Casio EX-V8 Overview
by Michael R. Tomkins
Review Date: 05/12/08
In January 2007, Casio launched the EXILIM Hi-Zoom EX-V7, said to be the world's slimmest 7x zoom digital camera. Just 25mm thick, the EX-V7 crammed in a seven megapixel CCD image sensor mounted on a moving platter so as to provide for CCD-shift type mechanical image stabilization function. Just seven months later, Casio replaced the V7 with the very closely related Casio EXILIM V8. A minor update with a slightly higher resolution sensor and a couple of other slight tweaks, the Casio V8 also came in nearly 20% cheaper than its predecessor.
The other main change Casio made between its V7 and V8 models was to reposition the flash strobe, now located behind a small, clear window in the sliding lens barrier. This allows a bit more distance between the flash and the lens, designed to reduce the effect of red-eye in photos. One other adjustment is the addition of a trim piece with a low lip on it that serves to give fingers purchase when opening the lens barrier. As with its elder sibling, the Casio EX-V8 includes an unusually capable 30 frames-per-second movie mode that reaches a maximum of 848 x 480 pixels with stereo sound. Casio chose to use the H.264 (also known as MPEG-4 Part 10) compression format, which offers good video quality at substantially lower bit rates than other codecs. Usefully, given the above-average movie capabilities, a silent lens motor enables optical zooming while recording.
The 7x optical zoom lens offers a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 38-266mm; not particularly generous at the wide-angle, but more powerful than most such compact cameras can offer at telephoto. The Casio EXILIM V8 offers quite a selection of "best shot" scene modes, helping beginners in a variety of situations such as Autumn Leaves, Soft Flowing Water, Fireworks, and Underwater. Business users will appreciate Casio's inclusion of Whiteboard, Business Card / Document, and ID Photo modes. More experienced photographers will be pleased to find both aperture- and shutter-priority modes, as well as a fully manual mode.
Of course, as with just about every digicam these days, the Casio EX-V8 includes face detection technology; however, Casio's implementation is rather more feature-rich than most. Family members can be "recorded" in the camera's memory, and even given a priority rating. The Casio V8 can then identify those recorded individuals in a scene and give them higher priority when deciding on auto-focus and auto-exposure variables.
Priced at suggested price of $330, the Casio EXILIM EX-V8 packs a lot of features into a very pocket-friendly body. If you're seeking a camera that will accompany you most anywhere you go -- perhaps as a complement to your digital SLR -- and still want a fair degree of control over exposure variables, the Casio V8 is worth a closer look.
Casio EX-V8 User Report
by Michael Tomkins
Like the EX-V7 model it replaced the Casio V8 boasts a slim yet solid body, which somehow crams in a fairly powerful 7x optical zoom lens. Images are captured by an 8.1-megapixel CCD image sensor, and Casio has included a wide range of exposure modes and shooting options aimed at both business and personal use.
Available only in silver and weighing in at 6.3 ounces (179 grams) with battery and memory card, the Casio V8 measures 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.0 inches (96 x 60 x 26 millimeters). The EXILIM V8 is a camera that will accompany you anywhere, easily slipped into a pants pocket ready for that surprise photo opportunity. While it would also fit in many shirt pockets, I'd personally find it too weighty to be comfortable there. A sliding lens barrier on the Casio V8's front panel is more solid than the flimsy aperture-style lens barriers found on many digicams. The finish does seem to show fine scuff-marks rather easily, and so a light /soft case of some kind is still a good idea.
Look and feel. The Casio Exilim Hi-Zoom EX-V8 has a pocket-friendly, relatively compact body that's mostly free from protrusions, save for a slight lip on the end of its sliding lens barrier. Shooting one-handed with the Casio V8 was a breeze, with two-handed shooting only necessary for slower shutter speeds; although given the camera's heft you do have to pay attention to get your horizons level shooting single-handed, since my fingers found relatively little purchase on the smooth panels. If you aim for the two-handed approach, you have to be careful where you place your left hand, because it is fairly easy to block the lens as it is so close to the corner of the camera. There's also a small LED directly underneath the lens which acts as the AF assist light, which is also easy to block.
