(Initial review date: 5 December, 1998)
|1,280 x 960 pixel resolution|
|2X optical zoom, + 2/4X digital|
|Spot or Average light metering|
|Optional aperture-priority metering|
|Mini-movie and in-camera HTML capability|
|8MB CompactFlash card included
Casio, long a giant in consumer electronics, has also been a consistent innovator
in the world of digital cameras. Their original QV-10 was the first digital
camera to incorporate an LCD screen, a feature that has by now become almost
a mandatory component. Casio was also the first company to introduce a swiveling
lens, a feature that with few exceptions has been a hallmark of their cameras.
Long-term Casio watchers will have noticed a two-stage pattern in their product releases, in which a new camera model is frequently followed by another one having the same basic characteristics, but introduced at either a lower price point or with additional features. Most recently, the QV-5000SX was introduced at the Spring '98 PMA show, and began shipping in May. In late summer of '98, Casio dropped the other shoe, with the QV-7000SX, which brought back the trademark swiveling-lens design that had been dropped in the QV-5000, added an optical zoom lens, and extended several other of the 5000's capabilities.
With the introduction of the QV-5000SX, we noted that Casio appeared to be moving away from their prior camera-as-consumer-electronics vision, and more toward a view of the digital camera as a photographic tool. With the QV-7000SX, they have extended the photographic capabilities to include options found on only a few cameras to date (November, 1998), such as spot metering(!), and optional manual aperture selection. Overall, the QV-7000SX is a capable photographic tool, while still retaining some of the "gadget" appeal of the earlier Casio units.
QV-7000SX "High Points" overview
Several readers have requested quick, up-front feature summaries of the cameras we review, which we'll be doing from this point onward. Herewith are the key characteristics of the QV-7000S, ranked in a completely arbitrary order reflecting our own personal biases and dispositions ;-)
- 2x optical zoom lens (32-64mm equiv.), 2x/4x digital tele mode
- Spot (!) or averaging metering
- Optional aperture-priority metering
- Manual focus option with very fine gradations (28 steps)
- Focus/exposure lock
- +/- 2EV exposure compensation in (very fine) 1/4 EV steps
- Usable light range ~EV8 - EV21
- In-camera HTML capability
- Swiveling lens assembly makes it easy to shoot above crowds
- Includes 8 MB CompactFlash card
- 3x image inspection mode on playback
- Built in 4-mode flash
- Macro, Mini-movie, and Panorama modes
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The QV-7000SX's standout feature relative to prior Casio models (at least those prior to the QV-5000SX) is its 1.3 megapixel resolution. Casio lists the CCD sensor as being a 1/3 inch unit with 1,310,000 pixels, but only 1,250,000 "effective" pixels. We've seen this more conservative "effective" pixel rating on other cameras, but have to admit we don't really know what it means. It's possible that some pixels at the extreme periphery of the array may be masked-off by the camera's optical system. Regardless of how the sensor pixels are counted, the camera captures images with pixel dimensions of 1280 x 960 or 640 x 480, depending on the image quality setting selected.
Once images are captured, they can be viewed on the rear-panel LCD screen, a 2.5-inch "TFT" unit, specified as having 122,100 pixels in a 555 x 220 array. (This is a noticeable increase in screen size over the 1.8-inch unit on the QV-5000.) While it will still wash out in direct sun, we found the anti-glare coating on the LCD screen of the '7000 to be much more effective than that of many digital cameras, and the screen more useful in bright light than those of many cameras we've tested.
The QV-7000 also includes a flash, which now appears to be a standard feature on Casio's cameras. The autofocus lens mentioned earlier also has a macro mode (selectable from the top-panel controls), as well as a manual-focus mode. This last is a feature missing from many top-end digital cameras, and particularly welcome when shooting under dim conditions, where the autofocus may not work.
The QV-7000's Movie Mode allows you to capture "movies", with successive frames captured every 1/10th of a second, and a duration of 3.2, 6.4, or 12.8 seconds. (Up to twice as long as the QV-5000.) "Movie" mode works by cleverly changing the clocking of the CCD sensor elements to read out portions of the array independently of each other, creating 16 movie frames from each conventional frame stored. This of course, greatly reduces the resolution of resulting images, but the small 160x120 pixel image size makes for quite compact final files, well-suited to casual inclusion in an email or in the corner of a web page.
Other innovative functions retained from earlier models include in-camera panorama stitching, and the ability to capture high-contrast images and apply them to other shots as titles.
With the trademark swiveling lens design, there's no confusing the QV-7000SX with a conventional film-based point & shoot. Somewhat bulkier than the '5000, the '7000 measures 5.5 x 3 x 1.7 inches (140 x 75 x 53 mm), and weighs in at about 9.9 ounces (280 grams) without its batteries. The result is a camera a bit large to fit the typical shirt pocket, but well-suited to carrying in jackets or purses.
Like most digital cameras, the control layout of the QV-7000SX favors the right hand, with most major functions controlled by either the right forefinger, or by pressing one of the four buttons arranged along the bottom of the rear panel. The most commonly used operating controls are directly accessible via the rear-panel buttons, while less common ones are reached via a menu system using the LCD screen to display menu choices. (As we'll describe in more detail later, we've consistently found Casio menu systems to fast and easy to navigate.) The zoom control for the lens is located on the right front of the camera, directly below the shutter button.
