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DCRP Review: Casio Exilim EX-FH20  

Front of the Casio Exilim EX-FH20

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: February 26, 2009
Last Updated: January 3, 2012

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At first glance, the Casio Exilim EX-FH20 ($599) may look like just another super zoom camera. It has a big lens (20X), a 9 Megapixel sensor, a 3-inch LCD, manual controls, RAW image support, and all the gimmicks you'd expect on a modern digital camera (face detection, scene modes, etc.)

The FH20 definitely has some tricks up its sleeve, though. Like the ability to shoot at up to 40 frames/second (at 7 Megapixel), with a "pre-recording" function that ensures that you don't miss that perfect shot. Or how about recording video clips at 1000 frames/second (albeit at a very low resolution), which can be replayed in slow motion. If you want more "conventional" videos, the EX-FH20 can do that too -- in high definition.

These high speed features come at a price, though. Literally, the EX-FH20 is the most expensive super zoom on the market. Keep reading to find out if this camera is worth the price!

What's in the Box?

The EX-FH20 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 9.1 Megapixel Exilim EX-FH20 digital camera
  • Four AA alkaline batteries
  • Lens cap w/retaining strap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring YouTube Uploader, Adobe Reader, and camera manual
  • 33 page Basic Reference Manual + full manual (on CD-ROM)

Like most cameras these days, Casio has built memory into the EX-FH20, instead of bundling a memory card. There's just under 32MB of onboard memory on the FH20, which holds a grand total of five images at the highest quality setting. Thus, you'll want to buy a large, fast memory card right away. The camera supports, SD, SDHC, MMC, and MMCplus cards, and I'd recommend picking up a high capacity, high speed (Class 4 or greater) SDHC card. 2GB is probably a good starter size, though movie enthusiasts may want to opt for a 4GB card.

The EX-FH20 uses four AA batteries for power. The camera comes with alkalines, which will quickly run out of juice, and end up in your recycling bin. My advice is to buy a set or two of NiMH rechargeables (2500 mAh or better), plus a fast charger. Here's what kind of battery life numbers you can expect from the camera with rechargeables installed:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot SX1 IS * 420 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Casio Exilim EX-FH20 * 430 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Fuji FinePix S2000HD * 400 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Nikon Coolpix P90 * 200 shots EN-EL5
Olympus SP-590 Ultra Zoom * 340 shots 4 x unknown NiMH
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 * 460 shots CGR-S006
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 * 300 shots NP-BG1

* Has image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

One camera I really wanted to put on the above list is the Kodak EasyShare Z980. Unfortunately, battery life numbers are not available yet for that camera. In the group of cameras that remain, the Exilim EX-FH20 turns in strong numbers, coming in about 13% above average (when equipped with 2500 mAh rechargeables).

I like cameras that use AA batteries, as you can buy them anywhere in the world, unlike the costly proprietary batteries used by some of the competition.

Canon PowerShot FH20 in the hand

Casio includes a lens cap and retaining strap to protect your lens from harm. The lens cap doesn't come off too easily, which is a good thing in my opinion.

Some ultra zoom cameras support optional accessories like conversion lenses, lens hoods, remote controls, and even underwater cases. The EX-FH20 is not one of those cameras. In fact, it has just two accessories available:

Accessory Model # Price * Why you want it
AC adapter AD-C100 From $60 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
Camera case ESC-170 $45 Protect your camera from the elements
* Prices were accurate when review was published

Well, that was easy. Something else that won't take long is describing the EX-FH20's software bundle -- because there really isn't one!

YouTube Uploader for Windows

Yes, on this $599 camera, the only real software you get is YouTube Uploader for Windows, which makes it slightly easier to send files to the popular video sharing website. There's no photo transfer, organization, or editing software included, nor does Casio provide anything to work with the fancy videos the camera can produce. And what about a program to open the FH20's RAW (DNG) images? Nope, nothing there either.

Things don't get any better in the documentation department, either. First, only a basic "starter" manual is included in the box, and it's a real mess. Each page has three languages on it, which makes finding information quite challenging. If you want more information, you've got to load up the PDF file that's included on a CD-ROM on your computer. This manual is only in one language and has a decent amount of detail, though it's not what I'd call user friendly.

Look and Feel

The Exilim EX-FH20 is a midsize super zoom camera. The body is made mostly of plastic, though it feels pretty solid in most areas. The exceptions are the someone flimsy door over the battery compartment, and the plastic tripod mount (on a $600 camera?!). The FH20 has a good-sized right hand grip, giving the camera a secure feel in your hands. There's a nice spot for your thumb as well, that keeps it away from the screen and surrounding buttons.

Casio did a good job with the ergonomics on the FH20. The most important controls are within easy reach of your fingers, and Casio didn't go overboard with buttons. One thing that surprised me was the lack of a dedicated movie recording button on this very video-centric camera.

