Casio EX-TR100 Review
The Casio EX-TR100 (also known as the Casio Tryx) is a unique digital compact camera with a distinctive, variable frame design. Users can hold the Tryx horizontally, in a traditional point-and-shoot style to capture still images, or flip out the rotating 3-inch touch-screen LCD and swivel the body to countless other positions. The Casio EX-TR100 also offers a 12.1 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, 21mm ultra-wide-angle lens, slide panorama mode, full 1080i HD movies, slow-motion video recording, and Casio’s HDR-ART technology. Available in black or white, the Casio EX-TR100 retails at £249.95 in the UK and $249.99 in the USA.
Ease of Use
The Casio Exilim EX-TR100 - also known as the 'Tryx' for short - embodies what is certainly a different approach to camera design. Though its flip out chassis and tilt-able 3-inch screen is not perhaps not as revolutionary as either we, or its makers, might expect. It owes some of its heritage to early Nikon Coolpix models like the 950 from a decade ago, which featured a lens that could be tilted and swiveled independently to the body to achieve shots from a greater variety of interesting angles. Except in the case of the Casio this sits within (and pivots about) a surrounding metal frame that can be used as a handgrip.
While Nikon has followed a more conventional route in the intervening years, Casio has almost always been concerned with delivering the slimmest camera possible. And, on that point at least, in the Tryx it might just have succeeded. If they looked at the 3-inch widescreen aspect ratio display side alone, many observers would mistake the EX-TR100 for a smartphone. Dimensions are a wafer thin 14.9mmx122.8x59mm and weight is 157g with memory card - here the usual optional SD, SDHC or SDXC - or 155g without.
As well as being skinnier than the skinniest of conventional compacts, the Casio camera also finds room for a touch screen with tough shutter control, bringing the whole concept bang up to date. And here, rather than lens merely being separately adjustable to the body, as mentioned the whole thing pivots about a surrounding metal frame that can be flipped out through 180° and actually used as a steadying grip, held in the left hand while your right hand holds the main camera body. Retail price is a suggested £249, though a street price of £199 was available at the time of writing; a sub £200 price tag subconsciously meaning that the curious are more likely to give this one a punt.
For that the key headline feature is 12.1 effective megapixels from a 1/2.3-inch back illuminated CMOS sensor, the same core specification as the more conventional EX-ZR100 travel zoom we were looking at alongside this model; the back illuminated quality suggesting that this could be a stronger contender in low light conditions, even though there's not actually much of this camera to get a good steady hold on - at first glance at least. Light sensitivity runs from ISO100 up to ISO3200; again the same spec as the regular ZR100.
The EX-TR100 manages to be one of those cameras that is so minimalist and slimline in its design that you wonder where the (SD) memory card fits. The answer is under a well-hidden flap on what would normally be any other camera's top plate. Other flaps cover ports for HDMI and USB 2.0 connectivity, all obscured by the frame that surrounds the camera when it is snapped shut in the position the camera is when you get it out of the box, and stored flat. The rechargeable battery is non removable so this is charged in camera, for which a USB lead and mains adapter is provided. Casio was vague on battery life in its accompanying blurb, and we managed fewer than 200 shots before it needed recharging.
Of course a camera styled to please the eye has its compromises. For example, the diminutive dimensions here have been achieved partly because the Tryx doesn't feature a proper optical zoom - just one of the digital variety controlled via a swipe of the finger up or down an on-screen slider. With a basic 1.5x range, 2x or 4x options are further provided up to a maximum 15.9x digital equivalent which does unsurprisingly produce a distinctly blocky appearance.
Thus 'zoomed' images have a distinctly digital look. The fixed lens does offer a usefully wide-angle 21mm to cram most of whatever surroundings you're faced with in its frame, and it's reasonably bright too with an aperture of f/2.8. Focus range is from 8cm in macro setting to infinity. There's also no proper built-in flash here however, just a camcorder-style LED light to illuminate your subject that needs to be manually turned on and off, so pretty quickly the Tryx does just give the initial impression of being the merest of step-ups from a smartphone with integral megapixel camera.
Practicality aside though, admittedly it does look rather cool and quite unlike anything else currently on the market, which is not only a boon for us reviewers but will hold appeal for the curious camera buyer and gadget lover into the bargain. We had the futuristic silvery white version in for review, holding obvious enticement for those wedding to tools with an 'i' prefix, though a sober black alternative is also available.
Start to play with the Exilim EX-TR100 and it delights and confuses in equal proportions. For the quirky Tryx is just so damn flexible that, even after a couple of weeks of use, it's still very easy to accidentally get a finger in front of the lens as you twist it this way and that, Rubik's Cube style, to find another hitherto impossible framing configuration.
Supportive frame design aside, as noted the EX-TR100 has a core feature set that borrows from its more conventionally styled companions, including the EX-ZR100, which means apart from the same resolution and sensor as that model we also get software enhanced features such as HDR (High Dynamic Range) Art mode. This can lend otherwise drab images a distinctly otherworldly look that can, at its best, provide a colourfully fresh slant on the familiar. We don't get ultra high speed shooting options with the EX-TR100 however; so overall it feels slightly pared down in terms of functionality compared with the ZR100.
