Casio Exilim EX-FH100 Review
Look and Feel
The Exilim EX-FH100 is a compact (but not tiny) camera, made almost entirely of metal. Build quality is very good overall, though I'm never a fan of a plastic tripod mount. The camera can be held and operated with just one hand, with the important controls within easy reach of your fingers. I did find that my thumb rests right on the record mode button on the back of the camera, though. Normally this isn't an issue, but if you've defined this button to turn the power on and off, doing so accidentally is quite easy. And actually, turning the camera on accidentally with the regular power button is very easy, due to its placement and sensitivity.
Now let's take a look at how the FH100 compares to other compact ultra zooms in terms of size and weight:
The FH100 is right in the middle for both bulk and weight. It's small enough to fit in all but your tiniest pockets, so it can go just about everywhere.
Let's start our tour of the EX-FH100 now, shall we?
The EX-FH100 features an F3.2-5.7, 10X optical zoom lens. This lens is likely the same one used in Casio's EX-H10 and EX-H15 models, as well. That maximum aperture range is a bit slow, but it's par for the course when it comes to compact ultra zooms. The focal range of this lens is 4.3 - 43.0 mm, which is a equivalent to a very "wide" 24 - 240 mm. The lens is not threaded, so conversion lenses and filters are not supported.
At the other end of that lens is a 10 Megapixel, back-illuminated CMOS sensor. This is likely the same Sony-designed sensor that has found its way into cameras from nearly every major manufacturer over the last year. The design of the sensor allows for more light to reach the photo sites, which (in theory) improves sensitivity, resulting in better low light photos. CMOS sensors also allow for fast continuous shooting and high resolution video capture.
The CMOS sensor is mounted to a movable plate which is how the camera's image stabilization feature works. The camera detects the tiny movements of your hands that can lead to blurry photos, and then shifts the CMOS sensor to compensate for it. This allows you to use slower shutter speeds than on a camera without image stabilization. Sensor-shift image stabilization is good at reducing blur caused by camera shake, but it can't do much to prevent motion blur. The EX-FH100 has a second feature called Image AS which increases the ISO as needed in order to freeze a moving subject, resulting in a sharp photo. Do note that noise levels can be high when the camera does this. You can use Camera (sensor-shift) AS, Image AS, or both.
Here's an example of the FH100's image stabilization system in action:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on
In addition to seeing that I now have a much more colorful calculator, you'll also observe that the FH100's image stabilization system produced a nice, sharp photo at 1/10th of a second. With IS turned off, the photo is blurry. While many cameras that use sensor-shift stabilization don't support IS in movie mode, the EX-FH100 does. Watch this brief video clip to see how well it works.
To the upper-left of the lens is the FH100's built-in flash. This isn't one of the stronger flashes out there, with a working range of 0.4 - 3.6 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). The EX-FH100 does not support an external flash, nor would I really expect it to.
The last item of note on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp, which you'll find to the upper-right of the lens. The camera uses this lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations. This lamp also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.
The first thing to see on the back of the FH100 is its 3-inch LCD display. This screen has 230,400, and sharpness is average. The screen has good visibility in bright outdoor light, and I found low light viewing to be above average, as well.
As you can see, there is no optical viewfinder on the FH100. Except for the Ricoh CX3 (which has an available optical viewfinder), none of the cameras in this class have optical or electronic viewfinders.
Now let's talk about all those buttons and switches located to the right of the LCD. The first is the dedicated movie recording button. Press it once to start recording a video, and again to stop -- simple enough. Around it is a switch which toggles between the regular or high speed movie mode. I'll tell you more about those later in this review.
Below that is a button for entering record mode, and there's an equivalent for playback mode further down. The four-way controller between them is used for menu navigation, reviewing photos you've taken, and also:
- Up - Display (toggles info on LCD)
- Down - Flash setting (Auto, flash off, flash on, auto w/redeye reduction) + delete photo
- Center - Shortcut menu + Set
- Left/Right - customizable
Pressing the center button on the four-way controller allows you to quickly change the most commonly used settings on the FH100. They include (but are not limited to):
- Image size (see chart later in review)
- ISO sensitivity (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
- White balance (Auto, daylight, overcast, shade, day white fluorescent, daylight fluorescent, tungsten, manual)
- Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
- Flash setting (Auto, flash off, flash on, auto w/redeye reduction)
- Shutter speed/aperture (in manual mode)
The only thing from that menu that I want to mention is that manual white balance option. This allows you to use a white or gray card to get accurate color in unusual lighting conditions.
Down at the bottom you'll see the button for entering playback mode, with the Menu button to its right. And that's it for the back of the EX-FH100!