Now, here's a look at how the Exilim EX-FH20 compares to other super zoom cameras in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SX1 IS 5.0 x 3.5 x 3.6 in. 63 cu in. 585 g
Casio Exilim EX-FH20 4.8 x 3.2 x 3.3 in. 50.7 cu in. 483 g
Fujifilm FinePix S2000HD 4.4 x 3.1 x 3.0 in. 40.9 cu in. 386 g
Kodak EasyShare Z980 4.9 x 3.5 x 4.1 in. 70.3 cu in. 415 g
Nikon Coolpix P90 4.5 x 3.3 x 3.9 in. 57.9 cu in. 460 g
Olympus SP-590 Ultra Zoom 4.3 x 3.5 x 3.9 in. 58.7 cu in. 373 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 4.6 x 3.0 x 3.5 in. 48.3 cu in. 370 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 4.6 x 3.2 x 3.4 in. 50 cu in. 415 g

The FH20 is right in the middle of the pack when it comes to size and and weight. While it's certainly not going to fit into your jeans pocket, it can comfortably fit in a jacket pocket or over your shoulder without causing a backache.

Enough about that, let's start our tour off the FH20 now!

Front of the Casio Exilim EX-FH20

The Casio Exilim EX-FH20 features an F2.8-4.5, 20X optical zoom lens, putting it easily into the super zoom category. If I'm not mistaken, this is the same lens that is found on the Olympus SP-565 and SP-570 Ultra Zooms. The lens has a focal length of 4.6 - 92.0 mm which is equivalent to a very nice 26 - 520 mm. The lens is not threaded, so conversion lenses and filters are not supported.

Full wide-angle Full telephoto (on the building on the left)

In case you're wondering what the 26 - 520 mm zoom range looks like in the real world, have a look at the images above. That's some major zoom power!

Inside the lens is a 1/2.3" CMOS sensor, with 9.14 million effective pixels. It's not often that you find a compact camera with a CMOS sensor, as most use the traditional CCD. This CMOS sensor allows the FH20 to shoot as fast as 40 frames/second for stills, and 1000 frames/second for movies, though the resolution will drop when the camera is at full speed.

The sensor plays an important part in the camera's image stabilization system (a necessity on a super zoom camera). Gyroscopes inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands that can blur your photos, especially in low light, or at the telephoto end of the lens. The camera shifts the sensor itself to compensate for this motion, giving you a higher likelihood of a sharp photo. Keep in mind that image stabilization systems cannot freeze a moving subject, nor will they allow for multi-second handheld photos (though the FH20 has a Scene Mode that attempts to make that work). Even so, image stabilizers let you use shutter speeds that would be blurry otherwise. Want to see proof? Here you go:

Image stabilization off

Image stabilization on

Both of the above photos were taken at 1/3 of a second, at around the 4X zoom setting. As you can see, the image stabilization system did its job nicely here. While the camera lets you use IS in movie mode, to be perfectly honest, it didn't seem to do any good. I took several comparison videos, and both were equally shaky, so I'm not sure what's going on.

Directly above the lens is the FH20's pop-up flash. The flash, which is released manually (you can see the button on the right side of the photo), is quite powerful. It has a working range of 0.4 - 7.0 m at wide-angle and 1.3 - 4.4 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO). You cannot attach an external flash to the EX-FH20.

The only other things to note on the front of the camera are the AF-assist lamp and the tiny microphone, located between the grip and the lens. The camera uses this lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations, and it also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer. Be sure to keep an eye on your fingers, as it's quite easy to block the lamp with them. The pinhole microphone is a bit of a disappointment -- I would've preferred stereo sound recording on this video-centric camera.

Back of the Casio Exilim EX-FH20

The main event on the back of the EX-FH20 is its 3-inch LCD display. While the screen is larger than a 2.5" or 2.7" screen, the resolution (230k pixels) is exactly the same, so things aren't any sharper. I figure that most people probably won't be bothered by that fact, though. I found the screen to be easy to see in bright outdoor lighting, and in low light, the screen brightens automatically, so you can still see your subject.

Directly above the LCD is the camera's electronic viewfinder, or EVF. An EVF is essentially a tiny LCD display that takes the place of (but doesn't surpass) an optical viewfinder. It shares the same 100% field-of-view as the main LCD (and you can see all the menus, too), and there's no parallax error to deal with. The EVF here is 0.2" in size, which is quite small for this class of camera. The screen has 201,600 pixels, though the screen seemed a little fuzzier than I would've expected given that number. You can adjust the focus of the image by using the diopter correction dial located on the left side of the viewfinder.

To the left of the viewfinder is the button which you can press to switch between it and the main LCD. Over on the opposite side you'll find buttons for entering playback and record mode.