The Casio V8 features a 7x optical zoom lens which is entirely internal to the camera, saving a little power-up time, since there's no need to extend the lens. The lens is equivalent to a 38-266mm zoom on a 35mm camera, more generous than you'll find on most point-and-shoot digital cameras, but tight at wide angle. The Casio V8's all-glass lens is of good quality but does show some traits that indicate the compromises required to make a very compact, relatively long-zoom lens. Importantly for a camera with such a comparatively long telephoto, the Casio Hi-Zoom V8 also offers true mechanical image stabilization, with the CCD sensor being mounted on a platter to combat camera shake. This is part of a multi-pronged approach to fighting blur, with the V8 also analyzing motion and boosting the ISO sensitivity / shutter speed as required to freeze action and camera movement. The Casio V8 also employs software de-blurring of both still images and movies.
In addition to the 7x optical zoom, the Casio V8 offers a maximum of 4x digital zoom which enlarges the center of the image using interpolation, with the usual loss in image quality. Digital zoom shots lose significant detail and resolution, appearing soft and sometimes rather pixelated. At lower resolutions, the image is first gradually cropped before the digital zoom kicks in, so for example at VGA resolution you can achieve a simulated 35.1x zoom without degrading the image quality; although the exact same effect could be achieved by cropping the image in a PC after the fact.
The Casio EXILIM V8's controls are laid out simply and fairly logically. There's only one dial, one slider, a four-way pad with central "Set" button, and three other buttons on the camera's body, with all but the shutter button located on the rear panel to the right of the LCD display. The buttons all have a good feel to them and they're all easy to reach. The zoom slider is easy to find without taking your attention off the LCD display, and is pretty responsive. I did find that it occasionally paused for a moment when zooming in and out repeatedly.
The display itself was easy to see in sunlight, and rather usefully can be set to control its three-step brightness adjustment automatically based on ambient lighting conditions. There are two such Auto settings available: one tweaked to be more aggressive in changing the LCD brightness as ambient lighting changes, while the other waits a little longer before deciding the ambient lighting conditions have changed enough to require an adjustment. Which you'll use ends up depending on the lighting conditions, and if you prefer, it is possible to set the brightness manually as well. I found that images tended to look rather flat on the LCD display (especially under bright sunlight), to where I almost deleted some shots while in the field, fearing them to have to have too little contrast for a useful picture - only to find that in my PC, the same images were borderline or even perfectly usable.
One other feature of the Casio V8's LCD display proved handy when shooting single-handed. As mentioned previously, I found that the camera wanted to "droop" in my right hand somewhat, leading to crooked horizons. Through the menu system you can enable a grid overlay on the LCD, making it easier to keep your images squared up nicely. The Casio V8's histogram function is also a help on shots where you're not sure of the exposure. Available in both Playback and Record modes via a couple of presses of the Display button, it provides a hint as to under- or over-exposure, and displays not just luminance but also separate red, green, and blue levels. Also accessed via the display button in both Record and Playback modes are the "detailed info" and "minimal info" display overlays you'll find on many digital cameras these days.
Interface. As previously mentioned, the Casio V8's user interface is fairly clean and intuitive. I do question Casio's decision on names and icons for a couple of the modes on the control dial, though. If you're anything like me when handed a new camera, you'll tend to seek out and stick with the Program mode to allow access to controls you occasionally need to use, dipping into the Aperture, Shutter, and Manual modes occasionally as needed. Place a V8 in your hands, though, and you'll find that while the oh-so-useful "A / S / M" modes are on offer, there's no "P" on the control dial. In its place is "Snapshot" mode, which sounds less authoritative and to the unfamiliar suggests to me that the camera will be set up with lesser image quality to favor speed or file size, or perhaps in a "Dummies" mode for simplicity. In actual fact, Snapshot mode is basically the same thing as Program mode on any other digital camera.
The "Snapshot" mode is also indicated with a red frame icon on the Mode dial, and the Easy mode is indicated with a black "clover leaf" icon. Pretty much anyone who's just been handed an unfamiliar camera to take a picture is going to fall back to any experience they have with other cameras, and "Simple," "Easy," "Auto," name it what you like but such modes are almost always indicated with a green frame icon. The choice of a clover leaf is not intuitive (nor necessarily recognizable to all cultures), and many users are going to either have to pull out the manual or switch to the mode and try it out before they understand what it's for. The color choices also seem a little odd given that Red is generally associated with "bad", Green with "Good", and - well, clover leaves are green, not black, which we don't tend to associate with anything specific as a camera icon. The decision to buck the trend on some of the more common design features on a digicam (and in the case of "Easy" mode, one which should be as approachable as possible for the beginner) seems odd. Maybe I'm just overly sensitive to this since I handle so many different cameras, making me more sensitive to designs that don't follow the crowd.
