The 2.7-inch LCD on the Z280 offers only 115K-pixel resolution. That’s an exceptionally low number for a screen that size, and you’ll spot the difference as soon as you flick it on. Even previews of focused images look blurry, menus look rudimentary, and the entire thing smacks of cheapness, like the kind of screen you might find on a camcorder 10 years ago. Even worse, the colors seem to slant to the warm side of the color spectrum, making it almost impossible to judge white balance.
We tested the Z280 at office, at home, and around a drizzly downtown Portland, using automatic shooting as well as various manual settings.
For a camera in this price range, the Casio does a reasonable job keeping digital noise under control. It begins to manifest noise at ISO 400, but not noticeably enough to affect small prints and photos for Web use. By ISO 800, the game is up and noise severely overtakes images.
That doesn’t bode especially well for low-light shooting, but the bigger impingement may be the lack of optical image stabilization. Shooting from the hip in less-than-ideal lighting frequently yielded shots blurred shots that an optically stabilized camera could have salvaged. As some possible consolation for patient shooters, Casio offers an adjustable automatic shutter mode that will wait until movement stops to take a shot.
Although locking in white balance to one of the six presets helps improve color accuracy, relying on automatic white balance frequently yielded pictures that tilted quite heavily toward the warmer side of the spectrum, washing photos with a pinkish hue.
Dynamic mode allows photographers to take two shots – one with a person or object in it and one without – after which the camera will automatically remove the background. In practice, it worked extremely poorly, sloppily slicing around even carefully composed shots and frequently returning error messages.
Overall, the Casio Z280 performed acceptably for its meager price tag, but certainly earns no gold stars for going above and beyond while it’s at it, allowing its cheapness to shine through on many levels.
At $180, the Z280 is one of the most affordable point-and-shoot cams to offer 720p HD video on the market, and is actually cheaper than a number of dedicated HD cameras like the Flip MinoHD, too. We pitted it against our favorite HD cam – Kodak’s $180 Zi8, to compare video quality. Although we shot both in 720p HD mode, the Kodak trounced the Casio in overall quality, turning in more fluid (the Casio only shoots at 23fps to the Kodak’s 30fps), sharp and detailed video. To its credit, the Casio seemed to pull off better white balance in indoor scenes.
Many of the Z280’s best selling points on paper don’t quite hold water once you get your hands on it: The metallic-looking case feels chintzy, the HD video looks choppy, and the 2.7-inch screen has such poor resolution that we would gladly take a smaller model with more pixels. For $180, it still takes reasonably nice pictures under the right conditions, but we wouldn’t go out of our way to recommend it over a slew of similar competitors, including slightly pricier favorites like Canon’s $200 PowerShot SD1200 IS.
Highly tweakable interface
Shoots 720p HD video
Acceptable photo quality
Plastic case feels cheap
HD video inferior to dedicated mini camcorders
Extremely poor, low-resolution display
Dynamic mode poorly trims out backgrounds
Blur due to lack of optical image stabilization