DCRP

Casio Exilim EX-FH100 Review

Using the Casio Exilim EX-FH100

Record Mode

The Exilim EX-FH100 has one of the slowest startup times I've seen in some time, taking 3.7 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting.

Autofocus speeds were a lot better. At the wide end of the FH100's lens, the camera locked focus in the range of 0.3 - 0.5 seconds. Telephoto focus times were about twice that, only occasionally going over a full second. Low light focusing was good, courtesy of the camera's green-colored AF-assist lamp. Expect focus times to be around one second in those situations.

I didn't find shutter lag to be an issue, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.

Shot-to-shot delays depend on a number of factors. If you're taking one image at a time, then you can expect to wait for about two seconds when shooting JPEGs, and a whopping thirteen seconds when using RAW+JPEG (now you see why you can't use it for high speed shooting). Speaking of which, the camera will be locked up for about ten seconds after you take a high speed burst of photos.

There's no way to delete a photo you just took -- you must enter playback mode. Something that drove me nuts about the EX-FH100 is that it retracts its lens after about 20 seconds in playback mode, which is annoying when you just want to review a photo or two. At least it remembers the position of the zoom lens so your composition is maintained when you return to shooting mode!

Now here's a look at the numerous image size and quality settings on the Exilim EX-FH100:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 85.9 MB onboard memory # images on 2GB SD card (optional)
RAW+
3648 x 2736
RAW + Fine JPEG 21.8 MB 4 94
RAW + Normal JPEG 18.8 MB 5 112
RAW + Economy JPEG 17.7 MB 5 120
10 MP
3648 x 2736
Fine 6.4 MB 13 302
Normal 3.4 MB 25 570
Economy 2.3 MB 36 848
9 MP
3456 x 2592
Fine 5.7 MB 15 340
Normal 3.0 MB 28 642
Economy 2.0 MB 41 952

8.8 MP (3:2)
3648 x 2432

Fine 5.6 MB 15 344
Normal 3.0 MB 28 648
Economy 2.0 MB 41 962
7.5 MP (16:9)
Fine 4.6 MB 18 420
Normal 2.5 MB 34 782
Economy 1.7 MB 49 1152
7 MP
3072 x 2304
Fine 4.3 MB 19 448
Normal 2.3 MB 36 834
Economy 1.7 MB 49 1152
4 MP
2304 x 1728
Fine 2.5 MB 33 770
Normal 1.4 MB 59 1374
Economy 1.0 MB 82 1924
2 MP
1600 x 1200
Fine 1.4 MB 61 1414
Normal 890 KB 92 2160
Economy 570 KB 144 3374
VGA
640 x 480
Fine 430 KB 190 4472
Normal 290 KB 282 6628
Economy 240 KB 341 8010

That's a pretty lengthy list! The EX-FH100 supports the RAW (DNG) image format, though note that JPEG is always taken at the same time. The DNG files are not stored in the same folder as the JPEGs -- you'll want to look in the appropriately named "RAW" folder to find them. I should add that when shooting RAW, the ISO is limited to 100 or 200. Why, I do not know, but this eliminates one of the big advantages of the format: getting around the heavy-handed noise reduction that usually shows up in high ISO JPEG images.

Casio is tied with Pentax for having the most archaic menu system of any digital camera manufacturer. The menus are plain-looking, lack any help screens, and are more difficult to navigate than they should be (e.g. pressing "ok" to change an option closes the menu entirely). In record mode, the menu is divided into three tabs, covering record, quality, and setup options. Here's what you'll find in those menus:

