WHAT'S HOT: Compared with cameras with similar specifications, the QV-3500EX is a bargain. At $599, it's at least $100 less than most competing models. And it doesn't scrimp on the important features. You get a full set of exposure controls--shutter priority, aperture priority, and full manual--plus a Best Shot button that goes well beyond the usual Program mode. To use it, you pick from among 28 sample images the one that best represents the type of shot you want to take. The camera then sets the appropriate focus (macro for a flower, for example), white balance, and exposure settings, and even adds framing lines for composing the scene. Based on a limited number of test shots, it seems to work well.
The QV-3500EX scored very well in our image-quality tests, pulling off a first-place finish for printed shots. Our print samples had razor-sharp detail, accurate exposures, and generally attractive colors. On-screen images were not as pleasing, but still well above average. We saw the same sharp details as in the prints, but colors were a bit duller. Our one serious complaint was an occasional slipup with white balance. The casual shots we took outdoors were on par with the Sony DSC-S75 and the Epson 3100Z we evaluated at the same time.
WHAT'S NOT: The combination of layered menus, multiple-function buttons, and partial labeling make learning to use this camera a fairly tedious process. Figuring out how to turn off the Best Shot mode, for example, took a trip to the manual. There are also so many different ways of controlling the camera that it's hard to recall quickly the steps for specific tasks. It also means that you can intend to do one thing and end up doing another. We often left things like the self-timer on and the flash mode in an unintended setting.
The overall look of the camera is not especially pleasing. Looking a bit like it was designed by committee, its many control buttons have different shapes (but with no ergonomic rhyme or reason), and they, along with the lightweight but large plastic case, give the camera the feeling of being cheaply made.
WHAT ELSE: Nevertheless, some of the Casio's features are a cut above what we usually find. For example, you can run through all your images in playback mode and mark the ones you want to delete, then delete them all at once. It's a small benefit that can save you time managing your images. Like most digital cameras with aperture- and shutter-priority modes, the LCD viewfinder displays both settings for the shot you're about to take, but only after you press the shutter release halfway down. If you're in aperture priority, you can see if you have an acceptable shutter speed before you take the shot. But in marginal light, you may have to do a lot of careful button pressing while you change settings.
The movie mode works well enough, though the Casio does not have any audio capabilities. When you press the shutter to start a movie, a small REC message displays in the LCD viewfinder and a counter counts down the time remaining, starting at 30 seconds. An unusual feature is the Past Movie mode, in which you press the shutter button and the camera starts recording, but doesn't commit the movie to memory until you hit the shutter a second time, at which point the camera records the prior 30 seconds of footage.
Another rather novel feature is the camera's ability to detect automatically whether it's being held horizontally or vertically and record the image's orientation. When you download the shots through the camera's Photo Loader utility, vertical shots are displayed vertically. Unfortunately, it does not work with other image-editing or -management applications. (The manual also mentions that the feature can fail to work if the camera is tilted too far up or sideways.)
Useful extras include a diopter adjustment for the optical viewfinder and a panorama mode that helps you stitch images together in your PC; because the camera has a Canon lens, it takes that brand's accessory lenses.
UPSHOT: It's not a very appealing camera to look at or use, but the QV-3500EX gives you a lot for the price.
3.3 megapixels, 2048 by 1536 maximum resolution, 33mm to 100mm focal range (35mm equivalent), f2 to f8 aperture range, shutter speeds from 60 seconds to 1/1000 second, optical and LCD viewfinders; USB, serial (with optional adapter), and video connections; bundled 16MB CompactFlash media, four AA batteries, 15.9 ounces with batteries; Ixla Web Easy Express, trial version of Qbeo's PhotoGenetics, plus various utilities. One-year parts and labor warranty, toll-call support for 13 hours, seven days a week.
Street price: $599
By Tracey Capen