The Casio EX-V8's menu layout is simple, but in one place rather illogical. A press of the Menu button calls up a tabbed menu interface. In Record mode, you'll find "REC" and "Quality" tabs, while Playback mode has a "PLAY" tab. Both modes also offer one common tab, the self-explanatory "Set Up." The placement of menu options in the "Quality" tab seems to have been achieved by lottery, however. Half the options in the "Quality" tab seem to relate only very obliquely to what one might consider to be image quality settings. Most users aren't going to expect to find White Balance, ISO Sensitivity, or special effects Color Filters under the "Quality" tab.
Casio's Face Recognition technology in the EXILIM EX-V8 is unusually sophisticated in that it lets you record and recognize the faces of specific individuals, and prioritize (or even ignore) these people as you desire. While I found detection to be a little less accurate than some of the latest face recognition functions from rivals, I did find the function fairly easy to use and understand, particularly in the way the V8 can indicate the priority of detected faces by changing the color of the face recognition box around each face. I also felt Casio's inclusion of a setting that allows the user to prioritize face detection for quantity (up to ten faces) or speed (faster detection but limited to only five faces) was sensible, given that some families will seldom need to recognize as many as ten faces in a scene, and these individuals will appreciate the snappier detection found when limiting detection to just five faces.
One last point worthy of note is that Casio's user manual is among the less useful we've seen lately. There's no index -- just a table of contents -- and in many areas Casio has either skimmed over subjects very briefly where further detail would have been greatly helpful, or simply skipped features altogether. For example, nowhere does the Manual even list half of the available Best Shot scene modes, let alone tell you what they do. I wasn't alone in noting this: back in the Imaging Resource lab, camera tester Rob likewise singled out the manual for criticism.
Modes. The Mode dial controls the Casio EXILIM EX-V8's shooting mode only. Mode dial positions include "Best Shot" scene modes for both stills and movies, a Movie mode, an "Easy" mode that keeps most variables under the camera's control, plus a Snapshot mode that's the equivalent of Program mode on most digicams, and a selection of Aperture- and Shutter-priority plus a fully manual mode. Images and movies can be reviewed by pressing the "Play" button, and a half-press of the shutter button will return you swiftly to Record mode, ready to take advantage of an unexpected photo opportunity.
Casio's vast selection of "Best Shot" modes (what would be known as "Scene" modes on most digital cameras) aim to make the camera more approachable to beginners. Unusually, the Casio V8 also offers a selection of "Best Shot" modes for movies as well. Some of the modes are very general and will be of use to most anyone; others are fairly specialized for specific business or personal photography uses. When browsing available "Best Shot" modes, an example picture is given for each, along with a brief description of the settings used to create the required effect, and any requirements of the photographer. For example, Night Scene mode shows a thumbnail image of Hong Kong's picturesque harbor and city lights at night, alongside the description of the settings used ("Slow shutter speed" and "Infinity focus"), and a direction to "Keep the camera still." Good thing, too, because the frankly rather disorganized manual that accompanies Casio's V8 EXILIM doesn't even mention half the "Best Shot" modes, let alone detail exactly what they do! (The screen does mention what these modes do, however, so maybe they just didn't expect buyers to read the manual.)
Businesses will find utility in the "ID Photo" (which adds a framing guideline for your subject), "Text" (macro mode with boosted contrast and sharpness), and "Business Cards and Documents" modes. This latter mode is similar to text mode, but without the macro setting, and with the ability to correct for keystoning (converging of lines in an image that should be parallel). This might be the case when shooting an image of a whiteboard or presentation slide from an angle. The keystoning correction is performed automatically, with the camera only prompting you to select from the two possible keystone corrections deemed most appropriate by the camera's firmware.
Special Features. For me, the Casio EXILIM V8's standout feature has to be its 7x optical zoom lens (and by association, its CCD shift-type image stabilization). One simply cannot overstate the convenience of taking a relatively compact camera from your pocket to quickly zoom in to capture an image that fills the screen with a distant subject. The inclusion of true mechanical image stabilization goes a long way toward making the strength of the telephoto even more useful, at the very least lessening the likelihood of camera shake affecting your photos. I do wish there were a little more reach at the wide-angle end of the lens, though. Being constrained to a maximum of just a 38mm-equivalent wide angle is rather limiting.
Casio's implementation of Face Recognition in the EXILIM EX-V8 is based around the "Face Sensing Engine" developed by Japan's Oki Group, and the feature set is more advanced than that offered in many digital cameras. The photographer can opt to prioritize face detection to either detect up to ten faces when quantity is most important, or to improve detection speed but recognize only five faces at a time. Most impressively, the photographer can record faces of common friends, family members or colleagues in the camera's built-in memory. Stored faces can be given a 1 to 3 star rating, allowing the individuals you deem most important to be given the maximum priority when they're detected in an image. You can also store a "zero star" rating, which tells the camera to ignore a specific individual if they're detected in the picture.