Two of the EX-FH20's Best Shot modes

To the right of the LCD we find the Display, Menu, and Best Shot buttons, plus the four-way controller. The Display button toggles what you see on the LCD/EVF, the menu button does just as it sounds, and the "BS button" (ha!) opens up the Best Shot menu. Best Shot modes are essentially the same as scene modes -- pick the situation, and the camera uses the proper settings. There are also a few unusual Best Shot modes, which I'll describe below. Here's the full of of the Best Shot modes on the EX-FH20:

  • Portrait
  • Scenery
  • Portrait w/scenery
  • Children
  • Sports
  • Pet
  • Flower
  • Natural green
  • Autumn leaves
  • Sundown
  • High speed night scene
  • Night scene portrait
  • Fireworks
  • High speed anti-shake
  • Multi-motion image
  • Digital panning
  • Move out CS
  • Move in CS
  • Register User Scene - create your own

Most of those are self-explanatory. The unique Best Shot modes are the ones that really require an explanation, and some examples. First I want to tackle the High Speed Night Scene mode. This feature first detects whether or not the camera is on a tripod. If it is, it takes a long exposure, just like the one you'll see later in this review. If the camera is handheld, the FH20 will shoot a number of images sequentially over a second or so, and it will combine them into a single, sharp photo. When I first heard about this feature I thought, "yeah right". So, I decided to put it to the test, taking the night scene without a tripod. Here's the result:

The thumbnail above looks pretty good. It seems sharp, with plenty of light captured. To pull this off, the camera took multiple 1/3 sec exposures at ISO 800, and combined them into a single image. The resulting image isn't great -- it's quite soft, with lots of detail loss. I printed it out at 4 x 6 and you could see the noise fairly easily.

The High Speed anti-shake feature is similar -- it works by boosting the ISO and combining a number of photos into one. It does produce blur-free photos (unless your subject is moving), though the resulting images were quite soft and noisy.

The multi-motion image mode works best when the camera is stationary. The camera will take a number of exposures, and combine them into a single photo. Digital panning mode allows you to follow a moving subject with the camera, sharpening only your subject -- the background will remain blurry.

Move out and move in CS are two very interesting features. You first set up a "boundary" in the frame, and the camera will start taking photos when your subject either leaves (Move out CS) or enters (Move in CS) this boundary. You can take full advantage of the FH20's continuous shooting speeds of up to forty frames/second here. The sensitivity (how much movement is required to trigger the shutter) of this feature, as well.

You'll see this screen frequently on the EX-FH20

I should point out that most of the features I just mentioned require some processing time on the part of the camera. So, don't be too surprised if you have to wait five seconds or more while the camera is "busy".

This "quick menu" can be accessed with the four-way controller

Getting back to the tour, now. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, adjusting manual exposure settings, deleting photos (by pressing down), and reviewing photos and movies that you've taken. You can also use this button to get at a shortcut menu, which lets you adjust the following:

  • Shooting mode (Auto, aperture priority, shutter priority, full manual, Best Shot)
  • Resolution (RAW+, 9M, 3:2, 16:9, 8M, 5M, 2M, VGA)
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, shade, day white fluorescent, daylight fluorescent, tungsten, manual)
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
  • Metering (Multi, center-weighted, spot)
  • AF Area (Spot, free, tracking)
  • Flash (Auto, flash off, flash on, auto w/redeye reduction)
  • Display date/time

As you can see, the EX-FH20 offers a lot more shooting modes than the Best Shot modes I listed earlier. You get a regular auto mode, plus full manual exposure controls, as well. The aperture range is F2.8 - F8.0, while the available shutter speeds fall between 30 and 1/2000 second. Another manual control on the EX-FH20 is for white balance. This allows you to use a white or gray card as a reference, for accurate color in mixed or unusual lighting.

There are three focus modes to choose from on the FH20. There's center spot, free (select a spot anywhere in the frame), and tracking (camera follows a moving subject), though strangely enough, there's no multi-point option available. The camera also supports face detection, and I'll tell you how well that feature works later in the review.

And that's it for the back of the Exilim EX-FH20!

Top of the Casio Exilim EX-FH20

The first thing to see up here is the camera's speaker, which is just to the right of the flash. Next to that is the mode dial, which has just five options:

Option Function
Flash continuous Take several flash photos in rapid succession
High speed continuous Take photos at 1 - 40 frames/second
Single shot For taking just one photo at a time
High speed movie mode For recording movies at 30 - 1000 frames/second
HD/standard movie mode For high def or regular movies

The options in the mode dial are really at the heart of what makes the EX-FH20 such a unique product. I'll get to the movie modes later -- let's do the continuous shooting options now.

In high speed continuous mode, the camera can take up to forty shots in a row at an unbelievable 40 frames/second. If that's too fast for you, you can also select frame rates of 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, or 30 frames/second. Regardless of the frame rate, the maximum number of photos that can be taken in a single burst is forty. There's also a "precapture" option that will save the photos that were being buffered before you hit the shutter release. You can precapture anywhere from 1 - 39 photos, though these numbers depend on what burst rate you're using.

