The rise of the camera phone has made shooting from the hip, over your mate's shoulder, or in the back of the cab on the way home from the pub, as easy as sliding open the lens cover.

The latest generation of digital compacts are following suit. In recent months, we've seen flat-fronted, pocket models in Sony's T100 and HP's R837 that are activated by sliding open the lens cover, and Casio's look-a-like 7-megapixel EX-V7 is almost identical.

Like its competitors, Casio has managed to cram a vertically stacked zoom lens within a slender body not much larger than a credit card, but here it betters both HP and Sony with a 7x focal range and a casing that's just 20.8mm at its narrowest point.

In fact, it's currently the world's slimmest camera to feature such a zoom specification, and at no point does the lens stand proud of the body.

With the chewing gum pack-sized rechargeable lithium-ion battery inserted at the base of the camera (a compartment shared with a SD slot), the Exilim feels reassuringly weighty in the palm.

Build quality - a mix of mainly metal and plastic - is higher than most in this price bracket. While styling isn't as minimal as Sony's T100, it comes close.

The rear is dominated by a 2.5-inch LCD screen that displays some ghosting when used in low light, but which is otherwise perfectly functional with enough resolution for checking manual focus fairly accurately.

Sliding doors

Sliding open the lens cover reveals a lens with a flash alarmingly located directly above, plus stereo microphone and AF illuminator window directly below.

The EX-V7 powers up for the first shot in around a second. The large lozenge-shaped shutter release button that sits alone atop the camera is a bit too springy to the touch - it's too easy to fire off a shot when you just meant to give it an exploratory prod.

Happily, the EX-V7 is quick to determine focus and exposure and image capture is nigh on instantaneous, with a wait of only a second or so for a full-resolution, fine-quality shot to be committed to memory.

With your finger hovering over the shutter release button, the vertically arranged slider for the zoom falls ergonomically under the thumb, with a raised centre section providing just enough purchase.

The zoom's response is swift, mercifully silent (no horrible mechanical jitter noises here) and smooth, with a three-second range between maximum wide-angle and full telephoto.

Shake it up

Shooting at the maximum reach of the zoom raises the possibility of the effects of camera shake. To combat this, Casio has included not only mechanical image stabilisation in the form of CCD shift, but has also backed it up with a digital anti-shake mechanism, which boosts ISO sensitivity and increases shutter speed.

Choose an ISO setting of ISO 400 or above and image noise is visible in shadow areas, but the effects aren't as pronounced as previous Casio models. And results are better than switching the flash on and risking red eye in portraits.

While images that are taken at the maximum telephoto can benefit from some sharpening, and despite producing the odd completely blurred shot, the EX-V7's delivery rate is high. Similarly, there is a little softness towards the edges of images taken at maximum wide angle, it's only noticeable under close scrutiny.

For the most part the images delivered by the EX-V7 are vivid and flattering, with skin tones imbued with a healthy glow. It's fast to get going, capture an image and commit it to memory, while the ability to make use of a 7x optical zoom and still have a camera that will slip into shirt or trouser pocket is a real boon.

Via PhotoRadar