Casio EXILIM EX-FC150 Overview
by Mike Pasini, Shawn Barnett and Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 01/25/10
The compact Casio EXILIM EX-FC150 is based around a 10.1-effective megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor and an EXILIM-branded 5x optical zoom lens with a rather tight 37mm wide-angle. The choice of a backside-illuminated sensor allows an increase in image sensitivity, and the Casio FC150 boasts a maximum of ISO 3,200 equivalent, versus ISO 1,600 in its predecessor the FC100. The Casio EX-FX150 also improves upon its predecessor's speed, able to shoot a full 40 frames per second, as well as reduced rates of 30, 15, 10, 5, 3 or 1 frames per second. Usefully, you can also specify the burst depth of 30, 20, 10 or 5 shots.
The Casio EXILIM FC150 offers the ability to precapture images and then save up to 30 frames from immediately before the shutter button was pressed. Another option that's similarly helpful for those of us with slightly aging reflexes is the ability to set the camera to a Slow Motion View mode, whereupon the FC150 will replay the captured action in slow motion, and allow you to select the specific frame you want saved. Yet another particularly unusual function is the ability to combine multiple burst shots into one single image, in-camera.
The Casio FC150 also offers several other clever modes that take advantage of the camera's speed. A Lag Correction mode allows you to specify a time between the time you wanted the photo taken, and the time that the shutter button is pressed -- and then the camera reaches back into its buffer and automatically saves the nearest image to that moment. A High Speed Best Selection mode, meanwhile, will automatically choose the ideal combination of elements from a burst of photos -- judging images based on the amount of blurring, and whether your subject is blinking or smiling, picking only the best expressions for the final composite image. Finally, High-Speed Anti-Shake and High-Speed Night Scene modes combine multiple high-speed shots that prevent blurring, resulting in one final image with proper exposure -- a mode that Casio feels will allow for great low-light shots without a tripod. The Casio EX-FC150 also includes a sensor-shift mechanism, providing true mechanical image stabilization.
The speed advantage of the Casio FC150 isn't just felt in still image mode. In movie mode, the Casio EXILIM EX-FC150 can capture high-definition 720p (1280 x 720 pixel) video at 30 frames per second, and a press of the dedicated photo shutter button during movie recording will save a still image. It's also possible to opt for higher framerates of 240, 420, or even 1,000 frames per second at reduced resolution -- and even to switch the framerate from 30fps to 240fps during the recording of a movie.
A 2.7-inch LCD display with 230,400 dot resolution offers the EX-FC150's only option for framing and reviewing images, as there's no optical viewfinder on this model. The Casio EX-FC150 records images on SD cards, and offers both USB 2.0 High Speed and NTSC / PAL video connectivity. Power comes from a proprietary NP-40 lithium-ion battery.
US pricing and availability for the Casio EX-FC150 is $349.99, available in February 2010.
Casio EXILIM EX-FC150 User Report
by Mike Pasini and Shawn Barnett
Casio's engineers must hit a different karaoke bar than everybody else. Not only do they march to a different drummer, but there must be something in the water they drink. What they design is so distinct from other manufacturer's efforts that I'm starting to think everybody should have one Casio in their camera bag the way every golfer should have a sand wedge. Sometimes nothing else will do.
And while I could hunker down and drive you to distraction with an ordinary digicam review of the Casio EX-FC150, that would only miss the point. This little digicam is a high-speed camera. It grabs a sequence of shots faster than just about anything else -- in either stills or movies. That includes recording movies at up to 1,000 frames per second.
But we'll get to that in short order.
Look and Feel. At only 6.2 ounces (175g), the Casio EX-FC150 is compact, if not quite ultracompact. You can easily drop it in a pants pocket or shirt pocket to tag along on any outing.
It's also a particularly attractive camera with a glossy, dark lavender finish and a black frame on the unit we received for review. (Black on black is also available.) A mustard-colored ring circles the lens opening adding a touch of style, too. Chrome is limited to the buttons, the Zoom ring, and some front panel effects like the circles around the lens and the badge.
Like most any compact camera, there's no attempt to mold a grip for your right hand. But there's a raised portion on the back of the Casio EX-FC150 for your thumb and plenty of room in front under the flash for your fingers. The manual is truly atrocious with every paragraph in a different language. Fortunately, it doesn't really tell you anything you couldn't figure out for yourself, much like the included Quick Start Guide poster. Unless, of course, you have trouble finding things like Power buttons.
But the included CD has a PDF manual that does explain the Casio EX-FC150 a little better -- and with some unusual features, the explanations are very helpful -- so copy the PDF to your hard drive for reference.
