The EX-P505 leaves the starting blocks with an unfortunate handicap - its price tag. With a web price of around £320, it's locking horns with 7-megapixel models such as the Canon Digital Ixus 700, Pentax Optio 750Z and Nikon Coolpix 7900.

Now we're all grown up enough to know that more megapixels doesn't necessarily translate into better image quality. But when a similarly specified 5-megapixel camera like the Nikon Coolpix 5200 can be picked up for as little as £150, you can't help thinking someone's got their sums wrong. Unless of course the Casio is harbouring something very special.

The EX-P505's styled like a prosumer camera, with the 5x zoom lens housed along its entire focal length, so you haven't got anything hanging out the front at the long end. There's nothing in the way of button shortcuts for the likes of ISO sensitivity, white balance or even exposure compensation, which suggests a common or garden compact, despite the racy looks.

Having said that, its looks do count in its favour - the finish is black plastic, but smooth, solid and delicately styled with a courteously fashioned handgrip that does wonders for balance with one-handed shooting. The fold-out 2-inch LCD helps handling, but the buttons and thumbpad don't deserve the same praise - they're shoddy and hardly reflect a price tag of £200, let alone £320.

Just a point and shoot?

The decent number of features on offer belies the relative simplicity of the EX-P505's exterior. There are Centre Spot, Multi Area and Selectable Area focus options, built-in neutral density filter for 2EV stops, 1cm macro (which is tops), the usual three metering options, manual white balance, fl ash exposure compensation, memory presets, as well as compatibility with the various printing technologies - PictBridge, DPOF and Print Image Matching.

In short, it's got everything you'd expect from a prosumer model bar a Continuous Shooting mode, dedicated auto-exposure lock and RAW format. Scene modes are under a confusingly labelled Best Shot function on the Command dial, and they're accompanied by descriptions and appropriate images, with the same red border accorded to the menu system.

There are a couple of unusual settings for Movie mode - Short Movie and Past Movie. Past Movie comprises a continual five-second recording buffer that initiates as soon as you select the mode. Once the shutter's pressed, you capture everything until your second press, as well as five seconds before the first.

Short Movie works in a similar fashion, but instead it records before and after the shutter's pressed for a maximum of eight seconds. You've also got the ability to scroll through a movie frame-byframe, zoom in, capture particular frames as still images and cut out parts of a movie in-camera that you don't like. Movies are recorded as memory-efficient MPEG-4 files, and deliver smooth motion, good detail and fine colours at maximum size and quality.

A more legitimate boast for the EX-P505 concerns its performance - the 0.8-second start-up claim is accurate. The 0.01-second claim for shutter lag appears credible, too - you can't glean any sense of pause at all.

Casio doesn't mention the lag from capture to ready - there's a black-out of 1.5 seconds before it's ready to roll again. This isn't unusual for a compact, but it's an issue that needs to be tackled. And you've got to wait for the full whack of processing and file flush (around 2.5 seconds) before you can access Playback mode. At least with Review set to on, you get your thumbnail immediately. Image scrolling is instantaneous, as is image magnification and close-in scrolling.

With regards to image quality, the lens presents the fi rst hiccup, exhibiting noticeable barrel distortion at the wide end. This isn't great considering we're only talking 38mm - there are wider lenses in the compact market with less distortion problems.

This camera's extremely prone to fl are. Purple fringing (chromatic aberration) is there, but thankfully it's a lot less intrusive than the norm. At ISO 100 with default sharpening, there's more noise present than there should be and detail suffers because of it, but there are worse performers out there, too. At ISO 200 and ISO 400 things hot up in the noise stakes, particularly with colour noise.

There isn't a compact in the market at the moment that doesn't exhibit some sort of problem when you examine images close up, but you'd be wise to wait for a price cut before considering this camera: if it was reduced to £200, its speed could make it a player... Matt Henry

Via PhotoRadar