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Casio EX-Z850 Video Problems

Casio EX-Z850 Video Problems

May 11th, 2006  · stk

After buying a new Casio EX-Z850 digital camera, I was disappointed to find that the video quality wasn't as good as its predecessor. See for yourself.

Comparing video with the EX-Z750

When it was time to buy a new digital camera, I zoomed in on the Casio EX-Z750. After reading Ken Rockwell's review, it seemed that this camera had everything I wanted. Then I found out that the EX-Z850 was new to the market and I hunted down a good deal. I figured the EX-Z850 would be an improvement on the EX-Z750. Not in everything, apparently.

Shortly after ordering it, I read that the EX-Z850's video wasn't up to par, compared with the EX-Z750. These observations came from Casio Talk and Mike Davidson. The delivery truck was on its way from the United States to Canada, so I could only wait.

After receiving the camera, I tried it out. I liked the large, bright LCD screen, anti-shake function, superb ergonometrics, quick response, long battery life and past movie mode. But I had nothing to compare the video against. So, I went out locally and purchased a EX-Z750GY (a grey body and one of the few remaining EX-Z750's in town, as it is no longer being manufactured). If fact, Casio recently announced a newer 10 Mega-Pixel model.

Read on for the video comparison...

The Proof is in the Playground

I shot 4 test videos, all of the same subject (not very exciting ... a pan of a park play structure). Two are from the EX-Z750 (HQ and NQ) and two are from the EX-Z850 (HQ and NQ). ISO mode was set to AUTO on each. All other parameters were the same.

I've uploaded the raw video files. I sought a way to compare results on the page, but decided against it because post-processing would alter the video data and negate any true comparison. No, look at the raw M2S4 video files, which have not been modified in any way. Playback, for me (on a PC) is best through Real Player (v10.5).

What's the Difference?

There is an obvious and discernible quality difference between the EX-Z750 and the EX-Z850.

I can only speculate. If you've ever edited JPG files and tried to "sharpen" the image and sharpen it too much, you end up with edge artifacts (like those seen in the EX-Z850 video). The technique can bring a slightly out-of-focus image into focus, but it's not a miracle cure. There's a point of diminishing returns and it would appear to me, that whatever changes were made from the EX-Z750 to the EX-Z850, the engineers went a tad "too far". The image is contrasty and the edge artifacts are very pronounced, compared to the EX-Z750.

The problem is exacerbated by contrasty, horizontal and sub-horizontal lines. The playback seems to "shimmer". (I first noticed the problem while taking footage of my daughter, who was running around on a wooden deck. The "shimmer" was so bad, that it took my focus from the subject, "upstaging" her.)

The files presented here are, admittedly, a one-off test. I've not checked other lighting conditions, subject matter, setting changes, etc. (Shoot, that's not MY job! You would think that Casio would be doing this stuff!) Perhaps I'll submit a bill for my Q.C. efforts. ;)

Given the nature of the issue, video shot in flat light, of low contrast subjects, would lessen or eliminate the effect.

What Can Be Done?

I'd recommend returning the EX-Z850 camera and buying an EX-Z750 if you can (and if the video mode is important to you). This isn't really an option for us, as restocking fees and shipping costs would be nearly 1/3 of the purchase price.

What does Casio say? Is far as I know, there's been no official word. I have seen posted emails (purportedly from Casio Customer Support) suggesting that the video capability is ancillary to still imaging. That this may be true, it doesn't explain why the video in the newer camera is WORSE than the older camera. (Video become MORE ancillary?) Bah! If anything, the reverse is true. We don't own a video recorder, precisely because we've come to rely on our digital camera to capture the few video snippets we take.

Frankly, I am very disappointed that Casio has not acknowledged the issue and dealt with it head on. That they haven't is almost an acknowledgement that they cannot address the issue with a simple "fix".

Can it be fixed with a firmware update? I hope so, as it appears we're kinda stuck with our EX-Z850 (though I've had thoughts of putting it in the EX-Z750 box and returning it to our local store, hoping the clerk wouldn't notice the switch). If Casio isn't gonna play "fair", why should I?

I called Casio Canada, to see what they knew and they claimed not to be aware of the problem. This seems to be the standard response that people are getting from their inquiries. Unacceptable. Especially in the face of such solid evidence.

Bottom line - Only time will tell.

