Casio EX-H15 Review
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The Casio EX-H15 is the successor to last year's EX-H10 pocket super-zoom camera, offering a 10x wide-angle zoom lens with a focal length of 24-240mm and CCD-shift image stabilization mechanism. The 14 megapixel EXH15 boasts a headline grabbing battery life of 1,000 shots, a large 3.0-inch LCD monitor with a resolution of 460,000 dots, and 720p HD movies. The new Engine 5.0 image processor increases operational speed by 30%, while the Premium Auto mode automatically optimises settings for exposure, ISO speed, focus, blur correction, tonal range, colour balance, and even noise reduction. Available in black, gunmetal grey, brown and pink, the Casio EX-H15 retails at £249 in the UK and $299.99 in the USA.
Ease of Use
A step up from the EX-H10 model, Casio is describing this year's reincarnation in the metal and plastic bodied EX-H15 as the world's first high speed - thanks to the incorporation of a new fifth generation Exilim Engine - high zoom compact camera (hence the 'H' in the model name). At £249 it's one of the more reasonably priced options in its class, which also includes Panasonic's TZ series, Canon's PowerShot SX210 IS, Kodak's Z950 and Samsung's WB500 and WB650 models, to name but a few.
The EX-H15 boasts a zoom of the 10x optical variety, starting out at a wideangle 24mm equivalent in 35mm film terms, which should make it as adept at landscapes and group portraits as candid close ups from afar. Because of this broader than average 24-240mm focal range, like its similarly equipped competitors it's inevitably slightly wider in depth (29.3mm with protrusions, officially) and overall bulkier than cameras with more modest 3x or 5x zooms.
On the plus side, this makes achieving a steady grip when shooting handheld that much easier. It feels reasonably weighty for a pocket model too at 206g with battery and optional SD/SDHC memory card inserted (with 73.8MB internal capacity to fall back on), and sturdily constructed also.
And as well as including an extra helping hand to avoid blur in the form of CCD shift stabilization, the EX-H15 ticks the boxes for the latest must haves in other areas, including a 14.1 effective megapixel resolution from a 14.48MP 1/2.3-inch square CCD and large 3-inch LCD with better than expected 460,800 dot resolution screen. There's also - of course - 1280x720 pixels HD movie recording.
To set it apart from the competition it includes a couple of the technologies that Casio has been pushing of late: a unique Dynamic Photo function that allows cutting and pasting from one image shot in continuous shooting mode to another, and an extra long battery life - here claimed to be a whopping 1,000 photos from a single charge. Impressive stuff, when the competition averages about 250. The EX-H15 also includes the image adjusting Premium Auto function alongside regular auto, plus - like the EX-Z550 snapshot we reviewed in tandem - 'Art Shot' functionality.
As this sounds, various artistic digital effects are selectable from within its comprehensive range of around 40 Best Shot scene and subject settings - accessed with a press of the dedicated 'BS' button - and applied to ape a watercolour, oil painting, sepia tinged print or crayon drawing. A gimmick perhaps, and yet the results are surprisingly effective, being of particular use to those of us not skilled enough to achieve similar in an image editing package.
So from the front the EX-H15 appears smart if conventional in its design, our review sample coming in standard issue silver. That lens starting at a wider than most 24mm equivalent is squirreled away and protected within the body when the camera is inactive helping maintain as compact-as-possible dimensions for portability, top right of which is a small window for the self timer lamp/AF assist.
Top left of the lens is a small pinprick housing the built-in microphone and, adjacent to this, a narrow window housing the integral flash. There's a slight concession to a grip provided bottom left of the faceplate with a raised edge providing a purchase point for a couple of fingers as your thumb comes to rest on a pad or four small raised nodules at the rear, leaving forefinger free to hover over the shutter release button. In truth though you'll want to use both hands to hold the camera as steady as possible when shooting.
Moving to examine the camera's top plate, the shutter release button is in turn encircled by a lever for operating the zoom. Next to which we find a recessed, small, on/off button. Press this and the model powers up from cold in just over two seconds, lens extending to maximum wideangle setting from its storage position within the body. With a half press of the shutter release button the camera takes a brief moment to determine focus and exposure, AF point highlighted in green accompanied by a bleep of affirmation. Go on to take the shot and with no discernable shutter delay, maximum resolution images are committed to memory in just over a second, screen momentarily blanking out and then presenting a preview of the capture shot. That's commendably swift for this class of camera.
The EX-H15's zoom is fast to respond, though its adjustments and transitions are accompanied by a rather loud mechanical buzz; still it powers through its 24-240mm equivalent focal range in just less than two seconds if you keep a finger on the 'trigger'. The fact that the zoom is operated by a control placed in this position has another advantage: it leaves room at the top right of a camera back (where a zoom rocker switch might otherwise be located) for a dedicated video record button.
The final two controls on the camera's top plate are for auto stills capture - alternating in a single press between regular and premium auto - and, to its right, a button that gives direct access to the camera's on-board effects filters for make up and vivid landscape mode. These buttons feels slightly extraneous here as such features are otherwise secreted away within the BestShot scene modes (here also given their own 'BS' button) on other Casios.
