Casio EX-FH25 Review
The Casio EX-FH25 is a new ultra-zoom digital camera, sporting a 20x lens that provides a focal range of 26-520mm and offers sensor-shift image stabilisation to keep things steady. Also onboard the FH25 are a high-speed, high-sensitivity 10-megapixel CMOS sensor, 30 frames per second continuous shooting at 9 megapixels, a special pre-record mode which starts the recording as soon as the shutter is half pressed, and high-speed film recording up to 1000fps. In-camera exposure blending, High-speed Anti Shake and High-speed Night Mode are on-hand to help you make the most of the camera’s capabilities. The Casio EX-FH25 is available now for a recommended price of £399 / $399 / €399.
Ease of Use
Like Fujifilm's heavyweight HS10 super zoom, Casio's equally DSLR-styled but more obviously plastic-y Exilim EX-FH25 marries a modest sounding but plentiful 10.1-megapixel effective resolution from a back-lit 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor (wires don't get in the way, therefore sensitivity's maximised) to a whopper of a lens.
Granted, it's a little less pulse quickening when placed in direct comparison with the Fujifilm (or Olympus' SP-800UZ) - Casio's 'cannon' a image stabilized 20x rather than 30x - but still knocks a 3x or 5x pocket model into a cocked hat. The broad focal range on offer here is equivalent to 26-520mmm in 35mm film terms, once again allowing for any subject from dramatic landscape to candid close up to be captured, and is supported by sensor shift anti shake to avoid the blurring effects of hand wobble - effective up to a point. Given that the HS10 also costs an identical £399.99, the EX-FH25's asking price at first appears a tad high - particularly as, and the same is true of both cameras, one could purchase an entry level DSLR instead for an identical outlay.
The story of the EX-FH25 is not just one of optics however. This being a Casio bridge model, speed of operation is always going to be at the forefront of the spec, even if the end results are not wholly convincing - and here that's been extended to its video capabilities. Blazing away with a frame rate of up to 1,000 fps, albeit at a low 224x64 pixels, movies can be captured and replayed in ultra slow motion, suggesting that when coupled with its extreme telephoto setting, the EX-FH25 might be an ideal tool for shooting action or sporting events.
Of course you can still opt for now regulation issue 1280x720 pixels 30fps HD video with mono sound and in widely compatible Motion JPEG AVI format instead if you want results closer to real time, with the ability to manually toggle the recording speed up from this setting to 210fps to match faster paced action. Standalone settings for 210fps and 420fps are also included. Such capability is fun if used in moderation, though there may be a limit to how many times you wish to watch someone in slow-mo playback walking or running as if wading through invisible treacle. Given the unusual prominence given to its video features, it's a bit of a surprise not to find a dedicated video record button; recording commences and ends with a press and subsequent press of the main shutter release button once the relevant video setting has first been selected on the shooting mode dial.
A need for speed needn't be just limited to movie clips. The camera's high-speed burst mode boasts captures up to 30fps with a single button press - albeit at a resolution of nine megapixels - and for those sports enthusiasts aiming to anticipate the action to avoid missing that 'moment', there's a pre-record function that buffers up to 40 images at a time with a half press of the shutter button, saving the most recent sequence to memory when the shutter button is fully pressed and released. Add in a flash continuous shutter option on the shooting mode dial which captures five successive images per second up to a maximum 10 shots, plus on-board face detection to ensure fast moving children and pets are always sharp, and the Casio would seem to have most bases covered when it comes to tricky subjects.
Because of the above, Casio confusingly classifies the FH25 as being part of its 'high speed', rather than co-existing 'high zoom' series. The FH25's mini DSLR styling, smooth curves and rounded edges make it resemble a Canon PowerShot model, but in truth its layout, comprising integral pop up flash, raised shooting mode dial and prominent shutter release button situated on the forward slope of the finger-moulded handgrip is near identical to competitors from Nikon in the P100, Kodak's Z981, and Pentax in the X90. Like those cameras the essentials fall readily to hand, but equally true, the FH25 is not a compact if we define such as a device that will fit into your pocket. The FH25 is just marginally smaller than a starter DSLR at dimensions of 122.6x81.4x84.5mm and a weight of 483g without battery and optional SD/SDHC media. It feels solidly built despite the plastic construction and reassuringly chunky when gripped.
With a relatively sluggish start up time of an official 3.3 seconds, Raw or JPEG images are composed via the 3-inch, non-adjustable LCD screen on the back plate, or courtesy of the electronic viewfinder (EVF) ranged above. Like the Kodak Z981 and Fujifilm's comprehensive specified HS10 big zoom, power comes via four bog standard AAs inserted into the base of the hand grip, which any user will quickly want to replace with rechargeable versions. Still, these will provide around 340 stills according to CIPA standards, or 500 images if replaced with the NiMH variety.
This inevitably means the camera is weightier and bulkier than those rivals - Olympus SP-800UZ, Pentax X90 and Nikon P100 - that have opted for a slender lithium ion pack instead. At least, like the Fuji HS10, this Casio features a separate side expansion slot for SD/SDHC media - with a 85.9MB internal capacity as backup - so the user doesn't have to struggle to prevent the batteries dropping out every time a memory card is inserted or retrieved.