REC mode settings
  • Focus (AF, macro, infinity, manual) - see below
  • Self-timer (Off, triple, 2 or 10 sec)
  • Anti shake (Off, demo, image AS, camera AS, auto) - I described these options earlier
  • AF area (Tracking, free, multi, spot) - see below
  • AF-assist light (on/off)
  • Face detection (on/off) - see below
  • Continuous AF (on/off) - when on, the camera is always trying to focus, even with the shutter release is not pressed; reduces focus times at the expense of battery life
  • Continuous shooting (F CS, normal speed CS, high speed CS) - see below
  • Save CS images (Normal/batch, select & save, always ask) - whether all photos in a burst are saved or if you get to choose each one manually; the last option lets you choose between the two
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - best to keep this off
  • Left/right key (Off, AF mode, metering, self-timer, face detection, ISO, white balance, EV shift) - define what the left and right directions on the four-way controller do, if anything
  • Quick shutter (on/off) - activates a high speed AF mode when you quickly press the shutter release button; does not work at telephoto end of lens
  • Grid (on/off) - standard rule-of-thirds grid lines
  • Review (on/off) - post-shot review
  • Icon help (on/off) - displays a description when changing exposure mode and a few other times
  • Memory - choose which settings the camera remembers when it's powered off
Quality settings
  • Still quality (Fine, normal, economy)
  • Video quality (HD, standard)
  • High speed movie speed (120, 240, 420, 1000, 30-120, 30-240 fps) - more on this later
  • Metering (Multi, center-weighted, spot)
  • Lighting (on/off) - some kind of auto contrast feature
  • Flash intensity (-2 to +2, in 1-stop increments)
  • Color filter (Off, black & white, sepia, red, green, blue, yellow, pink, purple)
  • Sharpness (-2 to +2, in 1-stop increments)
  • Saturation (-2 to +2, in 1-stop increments)
  • Contrast (-2 to +2, in 1-stop increments)
Setup
  • Screen (0, +1, +2, Auto 1, Auto 2) - auto or manual LCD brightness adjustment
  • Eye-Fi (on/off) - whether an inserted Eye-Fi card is able to transmit
  • Auto rotate (on/off)
  • Sounds
    • Startup (Sound 1-5, off)
    • Half shutter (Sound 1-5, off)
    • Shutter (Sound 1-5, off)
    • Operation (Sound 1-5, off)
    • Operation volume (0-7)
    • Playback volume (0-7)
  • File numbering (Continuous, reset)
  • World time (Home, world)
  • Timestamp (Off, date & time, date) - print the date on your photos
  • Adjust (date/time)
  • Date style (YY/MM/DD, DD/MM/YY, MM/DD/YY)
  • Language
  • Sleep (Off, 30 sec, 1, 2 mins)
  • Auto power off (2, 5, 10 mins)
  • Rec/Play buttons (Disable, power on, power on/off) - what these buttons do; I kept this off to prevent accidental powering on of the camera
  • USB (Mass Storage, PTP)
  • Video out (NTSC 4:3, NTSC 16:9, PAL 4:3, PAL 16:9)
  • HDMI output (Auto, 1080i, 480p, 576p)
  • Startup image - select one of turn it off entirely
  • Format - wipes the internal memory or inserted memory card clean
  • Reset - back to defaults


Manual focus

Let's start off the menu discussion with the FH100's autofocus options. The "focus" option is where you'll find the camera's manual focus feature. This allows you to use the four-way controller to set the focus distance yourself. The center of frame is enlarged (you can't move around, unfortunately) and a guide shows very roughly what the focus distance is.

There are four AF area modes, including multi-area (9-point), spot, tracking, and "free". The last option lets you select any spot in the frame on which to focus, save for a margin around the edges. The tracking mode is simple enough: you put your subject in the center of the frame, halfway-press the shutter release, and the camera will then follow them as they move around.

Naturally, the EX-FH100 supports face detection. The camera can detect up to ten faces in the frame, making sure they're properly focused and exposed. The FH100 handled our test scene with ease, finding all six of the faces in it.

That brings us to one of the hallmark features on the EX-FH100: it's superb continuous shooting ability. Press the high speed continuous button on the top of the camera and you're all set to go. There are three parameters that you can adjust in high speed continuous mode:

  • Frame rate (Auto, 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 15, 30, 40 frames/sec)
  • Total number of shots (5, 10, 20, 30)
  • Number of pre-recorded shots (0, 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25)

That's right, the camera can take up to 30 photos at a whopping 40 frames/second. Yes, the resolution is lowered to 9 Megapixel, but I doubt anyone will care. At its highest speeds, the FH100 shoots so quickly that the burst ends in less than a second. The LCD keeps up fairly well with the action, so you should be able to track a moving subject (though obviously this will be more useful at the slower burst rates). If you want, you can have the camera save up to 25 photos that were recorded before you actually pressed the shutter release button, so you don't miss that important moment.

The FH100 has two other continuous modes, in addition to the high speed one. First is "normal" continuous mode, which refocuses between each photo and shoots at the full 10 Megapixel resolution. It's also very slow, with a frame rate of just 0.3 fps. The other mode doesn't have a very descriptive name, but you'll want to use the "F CS" mode if you notice any distortion in photos taken with the high speed continuous mode (caused by rolling shutter, if I'm not mistaken). This "full pixel continuous shooting mode" uses a mechanical shutter to prevent distortion, though the max frame rate is 10 fps, and the most photos you can take in a burst is 20. That's still pretty amazing!

The last feature I want to tell you about is simply called "lighting". This feature goes by many other names on other cameras, and what it does is brighten the dark areas of your photos. On the EX-FH100 there's just on or off -- you can't select how much of this effect is applied. Here's an example:

Lighting off (default)
View Full Size Image
Lighting on
View Full Size Image

As you can see, the lighting feature works as advertised. It does give the images even more of an "over-processed' appearance, though you won't notice this unless you're viewing the photos on your computer screen (or making huge prints).