One consequence of returning to the rotating lens design is that the QV-7000SX has only an LCD viewfinder, rather than the combined optical and LCD approach of the QV-5000. The LCD viewfinder has the advantage of avoiding parallax problems, particularly at close quarters, by showing what the CCD array is actually looking at. (This is especially useful when shooting macro subjects.) In contrast to most digital cameras we've tested, which crop the CCD image, even on the LCD screen the LCD viewfinder of the QV-7000SX is dead-accurate. Of course, there are downsides to LCD viewfinders as well: They invariably wash out in bright sunlight, although the QV-7000SX does better in this respect than most. LCD screens also consume large amounts of battery power. Given the choice, we'd prefer to have both optical and LCD finders, but that would undoubtedly increase the size of the camera significantly. At 122,000 pixels, the LCD screen of the QV-7000 shows more detail than most, although its larger size spreads this detail over a larger area, which reduces the apparent sharpness somewhat.
The lens on the QV-7000SX is a moderately "fast" f2.8 design, with a focal length range equivalent to a 32-64mm lens on a 35mm film camera. The normal autofocus range is from 9.6 inches (0.25m) to infinity. When the "macro" mode is enabled, the optical configuration is changed to allow focusing as close as four inches (10cm). The manual focus option allows a total of 28 focus steps from 10cm to infinity, an unusually fine degree of control. The previous QV-5000 used a combined aperture/shutter system that linked aperture to shutter speed. While this arrangement is very common in digital (and film) point and shoots, we like the ability to select aperture independently of shutter speed, to control depth-of-field in the image. Thus, we were very pleased to see the option for manual aperture control appear on the QV-7000, with settings of f2.8, f5.6, and f11.
A particularly welcome feature on the QV-7000SX is its provision for manual focus adjustment. When the camera is operated in "manual" mode, you can preset the focal distance to 28 different values, ranging from 10cm (4 inches) to infinity. We say that this is a welcome feature because most digital cameras with autofocus lens systems have difficulty focusing in very dimly-lit conditions. A few units provide one or two fixed focus points as a manual override, but almost none offer the range of manual focus adjustment that the QV-7000SX does. Manual focus override is important because most autofocus cameras will simply refuse to take a picture if they aren't able to achieve a solid focus lock. We were especially pleased to see Casio increase the number of focus steps with the QV-7000: One of our few complaints with the earlier QV-5000 was that the limited number of focus steps made it hard to achieve good focus at short distances with low aperture numbers. (Important note: Because the QV-7000's manual focus option uses the "+" and "-" buttons to control the focus distance, exposure-compensation is not available in this mode.)
In addition to the manual focus option, the QV-7000SX provides a fairly standard "focus lock" feature, in which the camera will autofocus whenever the shutter button is half-depressed, and then retain that setting as long as the shutter button isn't released. This is very useful for focusing on off-center subjects. In another departure from the QV-5000SX, the QV-7000 locks both exposure and focus when the shutter is half-pressed. (The QV-5000 locked only focus.) Particularly when used in conjunction with the spot metering option of the QV-7000, the combined focus/exposure lock is very handy.
In common with many other recent digital camera models, the QV-7000SX offers a "digital zoom" function that simulates the operation of an optical zoom lens. We say "simulates," because the end result is not the same, and it's important to understand the difference. Also, various manufacturers are implementing "digital zoom" in different ways, adding to the confusion. (As it turns out, the QV-7000SX employs both approaches commonly used for digital zoom, in its 2x and 4x modes.)
All digital zoom techniques involve taking data from a portion of the CCD array and using it to "fill" an image file in some fashion. We say "in some fashion" because there are two ways in which manufacturers "fill" the file: The first approach is to simply chop out the data from the central pixels of the CCD array, and package it as its own file, pixel-for-pixel. This results in a smaller data file, containing only the pixels from the center of the array. You could achieve the same effect by simply cutting out the center of a file in an image editing application, and saving it as a separate image. The effect is the same as using a longer focal-length lens on a lower-resolution camera, but you end up with a lower-resolution picture as well. Nonetheless, the ability to create a "telephoto" image (albeit at a lower resolution) without resorting to copy/paste operations in software is often a decided advantage. (Close-up shooting subjects for 'web publishing comes to mind.) This "in-camera cropping" approach is used by Casio in the '7000s "2x" digital zoom mode, producing a 640x480 image that is a pixel-for-pixel copy of the center of what would normally be the 1280x960 full-frame image.
The other way to "zoom" digitally also begins by taking data only from the central portion of the sensor array. This time though, rather than just saving it in a file "as-is," the camera interpolates it back up to the size required to fill the original frame: The "zoomed" file has the same number of pixels in it as the original, but object edges are softer and there's less detail. Again, while not a true zoom, this effect is similar in some respects, and the result may be useful for some applications.
Casio uses a combination of both methods just described in the QV-7000SX's "4x" zoom mode: Data is taken from only the centermost 320x240 pixel area of the sensor array, and this data is then interpolated up to create a 640x480 pixel final file size. While we found the '7000s 2x digital zoom quite useful, we felt it would be hard to find a practical use for the 4x output. To our eye, the 4x-mode images were far too pixelated and soft to be of much value. An argument could be made in favor of their use for web presentation, as we discussed above for the in-camera cropped images. In that situation though, you would in most cases want to scale the image down to produce the final web image, which somewhat defeats the purpose of in-camera "zooming" to begin with.