There's plenty more to see on the top of the EX-FH100. Something that stands out right away are the stereo microphones. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that it's really easy to block the left one with your fingers, so be careful. Other buttons here are for power, high speed continuous shooting (described later), and shutter release.
Around the shutter release button is the camera's zoom controller, which moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.6 seconds. I counted fifteen steps in the camera's 10X zoom range -- more would've been nice. I appreciate the fact that the FH100 displays the current focus range on the LCD when you're adjusting the zoom.
Next up is the mode dial. The dial doesn't have many options, though tons of shooting modes are hidden beneath that "BS" spot. Here are the shooting modes available on the EX-FH100:
Before I delve into the millions of Best Shot (scene) modes, let me quickly mention two things about the manual controls. While the EX-FH100 allows you to select both the shutter speed and the aperture, do note that there are only two aperture settings to choose from at any one time. For example, at wide-angle you can select from F3.2 and F7.5, and that's it. Second, for some bizarre reason, the ISO is fixed at "Auto" while in shutter priority mode. That's a new one for me!
|Best Shot modes||Details for one of them|
The FH100 has more Best Shot modes than one could possibly need. Many of them take advantage of the camera's high speed shooting abilities. Casio doesn't tell you must about what each of the Best Shot modes do, relying solely on a description that you can see by pressing the "zoom in" button. I could spend a week telling you about all of the Best Shot options, so here are the highlights:
- Expression/Baby/Child/Pet/Sports CS: The only real difference between all of these continuous shooting modes are the frame rate, the maximum number of photos taken, and how many were taken before the shutter release button was pressed (these are called pre-recorded shots). Expression CS shoots at 3 fps for up to 10 shots (3 of them pre-recorded), with Sports CS on the other end of things, shooting at 30 fps for up to 30 shots, 10 of which are pre-recorded. Do note that the resolution is lowered to 9 Megapixel for this and all of the other high speed modes, and RAW is not available, either.
- Child/Pet/Sports HS: This is similar to the previous option, except now it's for movies. The frame rates for these modes are 120, 240, and 420 fps, respectively. Do note that the resolution of these movies will be 640 x 480 or lower and that sound is not recorded.
- Lag correction: Camera takes five photos, four of which were pre-recorded before you pressed the shutter release button, allowing you to select the best ones
- High speed lighting: Similar to "HDR" features on other cameras, this feature takes three photos in row, each with a different exposure, to improve dynamic range
- High speed night scene / high speed night scene and portrait: the camera will detect whether you're using a tripod; if you are, it takes a single long exposure, using the flash if the portrait option is selected; if you're not, it combines a series of exposures into a single image, hopefully reducing blur in the process
- High speed anti-shake: similar to the previous option, this combines several exposures into one, to reduce camera shake
- High speed best selection: the camera takes a series of images and uses face/smile/blink detection to pick and save the best one
- Multi-motion image: takes a series of images and isolates the moving subject; tripod recommended
- Move-out/move-in CS: allows you to set up a "boundary" in the frame, and only records images when your subject enters or exits this area
- Pre-record movie: the camera saves the 5 seconds buffered prior to your pressing of the movie record button
That's quite a list, and there are a lot more where that came from. Before I tell how well some of those work, let me remind you that the resolution is lowered to 9 Megapixel for any of those high speed modes, and you cannot use the RAW format, either.
I tried out a couple of those features to see how they performed. The first one I tried is the HDR feature, which Casio calls high speed lighting. This feature definitely works, though I noticed that the image area is reduced somewhat when using it.
View Full Size Image
|High speed lighting
View Full Size Image
If you don't mind the smaller field-of-view, I think you'll be quite pleased with the results you can get from the high speed lighting option. The photo above has great dynamic range, with a reduction in highlight clipping at the end of the tunnel.
Here are two samples of the high speed anti-shake feature (there's a third in the photo gallery):
In the high speed anti-shake mode, the camera combines several exposures into one, and typically uses ISO 800. The resulting photos do come out sharp, though there's plenty of noise and detail loss. If you're just making a 4 x 6 inch print, this shouldn't be much of an issue.
I tried to take my usual night test photo using the high speed night scene option, but the photos were either blurry, out of focus, or both.
Alright, let's continue to the tour now, shall we?
There's nothing to see on this side of the EX-FH100. The lens is in the full wide-angle position.
You'll find the FH100's I/O ports on this side of the camera. Under that plastic cover is a combination USB+A/V port as well as a mini-HDMI port (cable not included). The lens is at the full telephoto position.
On the bottom of the FH100 is a plastic tripod mount, the speaker (both hidden from view), and the battery/memory card compartment. The reinforced door over this compartment is fairly sturdy, and includes a locking mechanism. Do note that you won't be able to option this compartment while the camera is on a tripod.
The massive NP-90 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.