Controls. At first glance the Casio EX-FC150's controls are familiar. But they are almost all a bit idiosyncratic, like the camera itself. That's not necessarily bad, just different from the norm.
On the top panel the Casio EX-FC150's big black Shutter button is textured for a better grip, a nice touch you don't see on chrome versions. It's surrounded by a chrome Zoom lever with a light touch (and smooth tracking, too). A vertical slit below the lever on the back reveals the green back lamp, which serves as a status lamp, confirming various operations like power status and focus.
A very, very small Power button sits to the left of the Casio EX-FC150's Shutter button in a recess that makes it difficult for finger pads to easily press. Right behind is the High Speed Continuous Shooting switch, which makes it easy to select this special feature while you're shooting.
On the top of the back panel is a very interesting Slow button. When you press this button, the Casio EX-FC150 starts recording images but what you see on the LCD is no longer the live view. Instead it's each recorded image in the camera's buffer. Up to three seconds of captures can be stored there and the sequence is continually replayed until you press the Shutter button to select one of them to record to the memory card.
The Casio EX-FC150's back panel is mostly occupied by the 2.7-inch TFT color Super Clear LCD. Resolution is excellent with 230,400 pixels (960x240).
Along the right side of the Casio EX-FC150's LCD are the usual array of buttons but, again, with unusual functions. On top, in the right corner, is the Movie mode switch to select between High Speed and Standard recording (while the icons are not at all clear, the manual does explain it). In the middle of that switch is the Casio EX-FC150's Movie button, a sort of Shutter button for recording video at any time. Movies are recorded with monaural audio and digital zoom only.
Below that are four small buttons surrounding the four-way controller ringing the Set button. Above the controller the left button switches to the Casio EX-FC150's Playback mode (this also turns on the camera if it's off, though it does not turn it off) while the right button switches to Record mode. Below the controller, the left button brings up the main menu system (although the Set button brings up the Record mode menu options). The right button, labeled BS (don't laugh, it's much better than BS), brings up the Best Shot menu, Casio's unfortunate name for Scene modes. One of Casio's Scene modes, you should know, is Auto. There's no other way to get back into Auto mode except through the BS menu, which can be tedious.
The four buttons on the Casio EX-FC150's controller do not work very hard. The Up button doubles as the Display mode control, cycling through the various LCD display options. The Down arrow cycles through the Flash modes in Record or functions as the Trash button in Playback. The Left and Right buttons are unassigned. So to set any other camera option, you press Set to get into the Record menu options and find the option with the Up/Down arrows before setting the value with the Right/Left values.
On the right side of the Casio EX-FC150, a small plastic flap covers the USB port.
On the bottom of the Casio EX-FC150, the speaker grill sits to the left of the plastic tripod hole which is just left of the battery/memory card compartment. The door to that compartment has a latch that facilitates opening it very nicely but can make it difficult to close in one motion. Push all the way down.
Inside the compartment, the battery is held in by another latch and its asymmetrical design makes it impossible to seat incorrectly. The Casio EX-FC150's SD card slot is next to the door hinge, making it very hard to pull out of the camera. You have to bend the door back a bit to get any kind of a grip.
I don't have large hands but the Power switch and SD card slot were two features that made me think the designer of the Casio EX-FC150 had very small hands.
Lens. With nine lenses in seven groups, including an aspherical lens, the Exilim Optical lens ranges from 37-185mm in 35mm equivalents with a wide-angle maximum aperture of f/3.6 and a telephoto aperture of f/4.5. The 5x optical zoom is complemented by a 4x digital zoom for a 20x total zoom ratio, although in Movie mode, zoom can reach as high as 27x in VGA.
The lens also profits from CMOS-shift image stabilization when that Scene mode is selected. The lens elements themselves are not stabilized but the sensor shifts to counter any camera shake.
Our lab tests show the Casio EX-FC150's lens to be not quite as good as the FC100's optic, though they're technically the same lens. There's a little more softness in the FC150's lens, not just in the corners, but also in the center of the frame. It's not terrible, but not as good as we saw with the FC100. It could be the new backside-illuminated CCD sensor interacting differently with the lens. Barrel distortion at wide-angle is well controlled, though, and pincushion at telephoto is barely noticeable. Chromatic aberration is high and bright at wide-angle, better at telephoto.
Modes. The Casio EX-FC150 sets itself apart from other digicams with its unusual recording modes, and the EX-FC150 has even more than its predecessor. They aren't at all apparent from a quick look at the camera. In fact, neither are the many Scene modes, hidden on the BS menu.
