Casio's latest offering in the digital camera market proves one thing: Megapixels are no longer the standard-bearer for camera marketing. New, innovative features catch headlines now, such as the EX-FH100's high-speed recording modes, which allow for video capture as fast as 1,000 frames per second. That's certainly a big claim and some serious slow-motion, but can the EX-FH100 rise above mere gimmickry and produce the type of quality still images that will make it worth the investment?
Design and Interface
The first thing you'll notice when you pick up the camera is that it's a little bit heftier than other compacts, weighing nearly 8 ounces, though it fits in a loose pocket with little trouble. The review unit provided has a nice matte black finish as well. Overall, it feels solid and has a good weight to it.
Putting aside aesthetics, the camera's specifications hold up well against other similar cameras in the market. the camera's lens is a 24-240 mm lens with an aperture range of f3.2-5.7. That wide angle is great for fitting a lot into the frame, but it does limit the camera's ability to telephoto; though it's a 10x-zoomer, the telephoto focal length is roughly equivalent to Sony's 7x-zoom-range W370.
The camera's button design can be a bit confusing at first, owing to the camera's multiple high-speed recording modes (both stills and video) being activated and adjusted using different buttons that indicate high speed. Overall the design is attractive and very clean, utilizing the typical four-way circular button design on the camera's rear, though the left and right buttons can actually be assigned by the user to control a number of different functions. The dial on top of the camera has just five modes: automatic, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, and the camera's Best Shot mode.
The menu isn't going to win any beauty pageants, but it certainly gets the job done. The problem is the sheer volume of menu options and control required by the camera's many functions. It can be a bit daunting of a user experience at first, though, and takes a little getting used to. I certainly wouldn't rule out giving the camera to a novice user, but it takes a few times around the block before navigating the options becomes second nature.
The FH100 really does produce some sharp images, as you can see from the samples. The sensor is “only” 10.1 megapixels, but I've not met a soul yet who consistently gets any meaningful difference from 12 or 14 megapixels versus 10. The FH100 also allows for RAW capture, though even with a nicer class 4 SDHC card it seemed to take awhile to get to the next shot using RAW.
Not counting the 1,000 fps video (we'll get to that later), it's the sensor that really shines on this camera. It's a back-lit CMOS sensor, which means it can handle low-light extremely well, and it's also got a shift mechanism to counteract blur from shaking the camera, such as when holding it in low light. The result of those two technologies produces a camera that, in all my tests, never had to push itself beyond 400 ISO (though it can go up to 3200 on demand), resulting in crisp images largely free of grain or blur, even when shooting one-handed at dusk. Very impressive.
High-Speed Video Performance
Now the juicy part: the camera's high-speed abilities. The camera accomplishes its rather incredible 1000FPS movie mode in the obvious way: it reduces each frame's resolution dramatically while also boosting the camera's sensitivity to light. As a result, the 1000 FPS videos are grainy and small -- but certainly one of the coolest spectacles you'll see come out of a compact camera.
Seriously, point it at anything moving and the resulting video might be the most intriguing thing you'll see all day, though the videos will have little practical purpose. Bumping the FPS down to 420, 240, or 120 sees an increase in quality and resolution, however, and those are far more useful modes. As expected there's no audio capture during high speed and while one can record while zoomed in, there's no zooming while the camera is actually recording video.
The camera utilizes its high speed mode in other ways, as well. Beyond doing video, the FH100 utilizes a “pre-record” buffer in order to take a burst of shots at a lower resolution rather than relying on you guessing when to press the shutter to capture the moment. The camera's manual lists a number of these functions, but most are variations on the same theme: taking up to 40 still frames per second in order to capture the precise moment. The camera can pull off some neat tricks with this mode though, like combining multiple stills to reduce blur, or overlaying multiple frames of a moving subject, like skateboarding and snowboarding magazines do in big photo spreads.
The normal 30 FPS movie mode is well-done as well, recording 30 frames per second of 720p video, though at an uncompressed rate of more than 25mbps, according to my tests. The camera's stereo mic works well, though the typical wind-muffling applies. It also sports a mini-HDMI port for output to an HDTV.
The Casio EX-FH100's high-speed video modes will certainly take the headlines and could improve your golf game, but the camera's superb still images that really make it worth the investment. The Achilles heel of these cameras is always the poor performance at high ISOs, but the back-lit CMOS is sensitive enough at low ISO to mostly avoid this problem. It's pricey, but a solid camera all around with some fun extra features and a thoughtful design.