Casio EX-FC100 Review
The new Casio EX-FC100 is quite unlike any other compact digital camera currently available. On the face of it, the FC100 is just another good looking, well-made, pocketable digicam, with a 9 megapixel sensor, 5x optical zoom lens, and a 2.7-inch LCD screen. What really sets the Casio EXFC100 apart from its main rivals, though, is its sheer speed. The FC100 can shoot at 30 frames per second at 6 megapixels, and it can also record slow motion video at up to an incredible 1000fps. HD movie recording at 1280x720 pixels, the ability to capture a 6 megapixel image at the same time as shooting a movie, a mechanical anti-shake system, and a lag correction setting which avoids shutter-lag, help make the Casio EX-FC100 one of the most intriguing cameras of 2009. Available in in grey and white for $399.99 / £349.99, we find out if the Casio EX FC100 can live up to its promise.
Ease of Use
The Casio EX-FC100 is an extremely well-made, very compact digital camera, with a stylish dark grey metal body and excellent overall finish. It's easily small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, despite featuring a fairly versatile 5x optical zoom lens that's equivalent to a focal length of 37-185mm. The maximum aperture is a rather average f/3.6 at the wide end, but a more respectable f/4.5 at the other extreme of the zoom range. The EX-FC100 is quite slim, measuring 2.3cms thick when turned off, making it suited to either a trouser pocket or small camera bag, and it weighs 146g without the battery or memory card fitted.
As with almost every Casio camera that we've reviewed before, the EX-FC100 is one of the best models around in terms of build quality. Even the tripod mount is metal instead of plastic and is positioned centrally. The only minor criticism is the lack of any handgrip on the front, with just a smooth, flat finish embossed with the Exilim brand name, making it more difficult to hold than it really should be. Also, changing cards or batteries is not possible while the FC100 is mounted on a tripod, because the compartment door hinge is too close to the tripod socket. Otherwise this is about as good as it gets for build quality in the world of compact cameras.
The Casio EX-FC100 has relatively few external controls, just 13 in total, which reflects the fact that this is quite a simple camera in functionality terms, with only limited photographic control on offer. All the controls are clearly labeled using industry-standard symbols and terminology, with just a couple of Casio-specific buttons that require a quick read of the manual. Located on top of the EX-FC100 are the On / Off button and the tactile Zoom Lever and Shutter button. On the bottom are the tripod mount and battery compartment, which also houses the SD memory card slot.
On the rear of the EX-FC100 is the 2.7 inch LCD screen, with a number of controls to the right, including a traditional round navigation pad. You can directly access the various flash options by clicking down on the navigation pad, whilst up is used to toggle between the various Display modes (no information, shooting info, shooting info with histogram). The Set button in the middle performs two main tasks - it selects menu options, and also accesses the EX-FC100's Control Panel. This is a vertical list of options displayed on the right of the LCD screen, which provides quick access to some of the camera's more important options, including image size, ISO speed, white balance, and exposure compensation. This system is a good compromise given the size of the camera's LCD screen and therefore the limited space for external controls. It takes a little while to get used to the presence of this on-screen list, but you can toggle it off using the Display mode if it proves too distracting.
Directly above the navigation pad are the self-explanatory Playback and Camera buttons, which switch between the two modes. Above these buttons is the very welcome inclusion of a dedicated Movie button, which makes it quick and easy to shoot a movie without missing the start of the action. Encircling the Movie button is the Movie Mode switch, which can be set to either High Definition / Standard movies or High Speed Movies. Starting with the former mode, the EX-FC100 can record standard quality movies at 640x480 pixels at 30fps in the AVI format, or High Definition quality movies at 1280x720 pixels at 30fps. You can even pre-record up to 5 seconds of footage using the Prerecord Movie Best Shot mode, and shoot up to 10 still images (6 megapixels) whilst recording a movie simply by pressing the shutter button.
There are some limitations to the EX-FC100's HD movies though. The AVI format choice results in some massive file sizes that quickly fill up your memory cards, and the length of a movie is bizarrely limited to only 10 minutes. The sound quality is not that great, with the usual background noise that accompanies movies shot with cameras that only have mono sound, and even worse, you can't use the optical zoom at all during movie recording (although there is a digital zoom setting available). On a more positive note, you can use the various Best Shot modes to help enhance your movies, and the Anti-Shake system works for both still images and movies.
The High Speed Movie mode allows you to record a movie at up to an incredible 1000fps, effectively slowing down the subject movement. Four different frame rates are available - 210fps, 420fps, 1000fps, and 30-210fps (you can switch speeds whilst recording) - which are recorded at 480x360 pixels, 224x168 pixels, 224x64 pixels and 480x360 pixels respectively. This extreme slow-motion effect is initially very appealing and sure to impress your friends, but as with the HD movie mode, there are some drawbacks to be aware of. You can't use the optical zoom, sound isn't recorded at all, horizontal bands can appear as the lighting fluctuates, and the actual sizes of the recorded movies are pretty small, especially the 224x64 pixel, 1000fps mode.
The Menu and Best Shot buttons are positioned below the navigation pad. The menu system on the Casio EX-FC100 is perfectly straight-forward to use. Quite a lot of the camera's main settings, such as white balance, exposure compensation and ISO speed, are accessed elsewhere, so the main menu system isn't actually that complicated. A row of 3 icons along the top of the LCD screen represent the Record, Quality and Set Up sub-menus, with most of the options being the kind that you set once and then forget about. Due to the very large and bright LCD screen, the various options are easy to access and use, especially as only 6 are shown onscreen at one time. Accessed via the Best Shot button, the Casio EX-FC100 offers Auto and a comprehensive range of 20 different scene modes aimed at the user who just wants to point and shoot, making this camera particularly well-suited to the beginner.
