Casio has re-entered the Australian market with a 10-megapixel camera with 10x zoom that can shoot videos at 1000 frames per second. So how does it stack up against its competition? We take a look.
The FH100 will be competing against some very popular and well-established cameras such as Panasonic’s TZ10 and TZ8, as well as the Samsung WB550 and WB650, the Canon SX210 IS, the Olympus mju 9000, the Nikon S8000, the Sony HX5 and the newly-announced Pentax RZ10, as well as a number of others. Against this competition the FH100’s asking price of AU$549.95 may seem a little expensive, but it does offer some features that none of its rivals can match.
The design of the FH100 clearly owes a lot to the shape of the EX-H15 and its predecessor the H10, but the resemblance is mostly superficial. Like the H15 it has a strong body made mostly of aluminium with plastic on the top panel, it has the same three-inch LCD monitor (although only 230k resolution), and the lens certainly appears to be the same as the H15, a flush-folding 10x zoom f/3.2 – f/5.7 11-element construction with aspherical elements and a focal length range equivalent to 24-240mm. However there the resemblance ends, because the FH100 includes a much wider range of controls reflecting its more serious remit.
The FH100 is one of the larger long-zoom compacts, measuring 105 x 63.2 x 29.9mm, and weighing a substantial 224g including the memory card and the big 1950mAh li-ion battery. This is the same battery that powers the H15 for its class-leading 1000-shot duration, but due to the FH100’s heavier power requirements it only provides 300 shots on a full charge. This is still better performance than most of its competitors however.
The camera body incorporates a shaped handgrip on the front, with a small textured insert, while on the back the raised surround of the video shooting button provides a thumbgrip, making the camera very comfortable and secure to grip. The control layout is well designed, with the shutter button and its rotary bezel zoom control falling neatly under the forefinger.
The most obvious difference between the design of the H15 and the FH100 is the inclusion of an exposure mode dial on the right of the top panel. It is fairly straightforward, offering a choice of aperture priority, shutter speed priority, full manual or program auto exposure, as well as Casio’s usual Best Shot scene program mode. The options here are more limited than on some advanced compacts; only minimum or maximum aperture can be selected, but the full range of shutter speeds from 30 seconds to 1/2000th of a second are available. Exposure values are adjusted via the D-pad and sidebar menu.
Also on the top panel is a button that activates the FH100’s main selling point, its high-speed continuous shooting mode. The camera is equipped with an ultra-fast back-illuminated CMOS sensor and is capable of shooting bursts of up to 30 frames at speeds of up to 40 frames a second, at nine megapixel resolution, including the ability to pre-shoot up to 25 frames so that you don’t miss any of the action.
The high speed sensor is also used in the FH100’s video recording modes. It can shoot 720p HD video, with stereo sound recorded by two built-in microphones mounted on the top panel and a dedicated video recording button on the back, but it can also shoot ultra-high-speed video clips at up to 1000 frames a second, although at greatly reduced resolution. Video output is via a mini HDMI port located under a hatch on the side of the camera.
This high speed capture ability is also used to provide the FH100 with several other useful features, mostly found in the Best Shot menu. These include an extremely effective in-camera HDR capture mode, high-speed anti shake composite image capture and low-noise composite night-time photos. Low-light shooting is also helped by the sensor-shift image stabilisation system.
As you might expect, the FH100’s overall performance is very good, although it is a little slow to get going. It takes approximately seven seconds to start up and take a picture, which is very slow by current standards, however its shot-to-shot time in single-shot mode is approximate 2.5 seconds, which is fairly quick by long-zoom standards.
Casio’s autofocus systems have always been very good, and the FH100 is no exception. It has a nine-point contrast detection AF system, with the option for a moveable single-point and tracking AF as well. It is very fast and accurate, and its low-light performance is also very good. It has a good bright AF assist lamp with a ranger of about three metres.
Although the FH100 will be sold mainly on the strength of its high-speed shooting abilities, it can also compete with the best in its class in terms of image quality. Although it has what appears to be the same lens as the H15 it seems to suit the FH100 better, producing excellent edge-to-edge sharpness and minimal wide-angle distortion. There is some chromatic aberration towards the corners of the frame, but I’ve seen a lot worse. The level of recorded detail is superb, among the best in its class especially in Raw mode.
The camera is at its best in unusual lighting conditions, where sensor produces excellent dynamic range in high-contrast situations, while the built-in HDR produces even better results even in strong backlighting. Colour rendition is excellent.
Casio cameras have never been the best at high-ISO noise control, but the FH100 does well in this area too, producing good results at 400 ISO and printable images at 800, although 1600 and the maximum 3200 ISO are less good, as is usually the case. All in all it’s a very creditable performance, and places the Casio FH100 firmly into the top bracket of long-zoom compacts.
The Casio EX-FH100 demonstrates that Casio should not be overlooked when it comes to advanced high-tech cameras. It offers superior build quality, excellent handling and astonishing high-speed performance, as well as a versatile range of features and above-average image quality. If you’re looking for an advanced compact it should certainly be on your shortlist.
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