I would be interested in hearing your ideas on the quality difference, Casio's position and what you think they (or we) should do.

August Update: Firmware v1.1B

At the beginning of the month, Casio released two new firmware versions: v1.1 and v1.1B.

They both provide support for SDHC, (cards having more than 2GB of storage capacity). Version "B" does more, improving the quality of the HQ video mode. Unfortunately, the higher quality comes at a price, paid with a narrower field of view (approximately 40% more narrow).

Below are raw video tests using the v1.1B firmware. The subject matter is the same as the original video comparison (children's play structure). No post processing was done. Only the file names were changed.

As mentioned on the firmware download page, the new firmware does not affect the "Normal Quality" or "Long Play" video modes - only "High Quality". But boy, does it ever fix the quality! The new video looks nice and sharp. The only drawback, is the 40% loss of the field of vision. It's too bad that there is a trade-off, but it's worth it.

Congrats to Casio engineers for crafting this "fix".

While it's great that Casio rectified the High Quality video quality issue, I give the company poor marks for the manner in which the problem was handled. Not immediately acknowledging the problem, no clear "official" position and conflicting information all eroded my confidence in Casio.

On the other hand ... the great, little EX-Z850 still camera is now a great, little EX-Z850 video camera too! Three cheers for the engineers! :D

November Update: Firmware v1.1B makes images blurry.

Thanks to a comment from Leonardo, I now realize that v1.1b (the video fix firmware) causes a discernible degradation of image quality.

The new firmware, released in August, was meant to remedy a known video quality problem. While it does help the video issue, it also reduces still image quality (something that Casio fails to disclose)! This is unacceptable.

There were already several compromises made, in order to obtain acceptable video quality, with the v1.1b firmware release (a) the fix is only good for HQ mode (doesn't change the NQ or LP modes) and (b) the fix reduces the FOV for the HQ video.

Recently, Leonardo made the shocking discovery that still image quality is reduced when using the v1.1b firmware. Here is his proof, which is posted on the website "Digital Photography Review".

After receiving his comment, I ran my own little test, the result of which, you can see in the image on the right. One is taken using firmware version 1.10 and the other using v1.1b (the video 'fix'). There is an obvious and undesirable reduction in quality for the picture taken using v1.1b (all other things being equal).

Outrageous! I retract my kudos to the Casio engineers. The company, its engineers and support personnel should really clean up their act. The EX-Z850 camera fiasco has been handled poorly and EX-Z850 owners have an unacceptable choice ... good videos at the expense of field of vision AND still image quality ... or good still images and crappy video. (Kind of like voting for a U.S. President ... no choice is ideal, eh?)

My recommendation? Use v1.10 and don't use the videos for anything other than sharing on the Internet. Oh ... and write a nasty letter to Casio. IMO, EX-Z850 owners should be given a free camera upgrade WHEN and IF Casio can manage to make a camera that is as good as an EX-Z750.

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1.flag Douglas Comment
05/14/06
I've tried to download your videos and they go so far and then fail. Wondering if it is a problem at my end or not ?
2.flag stk Comment
05/14/06
Douglas,

The problem is at our end. Our soon to be ex-host moved our site to a new server and it's AWFUL. We're getting lots of 503 "Server Unavailable" errors and load averages are commonly >10, which is unacceptable.

We're in the process of identifying a better hosting company and appreciate your patience.
3.flag Douglas Comment
05/14/06
Thanks. I've managed to get them downloaded and the difference is very obvious.

I wonder what this will mean for those of us who have already a duff one?

Casio has stopped shipping the Z850 due to some bugs and glitches within the Z850 cameras. We are estimating to have the issues resolved in about 5 to 6 weeks, and at that time we will resume shipping. We are also introducing a new Z1000 camera that you may want to consider as well.


4.flag stk Comment
05/14/06
Yes, I saw that quote, by Casio Tech Support, at DPreview.com.

Hopefully, Casio will do right by its customers.
5.flag David Comment
05/19/06
Some more comments on dpreview suggest there is not going to be a firmware fix that brings video to 750 standard - I want there to be a fix - but you have to read between the lines
6.flag stk Comment
05/19/06
At posting time, everyone was hopeful that there would be a firmware fix. It's clear now that there won't (can't) be. However, Casio seems to know that there IS a problem and may (at some point) fix it and sell updated/fixed 850s.

