This casio gets a high "usability" rating for its manual controls

Quite simply, it's the best non-SLR digital camera with both manual and auotmatic controls on the market today.

A number of readers have asked me about the equipment I used to take photos of tanks and soldiers on the night of the coup d'etat in Thailand. How did I get those photos?

"Your camera must have a good flash" someone said to me. (Actually, only two or three photos I took the night of the coup employed the flash at all). The best were all shot without a flash. The secret was being able adjust time settings for the exposures, or select from among over 30 pre-programmed photo setting templates. This was not only possible, but positively easy thanks to my pocket sized Casio. Before buying the camera, I tried out comparable models from Panasonic, Sony, Nikon, and Canon. But settling on Casio was a no-brainer once I discovered it. I'd never have caught the coup without it.

My first digital camera was Sony I bought three years ago, but it got stolen. Great little camera. I had intended to replace it with another Sony, but to my utter dismay, two years later, the intuitive built-in software functionality of my first Sony digital cameras had disappeared. Sony had taken some great functionality away from their cameras in the intervening two years, and added a few measly mega pixels (above about 4 Mega pix, other considerations should take precedence anyway). Sony had replaced useful photo-editing and cropping features with dedicated buttons for gimmicky slide show presentations. LCD screen protection was absent from many Sony models. The body was not metal like my old one, but the cheapest looking plastic imaginable. Other digital camera -- most notably Nikon (they now specialize in camera-based slide show extravaganzas) and Canon (cheap hunks of plastic with no LCD protection) makers have gone the same route, designing cameras that include showroom gimmicks at the expense of buttons for easy of operation in the field. I'm convinced that the specifications of most consumer digital cameras today are dictated by Marketing Departments, not engineers and photographers.

Casio is the exception. The Casio EX-Z850 is designed to be manually operated or used in automatic mode. It has good battery life. It is housed in a light aluminum metal casing. It has a professional range of manual functionality, yet can be used in automatic too. And a feature unfortunately labeled "BS" (for Best Shot) allows you to take a photo you like, and use it as a template for a future photograph. Settings for every photograph are encoded onto files and Casio reads these files.

Many camera salespeople will tell you, "it's best to buy a digital camera from a 'real' camera maker like Nikon or Cannon." You'll here the same sort of line about the importance of famous lens brands. Nonsense. Choose a camera designed for easy operation in the field. That, points out photographer Ken Rockwell is the key to getting great photos, not arcane technical specifications that matter only under laboratory testing conditions. (Ken has superb camera reviews at his site, Kenrockwell.com).

The non-slr digital camera allowing for the fastest manual operations is the Casio. It's the most ergonomic and lightweight of the digital cameras. I am also impressed by its movie editing mode.

If you can't justify the price of the EX-Z850, the EX-Z750 comes with most of the same functionality.

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