optical "stabilization" in-camera like comparable models. It would be wonderful to see both of these cameras eventually upgrade to a real image stabilization system that works regardless of the mode used -- but this feature is still a cost-raising premium, and we're not sure when we'll see true mechanical or optical stabilization in the budget camera class.

The Casio beats the Pentax in scenes modes, giving the user a total of 35 choices, including eBay mode, food, sunset, monochrome and retro, which gives the image a sepia-toned, antique look. Casio also has a "collection" mode that's similar to the eBay mode, but has a really nice compositional grid. If I were in charge of the features for this camera, I'd make this grid a feature that is independent of the "collection" mode and allow it to be turned off and on at will, regardless of the mode in use. Another feature that works well in the Casio is the scene mode descriptions. Simply press the zoom toggle and the camera LCD screen pops up a full description of each mode. This works well and I suspect that if there is a real difference between the Pentax and the Casio, the menu functionality is where you'll find it.

The Pentax has a total of 15 scene modes and rather than use an actual photo to illustrate what the scene may look like, the Pentax uses icons. Some of these remind me of a "Dragonball Z" episode on the Cartoon Network and have a very strong Japanese flavor to the artwork. Even with the fewer modes, they are useful and aren't as repetitive as the Casio's modes. An example of this is the "Sports" mode and "Splashing Water" mode in the Casio. Both capture and stop action, so why have different modes that do the same thing? Another feature that I liked when using the Pentax scene modes is that a description automatically flashes up for the current selection three seconds after the mode is selected. Overall though, the Pentax icons aren't as intuitive as Casio's illustrative sample photos.

Video

Both cameras also have an excellent feature set for video. The ability to zoom while shooting is amazing for cameras in this price range, which both cameras can do. Pentax wins in video by having different scene modes for video and full quality video (640X480 @30 fps) that can record in both WAV and Movie SR file formats. Additionally, the Pentax can record in half resolution (320X240 @30 fps) and the feature we most liked was the ability to change from a full color mode to "Sepia" and "Monochrome."

I would love to see manufacturers take the sepia mode one step farther by having the ability to introduce dust and scratches into the recorded image, giving it a more authentic "period" feel to the clip. And even though the Casio has three different resolution settings, it only shoots in full color, making it a lesser choice when you want to shoot black and white or sepia video.

|| |---| | Casio Exilim EX-Z75What's Hot • Great menu design • Larger-sized LCD screen • Good build quality What's Not • No macro mode • Slow startup and shutter lag • Small internal memory • High price for the feature-set • Product Gallery • Image Quality Gallery • Rate this Camera | Battery Life

In their promotional literature, Pentax claims that the battery was specifically designed to be smaller to allow a more compact design in the camera. It is, in fact, about two-thirds the size of the Casio battery, and in my shooting experience with both cameras, the smaller Pentax battery keeps up with the Casio quite well. Neither camera seemed to drain the battery too quickly and both allowed all-day shooting with plenty of juice left over.

Menu Navigation

Even inspecting the menu on both cameras, you see the similarities in design. The menu button is located in the same area on both cameras and each uses a row/column scheme to navigate through all of the options in the menu. The Casio, for example, has three columns -- Record, Quality and Setup. You navigate through each of these by selecting the left/right buttons on the function dial. Each has a menu that can be navigated by using the up and down buttons and selecting OK to set the features you wanting to change. It's a simple system, but works well. The other nice menu feature that the Casio has is the menu located on the viewfinder/LCD screen when you're shooting. Instead of accessing the menu button, you simply hit the up and down buttons on the function dial and it gives you an iconic view of all the normal menu items. Casio has this on several of their cameras and it's a wonderful feature that works well.

The Pentax has a similar menu, but it's not quite as visual as the Casio. If you look at the layout, it has the column and row scheme but doesn't highlight each column like the Casio. Instead, it uses small arrows that, if you're not looking for them, can blend into the scene too easily. I was trying to get back to the column setting and didn't realize that it was already there. In the menu wars, Casio is clearly the winner with its well-designed interface.