The FH20 absolutely delivers on its promises: it shoots at full speed with ease. In fact, it shoots the burst so quickly (and quietly, due to the use of an electronic shutter), you might not even notice that anything happened. The LCD and EVF keep up extremely well with the action, so tracking a moving subject should be easy. Once the burst is taken, you have the option to save all of them, select only the photos you want to save, or delete them all and try again. In playback mode, photos taken in a burst are grouped together, which makes navigating them a lot easier.

There are a couple of things to point out about the high speed continuous mode. First, the camera cannot actually shoot at full resolution at any of the speeds in this mode. At the 1 - 30 frame/second speeds, the resolution is 8 Megapixel. If you go to 40 fps, the resolution drops to 7 Megapixel. That's still more than enough for most purposes. You will need a decent amount of light on your subject. Not surprisingly, you cannot shoot RAW images in high speed continuous mode. Finally, expect to wait around ten seconds for the camera to save all the images to the memory card.

The other continuous mode on the Exilim EX-FH20 is for shooting with the flash. The camera can take anywhere from 3 - 10 shots in a row at 1, 3, or 5 frames/second -- with the flash. Wow.

Returning to our tour now -- just to the right of the mode dial is the camera's power button. Above that is the shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The controller is variable speed, so the more you push it, the faster the zoom goes. At full speed, the lens moves from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.9 seconds. I counted thirty-two steps in the camera's 20X zoom range.

Side of the Casio Exilim EX-FH20

On this side of the camera, you'll find a couple of buttons, plus the I/O ports. The silver buttons are for AE lock and selecting the focus mode, while the black one above them pops up the flash.

Manual focus

The focus modes on the EX-FH20 include regular, macro, super macro, and manual. In manual focus mode, you'll use the left and right buttons on the four-way controller to set the focus distance. A guide showing the current focus distance is displayed, and the center of the frame is enlarged, so you can verify that your subject is in focus.

The I/O ports, kept under a rubber cover, are for DC-in and USB+A/V output. It would've been nice to have HD video output of some sort on the FH20 -- after all, it can record 720p video. The camera supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to a Mac or PC.

Side of the Casio Exilim EX-FH20

On the opposite side of the FH20 is its memory card slot, which is protected by a plastic door of decent quality. As I mentioned at the start of the review, the EX-FH20 supports SD, SDHC, MMC, and MMCplus media.

The lens is at the full telephoto position here, in case you didn't notice.

Bottom of the Casio Exilim EX-FH20

On the bottom of the EX-FH20 you'll find its plastic (!) tripod mount, as well as its battery compartment. The battery compartment, which holds four AA cells, is covered by a reinforced plastic door (of decent quality) with a locking mechanism.

Using the Casio Exilim EX-FH20

Record Mode

You'll wait for about 2.6 seconds while the EX-FH20 extends its lens and prepares for shooting. That's pretty slow these days, even for a mega zoom camera.

A live histogram is available in record mode

Focusing is not the camera's strong suit. While it focuses quickly (or tries, rather), the FH20 had a lot of trouble actually locking focus. Even in situations where it shouldn't have trouble, it did. Like, pointing the camera at the Golden Gate Bridge for a typical postcard shot. Focus times ranged from 0.2 - 0.4 seconds at wide-angle, to 0.7 - 1.0 seconds at telephoto. Generally speaking, low light focusing was not good, with the camera failing to lock focus more often than not.

I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds at which it can often occur.

Shot-to-shot speeds vary quite a bit. If you're shooting JPEGs, then you can take another photo after about a second. If you're using RAW+JPEG mode, the camera is totally locked up for about five seconds. Adding the flash into the mix did not increase either of these times.

There's no way to delete a photo immediately after taking it. You must enter playback mode and do it there.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the camera:

Image Size Image Quality Approx. file size # images on 31.9MB onboard memory # images on 1GB card (optional)
3456 x 2592
Fine 19.4 MB 1 49
Normal 16.8 MB 1 57
Economy 15.8 MB 2 61
3456 x 2592
Fine 5.7 MB 5 170
Normal 3.0 MB 10 322
Economy 2.0 MB 16 478
3:2 ratio
3456 x 2304
Fine 4.9 MB 6 195
Normal 2.6 MB 12 366
Economy 1.8 MB 18 543
16:9 ratio
3456 x 1944
Fine 4.0 MB 8 239
Normal 2.2 MB 14 443
Economy 1.5 MB 21 653
3264 x 2448
Fine 4.6 MB 7 210
Normal 2.5 MB 13 393
Economy 1.7 MB 19 579
3072 x 2304
Fine 4.3 MB 7 224
Normal 2.3 MB 14 418
Economy 1.6 MB 20 616
2560 x 1920
Fine 3.0 MB 10 323
Normal 1.6 MB 20 597
Economy 1.1 MB 29 863
1600 x 1200
Fine 1.3 MB 25 767
Normal 790 KB 41 1224
Economy 470 KB 69 2057
640 x 480
Fine 330 KB 98 2930
Normal 190 KB 171 5090
Economy 140 KB 232 6908

That's quite a list! As you can see, the EX-FH20 can take RAW images (using Adobe's DNG format), though there are a few very important caveats. One, you can only take them along with a JPEG. Two, you can only shoot RAW at ISO 100 and 200, which seems to defeat the purpose, if you ask me. Third, Casio doesn't include any editing software, so you'll need to bring your own. And finally, you can't shoot RAW in continuous shooting mode.