Overall, our opinion on digital zoom techniques is that they can be a genuine convenience for some applications, but they in no way take the place of a true optical zoom lens. Bottom line, it's a nice feature to have for those times you need it, and a worthwhile addition to digital cameras, as long as it comes more or less for free (e.g., adds little or nothing to the end-user cost of the computer).
As with most of their cameras, Casio doesn't give an explicit equivalent ISO speed for the QV-7000SX in their literature. Our desire to quantify everything was further frustrated in the case of the '7000 though, in that they specify neither the ISO speed, nor the usable exposure range. In practice, we found that the QV-7000 could produce usable images down to an exposure level of about EV5 in "night" mode (see below), or EV 8 in "normal" mode. (As a reference point on the low-light side, our fairly brightly-lit indoor portrait shot is taken at a light level of about EV12. A value of EV8 is only 1/16th as bright, which corresponds to a rather dimly-lit room.) Using night mode in the darkest surroundings produced images with a fair bit of sensor noise in them, though. At the opposite end of the scale, the camera seemed perfectly capable of capturing images of light-colored objects in full sun. Thus, we'd estimate the normal exposure range of the QV-7000SX to be about EV 8 to EV21.
Shutter speeds in the QV-7000SX range from 1/4 of a second up to 1/1000th of a second in normal mode, and down to 1 second in "night" mode. The "sports" mode apparently restricts the lower limit of shutter speed range to some higher value, but Casio's documentation doesn't state what that was. As with most digital cameras today, the QV-7000SX includes a self-timer, allowing the photographer time to get into the shot him/herself. The 7000's self-timer provides delay settings of either 2 or 10 seconds. The 2-second setting deserves a minor additional comment: The very slow shutter speeds available in night mode make a tripod almost mandatory in dark conditions. However, even the act of pressing the shutter button can introduce significant camera shake, particularly with a lightweight tripod. One solution to this can be to use a self-timer with a short delay to trip the shutter a few seconds after your finger leaves the shutter button. Thus, the 2-second setting on the QV-7000's self-timer can be very useful for night shooting.
Given the rather long maximum exposure times of 1/4 second in normal mode, and 1 second in night mode on the QV-7000SX, we feel compelled to insert here our standard mini-flame against handheld exposures in low light: (Regular readers of our reviews can skip the remainder of this paragraph.) Many third- or fourth-generation digital cameras such as the QV-7000SX are allowing much longer exposure times than were possible with earlier devices. This has proved to be somewhat of a mixed blessing for the manufacturers though, in that they often are wrongly blamed for fuzzy images that are the fault of the photographer. A general rule of thumb for amateur photographers is to use a tripod whenever the shutter speed drops below 1 divided by the lens focal length in millimeters. With the QV-7000SX's 32-64-mm equivalent lens, this guideline would suggest a tripod for any shutter speed slower than 1/32nd - 1/64th of a second. When you realize that the longest exposure time the camera is capable of (even in normal mode) is eight to sixteen times slower, you can appreciate the need to brace or otherwise support the camera in some fashion when shooting under dim conditions. Don't blame blurry pictures on the camera when you're blithely hand-holding shots even a pro would shy away from! (Flame off.)
We mentioned the QV-7000's spot-metering option earlier: Now's the time to go into it in more detail. Most digital cameras (and virtually all point & shoot film cameras) use an "averaging" metering system. That is, they look at the average amount of light coming from the scene in front of them, and adjust the exposure accordingly. This works well if the subject you're photographing is about the same brightness as the background, but fails miserably under strong backlighting, or for light subjects against dark backgrounds. Most digital cameras include exposure compensation adjustments to let you compensate for these conditions, requesting either more or less exposure than the automatic metering would select on its own. This is a reasonable workaround, and indeed, the QV-7000SX has very easily accessible exposure-compensation adjustment controls. A much better approach though, is for the exposure meter to base its calculations on exactly the part of the subject you're most interested in. This is called "spot" metering, because the exposure meter just looks at a small spot in the overall image. The QV-7000's metering can operate in either spot or averaging mode: When it is in spot mode, a small circle appears in the center of the LCD viewfinder screen, showing you the area of the image being used to determine exposure. As noted earlier, you can use the focus/exposure-lock function in conjunction with spot metering to handle off-center subjects.
We mentioned the QV-7000's exposure-compensation adjustments: In normal operation, the "+" and "-" buttons on the top panel of the camera boost or cut exposure in 1/4-EV units each time they're pressed, with a maximum range of +/- 2 EV. The 1/4 EV steps provide very fine exposure adjustment, since most digital point & shoot cameras only give you 1/2 EV steps, if they provide exposure compensation at all.
he built-in automatic flash has a specified working range of 2.3 to 6.6 feet (0.7 to 2.0 meters), a bit smaller maximum distance than most digital cameras we've tested. At the other end of its range, despite the rather high minimum distance rating, we found the flash performed exceptionally well when shooting close-ups: We found no tendency to wash-out the subject, even when shooting at the minimum focusing distance of 4 inches (10cm). The flash offers four operating modes, including "off" (flash never fires), "on" (flash always fires, for "fill flash" operation, "auto" in which the flash fires as directed by the camera's autoexposure circuitry, and "red eye reduction" mode, in which a single pre-flash fires before the main exposure, to make subjects' pupils contract, reducing the chance of red-eye. Because the flash consumes appreciable battery power, and can take a fair while to charge when the batteries are low, we liked the fact that you can choose to have the camera remember the flash setting from one use to the next. (In other words, if we left the flash in "off" mode, it remained so when we next turned the camera on.) Also, if we left the flash on, but later decided not to wait for the flash circuitry to charge up when turning on the camera, we found that the flash charging could be terminated (and the flash turned off) at any time by pressing the flash-control button on the rear panel.