Those Scene modes that seemed familiar on the FC100 are anything but on the Casio EX-FC150. This time, the modes emphasize the FC150's special capabilities right off the bat, with CS standing for "Continuous." They include Auto, Expression CS, Baby CS, Child CS, Pet CS, Sports CS, Child High Speed Movie, Pet High Speed Movie, Sports High Speed Movie, Lag Correction, High Speed Lighting (which takes multiple exposures to fill in dark areas while maintaining light areas), High Speed Night Scene (again combining images for greater detail, while still making the scene look like night), High Speed Night Scene and Portrait (as before, but with a flash portrait included), High Speed Anti-shake (choosing the best images and combining them for a crisp scene), High Speed Best Selection, Portrait (enhanced flesh tones zoomed to telephoto), Scenery (hard sharpness with high saturation), Portrait with Scenery, Flower (macro with high saturation), Natural Green, Autumn Leaves, Sundown (infinity, red filter, daylight white balance), Fireworks, Multi-motion image (records a moving subject in a still scene multiple times on one image), Move Out CS (shutter fires when subject moves), Move In CS (shutter fires when subject appears), Pre-record (buffers movies until Movie shutter is pressed), For YouTube (image sized for YouTube), Register User Scene (so you can register your own mode in the unlikely event that they didn't create one for you already). Enthusiasts will be pleased to see a full set of semi-automatic and manual exposure modes ("PASM") as well.
High Speed Burst is activated with the High Speed CS button on the top panel. When you press and hold the Shutter button down, the camera will capture images at up to 40 frames per second (at 9-megapixels.) You can then scroll through the captures to select the one (or all of them) that you want to save. Flash is disabled in this mode. More about that in the Shooting section below.
HD Movie captures video at 1,280 x 720 and 30 fps. The Casio EX-FC150 does not have an HD video out port of any kind, unfortunately, so you'll have to get your video to your HDTV the roundabout way.
But you can capture video in High Speed mode at up to 1,000 fps. That translates into "ultra slow motion" that has required specialized equipment in the past. As intriguing as that is, the Casio EX-FC150 can also capture high speed video at 210, 420, and variable 30 or 210 fps, all at smaller sizes as the speed increases. So you can see as much or as little as you like across a range of speeds. In truth, even 210 fps opens up a whole new world.
But the uses to which Casio sees to put high speed capture don't stop there. They've figured out how to virtually enhance the optics and the sensor's sensitivity in low light. High Speed Night Scene, for example, tackles the difficult task of shooting dark scenes with natural light. And you don't have to wait until evening to use it. Any time you find yourself in a dark location where flash is not allowed or desirable, set the camera to this Scene mode, hold the camera steady and press the Shutter button. The camera will then record a series of images and composite them into one to reduce noise and blur.
ISO 3,200 Auto
ISO 800 High Speed Night Scene
At left is the image shot in Auto mode with an ISO setting of 3,200. At right, the camera combined several ISO 800 images into one for a considerably smoother representation.
Prerecord Continuous Shooting uses a buffer to hang onto what the camera has seen before you pressed the Shutter button. So if you just missed the shot, you can still find it in the buffer where up to 30 images can be held.
The price for some of these exotic modes, though, is a smaller image size. In many of these modes the Casio EX-FC150 is more a 9-megapixel digicam than a the 10-megapixel camera its specifications would lead you to believe. But the reason becomes obvious when you consider that the camera is letting you rapidly capture a large number of images while you continue to accidentally move the camera during capture. In order to properly overlay the images, the camera will need to trim some of the image, resulting in a reduced resolution file.
Menu System. The Casio menu system uses a familiar approach, relying on a Menu button to access major settings for Record or Playback mode and Setup. In Record mode the Set button provides access to settings that might change from shot to shot like image quality (which includes aspect ratio), white balance, EV, ISO sensitivity, Slow Motion options, and Lag Correction (which uses the buffer to select a prerecorded capture when you press the Shutter button, recording what you saw instead of the camera) among others.
Where this was annoying was shooting Macro. The Casio EX-FC150 doesn't have an Auto Macro, so you have to set Macro by pressing the Menu button and scrolling to the Focus option in the Record menu, then selecting Macro instead of AF. There is a Scene mode for Flowers that sets Macro, but it also increases the saturation.
Storage & Battery. With 85.9MB of built-in memory, you'll still want a much larger SD/SDHC card for real photographic outings. A 1GB card can hold about 151 high quality shots or 4 mins 22 seconds of HD video. A fast SDHC card is recommended to avoid dropping frames (the Record indicator on the LCD turns yellow when that happens).