The touch screen operation takes some getting used to here as the screen display can be angled to match whichever way you're holding the camera at the time; while being a neat feature on paper, in practice this can have the effect that virtual buttons are never quite where you expect to find them. So you not only have an unusual angle of view to contend with when viewing the image on the LCD, but also buttons flipped upside down, or shifted from left of screen to right. The only physical controls on the camera are the lozenge shaped power button plus, immediately above it, the shutter release control, and thankfully so, as they provide an anchoring point to tell you which way is up.
Give the power button a press and the camera readies itself for the first shot in around two seconds. Press the shutter release to the half way point and an AF point, that looks a little like the gun sight from a 1980s video game, illuminates in blue/green. Press fully to take the shot and recording is nigh on instant, image review turned off by default (equally it can be activated via the menu button) so there's no temporary screen freeze before you're able to fire off the next shot.
As with other recent touch screen cameras a focus point can be specified by the user tapping the screen and the shutter fired in the same manner - though thankfully the touch shutter can be turned off to avoid accidentally shooting if all you're merely doing is handling the camera. However navigating such menus is a tad tricky as we found they sometimes required several tentative strokes with the finger to respond, or to arrive at the setting we required. However, using the built-in self-timer (the regulation two or ten seconds) narcissists can use the touch panel and motion sensor facility to trigger the camera shutter automatically when they then pop into a certain portion of the frame. Handy perhaps if you want to record yourself in front of one of the wonders of the world and can't find an obliging passing stranger. Screen visibility is actually pretty good - especially as you can alter the positioning if sunlight proves a problem - and that's no doubt in no small thanks to the 460,800 dot resolution offered here.
Aside from stills the Tryx can record the customary Full HD video clips, here recorded in H.264 compression format, and with a self explanatory red record button denoted with a movie camera icon living at the bottom right of the screen display - if its viewing angle hasn't been manually altered that is. Give this a tap and recording instantly commences, the screen display instantly narrowed to display the regulation 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio crop. The fact that the frame can be flipped out at right angles or indeed the full 180° so that it is parallel to the lens and screen, ensures that a steady level can be achieved when filming, so this is another bonus of the rather unique design.
Casio suggests that you could even go so far as using the frame as a clip, to hold the camera in place for some unusual remote filming: from a top shirt pocket for example, as the photographer/videographer runs around chasing small children. Slow motion video options are also provided here, enabled upon playback via footage captured at 240fps to start with, although to necessitate this resolution is a modest 432x320, so lower than standard resolution (640x480 pixels) clips. The regular alternatives are the HD likes of 1920x1080 pixels or 1280x720 pixels, both at 30 frames per second. However, unlike the Casio ZR100, sound on the TR100 is mono, not stereo.
From the front then the EX-TR100 presents a distinctly clean, almost utilitarian look, with LED light top left of the lens and mono microphone bottom left. As we've noted it's very easy for a finger to obscure any of these when handling the camera, and twisting the camera frame through all of 360°, or the monitor screen through 180° clockwise or 90° counterclockwise. But such accidental obstruction seems unavoidable given the unit's size and design. Expect to be constantly wiping the lens and its surrounds free of fingerprints.
|Standing Up!||Battery Compartment|
As we've noted in our intro, what would be the 'top' of any regular camera - if we're going by the positioning of the Exilim logo on the 'front' - is where we find the slot for the required SD media card. It's well hidden under a hard plastic flap with an indent, in order to get purchase with a thumbnail and flip it open. The 'side' of the main body is then where we find separate USB and HDMI output ports - with the latter cable, if you do want to hook the camera up to your TV, being a required extra purchase. The would-be 'bottom' of the camera does not feature the usual screw thread for a tripod. As Casio suggests, you could use the frame as a makeshift tripod, or steadying arm in itself. But you can't have it all it seems.
Supporting frame aside it's all about the screen here, and, as noted, it's not all that easy to navigate. When you're composing an image, the monitor presents a simple zoom slider to the right of the screen, below which is a button for recording video, which we've already touched on.
On the left hand side of the screen there's often nothing at all, apart from a small lip to the top left hand corner. Give this a tap and a vertical toolbar reveals itself. Included here are, from the top, are the main menu and then the recording modes, with a choice of six. Featured here are the default setting of auto, the picture enhancing premium auto, BestShot scene modes, of which there are a modest total of five including an HDR and composite Multi SR Zoom mode as found on the EX-ZR100, plus high speed anti shake.
Among the other record modes we also get an HDR Art function for otherworldly digital effects applied in camera, a 'slide panoramic' mode, whereby the image 'builds' as the user pans with the camera - with here a choice of starting to pan from left to right, vice versa, from bottom to top or top to bottom. Last but by no means least is the motion shutter feature, providing a hand and shutter button icon that can be dragged around the screen to the position you desire. Subsequently press the shutter release button to begin a countdown to the shot being taken. With a camera info button and separate playback button being the final two controls, the EX-TR100 really is the exercise in minimalism its exterior suggests.
Despite spending two weeks with the EX-TR100 on holiday, we never felt we fully got to grips with it; although a godsend for certain types of shots it can prove overly fussy if all you really do just want to do is point the camera at something and take a picture. So how do those said pictures fair? Is there a twist in the tail when it comes to image quality from the Casio EX-TR100, or did it just Tryx our patience?