Overall, the flash in the QV-7000SX is a marked improvement over those in previous Casio cameras: Several of the earlier models were prone to producing odd color casts when the flash was used for subjects with bright ambient lighting. In particular, when the flash was used for "fill" illumination with bright incandescent lighting, the pictures tended to have a very strong yellow cast. This appears to be completely rectified in the QV-7000, as evidenced by the very natural coloring in our indoor portrait shot taken with the flash enabled.
The QV-7000SX normally operates with a very effective automatic white balance control enabled. Alternatively, you can manually select a fixed white balance to compensate for incandescent, fluorescent, or daylight lighting. We found the automatic white balance to be very effective at neutralizing colors, particularly if the scene contained at least some pure white object. If the scene has an overall color balance biased in one direction or another by the subject's coloration (such as a large background area of colored wallpaper on an indoor shot), this could fool the automatic white balance and produce an incorrect color correction. Surprisingly, we found that the automatic white balance produced a much more neutral tone than the "incandescent" manual setting on our indoor-portrait test subject, which does contain large areas of pure white, in the model's shirt.
The QV-7000SX continues the "mini-movie" mode popularized by the QV-770 and QV-5000 before it. In this mode, long sequences of low-resolution (160x120) images are captured in very rapid succession (at 0.1 or 0.2 second intervals). The resulting movies can be played back directly on the camera's screen, or downloaded as composite images to the host computer, where they can be assembled back into a movie via software. Movies on the QV-5000 can be 32 or 64 frames long, stored as four 640x480 images in memory. The maximum duration of 12.8 seconds is twice that of the QV-5000, although this is achieved by dropping the frame rate: 3.2 second movies are stored 4 frames per camera memory image, and captured at 5 frames per second. 6.4 second movies are stored 16 frames per camera memory image, and captured at 10 frames per second. 12.8 second movies are also stored 16 frames per camera memory image, but the frame rate again drops to 5 frames per second. The efficient memory usage, combined with the large 8 MB on-board memory capacity of the '5000 means you can store quite a few movies without overly encroaching on your storage capacity for normal still images.
The QV-7000's mini-movie option also includes both "future" and "past" modes. The "future" mode operates as you'd expect: It begins recording when you press the shutter button, and ends when the camera runs out of memory. The "past" mode is an interesting option: For capturing fast-moving events (when your reflexes may not be up to the challenge), the camera continuously digitizes movie frames, then saves the last 3.2, 6.4, or 12.8 seconds of action that occurred before you tripped the shutter. In "past" mode, you begin the recording process by half-pressing the shutter release. The camera will begin recording frames, displaying a "Stand By" message until the chosen movie length has been reached. Then, whenever you press the shutter button all the way down, the previously-stored movie frames are saved to disk, producing a movie of all that went before your final shutter-release.
In-camera movie playback requires the four frames of memory holding each movie to be "grouped" so the camera will recognize them as belonging together. In prior Casio cameras, this grouping was only possible if the images were left untouched in the camera's memory just as they were captured. In the interest of providing a truly universal "presentation machine" though, Casio has provided a grouping option in the '7000, whereby images uploaded from a computer can be re-grouped so the camera can recognize them as a movie. This is a welcome addition relative to earlier models.
With recent software innovations, "panorama" shooting has become increasingly popular, and Casio provides unique features in the QV-7000SX to support this. As in prior models though, they go the competition one step better, and allow you to actually preview panoramas you've shot directly within the camera. To create a panorama, a series of up to 9 images are taken in sequence, panning the camera between each shot. In playback mode, panorama images are identified by an icon at the top of the frame. Pressing the shutter button while viewing a panorama frame shrinks the image to occupy only the central portion of the LCD screen, and presents a sub-menu for controlling "playback" of the panorama. Pressing the shutter button again begins a slow-motion pan back and forth across the breadth of the panorama, which can be paused with another actuation of the shutter button. Panning direction is controlled via the top-panel "+" and "-" buttons, and panorama viewing can be canceled by pressing the "menu" button.
As you might expect, the in-camera image-assembly is only of sufficient quality for display on the small LCD screen: You'll want to use the Spin Panorama software included with the '7000 to assemble the separate images together into a single, super-wide picture on your computer. (Note that Spin Panorama allows you to stitch as many images together as you like, bypassing the 9 image in-camera limit.)
One of the big challenges in creating panoramas is to have all the initial images line up properly, and to include enough overlap between them to allow the software to smoothly blend from one image to the next. Normally, this requires either a special tripod head, or a lot of guesswork. In the QV-7000SX though, a clever panorama capture mode saves a slice of the image from the right-hand side of the previous frame, and moves it over to the left-hand side as an aid to alignment. Even better, the reference image is translucent, meaning you can "see through" it to the current scene coming from the sensor. This lets you achieve almost perfect alignment every time. (Although we confess that using a tripod is still necessary to obtain the best results.) The ability to achieve such good alignment between shots makes the final stitching process much easier, and reduces the likelihood you'll have visible seams in the final panorama.
