Casio Exilim EX-FH100 Review
How Does it Compare?
The Casio Exilim EX-FH100 is a compact ultra zoom camera with a plethora of high speed shooting features, courtesy of its back-illuminated CMOS sensor. It offers nearly an endless selection of point-and-shoot features, plus a decent set of manual controls. I found that the EX-FH100 is best suited for the small print, "auto mode" crowd, rather than the enthusiast. I say this because of the "crippled" manual controls (only two apertures to choose from, RAW only available at low ISOs, no ISO adjustment in shutter priority mode), lengthy startup and write times, and mediocre image quality once the ISO starts to rise. If you're an action shooter who will be mostly sticking to smaller-sized prints, then the Exilim EX-FH100 is worth a look. More advanced users may want to consider a camera that offers better manual shooting features and performance.
The Exilim EX-FH100 is a compact (but not tiny) ultra zoom camera with a body made mostly of metal. Construction is generally very good, though I'm never a fan of plastic tripod mounts. The camera is easy to hold and operate with one hand, but watch your fingers, as blocking both the microphone and the flash is relatively easy. Speaking of easy, turning the camera on accidentally takes very little work, which I found to be a frequent problem. The FH100 features a 10X optical zoom lens with a very wide 24 - 240 mm range. It's coupled with a sensor-shift image stabilization that effectively reduces blur in both stills and movies. The FH100's flash is on the weak side. On the back of the camera is a standard issue 3-inch LCD display with 230k pixels. I found both outdoor and low light visibility to be good.
The EX-FH100 has a ton of point-and-shoot features (some of which are quite unique), as well as a full (but restricted) set of manual controls. For the "set it and forget it" crowd you'll get a standard auto mode plus 27 Best Shot (scene) modes. About the only thing missing is an auto scene selection feature. The most interesting of the Best Shot modes involve continuous shooting or high speed movie recording. The most compelling one for me is the high speed lighting option, which is essentially a high dynamic range feature. This quickly takes three photos, each with a different exposure, allowing for much greater dynamic range in your photo. The only real catch is that the field-of-view isn't as wide as it normally is. The high speed anti-shake feature allows you to take blur-free photos in very low light, though it's best suited to small prints, due to fairly high noise levels. While the FH100 has what seems like full manual controls, they're actually quite restricted. In the aperture priority and full manual modes, there are only two apertures to choose from at any one time, due to the camera's use of a neutral density filter. In shutter priority mode, the ISO is fixed at the Auto position, which can lead to noisy photos. And, while the camera supports the RAW (DNG) format, it's only available at ISO 100 and 200, which is arguably when you need it the least (though it can still be helpful). In addition, Casio provides no software for working with these files -- in fact, they include no image editor/organizer at all.
Two of the camera's biggest features are high speed continuous shooting and movie recording. Thanks to its CMOS sensor, the FH100 is able to take up to thirty 9 Megapixel photos in a row at a whopping 40 frames/second. If that's too fast, you can choose from several other speeds, slowing all the way down to 1 frame/sec. The camera can also saves photos that were buffered before you pressed the shutter release button, so even if you're a little slow, you can still get the shot you're after. As you might image, you cannot use the RAW image format in high speed continuous mode. The high speed movie mode can record at frame rates ranging from 120 to 1000 frames/second. As the frame rate increases, the movie resolution decreases. So, at 120 fps you can record 640 x 480 video, but by the time you reach 1000 fps, you're recording a postage stamp-sized 224 x 64 clip. As with the high speed still shooting, you can "pre-record" up to five seconds of footage that was taken before you pressed the shutter release button. Do note that sound is not recorded in the high speed movie modes.
The FH100 has a "regular" mode mode too, which can record at 1280 x 720 or 640 x 480, both at 30 frames/second. Sound is recorded in stereo, though watch your fingers, as the microphone is easily blocked. You can keep recording until the file size reaches 4GB, which takes around 17 minutes at the 720p setting. The optical zoom is not available during recording, but the image stabilizer is. The EX-FH100 allows you to adjust the shutter speed and aperture in movie mode, though you'll have the same restrictions as you do for still shooting.
