Conclusion - Pros
- Good resolution, natural accurate color, fairly subtle processing
- Huge, comprehensive feature set with real photographic control
- Lots of control over image parameters
- Wide selection of scene modes
- Excellent user interface
- Excellent all-metal construction
- Good white balance
- Very compact
- Big bright screen
- Very responsive operation, very low shutter lag
- Fast focus
- More customization options than normal in this class of camera
- Excellent battery life
- Comprehensive flash modes
- Improved burst mode
- ISO 1600 option (though see below)
- Good price
Conclusion - Cons
- Default settings do not necessarily produce the best results
- Default sharpening is a bit high (can be reduced)
- Macro mode doesn't get as close as some competitors
- Highlight clipping and some red channel clipping in wide dynamic range scenes
- Fairly consistent (but mild) over exposure in bright outdoor conditions.
- Intrusive noise reduction at ISO 400
- Only two aperture settings
- ISO 800 and 1600 not manually selectable, results not very good
- Have to use the docking cradle to charge battery and use AV output (or buy another lead)
- MPEG movies suffer from jaggies and other artefacts; not as good as the EX-Z750
Like the EX-Z750 before it, the EX-Z850 has much to commend it to the more serious photographer wanting a truly pocket-sized camera with real photographic control - in fact more so, given that the default settings produce images that lack the over-processed Technicolor look of its predecessor. It's also got a much better screen, much better flash and a few genuinely useful new tricks up its sleeve to boot.
Although we haven't had room here to cover in full the immense range of features on offer (there are, after all 34 'Best Shot' modes) I hope you've got an idea of just how much functionality Casio has shoehorned into the EX-Z850's slim, compact all-metal body. There simply isn't another camera this small on the market that offers such a wealth of photographic tools and fun - though ultimately often rather pointless - features. These include not only scene modes covering every conceivable shooting scenario but clever tools for everything from shooting - and straightening out - business cards shot at an angle to restoring old photos, special effects and high sensitivity modes (albeit high sensitivity with seriously questionable image quality). Going through the menus and options you sometimes get the feeling that Casio's engineers just didn't know when to say no!
Features aside the output from the EX-Z850 is a slightly more mixed bag, and shows this is a camera much better suited to the more experienced user than the wealth of scene modes might suggest. To get the most out of it you really do need to either play a little with the various parameters (the tendency to overexpose means AE-compensation is often called for) - or do some post processing; something the occasionally rather flat results lend themselves well to. The parameters you can control - saturation, contrast and brightness - really need some tweaking to get the best results. It would be ideally suited to an SLR user wanting something they could carry easily on the days when they don't fancy lugging a lot of heavy gear around, or for anyone who wants a 'point and shoot' model that can, if need be, allow them to experiment with manual settings as their knowledge and expertise grows.
So then, a camera that improves on its highly capable predecessor, and one that proves anyone writes off Casio because it is better known for cheap watches than high performance cameras is ignoring one of the most innovative manufacturers in the market. But it is also a camera with a few infuriating - though far from fatal - flaws that mean it can't be considered 100% foolproof, and though capable of some of the best results in its class the EX-Z850 doesn't necessarily supply them using its default, fully automatic settings, which is unfortunate.
Also unfortunate is the - doubtless marketing led - decision to increase the pixel count to 8 million pixels for no good reason. Not only does the resultant need for higher noise reduction actually reduce the resolution marginally, but the new sensor (in this camera at least) suffers from poor movie quality and is very sensitive to highlight clipping - a real problem when combined with the mild overexposure. I would have been much happier to see the EX-Z750 with all the operational improvements but the same sensor (or even the new 6MP 1/2.5 CCD, which certainly has lower noise than this one).
In the final analysis, however, the EX-Z850 has more to recommend it than many sub-compact models - not least for the huge feature set (which will give you months of fun), and the comprehensive photographic control. It's beautifully made, fast, has a stunning screen and is really enjoyable in use. It's frustrating that Casio has come so near - and yet remained so far - from creating the perfect 'serious' sub-compact in both this model and its predecessor, but the fact remains that - in experienced hands - it still comes closer than any of its competitors. We can't give it a Highly Recommended for all the reasons mentioned above, but I have no qualms about recommending it to anyone wanting something that offers a lot more than just 'point and shoot' functionality in an attractive, and truly pocketable package