Just as with movies, in-camera panorama playback requires the frames of memory associated with each panorama to be "grouped" so the camera will recognize them as belonging together. In prior Casio cameras, this grouping was only possible if the images were left untouched in the camera's memory just as they were captured. In the interest of providing a truly universal "presentation machine" though, Casio has provided a grouping option in the '7000, whereby images uploaded from a computer can be re-grouped so the camera can recognize them as a panorama. Again, this is a welcome addition relative to earlier models.
Operation and User Interface
With all its operating modes and features, you'd expect the QV-7000SX to be cumbersome or complex to operate. While there are a lot of buttons and menu options, we found the 7000's user interface easy and *fast* to navigate. (The QV-7000 uses the "pSOS" operating system from ISI, a competitor to the new "Digita" system. We found menu navigation on the QV-7000 to be much faster than on Digita-based cameras, perhaps due to the simple monochrome screen icons it uses.) Some users and reviewers have complained that the icons used in the Casio user interface are overly cryptic, and hard to interpret. For our part, we respond by noting that there are only a few icons whose functions need to be learned, and the user interface is lightning-fast to use once you become accustomed to it. Thus, in our view, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages!
Major camera modes are selected by rotating the top-mounted "mode dial." We like mode dial interfaces, as they make for very rapid camera operation, and reduce menu complexity. The mode dial primarily controls recording or camera-configuration modes: Playback mode is selected by flipping a toggle lever at the upper rear corner of the camera, under your right thumb. (We particularly like how quickly the '7000 can switch between record and playback modes for checking your pictures: Even for fine-mode images, you can pop into playback mode in under two seconds to review your last picture.) Commonly-used camera features are readily accessible from the external buttons, without need to drop into the menu system. These functions include exposure compensation, flash settings, auto/manual focus and macro mode, self-timer settings, and on-screen data display.
Given the wide array of functions on the QV-7000SX, we can't realistically step through each one here, but we'll describe several of the major functions to give a general sense of what it's like to operate the camera. (Readers of our earlier QV-770 and QV-5000SX reviews will find the following descriptions quite familiar, as the operation and menu structure of the QV-7000SX is very similar to that of its predecessors.)
Most of your picture-taking will probably be done in the "normal recording" mode, designated by a horizontal "page" icon at the top of the display. With the back-panel switch set to "Rec," you're ready to take a picture. In this mode, the LCD panel acts as a viewfinder, but also gives you some information on camera settings: Indicators in the upper left-hand corner show the flash mode (no icon means auto-flash), and whether or not the lens is set to macro mode. When in manual-focus mode, the current focus distance is displayed at lower left, just above the battery-condition icon. Other information displays on the LCD screen are controlled by the "Disp" push-button on the top panel. You can show or hide several informational displays, including the mode indicator itself, a storage indicator showing the current resolution setting and frames remaining in memory, and a battery-condition indicator. In low-light conditions (and when the "night" mode isn't selected), a camera-shake warning appears in the viewfinder, at middle-left. When spot metering is selected, a small circle will appear in the center of the viewfinder to indicate the metering area. The displays for flash setting, macro or manual focus, and camera shake can't be disabled with the "Disp" button, due to their importance to the picture-taking process.
While previewing the scene, the viewfinder display gives a fairly good representation of what the final image will look like. Assuming you don't have direct sunlight falling on the LCD panel, you can get a pretty good idea of what the exposure will look like on the final image, although we observed that the viewfinder is a bit darker under low-light conditions than the final image will be. If the image seems too light or too dark, you can adjust the exposure by up to 2 EV units in either direction, simply by pressing the "+" or "-" buttons on the top panel.
Changing image resolution in recording mode requires entering the menu system, where you can select from one of the four alternatives (Super, Fine, Normal, Economy) using the "+", "-", and shutter buttons. Other options on the record menu include White Balance (auto, incandescent, fluorescent, daylight); Aperture (auto, F2.8, F5.6, F11); Digital Zoom (off, auto, x2, x4); Movie Mode (past, future); Movie Time (3.2, 6.4, 12.8 seconds); Metering (Multi, Spot); Sharpness (soft, normal, hard); Time Stamp (off, date only, day and time, full date and time); and Folder (camera, folders A,B,C,D,E). (The "folder" selections choose between predefined storage locations on the hard drive, to help with the organization of your images.)
Shutter lag is a measure of how long it takes a camera to actually take the picture after you've pressed the shutter button. In this category, we found the QV-7000's performance to be very good relative to other cameras on the market: When the shutter release is pressed from a "standing start" (no pre-focusing or autoexposure performed), the total lag time until the picture is captured is at most 0.4 seconds. On the other hand, if the exposure and focus were locked by a half-press of the shutter button prior to taking the shot, the lag time drops to something between 0.1 and 0.2 seconds, a very fast time, and one that's close to the limit of our ability to measure it. (We perform our shutter lag and cycle time measurements with the Digital Eyes shutter-lag timing utility. Visit their web site to download a free copy of this small Windows program.