Images are named CIMG####.JPG (or .DNG), where # = 0001 - 9999. Images shot in RAW format, or movies taken in YouTube mode go into their own folders.

Let's move onto menus now.

The Exilim EX-FH20 has the same menu system that's been on Casio cameras for years. It's easy enough to get around, though it's starting to feel a bit dated these days. The menu is divided into three tabs, containing recording, quality, and setup options. Here's the full list of menu items in record mode:

  • Record Mode Settings
    • Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 sec, triple shot)
    • AF-assist lamp (on/off)
    • Anti-shake (Off, auto, camera AS, image AS, demo) - see below
    • Face detection (on/off) - see below
    • Continuous AF (on/off) - camera is always focusing, which reduces focus times, at the expense of battery life
    • AE Lock (AE lock, AF lock, AE/AF lock) - define what this button does
    • Save CS images (Always ask, select & save, normal/batch) - whether images are automatically saved after continuous shooting
    • Digital zoom (on/off) - it's always good to keep this turned off
    • Quick shutter (on/off) - lets you take a photo without having to prefocus; only works at certain distances and focal lengths
    • Review (on/off) - post-shot review
    • Grid (on/off) - puts a rule of thirds grid on the LCD/EVF
    • Icon help (on/off) - gives a brief description on the LCD when you switch shooting modes
    • Memory (Flash, self-timer, flash intensity, digital zoom, MF position, zoom position) - whether the camera remembers these settings when powered off
  • Image Quality Settings
    • Quality (Fine, normal, economy)
    • Dynamic range (Off, expand +1, expand +2) - see below
    • Flash intensity (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
    • Color filter (Off, black & white, sepia, red, green, blue, yellow, pink, purple) - virtual filters
    • Sharpness (-2 to +2)
    • Saturation (-2 to +2)
    • Contrast (-2 to +2)
  • Setup
    • Screen (0 - 2, Auto 1/2) - manual or auto brightness for the LCD
    • EVF brightness (0 - 2)
    • Sounds
      • Startup (Off, 1 - 5)
      • Half shutter (Off, 1 - 5)
      • Shutter (Off, 1 - 5)
      • Operation (Off, 1 - 5)
      • Operation volume (Off, 1 - 7)
      • Playback volume (Off, 1 - 7)
    • File numbering (Continue, reset)
    • World time (Home, world) - set the time zone for home and away
    • Timestamp (Off, date, date & time) - print the date on your photos
    • Adjust clock
    • 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 (Power on, power on/off, disable) - what these buttons do
    • LCD priority (on/off) - makes the LCD the default for menus, Best Shot scene selection, and image playback
    • USB protocol settings (Mass Storage, PTP/PictBridge)
    • Video out (NTSC 4:3, NTSC 16:9, PAL 4:3, PAL 16:9)
    • Battery type (Alkaline, NiMH)
    • Startup image (Off, select image)
    • Format memory
    • Reset

There are several anti-shake (image stabilization modes) on the Exilim EX-FH20, and it's important to know what differentiates them, as some of them can degrade image quality. The option I'd recommend using is "camera AS", which relies on the camera's sensor-shift image stabilizer only. There's also an "image AS" option, which will boost the ISO in order to freeze a moving subject. As you'll see later, you don't want the camera to raise the ISO if you can avoid it. A third option, Auto, uses both methods. You can also turn the whole thing off, which you'll want to do if the camera is on a tripod.

The camera locked onto five of the six faces

Like virtually all cameras these days, the EX-FH20 offers face detection autofocus. Casio doesn't say how many faces the camera can find, but it easily located five or even all six faces in our test scene.

Standard dynamic range
View Full Size Image
Dynamic range +1
View Full Size Image
Dynamic range +2
View Full Size Image

Another feature to mention is the FH20's dynamic range expansion option. The whole point of this feature is to reduce the amount of over or underexposure in your photo. Above you can see what adjusting the DR option did in a simple test photo taken down the street. As you can see, it brightened up the shadows pretty nicely. There wasn't much overexposure in this shot, so it's hard to judge how well it handles that.

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The Exilim EX-FH20 produced a decent photo our of macro test subject, though there's definitely some room for improvement. My main complaints are that 1) the figurine has a "fuzzy" look to it, especially around the edges, and 2) the colors are a bit washed out. There's not much to do about the first item, and the second one is most likely due to the camera having difficulty with my studio lamps (most people shouldn't have an issue with this). While there's no grainy noise here, I think the fuzziness I mentioned comes from noise reduction.

