At some point, you have to figure that the dominant digital photography trends of smaller cameras, bigger LCD screens, and more megapixels will reach a critical point, and we'll be left with some sort of tiny 12-megapixel monocle. Until that day arrives, we'll have to settle for models such as Casio's 5-megapixel Exilim EX-Z57 digital camera, a highly portable snapshot camera with a 2.7-inch LCD that's as bright as it is large. Though the Z57's lack of manual features and poor outdoor imaging can be frustrating at times, the camera delivers pleasing indoor results and acceptable shot-to-shot performance.
The centerpiece of the Z57's design is its 2.7-inch LCD screen, which takes up most of the small camera's back and, thus, seems even bigger. With this model, Casio dropped its predecessor's comically small and essentially useless optical viewfinder. Casio crams all of the buttons on the 5.6-ounce Exilim Z57 to the right of Screenzilla but organizes them logically despite their cramped layout. Though the camera lacks ports to charge the battery and download photos directly, the included dock accomplishes both tasks seamlessly.
The Casio Exilim EX-Z57's 3X optical zoom works well, although you're limited to six stops from its widest angle of 35mm to its 105mm telephoto (35mm equivalents). The camera's lens is small enough to keep the camera looking sleek but protrudes enough to keep you from inadvertently taking 10 shots of your own finger. We like Casio's novel memory menu, which enables you to instruct the Z57 to remember the camera's current settings--zoom length, color and ISO settings, white balance, and flash modes--even after you've turned it off. This feature will benefit anyone who chooses to use the Z57 with a tripod, as you'll be able to compose your shots, then take a break without losing battery power. Speaking of the Z57's battery, it's phenomenal: we took more than 1,000 photos, 50 percent with flash, without needing to recharge.
In practice, the Z57's lack of manual features can make some shots difficult to capture properly; night shots are a good example. You're limited to the scene presets on the Z57's Best Shot menu, and though there's a fairly exhaustive list of shooting situations available--23 of them, including Casio's new Business Shot for photographing whiteboards and documents--it's frustrating to know that the camera supports variable shutter speeds but that you can't set them directly. Though the Z57 allows you to bump your flash intensity up or down, in most low-light situations, the flash will still make people and skin tones look washed out. The Z57 also lacks a burst mode, so you won't be able to hold down the shutter and snap photos in succession. Still, the Z57 ranks among the fastest in its class for shutter lag, grabbing pictures a mere 0.05 second after the shutter is pressed. Under typical conditions, shot-to-shot times typically lasted a mediocre 2.5 seconds and jumped up to 5.3 when we used a flash.
By and large, the Z57 delivers evenly exposed indoor shots when there's adequate lighting. However, the same can't be said for its performance in daylight; the Z57 falls victim to worse than average purple fringing at high-contrast edges and obliterates white highlights in otherwise perfectly exposed shots. To its credit, Casio has done an admirable job of limiting the noise captured by the camera's CCD, so if low-noise performance is a priority for you, the Casio Exilim EX-Z57 may deserve a serious look.