Reviews

Casio EXILIM PRO EX-P700


If you‚ve gotten used to thinking of Casio Exilims as little cameras that you can slip into your pocket (which was the point of their original ad campaign, complete with a model wearing slinky leather jeans) the EX-P700 is going to force you to rethink the line, unless your idea of a supermodel includes baggy cargo jeans. The truth is that the „Proš designation doesn‚t lie, and this camera would be as much at home photographing models as hanging from their wrists. Combined with some truly elegant engineering and a host of intelligent features, whether you‚re an amateur or pro will remain your secret∑the camera offers help for the one and creative flexibility for the other.

Though it was originally announced late last summer, the P700 didn‚t show up in stores until January, and we were lucky to get a few days alone with one. As soon as it showed up here we tore open the box and grabbed the camera, eager to see what it could do. Turn it on and the 2-inch LCD display lights up on the back and presents you with a wealth of information, including real time color channel analysis and an innovative circular display that shows both range and depth of field. At first glance it looks like a cross between the distance ranging binoculars that Luke Skywalker used on Tatooine and the periscope display from Das Boot, but it turns out to be really useful and easy to interpretųonce you‚ve read the instructions.

The P700 is essentially the same camera as the P600, with a few notable exceptions. The biggest being the new 7.2 million-pixel CCD sensor, but there are others worth noting, like „Flash Assistš on the fly image processing that compensates for underexposure in areas the flash can‚t reach, „Auto Macroš and something they‚re calling „Business Shotš that simulates an architectural lens, distorting images taken at an angle so that they look as though they were taken straight on. That‚s especially useful when taking pictures of buildings, which appear to taper toward the top due to perspective. The 4x lens is from Canon, and says so on its front. They make lenses for a number of other manufacturers, but often don‚t get credit. Though we didn‚t conduct rigorous optical tests, the images we‚ve taken, and other we‚ve seen, look good to us. The optics here probably match anything in its class, but the test I‚d like to conduct would be against a DSLR∑if only to make me feel better about having more megapixels in a „pocketš camera than in my Semi-Pro DSLR.

The camera starts up in about two seconds, or possible a bit more, but its exposure/focus lock seemed gratifyingly fastųagain it didn‚t get lab testing, but I‚d say it took less than a second in the worst case to get a „half-lockš where the camera is ready to fire. From that position, to the time it actually took to take an image is promised in the .1 second range. Fast enough for us. The circular focus ring display in the LCD is novelųnot only does it show how far away the focus point is, but it shows the depth of field over which your image will stay in focus. This graphical display includes icons for exposure, f stop, speed and my favorite: an RGB Histogram creates a histogram showing red, green, and blue channels for whatever the LCD is displaying. Naturally you can turn this all off, or you can cycle through a number of different color schemes to make it more or less noticeable against different images. One use I found for it that I‚m not sure the designers had in mind is as a composition aid. Using the target circle in the center really works nicely for framing faces and other objects.

There are a lot of things built into this camera to help you out with getting the best picture possible. An example are picture icons displaying 27 different camera setups. You select the image closest to what you want and the camera does the rest. The autofocus selects the best of its seven focus points, or you can override it to choose the one you want.

Playback and image finding is made easier thanks to two nice features. First there‚s the „calendarš view, which shows a thumbnail of the first image taken on each day of the month displayed in each day‚s block. Handy if you‚re on vacation with a 1 GB storage card and want to find something you took a few days ago. There‚s also a high speed playback, which zips images by at 0.1 seconds each so you can find one shot among many.

Indicative of the amount of thought that went into this camera are the remote shooting options. You get a full-fledged remote control with the camera, so you can just set it up and shoot long exposures or shots of yourself without introducing vibration to the image. Or you can use the „triple self timerš to record three consecutive images, letting you pick the one you like without having to run back and forth to the camera.

The P700 does a lot of thinking about the light in your pictures, reducing the noise in low light shots, boosting the light in dim areas of flash shots, and offering a dizzying array of auto-bracketing options, not just for exposure levels, but for different camera settings altogether. Casio opted for a wide ISO range, from 80-640, using automatic noise reduction to achieve the higher setting. While the camera‚s NR does seem to take out the grainy quality that comes from pushing a sensor too far, you‚ll pay for that with some image sharpness, and you can‚t turn it off. It‚s a fair trade, but offering a manual setting wouldn‚t have cost anything extra.

Model-Casio Exilim Pro P700
List price-US$549
Sensor res-7.2 megapixels
Image dimensions-3072x2304 down to 640x480
ISO-auro/50/100/200/400
Lens-F:2.8-4.0
Lens focal length-7.1-28.4 mm (33-132mm equiv.)
Shutter-1/2000 to 60 seconds, bulb
Exposure compensation-+/- 2.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps
Storage-SD/MMC Card (+9MB internal)
Focus-Phase/contrast: spot/multi
LCD screen-2.0 inch TFT (115k)
Flash modes-auto/on/off/red-eye
Viewfinder-optical
Battery-Li-Ion rechargeable
Weight-8.0 ounces w/o batteries
Dimensions-3.84 x 2.7 x 1.78 inches
Included-Software, cables, strap

Memory for the camera is either SD or MMC, though the camera comes with some onboard memory of its ownų8.9MB of it. That‚s enough for two full resolution jpgs at the fine setting, eight at the „economyš mode or around that at 4MP / Fine. Naturally you‚ll want to use a card, but putting some memory in the camera instead of supplying a card with it seems like a clever idea, and at the very least it enhances the „out of boxš experience. Power comes from a lithium ion battery rated at about 100 minutes of operation using the display, or twice that without. The charger comes in several different configurations depending on where you buy the unit, but the US-market model we got had my favorite featureųfold flat plugs that minimize its size.

For a little camera, it‚s got a lot of features, and I haven‚t listed them all by a long shot. There are audio clips, movie clips, image coupling (where you join two images together in the camera), Direct Printing, Image Roulette and more. It might take you a while to explore everything the P700 has too offer, but you should have fun doing it.

One slightly silly feature I got a kick out of was the choices for camera noises. It may not have been the default, since I got the camera from another reviewer, but I found I really liked the „boingš sound it made when I pressed the shutter. Clearly Casio is able to take their cameras seriously without losing their sense of humor.

ųErnest Lilley
www.casio.com




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