There are two important controls located above the LCD screen - the Slow and 30 buttons. The Slow function makes it possible to view the movement of the subject in slow motion on the LCD monitor. The EX-FC100 effectively pre-records images continually in a buffer for either 1, 2 or 3 seconds, and then plays them back at one of 8 different speeds. Pressing the shutter button then saves the currently displayed image. The Slow mode makes it much easier to capture a fast-moving subject, although note that the resolution is automatically set to 6 megapixels.
The second way to guarantee a good shot of a fast-moving subject is to use the Continuous Shutter mode, activated via the 30 button. In Single Shot mode, the Casio EX-FC100 records just 1 frame per second (at 9 megapixels), but in Continuous Shutter mode it can take up to 30 shots per second, although only at 6 megapixel resolution. The number of shots per second can be set at 30, 15, 10, 5, 3 or auto, and you can set the total number of shots in one burst at 30, 20, 10 or 5. The Prerecord CS option saves up to 25 frames prior to the moment that the shutter button is actually pressed, helping you to avoid missing the action. Once the images have been taken, they are saved in either a Batch containing all of them, or played back at slow speed so you can select the ones that you want to keep by pressing the shutter button. Being able to take 30 images in the blink of an eye produces some amazing results, which you can see for yourself on the Image Quality page.
The Lag correction function effectively speeds up the shooting speed of the Casio EX-FC100. It does this not by physically changing the speed of the shutter, but by pre-recording images when the shutter button is half-pressed, and then saving what happened just before you press the shutter button. The lag time can be set to 0.1, 0.2 or 0.3 seconds, or Off to disable it. It takes some experimentation to figure out which lag time suits your particular shooting style, and as with most of the camera's other high-speed settings, the resulting image is recorded at 6 megapixels.
There are three Best Shot scene modes that are particularly worthy of mention - High-Speed Anti-Shake, High-Speed Night Scene, and High Speed Best Selection. These modes take full advantage of the Casio EX-FC100's continuous shooting speed to improve image quality in traditionally difficult shooting conditions. In the first two modes, the camera combines a number of images taken in burst mode and aligns the position of the subject to form a single, sharp shot. Although these modes can't perform miracles, they do produce notably sharper shots when hand-holding the EX-FC100 in low-light conditions. High Speed Best Selection automatically selects the best image from a set of images taken in burst mode, choosing the sharpest image, and if there is a person present, the image with the subject smiling and not blinking.
Other notable Best Shot modes include Move Out CS and Move In CS, which use the Casio EX-FC100's pre-record functionality to capture a subject as it moves into or out of an adjustable frame on the LCD screen. Multi-motion Image mode automatically selects the same moving subject within a series of multiple images and combines them into a single image, effectively creating a muil-exposure shots that visually tracks the subject's movement.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The Casio EX-FC100 features an anti-shake system. Turn it on in the menu system and the EX-FC100 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds. There are three different modes. Camera AS uses the camera's mechanical CMOS-shift system to minimize hand movement, Image AS increases the ISO speed to minimize subject movement, and Auto uses both systems to compensate for both hand and subject movement. In practice I found that it does make a noticeable difference, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos. Leaving the anti-shake system on all the time didn't affect the battery-life too much, with the camera managing just over 270 shots before the rechargeable Lithium-ion battery ran out of power.
There is a single port on the right side of the Casio EX-FC100 (when viewed from the back) which accepts both the USB interface cable required to connect the camera to a printer or computer, and the AV cable. There are no controls on the left side of the EX-FC100. Overall the camera body feels very well-designed and not at all cluttered, despite the presence of the large 2.7 inch LCD, which has a wide viewing angle from left to right, average resolution of 230,000 dots, and is visible in most conditions. There is no optical viewfinder on this model. If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the comprehensive and fairly easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Unfortunately Casio have chosen to cut costs and only supply the full manual as a PDF on a CD, rather than in printed format. Not much use if you're taking pictures and need to find out what a particular option does.
The start-up time from turning the Casio EX-FC100 on to being ready to take a photo is quite quick at around 2 seconds, and it takes about 3 seconds to zoom from the widest focal length to the longest. Focusing is very quick in good light and the camera happily achieves focus indoors or in low-light situations, helped by a powerful focus-assist lamp. It takes about 0.5 second to store an image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card - there is a very quick LCD blackout between each image. In Continuous mode the camera takes just 1.0 frame per second at the highest image quality, which is slow for this class of camera, although the shooting rate is at least maintained until your memory card is full. Things get much more interesting if you don't mind recording your images at 6 megapixel resolution - then you can shoot at either 3, 5, 10, 15 or an incredible 30 frames per second, as detailed above.
Once you have captured a photo, the Casio EX-FC100 has a good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view up to 25 thumbnails onscreen at once, and zoom in and out up to 8x magnification. You can view slideshows with different effects and interval settings, edit movies and print a specific frame, adjust the white balance and brightness, and set the print order and the transfer order. You can also protect, rotate, resize, trim, and copy an image. If you've recorded a continuous burst of images, you can divide them up and edit a specific image. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and white balance, and there is a small histogram available during playback which is helpful in evaluating the exposure. A third press of the Display button shows just the image with no information displayed.
In summary the Casio EX-FC100 is a very stylish and well-built point-and-shoot digital camera that offers a number of innovative high speed modes, some of which are more successful than others.