The Casio EX-FC150 uses a rechargeable 3.7 volt 1,300 mAh compact NP-40 lithium-ion battery. Casio reports CIPA ratings of 300 shots or 3 hours 20 minutes of continuous playback. As for movies, you can get up to 2 hours of continuous High-speed movie recording, and 2 hours 20 minutes of HD movie. The cell lasted through several days of my sporadic shooting.
Shooting. So apart from being an attractive, competent, compact digicam, what the Casio EX-FC150 brings to the party is high-speed shooting. Dave waxed poetic over high speed shooting in his review of the Casio EX-FH20. In the Conclusion to that review, he said, that camera "opens the dimension of time to photographic exploration, to a degree never before accessible to amateurs (or to all but a precious few professionals, for that matter)."
As he pointed out, the common example is slow motion photography. If you're a golfer, that means swing analysis. If you're trying to get used to a prosthesis, it may mean much the same thing: dissecting a motion that happens too quickly to analyze in real time. The dissection occurs in frames per second. The more frames, the slower the motion, the more data, the better it is.
On the Casio EX-FC150, you can shoot 40 near-full-res images per second in High Speed mode. A pro dSLR may handle 10 frames per second. More commonly, your dSLR may hit three to five. Digicams brag when they manage three.
But almost any digicam has a video mode that can capture 30 fps. So what you're getting in still mode on the Casio EX-FC150 is a shutter that's ten frames faster than video mode, but at a considerably higher resolution. In the case of the Casio FC150, resolution comes down from 10-megapixels to 9, but that's not much of a drop when you consider what a cool trick the Casio's performing.
You don't have to have a lousy golf swing to find that appealing. You just have to want to capture the perfect moment, as Dave suggested. "High frame rates could be just the ticket for capturing the perfect expression on a squirmy toddler, or the perfect moment as the birthday candles are blown out."
Movie. There is one issue with high speed video, however, and that's autofocus. The Casio EX-FC150 does not autofocus during video capture. How could it, really?
Image size can be dramatically reduced with high speed video, and audio recording is also disabled. At 120 frames, though, you can capture images at up to full VGA, or 640x480. At 240 fps, you can capture 448 x 336 frames, at 420 fps only 224 x 168 and, as our sample shows, at 1,000 fps merely 224 x 64. At 30 fps, you can shoot frames that are either 1,270 x 720 (HD) or 640 x 480. Even without audio and at a small size, you can still do some fun things, as you can see in the water drop video at right (taken with the FC100).
Lag correction. The big problem with early digicams was shutter lag, but there isn't a photographer alive who hasn't missed a shot with even the most responsive camera. Why? Because you have to press the Shutter button before the moment you want to capture. You have to anticipate that moment, not merely recognize it. And then the camera has to get it's electronic gears spinning, which introduces more lag, and soon the moment's changed; then the shutter clicks!
As you get older, you may become better at anticipation (a small compensation for slower reflexes in general). But there's no substitute for having a camera that remembers what it saw before you hit the Shutter button--up to 0.4 seconds prior, in 0.1 second increments--and then lets you pick which moment you want.
Another, more subtle effect is useful on bright days, indoors, or even cloudy days with deeper shadows, as seen at left. High-speed Lighting takes several images at different shutter speeds and combines them, maintaining the highlights while bringing out the shadows. The Casio FC150 does a better job at this than some recent SLRs, producing an image that maintains some depth.
The EX-FC150 does not have an orientation sensor, so you'll have to manually rotate images on your computer after you copy them over.
It does, however, have an Eye-Fi mode (which really means that, if set, the camera won't power down during Playback so the card can transfer images). A small Eye-Fi icon appears on the LCD.
The Casio Exilim EX-FC150 has a whole lot more up its sleeve, including the High speed Best Selection mode that chooses the best faces from among many rapidly fired images. It's a bit of a chore remembering that the camera will do all these great tricks, but the results can be a whole lot of fun. One trap I fell into was forgetting to reset the shutter lag compensation when shooting those Multi-motion Image shots, but overall, I found the Casio EX-FC150 an intriguing camera to have along. It's a good pocket digital camera in its own right, but it also captures up to 40 high-res stills per second, or movies at a rate of up to 1,000 frames per second.
Casio EXILIM EX-FC150 Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Softest upper left
Tele: A hint soft at center
Tele: Softest lower right corner
Sharpness: At full wide-angle, the Casio EXILIM EX-FC150's lens produced somewhat soft corners, though blurring did not extend far into the frame. At full telephoto, blurring was more pronounced, though the entire image is a little soft, even at center.