For a megapixel camera, the QV-7000SX cycles fairly rapidly between successive images, but we confess we missed the almost instantaneous cycling of Casio's earlier VGA-resolution models. In "Super" resolution mode, the camera was ready to take the next picture after about 9 seconds, a time that dropped to about 7 seconds for economy-mode images. Flash charging happens after the prior image is stored to memory, adding to the picture-to-picture cycle time. We found the worst-case cycle time to be about 19 seconds with the flash enabled, and a set of NiMH AA batteries with very little charge left in them. In common with many other late-model digital cameras, the QV-5000SX takes a little while to "boot up" when you first toggle the power, but at 6 seconds, the delay before you can take the first picture is far from the longest we've measured.
We tried the fast Lexar "4x" compact-flash cards in the QV-7000SX to see if there was any appreciable difference in cycle times with the quicker cards. We were puzzled, in that the first time we tried the faster card, we noticed a substantial improvement, whereas subsequently, we saw little difference. (The non-Lexar cycle time dropped to about match that of the high-speed Lexar card.) At this point, all we can say is that there is little difference in the QV-7000's cycle times with faster CF cards, but YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).
In "Movie" mode, the frames-remaining indicator changes to show the number of movies that may be recorded in the available memory. In Movie mode, the flash is disabled (indicated by a blinking "no flash" icon on the LCD screen), and the LCD readouts indicate "Digital 2x Zoom", because only the central portion of the CCD sensor is used for capturing movies. You can toggle between 2x and 4x zoom modes though, via the record-mode menu system. All the normal record-mode menu functions remain available in movie mode, allowing access to manual white-balance settings, manual focus, etc.
Self-timer mode is indicated by a stopwatch icon. Self-timer mode on the QV-7000SX is fairly simple, as the self-timer function works in conjunction with any of the camera's other recording modes, rather than requiring option selections within the self-timer function itself to choose between single-shot or movie recording modes. This is a nice feature, since you may sometimes want to use self-timer mode for panorama-mode shooting, if you're taking pictures using available light with long exposure times: Light, inexpensive, bring-anywhere tripods are generally a bit rickety, particularly if used at full extension. Using the self-timer with such a tripod gives vibrations time to die down before the shutter trips, contributing to sharper pictures.
We discussed panorama mode at some length earlier, so won't spend much time on it again here. Like the most recent Casio cameras, panoramas can only be shot in the horizontal ("landscape") orientation. (The earlier QV-700 VGA-resolution camera permitted panorama recording with the camera oriented either horizontally or vertically.)
Once you've taken one or more pictures, you can view them on the LCD screen by flipping the back-panel switch to "Play." In this mode, the last picture taken is displayed first, and you can page back and forth between shots by pressing the "+" and "-" buttons. To review images more quickly, you can switch to a 4-up or 9-up index display via the "Menu" button. In these modes, the +/- buttons step you through the camera's memory 4 or 9 images at a time. (When you return to normal single-image viewing mode by pressing the shutter button, the image that was in the upper left-hand corner of the screen is displayed at full size.)
In Play mode, you also have the option of zooming in on the images, using the LCD screen as a "window" into the full picture. Zoomed in, the full image is about twice as large as the LCD screen, and you can pan around to inspect the full detail of the picture. Panning is controlled by the ubiquitous +/- buttons, and a small icon in the upper right-hand corner of the LCD shows you what part of the image you're currently viewing. (Note though, that movie and panorama images aren't subject to zoom-viewing.)
The QV-7000SX includes an "intervalometer" option (a fancy term for it - Casio just calls it a "timer"), which allows you to take pictures automatically at predetermined intervals, ranging from 1 to 60 minutes between shots. You can also set the camera either to begin taking images as soon as you press the shutter button, or to wait until a specific time to start. (We can imagine some very interesting science projects growing out of this feature, although Mom or Dad may not be keen on having their camera tied up for a few weeks taking pictures of a seed sprouting!)
This mode-dial position lets you set several camera operating parameters. One of the most welcome menus is the one that lets you set the "sleep" and "power off" times. The sleep setting determines how long the camera will stay ready to take a picture, with its LCD illuminated. Available values include Off, 30 seconds, and 1 or 2 minutes. Auto-shutdown times may be set to 2, 5, or 10 minutes. (Note that the "Off" position for the sleep setting only means that the screen will stay lit as long as the camera is on. The camera will still shut down after 2, 5, or 10 minutes, as set by the auto-shutdown timer.) Happily, the camera appears to stay powered-up continuously when it is connected to the AC wall adapter: This may be of interest to people wishing to either take long time-lapse sequences, or those industrious enough to write software to drive it as a "webcam". (Note that this latter use isn't supported by any of Casio's software. You apparently can use it as a video camera, via the video out port, but there's no provision for continuously capturing images digitally to feed to a web server.)
The other function of the "Custom" mode is to let you choose which camera options will be remembered between power-down cycles: You can choose to have any or all of white balance, aperture, digital zoom, flash, auto/manual/macro focus, and multi/spot metering settings saved when the camera shuts down. By selecting an option and setting the mode memory for it to "on", the camera will always power-up with the same setting for that option as when it was last shut down.
In-Camera Image Manipulation
As digital cameras become increasingly "smarter," it becomes practical to do more and more image manipulation within the camera itself. While not providing quite the range of in-camera capabilities as the QV-700 or '770, the QV-7000SX does include several special-effect filters, and the ability to overlay a previously-captured "title" image onto other shots, varying title background shape, color, and position. (Title backgrounds can even have varying degrees of transparency.)
