A pocket-sized, 7-megapixel digital camera, the Casio Exilim EX-V7 distinguishes itself with a non-telescoping 7x optical zoom lens, sensor-shift image stabilization, and a full range of exposure controls.
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I’ve had good experiences with Casio compact digital cameras and I looked forward to testing the Exilim EX-V7. I’m always looking for a good, pocket-sized digital camera that can deliver good image quality in all kinds of conditions. With sensor-shift image stabilization and a 7x optical zoom lens, this camera has a lot of promise – especially since it fits in your pocket so you can keep it with you all the time.
I’ve had the Casio Exilim EX-V7 for about a month now. I took it on a mountain bike trip to Italy, a bunch of local hikes and mountain bike rides, and to a couple of family get-togethers. I think I’ve given it a pretty complete workout.
Casio has a range of compact digital cameras. I’m partial to their higher-end Exilim cameras because they offer full manual exposure controls as well as auto, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and scene modes. The EX-V7 is one of those cameras as you can see from the options on the mode dial (photo of dial). The options are aperture priority, shutter priority, metered manual, Best Shot, Easy Mode, Snapshot, and two video modes. Best Shot is Casio’s term for scene modes, of which the EX-V7 has 34. It’s got all the usual scene modes like Portrait, Scenery, and Sports, as well as some more interesting ones like Soft Flowing Water, Splashing Water, ebay, Whiteboard, Old Photo, and Register User Scene, which you can program yourself. Each Scene Mode has an explanation that can be accessed by using the zoom control.
|Casio Exilim EX-V7 scene mode menu and Portrait scene mode description|
The Exilim EX-V7′s standard movie mode uses the H.264/AVC MOV format and can be played back on a computer using QuickTime 7. It captures 30 frames-per-second and records sound in stereo. There are ten Movie Best Shot modes, including Portrait, High Sensitivity, Backlight, Night Scene, and more. The mechanical Anti Shake system also works when shooting movies. Movie file sizes are limited to 4GB, or about 9 minutes of video at normal resolution and highest quality.
The most important features on the EX-V7, in my opinion, are the sensor-shift image stabilization and the 7x f/3.4-5.3 zoom lens. The 7x optical zoom is equivalent to a 38-266mm zoom on a 35mm camera and is non-telescoping. In other words, when you turn on the camera and use the zoom, the lens doesn’t open up and protrude from the camera. This means the lens is more protected and won’t open in your pocket. The sensor-shift image stabilization system makes it easier to take pictures in low light and helps keep photos sharp when you’re using the full, 266mm equivalent, telephoto end of the zoom lens. Long focal lengths magnify any hand movement so the image stabilization is critical with a long zoom lens like the EX-V7 has.
Camera sensitivity is very impressive with a maximum sensitivity of ISO 1600. And image processing has been much improved as you’ll see from ISO 1600 samples in the Image Quality portion of this review.
The 2.5-inch LCD has an optional live histogram and composition grid displays. There is no optical viewfinder.
Casio Exilim EX-V7 capture mode with image info, histogram, and composition grid displayed
Casio Exilim EX-V7 playback with all info and histogram
Casio Exilim EX-V7 menu display
The 7x non-telescoping lens is as much a design element as an important feature of the Casio Exilim EX-V7. That’s because the internal lens design allowed Casio to keep this camera pocket-sized even with a very powerful 38-266mm zoom range. The body is a variation on a clamshell design with a sliding lens cover that turns the camera on and off. Since the lens doesn’t protrude when the camera is on, if you accidentally open and turn on the camera when it’s in your pocket, you aren’t going to damage the lens.
The all-metal body feels substantial and solid and makes for a good-looking camera. Controls are simple with many settings accessed via menus. Besides the shutter release button, there are very few external controls. The large 2.5-inch LCD means there’s no room for an optical viewfinder. I found the zoom control, a two-way sliding control on the back of the camera, a little hard to locate sometimes. But placing it where they did helped Casio keep the camera slim, clean, and compact. And that’s what the Exilim EX-V7 camera design is all about.
I enjoyed using the Casio Exilim EX-V7. I love having a 7-megapixel, manual exposure camera, with a 7x zoom lens, and image stabilization, that I can carry in my pocket. It’s a lot of camera in a very small package and I took it with me everywhere. It was available on the plane to take pictures out the window, it was in a small case mounted on the shoulder strap of my backpack when I went hiking or biking, and it was in my pocket most all of the time. And a camera that’s with you all the time gets a lot of pictures.
I am a manual exposure kind of guy. I like to choose the aperture and shutter speed myself so I have complete control over my exposure. With compact cameras I usually compromise for speed and use aperture priority or shutter priority. The Exilim EX-V7 offers all kinds of exposure options for all kinds of photographers. They’re easy to access and the only problem I had was the mode dial is easy to move. So sometimes when I took the camera out of my pocket it wasn’t on the exposure mode I’d left it on. Besides the manual exposure modes, I also used the High Sensitivity, flower, and food scene modes (Casio’s calls their scene modes Best Shot). The V7′s highest selectable sensitivity setting is ISO 800, but the High Sensitivity Best Shot mode will go as high as ISO 1600. And I was generally pleased with the results at ISO 1600. Sure, there’s some digital noise. But it’s not too bad and I got photos without using flash where otherwise I would have had nothing.