That does it for menus -- let's talk photo quality now.

The Exilim EX-FH100 did a so-so job with our macro test subject. The colors are saturated, but there's a noticeable bluish cast to the photo, showing that the FH100's custom white balance feature struggled a bit with our studio lights. For those of you shooting under normal lighting, this shouldn't be an issue. However, if you take a lot of photos under artificial light, you'll want to shoot RAW (when allowed) or find a camera with a better white balance system. Getting back to the figurine, it's not too hard to spot the effects of noise reduction -- just look at the red cloak, which has a mottled appearance. Aside from a little fuzziness, the rest of the figurine looks pretty good.

The minimum focus distance on the EX-FH100 varies considerably, depending on the zoom position. At full wide-angle, it's 15 cm. Between the 2X and 3X position, the distance drops down to 7 cm. At the telephoto end of the lens, the minimum distance jumps up to 50 cm.

The night shot turned out pretty well. The colors are a bit yellower than I would've liked (though the fog doesn't help matters), but overall, a pretty good performance. The FH100's manual shutter speed controls let you bring in plenty of light, though you may need to use full manual (M) mode so you can lock down the ISO to a set value. There is some highlight clipping here, which isn't surprising. The buildings are all very sharp, probably due to a strong in-camera sharpening algorithm. Noise isn't an issue here, and while there's detail loss from noise reduction, it's fairly minor. Purple fringing levels are low.

Now let's use that same scene to see how the FH100 performed at higher sensitivities:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

The effects of noise reduction are more pronounced at ISO 200, though the photo is still very usable. Photos start to take on a kind of watercolor look at ISO 400, so this is probably where you'll want to stop in low light situations on the FH100. The ISO 800 image shows lots of detail smudging, and things only get worse from there, so pass on ISO 1600 and 3200. Do note that you can only shoot RAW (which can reduce noise reduction levels) at ISO 100 and 200.

Night test added on 8/18/2010

The Exilim EX-FH100 is clearing doing some serious barrel distortion correction with its JPEG files (RAW files will not have this correction), as there's very little of it to be found here. You will spot some vignetting (dark corners) here, but I didn't find this to be an issue in my real world photos. Like many compact ultra zooms, the EX-FH100 has some issues with corner blurring, especially at the wide end of the lens (example).

Compact cameras almost always have big problems with redeye. Casio's solution is to fire the flash before the photo is actually taken, which shrinks your subject's pupils, reducing the risk of this annoyance. Unfortunately, this method rarely works, and the proof can be seen above. The EX-FH100 does not have any digital removal tools, so you'll probably end up fixing this on your computer instead. I also noticed that the flash test photo was pretty noisy, as the camera has to boost the ISO considerably to compensate for its weak flash.

Now let's take a look at our studio test scene. Since it's always taken with the same lighting, the results of this test can be compared among cameras I've reviewed over the years. As you can see, there's a bluish color cast (as discussed earlier), but we're looking at noise here, not color. Keeping in mind that viewing the full size images is always a good idea, let's begin:


ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

There's little to complain about at ISO 100. The image is very clean, save for some blurring near the edges of the frame. At ISO 200 you'll notice a drop in color saturation, as well as some detail smudging (courtesy of the camera's noise reduction system). The ISO 400 shot looks even more over-processed, though it's still usable for smaller prints. I would avoid ISO 800 unless you have no other choice, and would definitely pass on the two higher settings, as they have too much detail loss to be usable.

Normally, when a camera I'm reviewing supports the RAW format, I give examples of how you can squeeze more detail out of a photo by using that feature. For whatever reason, Casio only lets you shoot RAW at ISO 100 and 200 -- arguably when you need it the least. That's not to say that it's not useful, as you still get the other benefits of the format, which I discussed earlier. While I didn't notice a huge difference in terms of image quality at ISO 100, you can get a modest improvement at ISO 200:

ISO 200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 6.2)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

While I don't necessarily care for the oversaturated colors produced by Adobe Camera Raw here, you can see that we've gotten rid of those mottled reds that are found in the original JPEG photo. Now if only Casio would let us use RAW at the higher sensitivities...