No idea what relief, if any, that will mean for those of us that own a pre-fixed model.

I still hope Casio will "do right" by its customers, but I have a back-up plan, if they do not.

Frustrating, because the 850 is a definite improvement over 750 cameras ... EXCEPT in the video department.

-stk
7.flag Caleb1338 Comment
08/07/06
EX-Z850 Ver.1.1B firmware released!

Have anyone tried it ?
8.flag stk Comment
08/07/06
Caleb,

Thanks for the information!

The English download location can be found HERE.

In a nutshell, both versions provide support for SDHC. v1.1B goes further, also improving the HQ video (although it reduces the FOV by 40% and the NQ video mode quality remains the same).

I've haven't tried the new firmware, released about August 2nd, but this thread at DPreview.com indicates that there's quite an improvement in HQ videos.

9.flag Leonardo Comment
11/05/06
News from the firmware v1.1B: While it fixes the video, it makes the pictures out of focus (unsharp, not crisp).

Look the test photos here.

It's better to go to 1.10, really no matter the video.
10.flag stk Comment
11/05/06
Leonardo,

Thanks for your comment! I agree, have modified the article and included a comparison image.
11.flag Serge Comment
11/12/06
Is it absolutely positive that the pictures cannot be made sharper with 1.1b using some camera setting? For example, the anti-shake setting or some other setting?
12.flag stk Comment
11/12/06
Serge,

The scientific method would indicate - "no" - there isn't a magic bullet setting that will render the image any sharper, using firmware v1.1b.

Bottom Line: The ONLY difference between the two images, show in the November Update, was firmware version. (Anti-shake was on, for both images).

By all means, have a play. What you will find (everything else being equal) is that images taken with v1.1b will be less sharp than images taken with v1.10.

It's a catch-22 I'm afraid. Better video & less-sharp images (v1.1b) or crappy video & sharper images.

IMHO, Casio screwed up BIG TIME ... both with the engineering and how they have handled the situation.

13.flag Bjorn Comment
11/28/06
I just saw this forum thread saying:

the 1.1B produce the same quality as 1.10. The difference is that 1.1B does not apply USM.



Don't know if it's true or not.
14.flag stk Comment
12/02/06
Bjorn,

Interesting read and thanks for the link.

My thoughts:

1) The camera is a "black box". What goes on inside, I will probably NEVER know. All I get to look at, is what comes out.

2) The v1.1b image is sharper/better than the v1.10 image - right out of the camera.

3) I cannot say which image has more "data", but IF one must post-process the camera image, to get a better image, who wants to do THAT every time?

4) The video "fix" in v1.1b is a compromise (because [a] it narrows the FOV and [b] only works for the HQ mode (not NQ).

5) CASIO has botched the handling of these issues and I am VERY DISAPPOINTED that they [a] didn't openly own up to the problem right away and [b] haven't offered EX-Z850 owners an acceptable redress.

The travesty is that the EX-Z850 camera is (for the most part) much better than the EX-Z750, with the unfortunate exception of the video (something I bought it for, logically EXPECTING it to be improved - or at the very least - identical to the EX-Z750).

Cheers,

-stk
15.flag Badfelafel Comment
12/16/06
Part of the reason I bought the EX-Z850 was the seemingly incredible video modes...

Read the handbook carefully online before purchase and lots of websites, saw that there was an upgrade so wasnt worried...

Opened the box, and a little slip of paper says that the handbook was wrong - movies are not unlimited in length but instead limited to 10 mins...

Disappointed!
16.flag Adam Comment
12/27/06
I just got an EX-Z850 for Christmas and am trying to decide whether I should keep it or return it for an EX-Z750.

Scott, I'm confused with the firmware fix version numbers. Does the camera currently come with any version installed or does the customer have to download it to the camera themselves?

Sorry for the ignorance on my end, but is there any way to get a comprehensive list on the "fixes" and what the pros and cons are of each?

Great review, by the way!
17.flag stk Comment
12/28/06
Adam,

I'm not sure what firmware the camera now has, out of the box, but there's a quick way to check. (Turn on the camera at the same time you're holding down the "menu" button and the firmware version is displayed.)

I believe that the original version was v1.0 (that's what was shipped with my camera, but I bought it more than 6 months ago).

If you have v1.0 and want another version, you will have to go HERE and download a new version, then upload it to the camera. (You can flip between v1.10 and v1.1b as many times as you like).

