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Casio Exilim EX-FH100
10.0 MP | 24-240mm (10X) ZOOM | $284/£263

The Casio Exilim EX-FH100 was one of four Exilim models announced in January, and is designed for versatility and speed. As well as a 10x optical zoom, which covers a useful 24-240mm range, the FH100 also offer's Casio's 'Burst Shooting' (BS for short... no, really) mode which allows up to 30 images to be captured at a rate of 40fps. Resolution drops in this mode, but not by a lot - only from 10 to 9 million pixels. The FH100 is impressively fast in video mode too, and can capture movies at up to 1000fps, albeit at a very limited resolution of 224x64 pixels. Higher definition video (720p) can be captured at a much more sensible 30fps in the motion JPEG format.

  • 10.0 effective Megapixels
  • Back-illuminated CMOS sensor
  • 24-240mm equiv lens
  • CCD Shift image stabilization
  • 720p HD video (motion JPEG)
  • 3.0 inch LCD with 230,000 dots
  • 40fps burst mode (at 9Mp)
  • 1000fps video mode (at 224x64px)
  • Raw capture (ISO 100 and 200 only)
  • SD/SDHC compatible
  • 89.5Mb internal memory
  • Mini HDMI output
  • ISO sensitivity up to 3200
  • Battery life: 310 shots (CIPA standard)

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Overview

The Casio Exilim EX-FH100 is a neat little camera, which weighs more than it looks like it should. This, coupled with the all metal body lends it a real air of quality. This impression is backed up by the well-spaced buttons scattered around the body, and only let down slightly by a small but noticeable looseness in the zoom rocker switch around the shutter release.

In terms of its specifications, the Casio Exilim EX-FH100 can probably claim to be the most 'high-tech' of all of the cameras in this test. Although its zoom range is exceeded by some of the other models in this group, and the same back-illuminated CMOS sensor also finds its way into a couple of its competitors, the FH100 does have a couple of unique features - high speed burst and ultra high-speed video. It is easy to dismiss these features as gimmicks, and it is true that you're unlikely to need 40fps shooting all that often in a compact camera, but this doesn't mean that the feature is without value. We're less enamored by the 1000fps video capture though - whilst it is fun to mess around bursting bubbles and throwing water bombs to see what they look like in extreme slow-motion, the 224x64px resolution of the footage is too small to be of much practical use, even on a web page.

As far as the more 'traditional' features are concerned, the FH100 offers a decent core specification, without being outstanding. Although manual and aperture control settings are included, it isn't actually possible to manually stop down the aperture. Like the Fujifilm Finepix F80EXR, the Casio offers the choice of two aperture settings at any given focal length, but the smaller of the two is in fact an equivalent setting arrived at via a neutral density filter. The advantage of this trickery is that diffraction isn't an issue, but the downside is that if you're expecting to be able to control depth of field, you can't. Shutter speeds can be adjusted in 1/3EV steps, however, which makes shutter priority mode genuinely useful, if you don't mind trusting entrusting ISO sensitivity selection to the camera.

Also included - uniquely amongst cameras in this group test - is a raw capture mode, which records DNG format raw files at ISO 100 and 200 (but no higher). We're always enthusiastic about raw mode in compact cameras in theory, but there are generally some disadvantages - chief among them being a negligible increase in image quality in some cases, and a noticeable decrease in operational speed. Sadly the Casio falls at this latter hurdle. Although better images can definitely be coaxed out of the sensor in raw mode, the 15 second delay after shooting a raw file before you can do anything with the camera makes it much less useful than it could be.

Key Features

The Casio Exilim EX-FH100 feels great in the hand, and although there are a lot of external controls, they are well-placed and relatively large for a compact camera.
The FH100's lens extends quite a long way, relative to the depth of the body, when it is zoomed to its full telephoto extent.
In common with a lot of cameras in this test the Casio features a fairly underpowered flash, and you'll need to be careful not to obscure it with your finger when holding the camera.
As well as the usual shutter release and zoom control, the top plate of the FH100 also plays host to the exposure mode dial and a dedicated 'HS' high speed shooting mode button. In HS mode, images are taken at 40fps, at a slightly reduced resolution of 9 million pixels. A minor frustration is that because of its similar shape and positioning, it is easy to press 'HS' when you want to turn the camera off or on, and vice-versa.
On the rear of the camera is the now-standard 4-way rocker switch, which on the Casio serve to navigate the menu of key settings that is activated using the 'set' button at its center.
Just above is a switch for video shooting. 'HS' is high speed capture (up to 1000fps) and video footage is commenced by pressing the red button.
The Casio offers the joint widest-angle lens here, starting at the equivalent of 24mm. The aperture range isn't all that fast, but is fairly standard for this type of lens, closing to f5.7 at the telephoto setting.
The Exilim EX-FH100 offers built-in support for Eye-Fi Secure Digital memory cards.
Movies shot using the Exilim EX-FH100 can be edited in-camera, although options are limited to trimming the file's beginning and end point

Image quality and performance

In terms of performance, the Casio Exilim EX-FH100 is something of a mixed bag. In operation it is very responsive, with virtually zero shutter lag once focus has been acquired, and both playback and menu navigation are swift and smooth. However, startup time is a disappointing 3 seconds, and although a raw shooting option is tempting, the close to 14 second processing time after taking a shot is unacceptable. The shot-to-shot time in JPEG capture mode is a respectable 2.5sec (approx) but around 1 second of this time is taken up with reacquisition of AF.