Both cameras also exhibit good manners when shooting too, although I found it strange that both would also give a slight overexposure to a normal scene. I made an EV adjustment of -0.7 to compensate for this in most situations. I verified my changes by inspecting the histogram in Photoshop CS3, which overall had a nice bell-curve shape. I had to wonder why this was so in scenes that any camera shouldn't have exposure issues when shooting.

I liked the Pentax startup, which felt much quicker than the Casio and was ready to shoot almost as soon as I lifted my finger from the on/off switch. The scene as viewed on the LCD, being slightly sharper and more contrasty, was easy to compose and the shutter worked as expected with little noticeable lag. In all, I was very pleased with the shooting experience that I had with the Pentax and I think that this is where the years of experience as a camera maker comes into play.

The Casio was nice as well, but was more lethargic in comparison to the Pentax at startup. Another feature that I disliked is Casio's two-button design for reviewing images. One button shows the images already shot, and it takes a second button to switch back to the normal shooting mode. On most cameras, depressing the shutter release button half way does this. The Casio is unresponsive to this and I had to think about how to use this feature rather than doing what I've become accustomed to on virtually all other point and shoot cameras I've handled. Something like switching from review to shooting mode isn't something I'd play with, since hitting the shutter button has become an almost universal way to switch back to a shooting mode. I also found the Casio slower on autofocus and shutter lag as well. Another surprise for the Casio was the extremely long time it took to format a card -- on the order of 30 seconds for a 1 GB SD card. In comparison, other cameras, including the Pentax Optio M30, took no more than six seconds to perform the same function. Thinking that it might be an issue with the card, I tried formatting the 8MB of internal memory as well and received a similarly slow response of 12 seconds.

The Pentax, in comparison has 21.9MB of internal memory and some other surprises that beat the Casio hands down. The M30 has a nice "on demand" macro ability that doesn't require you to change to a macro mode. The lens has the ability to focus all the way down to 5CM (1.96 inches) as well as facial recognition software that will analyze and capture up to six forward-looking faces in the "Portrait" mode. In Pentax's literature, they claim that the camera will keep the faces light, even in backlit situations. We consider this amazing technology for a camera that's a full $55 cheaper than its competitor. In comparison, the Casio has no macro mode and no facial recognition. And while we could understand not having the facial recognition, there's really no excuse for not having the ability to close-focus in a macro mode. Virtually every other camera in this class has this ability, so why not the Casio?

|| |---| | Pentax Optio M30What's Hot • Great build quality • Facial recognition • High ISO settings • On-the-fly macro focusing • Cool video modes • Ability to zoom while making video What's Not • Hard to navigate menu • Menu icons • Image Quality Gallery • Rate this Camera | And the Winner Is...

In using both cameras, I found the Pentax to be very likable and clearly the leader in this race. The only real area where the Casio prevailed was in its easy to use menu system. But the shortcomings of the Casio -- including the button design, lower quality screen, lesser build quality and overall slow performance -- is nagging. I kept asking myself what justifies a $55 price difference with a camera that in most ways is identical to the Pentax, yet had lesser apparent quality and features. I wasn't able to find a good answer to this question.

Add up the Pentax Optio M30's solid construction, facial recognition, well-designed modes in both still and video, higher ISO settings and sharper LCD Viewfinder/Display screen, and it emerges as the better deal.

Specs

Pentax:
97 X 57 X 18mm (3.82" x 2.25" x 0.7")
120G (Without battery)
7.1 MP
21.9 MB internal memory

Casio:
95.4 X 60 X 19.6mm (3.76" X 2.36" X 0.77")
122g (Without battery)
7.2MP
8MB of internal memory

In the box

Pentax:
Pentax M30 digital camera
AV Cable 1-AVC7
Rechargeable Lithium Ion battery D-LI63
USB Cable
Battery Charger D-BC63
Software CD
AC Plug Cord D-CO24
Strap o-ST51

Casio:
Battery Charger BC-11L
AC power cord
USB Cable
AV Cable
Strap
Software CD-ROM
Lithium Ion Battery CASIO NP-20

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