Hope this helps.

-stk
18.flag Stephanie Comment
02/04/07
I nearly purchased an EX-Z850 online today, but randomly came across your website while searching for reviews/prices.

Thanks so much for posting the video clips ... people need to be made aware of this kind of thing! I never would have purchased the older EX-Z750 on my own, figuring that the newer model would simply be an improvement upon the older, as is usually the case (we can only hope). The proof is certainly in the pudding, I suppose!

I just purchased an EX-Z750 on eBay an hour ago, so thank you again for pointing me in the right direction & rescuing me from the disappointment of the EX-Z850.
19.flag stk Comment
02/04/07
Stephanie,

Glad that it helped you make your decision.

In all honesty, I still believe that the EX-Z850 is a better STILL IMAGE camera, but the video (for anything other than decimated web clips) is AWFUL.

-stk
20.flag Jack Comment
02/04/07
Hi Scott

Thank you for this forum.

Unlike Stephanie I bought the Z850- my first digital camera - based on several on-line reviews which make no reference to the video problems. However the HQ video is as you described - dreadful! Even though I bought the camera in december it still has the original firmware (version 1.0). Although I am disappointed with the video I would prefer to optimise photo quality. Do you know whether upgrading to firmware version 1.1 has a positive or negative effect on photo quality? At the moment raw photographs seem to have a slightly hazy quality, although Picassa2 seems to sort this out.
21.flag stk Comment
02/04/07
Jack,

I have not made direct comparisons between image quality between the original firmware and v1.10. (I was so eager to make the video better, I just upgraded).

However, I *believe* there's no discernable difference (either positively or negatively) in image quality between the two.

I'd suggest keeping the original firmware, UNLESS you have the need for SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity >2GB) memory card support.

I believe it's an either/or situation, with respect to still image quality. (Why bother then, unless you want to upgrade to v1.10 just to be "current".)

I don't think you'll be disappointed with the quality of your still images. The EX-Z850 is good still camera.

-stk

22.flag Leonardo Comment
03/12/07
Great!! Casio has really fixed it this time!

NEW Casio EX-Z850 Firmware Versions

EX-Z850 Ver.1.20 - Download Here
  • Support for SDHC memory cards ( capacities of 8+ GB )

EX-Z850 Ver.1.2B - Download Here
  • Support for SDHC memory cards ( capacities of 8+ GB ).
  • Fixes problems with v1.1b snapshot processing (as noted in this post, above).
  • Improves HQ Video quality (less digital noise, smoother lines)
  • 40% reduction in FOV for HQ Video

Notes:
(v1.20) - Video/Image quality is unaffected, only support for SDHC memory cards is added.
(v1.2b) - NQ & LP Video are unaffected by this firmware update.

I have made my little test and now we have the 1.10 photo quality (sharp pictures) with the 1.10B video quality (antialiasing video) in one firmware, the 1.2B.

Firmware 1.10b: blurry pictures but good video

Firmware 1.10: sharp pictures but stair-stepping video

Firmware 1.20b: sharp pictures and good video!

Thanks Casio!
23.flag stk Comment
03/13/07
Leonardo,

Thanks for posting that! I'll have to download the new version and test it out.

Cheers,
-stk
24.flag Xgrep Comment
03/14/07
I've been following this thread for some time, and was very pleased to hear that Casio had finally listened to users, acknowledged the problem, and released an update. I'm also extremely grateful to those who've persevered on this so diligantly, so that Casio acted!

However, I'd be interested to hear if anyone has carefully compared stills taken on this camera with its older cousin, the EX-Z750.

I own both (just purchased my 850 after hearing that Casio was fixing the problem) and have been trying to compare the two cameras. Not surprisingly, 8Mp is not significantly higher resolution than 7Mp, but what I'm finding is that in some cases, image quality is not as good on the EX-Z850.

My tests involve taking "real" shots (i.e., not test cards in the studio) in as near identical conditions as possible (same settings, same tripod, same subject, same lighting, etc.). So far, the shots taken with the EX-Z850 are often the same quality as those taken with the EX-Z750, and very occasionally slightly better (probably due to the slightly higher resolution), but many are easily seen to be inferior. In one case, there was a contrast/brightness problem in some areas of the image that was impossible to post-process away.