The image manipulation and titling capability is clearly directed toward those who would use the camera's video-out capability (see below) for presentations driven directly from the camera. Some may question the benefit of assembling presentations in the camera, rather than using a computer and simply uploading the results back to the camera for display. While the camera's standalone capabilities are obviously less than those of a software package running on a host computer, we found the in-camera functions both more useful and more fun than we had anticipated: You might not want to rely on the QV-7000SX as your only presentation tool for a multimillion-dollar business deal, but they'd be absolutely great for family "slide shows" or school projects.
While on the subject of presentations using the camera as the "host," we need to make an important note: Some cameras are very finicky about what images they'll display on their video screens, insisting either that the uploaded images be original (untouched) camera files, or that they adhere strictly to the "EXIF" standard for camera JPEG images. While we haven't experimented extensively with this capability, several readers have commented to us that the Casio cameras appear to be much more obliging in this respect, happily accepting all manner of uploaded images for subsequent display. We had the opportunity to try this with the QV-7000SX, and found that JPEG files modified by PaintShop Pro on a PC were read by the QV-7000 with no problems.
Image Storage and Interface
The QV-7000SX stores images on a removable CompactFlash memory card, and an 8 megabyte card is included with the unit. This will hold approximately 14 images in "Super Fine" mode, 19 in "Fine" mode, 33 in "Normal" mode, and 55 in "Economy" mode. As mentioned earlier, movie files occupy the same space as 4 "Economy" frames.
The QV-7000SX has one new feature that we found particularly appealing, although we didn't use it in any of our work. You can enable an "HTML" mode in the camera that causes it to create web-based picture indexes, complete with date, time, and image parameters (shutter speed, aperture, image quality setting), for all the images it captures. We don't have the time or space here to go into full details of the layout of these images, but suffice to say that a complete index system is created for all images in the camera, stored in multiple folders. Just as you'd expect, clicking on a low-res thumbnail in the index opens the full-resolution file. With a CompactFlash card reader attached to your computer, you can use this feature to either browse the contents of the camera's memory card, or copy the card's contents en masse to a file folder on your hard disk, and browse them there. Definitely a neat feature!
Images are read from the camera using the included QV-Link or TWAIN driver software to download images via the built-in serial port. The QV-Link software is quite straightforward in its operation, and versions for both Mac and PC platforms ship with the camera. In the most common mode of operation for QV-Link, you would probably begin by opening the camera's memory as an index of thumbnail images. From there, it's easy to select multiple images for download, and then transfer all the selected shots in a single download. Alternatively, the camera's entire memory image can be downloaded for later sorting and culling in a single operation. Images from the host can also be uploaded back to the camera, increasing the QV-7000's usefulness as a presentation device.
The maximum data-transfer rate between the QV-7000SX and a computer is 115,200 baud. For maximum-resolution images, this translates into an image-transfer time of roughly 50 seconds. Economy-mode images take about 11 seconds to transfer at the same data rate. (These times were measured on a laptop with a 120 MHz Pentium processor: A few seconds of the "transfer" time is occupied by image processing, meaning that faster processors will show slightly lower overall transfer times.)
IR-TranP and Camera-to-Camera Transfers
While we had no way to test it, the QV-7000SX revived the IR-TranP infrared wireless data link capability previously seen on the QV-700 and QV-770. With a properly-configured host computer, you can transfer images between CPU and camera without a serial cable. Supposedly, IR-TranP transfers can be quite a bit faster than standard serial connections, but we confess to never having experienced them ourselves. Another consequence of the IR-TranP capability is that you can transfer images between QV-7000SX cameras, simply by setting them up facing each other, hitting the "play" button on one, and the "record" button on the other. (Although we're hard-pressed to think of a use for this capability.)
Casio was one of the first companies to include video output capability on their cameras, a function that is now commonplace. We've mentioned this ability earlier, and the concept of using the camera as a presentation tool. We vacillate somewhat though, as to how frequently the typical user will take advantage of this capability. For casual one-on-one sharing, the built-in LCD screen is often sufficient. For a better viewing experience, whether in home or office, there's frequently a computer handy, and computer CRTs almost always look better than televisions. On the other hand, regardless of where you are, you can probably find a television handy that will either have a jack for direct video input, or have a VCR attached that does. Overall, video-out is a handy feature, and one that we'd rather have than do without. Most digital cameras support either the NTSC video standard used in North America, or the PAL standard common in most of the rest of the world, but not both: The QV-7000SX allows you to select either, using the "Setup" menu to do so.
The QV-7000SX is powered by four standard 1.5v AA batteries, or the included AC power adapter. Casio recommends either alkaline or lithium primary cells, but we also had good luck with NiCd and NiMH batteries. A word of caution though: We've heard from owners of earlier QV-camera models that the lower operating voltage of most rechargeable batteries can cause the camera to fatally "hang" as the batteries approach the end of their usable charge. We've never experienced this ourselves, but suggest you be very careful not to push your batteries too far: Recharge them fully at the first sign of a low-battery warning! Casio themselves recommend against NiCd or NiMH batteries. We've also heard from readers that the Casio cameras have a fairly conservative "end-of-life" battery voltage setting of about 1.15 volts. Since NiCd or NiMH batteries start out at only 1.2 or 1.25 volts or so, this is relatively little margin before the batteries would be considered dead. In our own experience though, we've had good luck running Casios from NiMH AAs. Again, our only caution is that YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).
