Operation and controls

There are few ultra-compact cameras offering the range of controls and features Casio's designers have squeezed into the Z850, and yet the interface is so well designed that it rarely feels daunting - even when you first pick it up.

Rear of camera

The rear of the Z850 is of course dominated by large 2.5-inch screen, and every available square inch of surface area is taken up with buttons and controls, which means very few important controls are buried in menus. The only downside - inevitable in a camera this small - is that there isn't really anywhere 'safe' for your thumb to rest if you're shooting single-handedly. It's also fairly easy to move the mode dial accidentally. Like the EX-Z750 the new model can be powered up directly into play or record mode by pressing the buttons on the rear, though I would seriously suggest disabling this feature in the setup menu if you ever carry the camera in your pocket or in a tight case in your bag (as I did with my first EX-Z850, resulting in an accidental power up and jammed lens).

Top of camera

The top of the Z850 is home to the power (on/off) button, shutter release and zoom rocker. As you can see from this shot, this is a very slim camera indeed.

Display and menus

Casio has gradually refined its menu and control system over several generations of Exilim cameras, but the Z850 sports essentially the same interface as its predecessor - no bad thing, as it works very well and is surprisingly easy to navigate and use. There are so many options, features and functions that we've only room here to give you a taster.

Apologies for the low quality of some of these screen shots, the EX-Z850 does not support video out in record mode, so the screen was photographed directly.

Pressing the display button cycles through three display modes; basic (AF frame only, shown here), advanced and advanced with an RGB histogram. You can also turn off the LCD entirely and use the optical viewfinder. Finally the setup menu offers the option for a 3x3 Grid overlay, great if you struggle with getting your horizons horizontal. The most advanced record screen gives you comprehensive shooting information at a glance, though the sheer amount of screen 'clutter' can be slightly distracting when you're attempting precise framing. If you've set the L/R keys to control AE compensation the AE-C function is also displayed on-screen.
Half-press the shutter and the display changes to indicate the focus area(s) selected, and the exposure (aperture and shutter speed) chosen (the screen shown is in basic display mode). The Z850 has three focus modes, single (center - as here), multi and 'free' - the focus point can be placed anywhere in the frame). One of the small, but welcome changes over the Z750 is that Aperture and Shutter priority modes now get their own positions on the mode dial. There's still only two apertures to choose from but given the paucity of ultra-slim models with such extensive controls it seems unfair to complain!
In manual mode half-pressing the shutter gives you a visual indication of how light or dark the image will appear when recorded, which is better than nothing, but I'd rather have a meter reading. The new manual focus mode actually works pretty well; the central section of the preview is enlarged (shown here) when you adjust the focus.
Casio likes to cover every conceivable shooting scenario with its extensive scene modes (known as 'Best Shot' modes), so the EX-Z850 has no less than 34 (plus one custom 'user' mode), covering everything from the usual portraits, landscapes and night scenes to pets, 'splashing water' and food to special effects and modes for copying documents and text that remove perspective distortion. In each case a brief description is shown on-screen to explain how and when to use it. Pressing the small 'drive mode' button on the side of the camera brings up this small menu allowing you to choose from one of the Z850's five continuous shooting modes. Actually there are only two true continuous modes (normal and high speed); the other settings are Flash continuous (three flash shots in rapid succession), 'Zoom continuous' (takes one shot and also saves a digitally zoomed version and multi-burst (25 small shots in a single 8MP frame).
The EX shortcut button acts a little like Canon's FUNC button, offering fast and easy access to the most commonly used controls; Image size (though not quality), white balance, ISO and AF area. Pressing the menu button in record mode brings up three tabbed menus, each with two or three pages of options. The REC tab (shown above) has basic shooting settings as well as allowing you to change what the left/right keys control. You'll also find the 'anti shake' option here.
The quality tab is where you'll find menu options for image size, quality, AE-compensation, white balance, ISO, metering mode, sharpness/saturation/ contrast and flash level. Finally the setup tab (also accessible in playback mode) has the usual settings for customizing the interface, sounds, date and time, language and so on.