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West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party - Review of the Casio EX-Z1080 Digital Camera

by Robert Abrams
January 18, 2008
You Should Be Dancing dance center & Club 412
412 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10001
212-244-0011
Erik Novoa's site: www.SwingShoes.net
The Platinum Party is usually held the Third Thursday of each month, and is $15 per person (including lessons) at the door, or $12 paid in advance. Club 412 has a full cash bar and a great floor. The party is primarily West Coast Swing with some Hustle. Wes Carrajat DJs.
I have been looking for a digital camera that is small enough to fit in my pocket without thinking twice about it, but which still takes decent pictures at social dance parties. While I still have some testing to do, the Casio EX-Z1080 digital camera is looking like an excellent choice.

To pass the test, a compact digital needs to feel responsive when shooting, needs to capture the right moment in the dance often enough, and needs to produce photos that are crisp and rich. It also needs to be easy to use, but still have enough options so that I can control the shooting more precisely when I want to. Accomplishing this is like Cuban motion: it looks easy when done by someone who has spent years learning it, but when you try it yourself, you discover it is really difficult. In the case of a camera, the difficulty arises because one is trying to capture photos of people in motion, often in low light. If the Casio EX-Z1080 were a dancer, I think people would be saying "Look at her hips go."

To be perfectly responsive, a digital camera needs to have no delay. It is unrealistic to expect that in a compact digital at present. The delay with the Casio was short enough that I had a decent chance of either getting what I was trying to capture, or timing the delay in anticipation of where the dancers were going to be. This is in contrast to the Pentax, which took so much time to lock the auto-focus that the delay was so long, an entire phrase of music could go by before the camera finally took the picture. In general, I felt that the Casio was responsive enough to keep me happy. I have not tested every compact digital on the market, but I suspect that the delay with the Casio is probably about as short as you are going to find in its class. Thus, I would say that the Casio EX-Z1080 passes the responsiveness test.

Does the Casio capture the right moment in the dance? Yes. There were plenty of boring shots that prominently featured someone's rear end. I didn't post any of those. Still, without having to take an excessive number of shots, as can be seen below, there were plenty of photos recorded at moments of coolness. Thus, with the help of the Casio EX-Z1080 and a few dance lessons, you too can be cool.

Most of the photos are crisply in focus, with bright colors and visible detail. The exception are the two examples I posted where I set the camera at a high ISO and turned the flash off. Those are blurry. The point here is that when it comes to low light photography, ISO isn't everything. You might get lucky and get something artistically blurry, but in general, don't expect any compact digital to produce good dance photos in low light without a flash. For most of the photos, I had the anti-shake and face recognition features turned on using the default fully automatic mode. I also shot some photos at a high ISO with the flash. For some reason, the anti-shake feature doesn't function at high ISOs. Regardless, either approach will yield good photos. The high ISO photos have more noise, as would be expected. The interesting thing, though, is that the high noise seems to be mostly concentrated in the background, with the foreground having less noise. If you are trying to set off the foreground from the background, this can produce a nice effect. The Casio EX-Z1080 passes the crispness and richness test.

It should be noted that the exposure, while very good most of the time, sometimes was a little off, usually in the direction of being too dark. When it comes to digital cameras, too dark is often preferable to too bright because there is usually hidden detail in the shadows of digital photos. If you have a photo that is too dark for your tastes, try brightening it with the Curves tool in Photoshop. I have included one before and after set with this adjustment at the end of this article.

Also, don't forget that the flash on a compact digital usually will work well at close range, but less well with a subject who is farther away. You can also run into trouble if you are shooting a subject at medium distance, but part of a closer person gets into the edge of the frame. In this case, the camera is likely to set the exposure based on the near person, leaving your intended subject too dark. This isn't a deal killer. Every tool has limitations. If you play to the strengths of the camera, you will get plenty of good shots.

Is the Casio EX-Z1080 easy to use? Yes. When you first use the camera, it steps through the set up process. A few of the items you need to set, like the time and date, aren't explicitly marked, but it only takes about a second of staring at the screen to figure out what is needed. Using the camera is just as easy as the set up process. As can be seen from these photos, you can pretty much leave the camera on the default settings and get decent photos of social dance. If you want to adjust settings, most of the main options are easily accessible using a four way selector while you are in the shooting mode, without having to dig through menus. There are a few options that require looking through menus, but they aren't difficult to find either.