As long as you don't let the ISO wander too high, you'll get very nice results from the Exilim EX-FH100. Exposure was generally spot-on, though as with all compact cameras, highlight clipping can be an issue, though the high speed lighting feature can help you get around it. In natural lighting, colors were vibrant and pleasing to the eye. The camera struggled in artificial lighting, as my studio test photos illustrated. At the base ISO of 100, photos are tack sharp, save for some blurring around the edges of the frame. While there is some detail loss at that setting (due to noise reduction), it's fairly minor. Detail smudging becomes a lot more noticeable once you hit ISO 200, and things go downhill pretty rapidly after that. For the 4 x 6 and 5 x 7 inch print crowd, you probably won't notice any of this. But if you're making large prints or viewing the images at 100% on your computer monitor, then you probably will see the mottled skies and smudged details caused by heavy noise reduction. On a more positive note, I found purple fringing levels to be very low.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. I've got a huge gallery of sample photos available for your perusal. View the full size images, perhaps printing a few if you'd like, and then you should be able to decide whether the EX-FH100's photo quality meets your needs!

Movie Mode

The Exilim EX-FH100 has a very elaborate movie mode. There are two different movie recording options available: "traditional" and high speed. For traditional movie recording, you can take videos at 1280 x 720 (30 fps) with stereo sound. The camera can keep recording until the file size reaches 4GB, which takes about 17 minutes. For longer movies, you can drop the resolution down to VGA (640 x 480), which allows for over 50 minutes of continuous recording.

As is usually the case, the optical zoom cannot be operated while you're recording a movie. The image stabilizer is available, however. I should add that you really need to watch your fingers, as blocking the microphone is very easy.

The FH100 allows you to set the aperture, shutter speed, or both in movie mode. The ranges (and limitations) are the same as they are for still shooting.

The other half of the movie recording experience is high speed recording. This allows you to select frame rates ranging from 120 to a whopping 1000 frames/second. The catch is that as the frame rate increases, the the resolution goes down. So while the resolution at 120 fps is 640 x 480, it's only 224 x 64 at 1000 fps. This table summarizes all six of the high speed movie modes:

Frame rate Resolution
120 fps 640 x 480
240 fps 448 x 336
420 fps 224 x 168
1000 fps 224 x 64
30 - 120 fps 640 x 480
30 - 240 fps 448 x 336

There are quite a few important things about high speed movies to point out. First, no sound is recorded along with the movies. Second, the movies play back at 30 frames/second, so you end up seeing things in super slow-motion (which can be very cool). The last two options in the above table allow you to adjust the frame rate on-the-fly.

As it does with stills, the FH100 also lets you pre-record movie footage. You can set things up so the camera saves 5 seconds worth of events that the camera buffered before you pressed that dedicated movie recording button. You can also take a still photo during movie recording, though the resolution will be 2 Megapixel. The FH100 also offers a YouTube movie mode, which (supposedly) uses optimal settings for uploading videos to the popular website. The YouTube movies are also saved in a separate folder, so they're easy to find.

Whichever movie mode you're using, they're saved in AVI format, using the Motion JPEG codec.

I have three sample movies to share with you. The first two are taken at the 720p setting, while the third was recorded in the high speed mode at 420 fps. The HD movies aren't ideal (one's too fast, the other has too much wind noise), so if I get the chance to take a better one, I will.


Click to play movie (1280 x 720, 30 fps, 26.2 MB, AVI format)


Click to play movie (1280 x 720, 30 fps, 41.6 MB, AVI format)


Click to play movie (224 x 168, 420 fps [plays back at 30 fps], 16.6 MB, AVI format)

Playback Mode

The EX-FH100's playback mode has quite a few options, though it's missing a very useful feature, namely redeye correction. The basic features you'll find here include slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail view, and playback zoom (which allows you to zoom into an image by up to 8X). As I mentioned earlier, the lens retracts way too quickly when you enter playback mode, which I found annoying.

Photos taken in the high speed continuous modes are stored in a "stack", which you must enter in order to view all of the photos. You can view each image at a time, or play them back sequentially for a movie-like effect.


Adjusting the white balance of a photo in playback mode

Photos can be rotated, cropped, and resized right on the camera. You can also adjust the brightness of a photo (kind of like D-Lighting on Nikon cameras) and even adjust the white balance (which works better than one would expect).

Other features you'll find in playback mode include:

  • Motion Print: grab one or nine frames from a video turn them into a still image (a collage in the case of the nine-image capture)
  • Movie editing: trim unwanted footage from the beginning, middle, or end of a clip
  • Divide CS group - breaks photos taken continuously out of their stack
  • CS Multi Print - creates a 10 Megapixel collage of up to thirty photos taken in continuous mode
  • CS Frame Edit - apply DPOF print marking or protect, copy, delete all images in a CS stack

By default, the EX-FH100 doesn't tell you much about your photos. But press "up" on the four-way controller and you'll get a lot more, including a histogram.

The FH100 moves from photo to photo instantly in playback mode.

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