In normal continuous shooting mode (i.e. not HS mode) the FH100 can manage a pretty paltry one frame every 2.5 seconds, but again, this lag is partly due to AF reacquisition, which is automatic unless AF is turned off. In MF mode, continuous shooting speed increases to a blistering one frame every 1.75 seconds. To get the fastest frame rates from the FH100, you need to activate 'HS' in the shooting menu, which unlocks the headline 40fps shooting feature, but this does come with some penalties. Focusing is locked, resolution drops to 9MP output, and image quality drops further than a decrease of 1MP would suggest. Add to this the approximately 15 second wait after shooting a burst before the camera is ready to take another picture and the function starts to look like something of a gimmick.

These issues aside, the Casio is a pleasant and satisfying camera to use, and its key systems - AF, white balance and metering - are accurate and reliable in most of the situations in which we used it. We found that the Casio has a tendency to slightly overcook Caucasian skintones in flash shots, but in general, the balance between ambient and flash light is very natural. The Casio also struggles slightly with mixed interior lighting, but this is far from unusual, even in much higher-end cameras.

Like all of the cameras in this group, the FH100 can't deliver the same level of pixel-level detail in low contrast environmentsas it can in bright conditions, and towards the upper end of its ISO span, noise reduction coupled with aggressive edge sharpening combine to obliterate fine detail. As you can see from our various high ISO tests, however, although 'true' pixel-level detail is all but absent in the FH100's high ISO images, the appearance of detail is well preserved, which means that the Casio delivers amongst the best looking high ISO pictures in small prints and at screen size.

The Exilim EX-FH100 is the only camera in this group test to offer a raw capture option, but even in JPEG mode, it produces impressively sharp, detailed images at the lower end of its ISO scale. For critical work, the Casio's DNG files do offer a better starting point for more in-depth manipulation, but raw mode is of far less use on this camera than it might be on a DSLR or higher-end compact, due to the astonishingly long wait between capturing a raw image and the camera being available for another shot.

The 10x zoom lens is a good performer too, and is capable of good sharpness throughout its zoom range, managing to render a lot of detail even at its longest telephoto setting. Importantly, sharpness is close to uniform across the frame at all focal lengths, and images from the FH100 are free from the obvious corner softness that afflicts some of the other cameras in this test. Although close examination of high-contrast edges reveals the tell-tale traces of chromatic aberration, the Casio's JPEG engine does a very good job of effectively removing it from the images. Fringing is visible in raw files, but in the JPEGs, it is all but undetectable except at 100%. Likewise distortion, which is fairly high in raw files, but again, essentially absent in JPEGs, thanks to effective in-camera processing (see 'In-camera distortion correction' below).

The Casio turns in a generally excellent performance in bright daylight, and detail capture is high at all focal lengths at low ISO settings. Higher up the ISO scale things are less impressive, but taken as a whole, as a carry-everywhere travel camera, the FH100 excels.

In-camera distortion correction

Putting wide-ranging zoom lenses into cameras as small as the FH100 is a huge technical challenge, and one of the solutions is to perform a certain amount of image correction in-camera, to iron out the problems before you even see them. The most common solution is to allow some distortion in the lens design, then straighten out the lines in processing. Purists may recoil from such blatant fakery, but the simple fact is that without software correction of this type, these types of cameras couldn't exist.

Without a doubt, all of the cameras in this test employ a certain amount of in-camera processing to address distortion, but without untouched raw files to look at, the extent to which lens distortion is controlled with software is impossible to tell. As an experiment, we took the same shot in JPEG and raw and ran the file through Adobe Camera RAW, to strip out any automatic correction. The results are shown below.

JPEG RAW (ACR)

As you can see, the Casio is applying a considerable amount of distortion correction to its JPEG files before they're written to the card (watch the railings in the lower part of the image especially). It is a virtual certainty that all of the cameras in this test do the same thing to some extent, but only the Casio can output a raw file, which allows us to prove it. Click on the main images for high-res versions, and notice how much grainier the raw file is compared to the JPEG. As well as distortion, the Casio's processing does a pretty good job of reducing noise in its JPEG files as well.

Summary

The Casio's sensor (like all compacts) is far better suited to bright, contrasty environments than to low light, where high ISO settings are necessary. Although its high ISO files aren't the worst of the cameras in this test, we are not yet convinced that the FH100's back side illuminated CMOS technology actually makes all that much difference in low light than a more conventional CCD.

Overall, the FH100 is a really enjoyable camera to use, and as well as excellent image quality, it offers arguably the best build quality of any of the compacts in this group. It is no coincidence that of all the cameras in this group test, the Casio was the model most likely to be taken out of the office by one of the dpreview team to shoot an evening out, a wedding, or weekend away. Image quality is high at low ISO settings, and quality obsessives (and masochists) can get even more out of ISO 100 and 200 files by shooting raw. We have some reservations about the sensor-based image stabilization, and we can't help thinking that the Casio's various 'high speed' modes are something of a gimmick, but these are relatively minor criticisms.

  • We like: Lovely image quality at low ISO settings, great video, raw mode, generally fast operation, sharp lens, very reliable metering/WB, excellent battery life and build quality.

  • We don't like: Image quality at high ISO settings isn't fantastic, extremely slow operation in raw mode
Casio Exilim EX-FH100
Category: Travel Zoom Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Optics
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Speed freaks and anyone that appreciates high quality still and video.
Not so good for
Novice photographers that don't want to be presented with a lot of options.
Overall score
72%
The Casio Exilim FH-100 combines excellent build quality with some of the sharpest, most detailed still and video output of any camera in this group test. We're hugely impressed by the quality of its output, and the high-speed modes are an added bonus.
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