Casio's face recognition was rather less accurate than I'm used to, however. It's a shame given the higher degree of control on offer, but frequently I found the camera had difficulty tracking moving faces, with the face detection box meandering around somewhere near the face rather than over it. The "Family First" functionality did seem to work reasonably well once faces were properly detected, though, and the Casio V8 does indicate the priority of faces in a scene by varying the color of the face detection box, giving you a visual cue as to which individuals will most likely be best captured in the scene. Nifty as it is, though, it seems like a lot to learn and adjust, and is likely beyond the needs and interest of most users.
One other particularly noteworthy feature is the Casio EX-V8's movie mode. Available resolutions range up to an unusually high maximum of 848 x 480 (30fps, 16:9 aspect ratio, two compression levels), plus more ordinary 640 x 480 (30fps, 4:3 aspect ratio, three compression levels), and 320 x 240 (15fps, 4:3 aspect ratio, fixed compression level) settings. In all cases, sound is recorded in stereo -- something that's still pretty uncommon among the movie modes found in most current digital cameras. Even more importantly, the Casio V8 records its movies in the H.264/AVC (also known as MPEG-4) file format, which yields much better compression levels than the Motion JPEG movie clips produced by most digital cameras, assuming equivalent movie dimensions, frame rate, and compression quality. As mentioned previously, a range of "Best Shot" scene modes are available when recording movies, including the useful ability to have several seconds of video pre-recorded before the shutter button is pressed.
Storage and battery. The Casio EXILIM EX-V8 accepts Secure Digital cards (as well as SDHC, MMC, and MMCplus types), but none of the above are included in the product bundle. Instead, the V8 has a paltry 11.8MB of internal memory, which holds only two large/fine JPEGs or 13 seconds of the highest-resolution / lowest compression movies. Not very generous, but at least Casio opted for built-in memory, which can never be left at home, and might save you in a pinch if you leave your flash card at home). If you're purchasing the V8, you'll want to pick up a large capacity SDHC memory card right away. Regular SD cards will also do fine in a pinch, but you'll miss out on the speed and capacity available in the latest SDHC cards.
The Casio EXV8 uses a proprietary, rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, and comes with a single battery that charges in-camera when placed in the included USB cradle. Casio rates a fully-charged battery as good for about 240 exposures or 100 minutes of movie recording.
Shooting. Overall, I found the Casio EXILIM EX-V8 to be a fairly versatile camera, albeit with some issues with lens distortions / aberrations and image noise, as well as an occasionally quirky user interface as previously discussed.
Shutter lag is blazingly fast for a point-and-shoot digital camera, although tester Rob noted that shutter lag didn't seem to improve in manual focus mode, with shutter lag figures using manual focus being roughly similar to the wide-angle autofocus shutter lag. Download speeds were extremely good using the bundled USB cradle, although it is unfortunate that the camera can't be directly connected to a PC without the cradle. (You also can't charge the battery or use the video output without the cradle, meaning it's an extra item you'll need to pack when traveling).
Overall, the Casio EXILIM V8 is a fairly straightforward camera to use once you learn its interface quirks. Experienced photographers unfamiliar with the camera may take a little time to find the settings they desire, but will quickly learn everything without need to resort to the manual. Complete beginners may initially find the learning curve just a little steeper than some of Casio's competitors though, and we'd really like to see the company invest a little more time and money into cleaning the rough edges from its interface, and improving the user manual.
Image quality. The Casio V8's image quality is a bit of a mixed bag, with good performance in some areas but issues in others. The problems mostly relate to the compromises required to fit a fairly powerful zoom lens in a pocket-friendly body, and to cram a moderately high resolution into a relatively small sensor. The Casio EX-V8 yields fairly good detail when the camera's noise suppression doesn't obscure it. Exposure and white balance can be rather inconsistent, though. Distortion, aberrations, and softness in the corners are also fairly noticeable in the Casio V8's images, although the severity does vary across the zoom range.
The Casio EX-V8 captures a fair amount of detail for an eight megapixel camera, although its noise suppression algorithms do tend to blur details in lower-contrast areas of images. It's not a show-stopper by any means, but does occur even at the V8's lower ISO sensitivity settings. In our lab tests, the Exilim V8's 8.1-megapixel CCD sensor captured sharp, distinct line patterns down to only about 1,200 lines per picture height both horizontally and vertically. Extinction occurred around 1,700 lines per picture height.