Camera performance is a very mixed bag. The EX-FH100 has one of the slowest startup times that I've seen in ages, taking 3.7 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. On a more positive note, focus speeds were relatively snappy, even in low light. Shutter lag wasn't a problem, either. Shot-to-shot times were all over the place. For JPEGs, you'll wait around 2 seconds before you can take another picture. If you just took a burst of photos, the delay is around 10 seconds, and a single RAW (plus JPEG) photo takes 13 seconds to save. As I already mentioned, the camera's burst mode is incredible -- easily one of the best on the market. Battery life has always been one of Casio's strong suits, and the EX-FH100 delivers best-in-class numbers in that department.
Photo quality is good, as long as you don't let the ISO wander far from its base value of 100. Exposure was accurate, though like all compact cameras, the FH100 is prone to highlight clipping. Colors were pleasing, and subjects were sharp, save for some blurring in the corners (also a common trait of compact cameras). Images are fairly clean at ISO 100, save for some mild detail smudging and a somewhat over-processed look. You should be able to get away with midsize or large prints through ISO 400. ISO 800 is best suited for emergencies only, and the two highest ISOs should be avoided. It's unfortunate that Casio does not allow you to use RAW at the higher sensitivities -- you could probably get much nicer photos as a result. The EX-FH100 does have issues with redeye, and there's no digital correction available. And, to compensate for the weak flash, the camera will need to use a high ISO to properly expose a flash photo, which ends up being quite noisy. Purple fringing levels were relatively low on the FH100.
There are a couple of other things I wanted to mention before I wrap things up. I didn't find the camera's color rendition in the studio to be that great, even with its custom white balance feature. Most people probably won't care, but if you shoot under unusual lighting, you might. The menu system is in dire need of a face lift -- it feels like you're stuck in 1995. You won't be able to access the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod. And finally, the camera's bundle isn't very good (aside from having a lot of built-in memory). There's no photo editing software included (not even for the RAW images), and the full camera manual is hidden away on a CD-ROM.
After spending a lot more time than expected with the Casio Exilim EX-FH100 (and I'm still not done with it -- night shots are still waiting to be taken), I'm pretty confident in saying that its a camera best suited for the snapshot crowd, rather than the enthusiast. It has a nice set of scene modes -- some of which are quite useful -- and parents will love being able to capture photos of their kids at a soccer match with the camera's high speed burst mode. Enthusiasts will likely be disappointed with the crippled manual controls, sluggish startup and RAW write times, and mediocre high ISO performance. If you're after a camera which can record photos and videos very quickly, then the Exilim EX-FH100 is worth a look. If manual controls are what you're after, it's probably better to consider another camera.
What I liked:
- Good photo quality at low ISOs
- 10X, ultra wide 24 - 240 mm zoom lens in a compact, well built body
- Sensor-shift image stabilization
- 3-inch LCD has good outdoor and low light visibility
- Tons of Best Shot (scene) modes, several of which are quite useful (e.g. high speed lighting / anti-shake)
- Limited manual controls
- Super-fast continuous shooting (up to 40 fps!), with pre-recording capability
- Can record 720p movies with stereo sound; also records low resolution, silent movies at frame rates ranging from 120 - 1000 fps
- Best-in-class battery life
- Plenty of built-in memory
- HDMI port
What I didn't care for:
- Details start to get smudged once you pass ISO 200
- Redeye a problem, no removal tool available
- Some corner blurring at wide-angle
- Didn't perform well in artificial light, even with custom white balance (won't affect most people)
- Very slow startup speeds; lengthy write times for bursts and RAW images
- Manual control limitations: RAW only available at ISO 100/200, only two apertures to choose from at any time, ISO locked at Auto in shutter priority mode
- Design annoyances: too easy to turn camera on accidentally; flash and microphone easy to block with fingers; plastic tripod mount; can't access memory card slot when using tripod
- Dated menu system
- No image editing/organizing software included, which is especially frustrating for working with the RAW format
- Full manual on CD-ROM, not terribly detailed
Some other compact ultra zooms to consider include the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS, Fuji FinePix F300EXR, Kodak EasyShare Z950, Nikon Coolpix S8000, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7, Ricoh CX3, Samsung HZ30W, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Exilim EX-FH100 and its competitors before you buy.
Check out the EX-FH100's photo quality in our gallery!