There are two macro modes at your disposal on the FH20. In standard macro, the minimum distance is 12 - 50 cm, with the closest setting available between 30 and 82 mm. Throw the camera into super macro mode and you can anywhere from 1 - 12 cm away from your subject. Do note that the lens is locked at the 57 mm position in this mode.

The night shot turned out fairly well, though again, you'll see some detail smudging here. With full manual control over the shutter speed, bringing in plenty of light isn't a problem. The buildings are a bit soft, most likely due to noise reduction. There's a bit of purple fringing here, mostly confined to the "star" on the Transamerica Pyramid. "Traditional" noise is nowhere to be found.

Now, let's use that same night scene to see how the camera performed at high ISOs in low light:

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

The image quality takes a noticeable drop as soon as you leave ISO 100. The image gets softer, and details start to disappear. I found no advantage of shooting in RAW format at ISO 200 (the highest you can use this format, for whatever reason) -- in fact, it may be a bit worse than the JPEG! Image quality continues to degrade at ISO 400, so I'd save this setting for desperation only. As for ISO 800 and 1600: skip'em at all costs.

We'll see how the EX-FH20 performs in better lighting in a bit.

Considering how wide its lens is, barrel distortion is fairly mild on the EX-FH20. You can see what looks like in the real world by checking out the building on the right side of this photo. I didn't find vignetting (dark corners) or blurry corners to be a problem on the camera.

There's just a tiny bit of redeye in our flash portrait test. Certainly not enough to concern me. Should you encounter any redeye, do note that there's no removal tool on the camera.

Here's the second ISO test that I promised you. Since it's taken in our studio, under consistent lighting, you can compare it between cameras I've reviewed. As with the macro test, the colors are a bit washed out here. Now, let's see how the camera performs at very ISO sensitivities:

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 200, DNG -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

Aside from looking a bit flat in the color department, the test scene looks pretty clean at ISO 100. Unfortunately, that doesn't last long. At ISO 200, the image gets softer, and shooting the image as a DNG doesn't improve things, either. The softening continues when you reach ISO 400, with noticeable detail loss. Most cameras these days still do pretty well at this setting (here's the same shot from the Canon PowerShot SX10), but not the EX-FH20. I wouldn't take the camera any higher than ISO 400, since the photos get so soft above that sensitivity that they practically look blurry.

A camera can shoot a million frames per second and have every manual control known to man, but if it can't take a good picture, what's the point? It is here where the Exilim EX-FH20 ultimately disappoints. On the positive side, the photos it captures are well-exposed, without a lot of highlight clipping. Colors are nice and saturated. Now, the bad news: images are very soft, and riddled with noise reduction artifacting. This noise reduction eats away at fine details, which gives photos a fuzzy appearance, reminiscent of a video capture. And that's at ISO 100, too! Purple fringing is also quite strong, and more than you'd typically see on a modern ultra zoom camera. These issues won't be noticeable if you're making small prints, but if you plan on making larger-sized prints or viewing photos on your computer screen, then they'll be hard to miss.

Now, I invite you to have a look at our photo gallery for the EX-FH20. Browse through the photos, perhaps print a few if you can, and then decide if the photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The other really "big" feature on the Exilim EX-FH20 is its movie mode. The FH20 can record movies at 1280 x 720 (720p), but that's just the beginning. The camera can record videos at frame rates ranging from 30 frames per second all the way up to an unbelievable 1000 fps. I'll cover regular and high speed movies separately.

If you want to take a regular, 30 frames/second kind of movie, then you'll like what the EX-FH20 has to offer. You can record videos at 1280 x 720 with sound until you hit the 4GB file size limit, which takes around 17 minutes. If you don't need HD movies, then you can also shoot at 640 x 480 (still 30 fps), with a maximum recording time of around 52 minutes. The camera lets you use the zoom lens during filming, but there's a catch: no sound will be recorded. While the image stabilizer is apparently active, it wasn't very obvious.

Now onto the high-speed movie recording features. Here you can select a frame rate ranging from 30 fps, all the way up to a whopping 1000 fps. There are three big gotchas, though. One, the resolution drops as the frame rate goes up, to the point where the videos are so small, they're not really enjoyable. Second, no sound is recorded, which kind of makes sense when you see what the videos look like. Finally, you need a lot of light when the frame rate is high. Let me repeat that: a LOT of light. If you think you'll be taking movies indoors at 420 frames/second, I have bad news for you: you won't see anything.

The table below summarizes the four types of high-speed movie modes available on the EX-FH20:

Frame rate Resolution Bit rate Max. recording time
30 / 210 fps 480 x 360 7.1 / 50 Mb/sec ~ 10 / 65 mins
210 fps 480 x 360 50 Mb/sec ~ 10 mins
420 fps 224 x 168 50 Mb/sec ~ 10 mins
1000 fps 224 x 56 30 Mb/sec ~ 16 mins

As you can see, the resolution starts off small and, by the time you hit 1000 fps, it's about the size of a wide postage stamp. The camera records the videos at the frame rates you see above, but when you play them back, they are in slow motion. For example, a 10 second video recorded at 210 fps takes 70 seconds to play back. At 420 fps, it takes 140 seconds.

