The EX-Z850's predecessor (the EX-Z750) was sold very much on its movie capabilities, and a year later there are still few cameras that come close to offering the range of movie options found on the Z750. The Z850 adds even more features; a 'movie light' - you can turn the AF illuminator (which is a 'white light LED' - as often seen on cellphone cameras) on to provide a little extra light when shooting in low light at short distances and an 'anti shake' DSP.
The standard movie mode offers three settings, LP (320 x 240 pixels at 15 fps), Normal and HQ (both 640 x 480 pixels @ 30 fps) and Best Shot movie mode. This has six options covering portraits, scenery, night scenes, fireworks, backlight and 'silent' (a black and white old-style film). The Short Movie mode (each press of the button records a short - 2 to 8 second - movie that starts up to five seconds before you actually press the shutter and Past Movie mode (uses a 5 second buffer to start recording a normal movie before you press the button) are also now found in the Best Shot menu. You can use the digital zoom whilst recording movies.
The MPEG movies are recorded in .AVI format - this can be played using Windows Media Player or Real Player, but if you want to use QuickTime (i.e. if you're a Mac user) you need to install the supplied codec or they won't play.
Movie quality is frankly a little disappointing, particularly when compared to the excellent results produced by the EX-Z750. Clips recorded in 'Normal' mode are very soft and obviously fairly heavily compressed, but fairly smooth and free from serious artefacts. They just lack any 'bite' and are low on detail. The big shock comes when you move 'up' to HQ mode, which - although it looks a bit sharper - has strong, unpleasant artefacts, has seriously over the top software sharpening and - though fine viewed in a small window on your PC - on a television screen looks like a color version of a 1950's live broadcast. The only positive thing is that the files are small (250KB/s for Normal, 470KB/s for HQ), so you won't fill your card too quickly. The 'Anti Shake' system doesn't seem to make a huge difference - it works by cropping the image slightly and digitally analyzing each frame to work out the camera motion. Well that's the theory, though in practice it is no match for a 'real' optical (or CCD shift) image stabilizer.
You cannot use the optical zoom during filming, but you can enable and use the 3x digital zoom, which is better than nothing.
|On-screen information when recording movies is fairly basic - elapsed and remaining time and low battery warning.|
|There are nine Best Shot modes, including a new 'high sensitivity' option.|
|In playback mode you are first presented with a thumbnail of the first frame in the movie. Press the Set button to start the movie playing.|
|During playback you get simple controls for play / pause / stop / fast forward & rewind and sound volume.|
|There are some basic editing features (trimming), and you can turn the anti shake system (which is totally digital - there are no moving parts) on after you've recorded a movie and re-save it.|