It should be noted that some of the main options hold your choice when you turn the camera off and then on again, but some do not (Focus options, ISO setting, White Balance setting, and Exposure Compensation setting). This also isn't a deal killer, so long as you remember to restore the settings when you turn the camera back on, but it is annoying. I know that the folks at Casio are always trying to improve their products, so if they could upgrade the camera so that the user had the option either to have the camera save all of the settings when it is turned off, or to have all of the settings restored to a default, that would make an excellent camera even better. (Update: Continued experimentation with the camera revealed that it actually does what I suggested and then some. Press the Menu button, and then look for an option under the REC menu called Memory. From here you can set which settings are remembered and which reset to the default when the camera is turned off.)

The Casio EX-Z1080 also does not have a manual exposure option. That would be a nice addition, but it is not really necessary since the automatic settings hit the mark most of the time. There is an exposure compensation option, which I haven't tested yet.

There was some spotting on some photos (most likely the flash bouncing off of people's watches, the mirrors and other reflective surfaces), but the spotting wasn't enough to worry about. It is hard to say whether this was because the Casio produces less spotting, or just that on this particular night fewer people were wearing watches.

I have found that the Casio has a problem also found in other compact digital cameras with a built in lens cover. If you spray lens cleaner on the lens, the lens cover tends to stick, not opening or closing fully. You need to carefully need to nudge the leaves of the lens cover to get it to open or close. Eventually the problem goes away. To avoid this problem, spray the lens cleaning solution on your lens cloth and then wipe the lens.

The one feature I would really like to see Casio work on, for the purposes of social dance photography, would be a zoom lens that goes to a wider angle. I like getting dancers' whole bodies in the shot. In social dance photography, one is often working in fairly close quarters, so, as can be seen from these photos, sometimes the Casio EX-Z1080 doesn't quite get everything. Still, the EX-Z1080 is good enough: you can get a wider angle zoom in a compact digital, but that camera is bigger. If forced to choose between a wider angle zoom and small size, I would go with the small size: the smaller the camera, the more likely you are to have it with you at a dance. Plus, large bulges in your pocket detract from your coolness.

With the Casio EX-Z1080, you will be able to record the coolness of the dancers around you, and then slip the camera in your pocket so that you can burn the floor unencumbered.

West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8
As can be seen from this photo, the Casio EX-Z1080 is not immune from spotting, but spotting doesn't seem to happen often enough to be a real worry.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 6400, 1/8, 2.8, No flash

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 3200, 1/5, 2.8, No flash

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 3200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 3200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 200, 1/60, 2.8
I especially like this photo because the foreground couple is bright, while the background is darker. This makes the foreground couple pop, but at least as important, it also provides a relatively accurate depiction of the event's lighting conditions.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
I have posted this photo in both its full and trimmed forms for two reasons. First, I think the space around the central couple adds some drama to the photo: you can feel them leaning backwards, using each other for balance, in a way that is less palpable in the trimmed version. Second, the full version, when seen in the context of the rest of the photos, gives a more accurate sense of the Casio's tendency to produce spots: spots happen, but not that often.
ISO 100, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 100, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 80, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 80, 1/60, 2.8, Brightened using the Curves tool in Photoshop
This photo was okay, but perhaps a little dark. Using the Curves tool in Photoshop to brighten it about 2 stops, the foreground couple still looks natural while the background gains some detail.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


West Coast Swing at Erik Novoa's Platinum Party at Club 412
ISO 80, 1/60, 2.8

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Casio EX-Z1080 digital camera

Photo © & courtesy of Casio


Casio EX-Z1080 digital camera

Photo © & courtesy of Casio


Casio EX-Z1080 digital camera

Photo © & courtesy of Casio


Casio EX-Z1080 digital camera

Photo © & courtesy of Casio


Casio EX-Z1080 digital camera

Photo © & courtesy of Casio


Casio EX-Z1080 digital camera

Photo © & courtesy of Casio


Casio EX-Z1080 digital camera

Photo © & courtesy of Casio


Casio EX-Z1080 digital camera

Photo © & courtesy of Casio

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