Despite the tiny size of the videos, you can really capture some amazing details. Whether its seeing individual drops of rain, watching a bird fly, or just seeing your two cats fight in slow motion, it's a fun twist on your typical digital camera movie mode.

In all of the movie modes, you use a prerecord option to capture either 2 seconds (in high speed mode) or 5 seconds (in regular mode) of video that was buffered before you hit the shutter release button. There's also a YouTube mode (not available in HD mode) which simply limits file sizes to 100MB, while saving them into a separate YouTube folder.

The EX-FH20 uses the Motion JPEG codec for its movies, which means that file sizes will be very large. One minute of video at 210 frames/second takes up a whopping 375MB on your memory card! Why they didn't use something like H.264 is beyond me.

Alright, how about some samples now? Due to their enormous file sizes, I trimmed the slow-motion videos and re-saved them as QuickTime movies. Since the codec hasn't changed, the quality should unchanged. The two HD samples are untouched. I also brightened up the 1000 fps sample, as it's pretty dark otherwise.

Be warned, these are very large files!

Click to play movie (39.5 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, AVI format)

Click to play movie (38.1 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, AVI format)

Click to play movie (20.9 MB, 480 x 360, 210 fps, QuickTime format)

Click to play movie (24.5 MB, 480 x 360, 210 fps, QuickTime format)

Click to play movie (23.2 MB, 224 x 168, 420 fps)

Click to play movie (5.1 MB, 224 x 168, 420 fps)

Click to play movie (2.4 MB, 224 x 56, 1000 fps)

Playback Mode

The Exilim EX-FH20 had a pretty full-featured playback mode. The usual basic features are all here, including slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last option lets you enlarge an image by as much as 8 times, and then move around. This makes it easy to verify that everyone's eyes were open, for example.

A burst of photos is shown as a "stack" on the LCD Viewing photos in a burst sequence

The camera does a good job at organizing photos taken in a single burst. It represents them as a "stack", and you can press the "Set" button on the four-way controller to enter it. There, it plays each frame in succession, and you can stop at any time to delete a photo you don't want. Don't like your photos grouped like this? Then you can use the "Divide" option in the menu to turn them into "normal" images.

Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can also adjust the white balance and the brightness of a photo. The white balance feature isn't as good as editing a RAW image (which you can't do on this camera), but it works better than I'd expect.

Cat fight Motion Print collage

A movie editing feature lets you remove footage from the beginning, middle, or end of a clip. The Motion Print option lets you create a collage like the one you see above from nine frames of a movie.

Naturally, the EX-FH20 has a feature that lets you copy photos and movies from the internal memory to a memory card, and vice versa.

By default you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. But press the Display button and you'll get more info, including a histogram.

The EX-FH20 moves through photos instantly.

How Does it Compare?

If you just look at the spec sheet, the Casio Exilim EX-FH20 looks like the ultimate super zoom camera. It has a 20X zoom lens (with a great 26 - 520 mm range), image stabilization, full manual controls, and incredible high speed continuous and video shooting. Let's give Casio the credit they deserve: the burst and movie modes on the EX-FH20 are amazing. The problem with the EX-FH20 is that the pictures that it takes so quickly just don't look very good. Add in mediocre autofocus performance, a very limited RAW implementation, a sluggish startup time, and a lousy bundle, and the EX-FH20 doesn't seem like such a good deal anymore -- especially given the $600 price tag. If you want the ultra high speed abilities of the FH20, then it's certainly worth a look. If you're more interested in the basic camera features, then you can do better, and for a lot less money.

The Exilim EX-FH20 is a midsize super zoom camera made mostly of plastic, but it feels quite solid. I was surprised to see a plastic tripod mount on this pricey camera, though. The FH20 is easy to hold, with a large, rubberized grip. Casio didn't go overboard with buttons, so you don't need to read the manual to figure out how to use the camera. The FH20 features a 20X optical zoom lens -- likely the same one that's on the Olympus SP-565 and SP-570 -- with a very useful focal range of 26 - 520 mm. A big zoom camera needs image stabilization, and the FH20 offers the sensor-shift variety. It works well enough for still shooting, though it seemed remarkably ineffective in movie mode. On the back of the camera is a 3-inch LCD display with 230,000 pixels, plus a rather small electronic viewfinder. The LCD is easy to see outdoors and in low light situations. The EX-FH20 isn't a very expandable camera: there are no lens or flash accessories available.