Wide: Very slight barrel distortion; hardly noticeable
Tele: Minimal pincushion distortion
Geometric Distortion: There is surprisingly little barrel distortion at wide-angle (<0.1%), and only a tiny amount of perceptible pincushion distortion (~0.1%) at telephoto. Very good performance here (likely the result of in-camera correction).
Wide: High and bright
Tele: Also high
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is quite bright, with strong purplish pixels dominating much of the black details of the test target. At telephoto, chromatic aberration is also fairly high, though pixels are a little less bright.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Casio EXILIM EX-FC150's Macro mode captures a sharp image with strong detail at the center of the dollar bill, with softness and chromatic aberration apparent in the corners. Minimum coverage area measures 1.39 x 1.04 inches (35 x 27mm), which is quite good. The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens at the most extreme closeup, resulting in an uneven exposure with too high contrast.
Casio EXILIM EX-FC150 Image Quality
Color: The Casio EXILIM EX-FC150 produced some noticeable shifts in hue accuracy, with the strongest occurrences in cyans and warm tones like oranges and yellows. Following a tendency among consumer digital cameras toward oversaturation of bright hues, the EX-FC150 pushes bright reds, pinks, blues and some bright greens quite a bit. Darker skin tones shift toward red-orange, while lighter skin tones have a decided pink-red cast. Performance here is a little below average.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is fair at ISO 100, but as early as ISO 200, the Casio EXILIM EX-FC150's noise suppression efforts interfere with detail definition. At ISO 400, color noise pixels become more visible. From ISO 800 on, the image appears more illustrative than photographic as both chroma and luminance noise increase. For more on how this will affect printed images, see the Printed Results section below.
Wide: Slightly dim
Tele: Slightly dim
Auto WB: Warm
Incandescent WB: Good, but a hint red
Manual WB: Also good, though slightly cool
Incandescent: The Casio EXILIM EX-FC150's Incandescent and Manual white balance settings both produced nearly accurate results under our household tungsten lighting. Auto was decidedly warm. Really, it will be up to the consumer's preference between the slightly cool results of Manual mode, and the more reddish color balance of the Incandescent setting.
Printed: ISO 100 Printed results look good at 13x19 with good color and reasonably good detail, but the image gets more crisp at 11x14. ISO 200 shots are quite good at 11x14 inches, but ISO 400 images really look better at letter size (8.5x11). ISO 800 shots look good at 5x7, and both ISO 1,600 and 3,200 are quite usable at 4x6 inches. Overall a pretty good performance.
Casio EXILIM EX-FC150 Performance
Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is good, at 0.47 second at wide-angle and 0.45 second at full telephoto. There is a faster "Quick Shutter" mode, but the camera may capture the image before achieving focus in this mode. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.294 second, actually a bit slow compared to the average rating, but still reasonably quick.
Cycle time: Cycle time is also relatively fast, capturing a full-resolution frame every 1.6 seconds in single-shot mode. The FC150 can shoot 9-megapixel images at 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, 30 or 40 frames-per-second with a 30 frame buffer in High Speed Continuous Shutter mode.
Flash Recycle: The EXILIM EX-FC150's flash recycles in a sluggish 7.5 seconds after a full-power discharge.
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Casio EX-FC150
- Rechargeable lithium-ion battery (NP-40)
- Charger unit (BC-31L)
- Power cord
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- AV cable
- CD ROM
- Basic reference book
- Extra battery pack
- Large capacity SD/SDHC memory card. (These days, 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.)
Casio EX-FC150 Conclusion
The Casio EX-FC150 is not just a good pocket camera, but also does tricks that no other camera can. Starting with capturing a high-resolution image at up to 40 frames per second, the Casio beats even the most expensive digital SLRs for allowing you to choose just the right moment.
Its ability to combine multiple images into one for lower noise shots is where its true brilliance lies. We've seen this trick on two recent Sony cameras, and it's no less useful here. But the Casio takes it even further, with its astonishing ability to capture high-speed video to help you capture action you can't even see with the naked eye. Those hummingbirds can be made to slow right down and stay awhile at 420 frames per second.
The only drawback is that it can get a little bewildering once you start to explore some of the finer features, like shutter lag compensation. That's when you can flee to the stack of Best Shot modes for just the right settings, and once you master those settings, you can even save custom sets. If you need a reason to get a new pocket camera that does something a little different, Casio has more than packed their latest offering with many very good reasons. And that, combined with good printed image quality, makes the EX-FC150 a Dave's Pick.