The Casio EX-V8's lens is prone to both barrel and pincushion distortion to excess, with 0.9% barrel distortion at wide angle and 0.6% pincushion distortion at telephoto.
Shooting outdoors at its default settings, the Casio V8 tended to produce very contrasty images, with blown highlights and little detail in the shadows. Using the camera's low contrast setting helps alleviate this issue, with the camera retaining more shadow detail (albeit somewhat noisily), and a touch more highlight detail is retained as well.
Exposure metering was fair overall. While many shots did require positive exposure compensation for the optimal exposure, this was generally on the order of just a 1/3 EV boost (Casio perhaps having opted for a cautious approach with respect to blown highlights, particularly given the camera's rather high default contrast).
Appraisal. Aside from a few quirks as outlined in this review, I think most users will be satisfied with the Casio V8. It offers fair image quality, good resolution and a zoom lens that's far more powerful than those in most pocket-friendly digital cameras. Default contrast is high and bright highlights too easily blown. The Casio V8's main Achilles heels are the distortion and aberrations exhibited by its lens, and its high ISO noise levels / sometimes overzealous noise suppression. In use, the Casio V8's speed can satisfy and frustrate in almost the same breath. Shutter lag is impressively brief for a point and shoot camera, but shot-to-shot speed is sub-par. A profusion of preset shooting modes help beginners capture photos as desired without the need to understand the subtler nuances of photography, while experienced photographers can shoot manually for the ultimate in control. An unusually capable movie mode is probably the Casio EX-V8's standout feature, while the combination of a relatively powerful 7x zoom lens and CCD shift image stabilization will help users to get far closer to the action than your average digicam.
Casio EX-V8 Basic Features
- 8.1-megapixel CCD (effective) delivers image resolutions as high as 3,264 x 2,448.
- 7x optical zoom lens, equivalent to 38-266mm.
- As much as 4x digital zoom.
- 2.5-inch HyperCrystal LCD with three-step automatic or manual brightness adjustment.
- Auto, Program, Aperture- and Shutter-priority AE exposure modes plus a fully Manual mode.
- Shutter speeds from 1/800 to sixty seconds, depending on mode.
- Maximum aperture ranges from f/3.4 - f/4.6, depending on zoom position.
- EXILIM Engine 2.0 image processor.
- Built-in flash with five modes.
- Secure Digital memory slot (also compatible with SDHC, MMC and MMCplus).
- 11.8MB internal memory.
- Power from custom lithium-ion rechargeable battery, included with charger.
- USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connection and cable.
- A/V cable for connection to television set.
- PictBridge and USB Direct-Print compatible.
Casio EX-V8 Special Features
- CCD Shift type Image Stabilization.
- 33 preset still image "Best Shot" scene modes.
- 10 preset movie "Best Shot" scene modes.
- Unusually capable 848:480 pixel H.264/AVC (MPEG-4) movie mode with stereo sound
- Voice recording mode.
- Face Detection technology with "Family First" mode and ability to prioritize speed or number of faces.
- Adjustable AF mode with three settings including Tracking AF, plus an AF Assist lamp.
- Macro, Infinity, and Manual focus modes.
- Three metering modes.
- Adjustable ISO from 50 to 800 equivalents, plus an Auto setting.
- "High Sensitivity" Best Shot mode boosts ISO to 1,600 max.
- Adjustable white balance with six settings and manual mode.
- On-screen Grid display helps precision framing.
- Large capacity SDHC memory card. 2 to 4GB is generally sufficient, better for large outings.
- Spare battery pack
Casio EX-V8 Conclusion
For a relatively affordable pricetag, Casio offers a pocket-friendly camera with a useful 7x optical zoom, true mechanical image stabilization, a high-resolution 8.1-megapixel CCD, and an almost bewildering range of options aimed at both business and casual use. The 2.5-inch color LCD display can automatically adjust its brightness for your surroundings, and the svelte body means you won't have to miss the shot because you didn't want to lug a bulky camera around. The Casio EX-V8 offers approachability for novices, along with many of the more advanced controls more experienced photographers will crave. "Wow" features include a face detection system that can be taught to recognize and prioritize your friends and family members, an 848 x 480 pixel movie mode with stereo sound, and even a preset that tailors movies specifically for the popular YouTube website. Image quality is lacking, unfortunately, with very little detail thanks to softness from noise suppression even at the lowest ISO setting.