The EX-FH20 has a nice mix of automatic and manual features. If you want point-and-shoot, there's an auto mode, plus several scene (Best Shot) modes. Some of those scene modes are quite unique, and tie into the high speed shooting modes that I'll cover in a moment. They include a high speed night scene option, which lets you take a photo like the ones you always see in my reviews -- without using a tripod. The resulting image isn't great, though. The Move In and Move Out CS modes let you set an area in the frame for the camera to monitor. When something enters that area, the camera begins shooting continuously. The FH20 also has the requisite face detection autofocus feature, and it's well implemented here. If it's manual controls you're after, the EX-FH20 has a good selection. You can adjust the shutter speed, aperture, white balance, and focus manually. While the camera supports the RAW image format, it's 1) only available at ISO 100/200, 2) no better, and perhaps worse in terms of image quality, and 3) locks up the camera for 5 seconds after you take a photo. Casio does not include any software to edit the RAW (DNG) images, either.

That brings us to the Exilim EX-FH20's flagship feature: high speed continuous shooting. If you don't mind giving up a Megapixel or two, you can shoot at frame rates of up to 40 frames/second (for up to forty shots). Throw in a handy "precapture" feature, and you'll never miss an action shot with the FH20. Casio did a good job at organizing photos you took in a burst into "stacks", so you know what photos were taken together. The EX-FH20 can do its high speed thing in movie mode, too. You can select frame rates of 210, 420, or even 1000 frames/second, with the resolution dropping from small to postage stamp-sized as you go up in frame rate. You will need a lot of light at the higher frame rates, so don't plan on shooting 1000 fps movies indoors. Movies that you've recorded are played back in slow motion, which are really something to see (and hopefully you saw my examples). Even the FH20's "vanilla" movie mode is nice: you can record video at 720p (1280 x 720, 30 fps) with sound for up to 17 minutes. A VGA mode is also available. You cannot use the zoom lens during recording unless you turn the microphone off. Be warned that the FH20 produces very large movies, due to Casio's use of the M-JPEG codec. If you buy this camera, get a big memory card!

Camera performance was a mixed bag. The EX-FH20's 2.6 second startup time is one of the slowest I've seen. While focusing is generally fast, the camera had way more trouble locking focus than I would've expected. I got the dreaded "red focus box" way too often, even in situations where locking focus should be a piece of cake (I wonder if the lack of multi-point AF has anything to do with this). Low light focusing was equally poor. On a more positive note, shutter lag was minimal, as were shot-to-shot delays, unless you're taking a RAW image (which locks up the camera for about 5 seconds). When equipped with a decent set of rechargeable NiMH batteries, the EX-FH20 posts better-than-average battery life numbers -- and it uses AAs, which I always like.

The achilles heel of the EX-FH20 is undoubtedly the quality of its photos. Even at the lowest ISO setting, heavy noise reduction is evident, with smudged details and and overall soft and fuzzy look to photos. Increase the ISO just a stop and things get even worse -- I personally wouldn't take the camera above ISO 200 unless I was absolutely desperate. Oftentimes, you can get better results by shooting in RAW mode, but I didn't find that to be the case here. The EX-FH20 also has fairly strong purple fringing in its photos. On a more positive note, exposure and color were both pleasing. There was a tiny bit of redeye in flash portraits, but not enough to concern me.

There are two final things to mention before I wrap up this review. Casio includes absolutely no photo editing software with the EX-FH20. The only thing you get is an uploader for YouTube, which isn't really necessary in the first place. Second, the documentation situation is a real mess. The only printed manual in the box is a short and very confusing basic manual. If you want more details, you'll have to load up the full manual in PDF format, and it's nothing to write home about, either.

In conclusion, the Exilim EX-FH20 does a great job at continuous shooting and recording movies, but it lags well behind the competition in many areas, with photo quality being the most important. If you need the ultra high speed modes that the FH20 offers, then check it out. Otherwise, I think you can do better, and for a few hundred dollars less.

What I liked:

  • 20X optical zoom lens, with great 26 - 520 mm range
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization
  • Stunning ultra high speed continuous shooting and movie modes; handy precapture feature ensures that you don't miss a shot
  • Large 3-inch LCD display; easy to see outdoors and in low light
  • Generally good build quality; easy to hold and operate
  • Full manual controls
  • Unique scene modes: high speed anti-shake / night scene, move in/out CS
  • Well implemented face detection feature
  • "Regular" movie mode can record at 1280 x 720 (30 fps)
  • Above average battery life; uses AA batteries

What I didn't care for:

  • Images are soft/fuzzy, with smudged details, even at ISO 100; image quality drops rapidly at ISO 200 and above
  • Expensive
  • Strong purple fringing at times
  • Autofocus system often struggled to lock focus; no multi-point AF feature
  • Slow startup time
  • Very limited RAW mode: only usable at ISO 100 or 200, quality lacking, slow write times, no editing software included
  • High frame rate movies are very low resolution; lots of light required
  • Use of M-JPEG codec means large movie files
  • Image stabilizer didn't seem very effective in movie mode
  • Plastic tripod mount
  • No image viewer included
  • Poor documentation

Some other super zoom cameras worth looking at include the Canon PowerShot SX1 IS, Fuji FinePix S2000HD, Kodak EasyShare Z980, Nikon Coolpix P90, Olympus SP-590 Ultra Zoom, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Exilim EX-FH20 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.