As could be predicted, the front of the FH25 is dominated by its large lens, a third of its fully extended glory hidden secreted within the lens barrel, with slide-on plastic cap provided for further protection. The lens barrel is surrounded by a ridged rubber grip that at first glance looks like it may be a manual focus or zoom ring. Situated just behind this at the camera's right - if viewed lens-on - is an easily overlooked pair of buttons, one for auto exposure lock, the other for macro focusing. Just above these is a more prominent button for manually activating the pop up flash - the camera won't raise it automatically if an active flash setting has been selected, but will provide an onscreen text prompt asking the user to do so. The flash in question, as with the Casio's rivals, is hidden above and behind the lens.
In the dip between lens and handgrip is a window for self-timer/AF assist lamp, the grip itself chunky and of sufficient size, with just enough room to wrap three fingers around though finger joints do rub up against the lens' rubber surround.
The top plate of the camera, as mentioned, follows a similar layout to most bridge models, with shutter release button on the forward slope of the grip encircled by a rocker switch for operating the zoom so that both fall under the forefinger. Just back from this is a recessed on/off button, and adjacent to it a raised, ridged mode dial. Compared with competitors who squeeze custom and scene modes onto said dial alongside a smattering of auto and manual modes - anything from 9 to 13 options - the Casio's own control looks a little sparse in terms of its functionality. There's one setting for shooting stills, another for standard video, then separate high speed video and high speed stills and continuous flash settings - just five options in all. The fact that they're bunched together rather than spread out evenly around the dial makes it look to the user like something is 'missing' and that the FH25 is somehow a little unfinished.
Like Casio's Exilim compacts, scene modes have been re-named 'BestShot modes' and instead of being located via the shooting mode dial, are called up onscreen via a separate button on the backplate marked 'BS'. There are a wide-ranging 26 options to be found here, the usual portrait and landscape settings joined by high speed settings variously optimized for photographing babies, children, pets, sports and night scenes.
In operation the Casio's zoom takes three seconds to travel the entirety of its broad focal range, sound-tracked by a low mechanical whirr - luckily minimal operational noise is picked up by the camera's built-in microphone. There's a brief pause while the FH25 determines focus and exposure, followed by imperceptible shutter lag as you go on to take the shot. Write speed for a maximum resolution JPEG is around two seconds, which is respectable.
With a built-in speaker and of course the aforementioned flash the other two features of the camera's top plate, we move to the back plate, which is a similarly spartan affair. With the rear dominated by the regular 4:3 ratio LCD, just right of the electronic viewfinder are a couple of pocket camera-like buttons for alternating between image capture and playback, and on its left, a dedicated button for swapping from utilising the larger screen for composition/review and the EVF above. Just nestling into the side of the EVF is a DSLR dioptric adjustment wheel.
With a rubber pad located top right of the camera back aiding purchase for the thumb when gripping the camera in your right hand, just below this are three small buttons - smaller in fact than the available space might allow - marked 'disp' for display, calling up or disabling shooting information including a live histogram, the aforementioned 'BS' and the self explanatory 'menu' button.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
A press of the latter brings up three menu folders that fill the FH25's screen, for, variously, record, quality and 'set up'. It's in the former that amongst a three-screen assortment of options a digital zoom can be enabled or disabled, face detection and continuous AF switched on or off plus a compositional grid called up on screen. In the quality menu, fine, normal or economy compression levels can be applied to JPEGs, as well as metering switched between multi, centre weighted and spot options. More unusually it's here that digital colour filters can be applied to pictures, as well as sharpness, saturation and contrast individually tweaked. In the set up menu screen and EVF brightness can be adjusted, the camera enabled to work with Eye-Fi media cards, sounds and time and date stamps enabled or disabled, as well as the memory in use be formatted or the camera be reset to its default factory settings.
While the above is all well and good, day to day adjustments are made with a press of the 'set' button located in the centre of the FH25's four way control pad bottom right of the camera back. This is in effect a 'quick menu', though confusingly not named as such, and displays a toolbar of key shooting settings down the right hand side of the LCD, that can tabbed through using the control pad and made 'live' with a subsequent press of the set button.
From the top we find a means of adjusting aperture and exposure and dipping into a manual setting, in addition to full auto or the BestShot selection. Next down we discover a means of tweaking file size, with a JPEG selection running from 640x480 pixels up to the full 10 megapixel complement, as well as the ability to shoot 3:3 or 16:9 ratio images, or Raw + JPEG files - the latter option only selectable outside of the BestShot or full auto modes.
Next down the toolbar we find the option to adjust ISO speed, the selection here running from ISO100 up to ISO3200. Manual white balance, exposure compensation (+/- 2EV) follow, as does a means of adjusting the AF area, from spot AF to tracking AF. And that's about it. Though the four 'edges' of the control pad aren't all marked with icons, the bottom of the pad is, with, variously, the ability to select the standard flash settings on offer when in capture mode and then delete images when in playback; always useful to have a dedicated 'erase' button. The flash settings offered are auto flash, flash off, flash on, and flash with red eye reduction.
Apart from the sluggish start up the FH25 responds as quickly as you'd hope to each button press and adjustment. While the right hand flank of the camera - as viewed from the back - houses a slot for SD/SDHC and Eye-Fi enabled versions of both, the left hand side of the camera features a pair of ports covered by a rubber flap, which, here, are for mains power in, USB and AV connectivity. For the price and at this level we'd have expected HDMI connectivity too, but surprisingly the facility isn't offered. The bottom of the Casio meanwhile features a centrally located screw thread for a tripod and to one side a cover with sliding catch for the battery compartment, the four AAs as previously discussed housed within the base of the handgrip.