Operation and controls

The Z5 may look a bit unusual, but it handles and operates in a way that will be immediately familiar to anyone with any experience of shooting using a 35mm SLR. The control layout is admirably simple, and a lot of thought has obviously been put into the positioning of the important 'shooting' stuff. Most of the more advanced - and more rarely accessed - functionality is accessed via the excellent - and highly responsive - menu system, but there are enough dedicated buttons and switches to make everyday snapping completely menu-free.

Rear of camera

The rear of the Z5 is very similar to the Z3 aside from a few minor styling details (the buttons are a different colour, the screen is obviously larger (2.0 inch as opposed to the 1.5 inch unit on the Z3) and the power/mode switches have been rearranged (to make space for the larger screen). As with previous Z series cameras there is nothing to indicate the funtions associated with the four-way controller, but after a few days use you soon get to know what does what.

Top of camera

From above the Z5 looks a lot more like a shrunken version of a modern SLR (albeit one with a big fat lens). The majority of controls are placed together on and around the prominent hand grip, meaning you can change many settings whilst holding the camera with one hand. The zoom rocker is particularly well designed and well placed, certainly for my hands.

Display and menus

The on-screen display and menu system is exemplary, offering a good level of control in an attractive, easy to understand and fast interface. The menu system is designed to make access to the features as fuss-free as possible - everything is no more than a couple of button presses away, and most everyday functions can be accessed without using the menus at all. My only complaint is that the ISO sensitivity setting (which I use all the time when out shooting) is buried in a menu that requires several key presses to change. However, a shortcut key (the flash button) can be configured to control one of six different settings (including ISO).

The default display in full auto record mode with the on-screen information displayed around the edges of the frame. It is possible to turn off all on-screen information if you prefer clutter-free shooting. If enabled, the Auto Digital Subject Program icons at the top of the frame indicate the setting the camera is using for this particular shot. Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the AF area used and the aperture/shutter speed chosen. Rather confusingly the focus point is indicated in red, whilst correct focus is indicated by a white dot in the bottom right hand corner. This turns red if accurate focus cannot be found.
Pressing the 'i+' button allows you to bring up the live histogram. Moving to P mode gives to access to image parameters such as AE compensation, ISO sensitivity, metering pattern and image sharpening/contrast.
Hold down the center button in the four-way controller and you can choose from one of the five overlapping focus points. A nice touch is the fully manual mode, which doesn't have a meter as such, but does darken or lighten the preview image as you change the exposure. There is also a nicely-designed manual focus option, which magnifies a sizeable portion of the centre of the screen.
Pressing the left or right button on the 4-way controller brings up the AE-compensation function, with the up and down buttons changing the value. In the fully automatic mode there is a single, simple menu - activated by the MENU button, naturally. Here you can change drive mode and image size & quality, and turn on or off the digital zoom and Auto Digital Subject Program feature.
In program, aperture-priority, shutter priority and manual modes the record menu is considerably more sophisticated. There are a wealth of shooting options on offer, from white balance to drive, metering and focus modes to color, sharpness and contrast controls. In either playback or record mode selecting the setup menu option gives you four pages of 'camera' options. These cover everything from power saving to file/folder naming, LCD brightness and audio/video settings.
Standard playback information is basic - size/quality, file/folder and date/time. You can, of course, turn all this off and just look at the picture. Pressing the 'up' key shows full exposure and settings information, plus a nice large histogram (shown here). Pressing the 'i+' button in playback mode brings up six small thumbnails at a time. You can also enlarge images by zooming (using the zoom rocker)' up to 8x in 16 steps.
The three page playback menu gives the usual options to delete and lock images, produce in-camera slide shows and create DPOF print sets. You can also resize images and - unusually - copy from one card to another via the Z5's internal memory. Finally, a quick mention for the movie mode. Options include movie size (up to 640 x 480 pixels) and frame rate (15 or 30 fps), optical zoom disabling and white balance. You can also do basic movie editing (trimming) in-camera.