I'll try to post some examples in dpreview if I have some time, but in the meanwhile, would be very interested to hear if others have compared these two cameras. The EX-Z750 is a truly remarkable product, and I had hoped the EX-Z850 would be equivalent, with a brighter LCD, but now I'm not completely sure.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.
25.flag Ravi Comment
05/12/07
I don't know, I got the z850 a year ago (march '06 for a trip at the end of march) and i looked at the z750 as well. based on the strengths of the z750, i purchased the z850. There was one main reason why I wanted the z850 over the z750 and it wasn't that extra megapixel.

The z750 has a "anti-shake" option in the best mode features. But after reading online, I found out that this wasn't an image-stabilization mode, rather it just reduces the image size to 1600x1200 and increases the ISO. The z850 was one of the few digital cameras (in march '06) with anti-shake DSP which is a huge step in quality for digital cameras. The z850 was my first digital camera, and I didn't buy one before primarily because of all the blurry, fuzzy images i saw from other people's digital cameras. What's the point of amazing image quality if I can't hold the camera steady enough to take a picture? Use a tripod on every picture??

The z850 has absolutely amazing image quality while shaking the camera. I tested it out as soon as I got it by literally rocking the camera back and forth (so the direction of the lens is quickly changing, as opposed to just shaking the camera up and down). The results in daylight were utterly stunning and it was almost as good in low-light situations with a flash (without a flash, the image stabilization basically doesn't work).

Regardless of crappy video quality (it's not that bad, just not great), the z850 is much better than the z750 in my opinion based on that one feature. If you've ever owned a previous digital camera and you upgrade to this one, just keep anti-shake on in the settings and take consistently beautiful photos.

I also upgraded to the 1.20 and 1.2b versions of the firmware. I tried both out and the 1.2b simply restricts the view too much (by 40%). At first I thought this meant reducing the 640x480 to another size. I found out after upgrading the firmware that it basically means the image is zoomed in when taking video. Hence you have to stand further back to get the same video, but not just a little bit. I had to stand an extra 6 feet away to get the same video of something 2 feet in front of me. I switched back permanently to the 1.20 firmware.

So, I prefer the slightly crappier video to the restricted view. That kind of stinks, but I'll take amazingly sharp photo quality (with the anti-shake) over slightly crappy video quality any day. So yeah, if you want a camera primarily for pictures and slightly less for video (as I do), get the z850. If you want better video quality and slightly blurry pictures some of the time, get the z750. Even better, if you want better video quality, just get one of the new HD camcorders which also takes great photos (like the sanyo xacti hd2, which is definitely on my wish list).

Oh! I forgot to mention! the anti-shake also works with video! I haven't tried everything, but it works with the standard video mode and also with the best shot video modes (my default is on high sensitivity for low light settings). Just imagine taking a trip somewhere and wanting to walk around while taking video. the anti-shake makes it infinitely smoother while filming video. the rewatching of the video doesn't make you nauseous because of all the camera handling.

So for all these reasons, well one mainly, choose the z850. That's my 2 cents.
26.flag Joe Comment
10/06/07
Firmware version 1.3B
released August, 2007

English - Firmware 1.3B Download
27.flag stk Comment
10/06/07
Joe,

Thanks for posting. It looks like the 1.3B provides "improved focus tracking during movie recording".

-stk
28.flag Joe Comment
10/06/07
1.3b still has the improved video/reduced FOV, but I wonder if it has addressed the problem with blurry stills. Has anyone tried this?

I wish I could do a series of test across all the firmware updates, but my camera shipped with ver. 1.10 and I hear that you cannot downgrade (ie to 1.0). 1.20 & 1.3b are currently available on the Casio website and they advertise that you can go from one to the other freely. I guess the only one I'm missing is 1.2b (though it may be redundant with 1.3b) Does anyone have a link to this one?

Nonetheless, I will take some sample photos and video with my current ver 1.10 then do the same with 1.20 and 1.3b, and then do a comparison. I'm looking forward to the better video quality, but I'm hoping I won't regret the irreversible upgrade due to crappy stills.
29.flag stk Comment
10/06/07
Joe,

I never downloaded the v1.2B firmware, as I didn't care for the video fix (I don't take much High Quality video, as many of our short videos end up on the Internet anyway).

I did a quick Internet search though, and found this link:

EX-Z850_12B.exe (English)

-stk