Through their inclusion the EX-H15's manufacturer obviously reasons that potential users are either going to taking portraits of spotty individuals needing such blemishes smoothed out through software processing, or landscapes in the main, though we didn't notice a great deal of difference between shots taken with the latter setting active and the camera's default auto mode anyway. Nevertheless, Casio's own press blurb states that the reasoning behind the camera is a simple one: to make it easier to create and share photos, and the former features, together with the larger screen, fall into line with that intention.
That ease of use extends to the higher than average 3-inch LCD on the backplate, which, in the absence of an optical viewfinder is bright and clear in terms of visibility. Swallowing up four fifths of the available space, remaining controls are ranged in a row top to bottom on the right. We've already mentioned the convenience of the one touch video record button - although, scandalously, the optical zoom isn't accessible in this mode - beneath which is a further pair of buttons, one above the other, for stills capture and playback, the user able to swap between such modes with a single press of each.
Under this again is a familiar control pad, with 'set' button at the centre for implementing chosen menu options. With the pad marked 'display' at its 12 o'clock setting and featuring delete and flash control at six o'clock, operation is again straightforward. As on the EX-Z550, users get a choice of the usual flash settings, including red eye reducing option, along with a soft flash cutting.
Press that central 'set' button meanwhile and a toolbar of essential shooting functions appears on the right hand side of the screen, running top to bottom. Again, as a time saver this conveniently avoids having to dip into the menu folders proper and search for basic options. From the top we have the ability to determine image quality and pixel count, flash (again) and focus options (AF, macro focus, infinity focus and even a manual option: the latter presenting a histogram and an adjustable focus distance of between 50cm and infinity). AF modes are further adjustable between intelligent AF, spot, multiple area and AF tracking. Next down the toolbar are the selectable light sensitivity offerings of between ISO64 and ISO3200, and, down one option again, choices of self timer between 10 and two seconds and a further kind of self timer bracketing option that fires three consecutive shots with an interval of a second between each. It's here too that face detection can be turned on or off, and exposure compensation adjusted between -/+ 2EV.
Beneath the EX-H15's control pad is, finally, another stacked pair of buttons, for the self explanatory menu mode and the less immediately obvious 'BS' (BestShot) scene and subject modes, the latter's comprehensive line up identical to that included on the EX-Z550 model. So here too the photo thumbnail illustrated Best Shot modes govern all the familiar subjects from portraits and self-portraits through pictures of autumn leaves, fireworks, flowers and food, plus backlight and high sensitivity modes joining the yet-more-creative Art Shot modes mentioned at the outset of our review. We even get help here with taking ID photos for passports, photographing business cards and presentation boards, along with a pre-record movie function for anticipating action sequences.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
A press of the 'menu' button meanwhile and EX-H15 owners are presented with three menu sub folders that can be tabbed between: record, quality and set up. Within the record menu photographers can switch between 4fps and 10fps continuous shooting modes, call up a nine zone compositional grid to practice the 'rule of thirds'. Within the quality folder as expected resolution of both stills and video can be adjusted to suit the intended end purpose. It's under the 'quality' heading that we also find an alternative means of manually adjusting exposure (+/- 2EV), white balance, ISO (ISO64-3200), metering (multi zone, centre weighted or spot) plus applying a palette of colour filters to variously warm or dampen the image. Sharpness, saturation, contrast and the intensity of the flash can further be tweaked. As with the very similar set up offered by the Z550 model, this is more than we expected for the EX-H15's class.
In Set Up mode meanwhile, users have the ability to turn Eye-Fi connectivity on, should they have a suitable Eye-Fi media card loaded that will provide automatic wireless uploading whenever they come within reach of their desktop PC or laptop. Otherwise operational sounds, start up visuals and time stamps can be governed in this mode as expected, though like us you're probably most likely to access it to format the card in use and quickly delete all the images contained therein.
While operationally, that's about it for the EX-H15, on the camera's right hand flank next to a lug for attaching a wrist strap we find a protected port for a single yet dual purpose AV/USB output. No HDMI here for hooking the camera directly up to a flat panel TV though, which is slightly disappointing as this too is fast becoming a must have feature, even for modestly priced compacts such as this.
The base of the camera meanwhile features a slightly off-centre screw thread for attaching a tripod, just next to a shared compartment for battery and card. Whilst we didn't get close to the 1000 images the company promises in terms of battery life, the camera was still working and showing two of three bars remaining on its indicator when the Z550 model we were using at the same time - good for the standard 250 shots - had given up the ghost. So, the upshot is that this is a camera you could take away on holiday for a week and not have to worry about packing a charger and compatible plug too.
Whilst this ensures that the EX-H15 stacks up as a viable low(ish) cost option for those looking to make use of the expanded creativity a broader than average focal range allows, how about the images produced themselves? Do these go the distance too, or fall short of expecttions?