In common with Casio's other cameras, the QV-7000SX has a rich assortment of included software. The software package includes Casio's own driver software, Adobe's PhotoDeluxe Home Edition, version 3.0, ISR's Ixla Digital Camera Suite, PictureWorks' Spin Panorama and Spin Object, and a package called PictureFun Photo that we frankly didn't try. Of these, the Casio drivers and QV-Link application and Spin software are available on both Mac and PC platforms: All of the others are PC-only. The Casio and Spin software, and the PictureFun Photo application also support Windows NT.
Basic camera operation and connectivity is provided by Casio's own QV-Link application for both Mac and Windows platforms. Also included from Casio are a Photoshop plug-in driver for Mac computers, and a TWAIN driver for Windows ones. All these basic applications allow full control over uploading and downloading to or from the camera, and are all you really need to get images into or out of the QV-7000SX.
Several of the included software packages provide for image manipulation, and the creation of various projects such as calendars, cards, etc. Adobe's PhotoDeluxe program, Ixlaphoto and PictureMall work only on Windows 95/98 machines. (Mac fanatics from way back, we're dismayed to see the loss of support for Macs among the digicam manufacturers, but recognize the economic realities they and software developers currently face.) All of these provide for basic image manipulation and project creation. PhotoDeluxe includes the greatest number of "guided activities," and the most fonts and project templates, while Ixlaphoto includes "album" organization capabilities, tools for business presentations, and the ability to create simple web pages. PictureMall's software features ease of use, and links to their internet-connect services for ordering various photo novelty items.
Spin Panorama is a panorama "stitching" program, that lets you combine multiple shots into wide panoramic views. Used in conjunction with the special panorama mode of the QV-7000SX, it is particularly easy to assemble panoramic images. (As mentioned earlier, the panorama shooting mode helps you lineup successive shots, making the final stitching process easier, and the seams between images less evident.) Conversely, Spin PhotoObject lets you take pictures of an object from all sides, and then combine them into a QuickTime "object" that you can turn and look at different sides of on your computer.
As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the QV-7000SX performed: Explore the links at the bottom of this page, to see how well the QV-7000 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.
The comments here are a summary of our more detailed analysis on the "Pictures" page for the QV-7000SX: Refer to that page for a more in-depth analysis of the test results.
Overall, the QV-7000SX exhibited good image quality, turning in respectable, middle-of-the-pack performance in most parameters. We felt that both resolution and color quality were noticeably improved relative to the earlier QV-5000SX. Resolution measured-out at roughly 600 line pairs per picture height in both horizontal and vertical directions, with only very slight color aliasing for parallel lines at high frequencies.
As noted earlier, the LCD viewfinder on the QV-7000SX is deadly accurate, showing exactly 100% of the final image. (This is a real benefit for macro shooting, or other situations where exact framing is particularly important.)
Color accuracy on the QV-7000SX was quite good. Contrast, while slightly high, was also improved over that of the earlier QV-5000SX. We did notice an odd tendency to render a particular shade of blue as a more purplish hue than it actually was, but this behavior appears to be limited to a very narrow range of colors. Overall, the 7000's color rendition was quite good, clearly in the mainstream of megapixel-class digital cameras.
The QV-7000SX' built-in macro capability worked very well, particularly with the lens run out to the telephoto end of its focal-length range. At its closest focusing distance of 4 inches (10 cm), it covers an area 1.7 x 2.25 inches (43 x 58 mm). If all you need is a 640x480 image, the 2x "zoom" is quite effective in macro mode, reducing the minimum area to only 0.85 x 1.125 inches (22 x29 mm). The flash also worked well all the way down to the minimum focusing distance, even though Casio rates it as having a minimum usable distance of 2.3 feet (0.7 meters).
Overall, we found the QV-7000SX' "digital zoom" to be useful in the 2x mode, in which it is simply chopping out the central portion of the image. The resulting 640x480 images would be useful for web work or other low-resolution applications. On the other hand, we didn't see much point in the 4x zoom (which interpolates the central 320x240 portion of the CCD up to a 640x480 image), as the resulting images were so soft and lacking in detail.
As noted earlier, the flash on the QV-7000SX is significantly improved over that of earlier Casio cameras, producing very naturally-colored images under the bright incandescent ambient lighting conditions that previously caused severe problems. The QV-7000SX' flash performed remarkably well in close-up situations, despite a very conservative minimum-distance rating by Casio.
See for Yourself!
Take a look at the test images from the QV-7000SX (with extensive comments), or jump to the Comparometer page to compare its reference images to those from other digital cameras.
Overall, the QV-7000SX turns in a respectable "megapixel" performance, and adds some unique features either unavailable or hard to find elsewhere. (The movie and panorama-capture modes.) With the addition of a zoom lens, spot metering, manual aperture-setting capability, improved manual focus, and enhanced flash performance, it offers many "pro" features found on very few of its competitors. Its flexibility and multimedia capability make it uniquely suited for web publishers, but we expect its true megapixel resolution will find it many print-based applications as well. Prior Casio cameras tended to reflect consumer-electronics sensitivities more than photographic ones, but the QV-7000SX clearly provides many of the creative tools serious photographers demand, while leaving behind nothing that a "consumer" could want. If you prefer a greater degree of control in your picture-taking than most digicams permit, the QV-7000SX could be for you.
Reader Sample Images!
Do you have a QV-7000SX camera? If you'll post an album of your samples on one of the photo-sharing services and email us at [email protected], we'll list the album here for others to see!