With almost every digital camera I’ve ever used I immediately bypassed the auto ISO setting. But I gave it a chance with Casio EX-V7 and I have no regrets. Normally, auto ISO programming will default to a higher ISO in order to freeze action. The result is more digital noise and compromised image quality. Not so with the V7. The V7′s auto ISO thinks just like I do – it tries to keep the ISO low in order to deliver the most detail and best possible image quality. There may be others, but this is the first digital camera that I allowed to choose the sensitivity and wasn’t let down. Good job, Casio!
Although it’s becoming the standard, I was disappointed that the Exilim EX-V7 has no optical viewfinder. Big LCDs are nice. But you can’t pan accurately with them. I like to take a point-and-shoot digital along on my mountain bike rides and an optical viewfinder makes it a lot easier to pan for good action shots. I might have to give up the fight on this because it seems like I’m one of the few people who still actually wants an optical viewfinder. I did get a couple of decent panning mountain bike photos with the V7. But it would have been much easier to do so with an optical viewfinder. I’d be happy to trade a little bit of LCD area for an optical viewfinder.
|Casio Exilim zoom range samples. Red box in left image indicates maximum zoom area as seen in the right image taken at full zoom (Click on photos to see larger versions).|
The Casio Exilim EX-V7’s most interesting feature is the completely internal 7x optical zoom lens. The lens doesn’t telescope out from the camera body when you turn it on. This isn’t a normal lens design and it’s one of the reasons the camera is so compact. With a lens design like this, I am concerned that there will be optical flaws. And I’ve seen problems with cameras that have much shorter internal zoom lenses. But I didn’t notice any problems with my Exilim EX-V7 photos. And when I took a hard look at all my EX-V7 images on the computer, I couldn’t find any vignetting, soft corners, or anything else that I might attribute to lens design compromises. I think Casio really outdid themselves on the V7’s lens. The only problem is that the combination of such a small, light camera and long zoom range means it can be very hard to handhold at full telephoto without getting some camera shake – even in bright sunlight. It’s important to keep this in mind when you’re taking telephoto pictures and either brace yourself against something, breathe carefully, and take a few photos just to be sure you get a sharp one.
Contrast, color, and saturation are pretty standard with the new Casio. I’ve never thought Casio had the best image quality and I don’t think that’s changed. The biggest issue is a normal digital one – highlights tend to blow out. It’s hard to hold sky, cloud, snow, and white flower detail. This isn’t uncommon with digital cameras and I generally shoot a little dark to hold those details. It’s easy enough to lighten up the shadow areas later. The EX-V7 provides plenty of tools to help you make sure your exposure is good and you have the information you want in your images files. I almost always use exposure compensation and I check the histogram display regularly to make sure I’m not losing shadow or highlight detail.
A couple of problems I noticed, besides the tendency to lose highlight detail, are obvious purple fringing, and some tendency towards banding in high contrast, tonal blends. This image of a lake high in the Wasatch Mountains is a good example of both problems. You can see the purple fringing in the silhouetted trees at the top right, and there’s obvious cyan banding in the lake reflections.
There has been real and obvious improvement in high ISO performance. In the past, most experienced photographers would draw the line at ISO 200 with compact digital cameras. At ISO 400 and above, images would get positively chunky with digital noise. That isn’t the case anymore. The sensitivity range of the Exilim EX-V7 is ISO 64 to 1600 and I think the image quality is usable through the whole range. See the photo below of Lela at ISO 1600 or my Heathrow self-portrait for examples of the V7′s usability at its maximum sensitivity setting. Of course, image quality will be better if you keep the ISO settings low. But I don’t think we need to be afraid of ISO 800 or 1600 with Casio’s Exilim V7.
Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.
I like Casio digital cameras. I don’t think they have the best image quality but I think they more than make up for it by designing super compact, wonderfully usable digital cameras with a great feature set. This camera lives up to that with a ton of exposure options, a really powerful 7x optical zoom lens, and sensor-shift image stabilization to ensure sharp photos in all kinds of conditions. And the much-improved high ISO performance combined with image stabilization means you can take much better pictures in low light – even without the flash. Put it all together and the Casio Exilim EX-V7 is a wonderfully powerful and usable camera that you can put in your pocket and take everywhere.
Who Should Buy It
The Casio Exilim EX-V7 is a good digital camera for almost anyone. It makes a great pocket digital camera for a serious photographer or pro that knows and appreciates the manual controls. And beginners will like the compact size, big LCD, and simple, dependable auto exposure. It also makes a good all-purpose camera for those times when you want a camera that can do it all but you don’t want to pack an SLR and camera bag. The 7x optical zoom and wide sensitivity range make it a super flexible camera that is great for travel, family events, or taking out on the town.
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