Casio EX-FC100 Review
|Full model name:||Casio EXILIM EX-FC100|
|Dimensions:||3.9 x 2.3 x 0.9 in.
(99 x 58 x 23 mm)
|Weight:||5.5 oz (156 g)
Imaging Resource rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
Casio EXILIM EX-FC100 Overview
by Mike Pasini and Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 01/25/10
The compact Casio EXILIM EX-FC100 is based around a 9.1-megapixel CMOS image sensor and an EXILIM-branded 5x optical zoom lens with a rather tight 37mm wide-angle. The choice of a CMOS sensor has been made with speed in mind, and the Casio FC100 offers plenty of it, able to shoot a full 30 frames per second at its six megapixel resolution setting. If you don't require quite this much speed, it's possible to set the camera to a reduced rate of 15, 10, 5 or 3 frames per second. Usefully, you can also specify the burst depth -- either 30, 20, 10 or 5 shots.
The Casio EXILIM FC100 also offers the ability to precapture images and then save up to 25 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 FC100 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 FC100 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 photo from a burst -- judging images based on the amount of blurring, and whether your subject is blinking or smiling. 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. Better still, the Casio EX-FC100 also includes a sensor-shift mechanism, providing true mechanical image stabilization!
The speed advantage of the Casio FC100 isn't just felt in still image mode, either. In movie mode, the Casio EXILIM EX-FC100 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 six-megapixel still image. It's also possible to opt for higher framerates of 210, 420, or even 1000 frames per second at reduced resolution -- and even to switch the framerate from 30fps to 210fps during the recording of a movie.
A 2.7-inch LCD display with 230,400 dot resolution offers the EX-FC100's only option for framing and reviewing images, as there's no optical viewfinder on this model. The Casio EX-FC100 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.
The Casio EX-FC100 began shipping in the USA from March 2009, with pricing of about $400. Body colors include gray or white.
Casio EXILIM EX-FC100 User Report
by Mike Pasini
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-FC100, 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 5.5 ounces (156g) with a battery and card, the Casio EX-FC100 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 matte, slate-gray finish and a black frame. (White with black frame 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-FC100 for your thumb, which is actually the Movie-mode switch and start button, 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-FC100 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-FC100'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-FC100'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-FC100'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-FC100 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-FC100'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-FC100'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-FC100'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-FC100'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-FC100'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-FC100, a small plastic flap covers the USB port.
On the bottom of the Casio EX-FC100, 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-FC100'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-FC100 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-FC100's lens to be "surprisingly sharp from center to corner, with only mild blurring in the furthest upper right corner that doesn't extend far into the frame." Barrel distortion at wide-angle is well controlled, though, and pincushion at telephoto is barely noticeable. Chromatic aberration is moderately high and bright.
Modes. The Casio EX-FC100 sets itself apart from other digicams with its unusual recording modes. 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 are among the more familiar Recording modes available on the Casio EX-FC100. They include Auto, Portrait (enhanced flesh tones zoomed to telephoto), Scenery (hard sharpness with high saturation), Portrait with Scenery, Children (enhanced flesh tones with a fast shutter speed), Sports, Pet, Flower (macro with high saturation), Natural Green, Autumn Leaves, Sundown (infinity, red filter, daylight white balance), High Speed Night Scene (composite multiple images into one with less noise), Night Scene Portrait, Fireworks, High Speed Anti Shake, Multi-motion image (records a moving subject in a still scene multiple times on one image), High Speed Best Selection, 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.
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 30 frames per second (at 6 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-FC100 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 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.
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.
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-FC100 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 31.9MB of built-in memory, you can store about nine high quality shots or 18 seconds of HD video in the Casio EX-FC100. Primary storage is SD/SDHC memory cards. A 1GB card can hold about 277 high quality shots or 9 mins 11 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-FC100 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. Movie recording capacity is two hours for high-speed movies and 2 hours, 10 minutes for normal video. The cell lasted through several days of my sporadic shooting.
Shooting. So apart from being an attractive, competent, compact digicam, what the Casio EX-FC100 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-FC100, you can shoot 30 near-full-res images per second in High Speed mode. A very expensive pro digital SLR 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-FC100 is a shutter that's as fast as video mode, but at a considerably higher resolution. In the case of the Casio FC100, resolution comes down from 9-megapixels to 6, but that's not bad 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-FC100 does not autofocus during video capture. How could it, really?
Image size is also dramatically reduced with high speed video. At 210 fps, you can capture 480 x 360 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. Of course, at the higher speeds, audio is not recorded, but you can still do some fun things, as you can see in the water drop video at right.
Fixin' the lag. 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.
As you get older, you may become better at anticipation (a small compensation for slower reflexes in general). But there's no substitute for 1) having a camera that remembers what it saw before you hit the Shutter button and 2) having a camera that never missed a beat for a few seconds of the action. And the Casio EX-FC100 does both.
I happened to have the EX-FC100 here for a birthday celebration, so I tried capturing the cake ceremony with the 30 fps still capture. I got nothing close to 30 fps and the reason, on reflection, makes perfect sense. The room was dark so the shutter speed was slow. At 1/15 second, you aren't going to make it to 30 fps. My sequence managed six images.
One shooting mode I did value highly was High Speed Night Scene mode. This Scene mode snaps a set of images when you press the Shutter button. It then combines them to minimize noise and blur -- and it does a very good job in low light regardless of the time of day. It's a surprisingly handy trick to have up your sleeve. I doubt the doll shots ever looked better with more detail and accurate color in nearly no light.
The Casio EX-FC100 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 EX-FC100 has a whole lot more up its sleeve. It's a bit of a chore remembering that the camera will do all these great tricks, but the results can be a lot of fun. If you're looking for a good quality pocket digital camera that will also capture up to 1,000 frames per second, the Casio FC100 is a great choice.
Casio EXILIM EX-FC100 Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Slightly soft, upper right
Tele: Sharp at center
Tele: Softest upper left corner
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Casio EXILIM EX-FC100's zoom is surprisingly sharp from center to corner, with only mild blurring in the furthest upper right corner that doesn't extend far into the frame. At telephoto, the corner softening occupies a slightly larger area, but still isn't overly noticeable.
Wide: Moderately low barrel distortion; only slightly noticeable
Tele: Average pincushion, also slightly noticeable
Geometric Distortion: Barrel distortion at the Casio EXILIM EX-FC100's wide-angle setting is actually lower than average, at about 0.5%, though it is slightly noticeable in some images. At telephoto, pincushion distortion is about average at 0.2%, and only slightly noticeable.
Wide: Moderately high and bright
Tele: Also fairly bright
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at both zoom settings is moderately high and bright (shown here at 100% magnification), with noticeable yellow and cyan pixels on either side of the target lines.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Casio EXILIM EX-FC100's Macro mode captures sharp details at the very center of the frame, though softness radiates out from the center into the corners and edges. Some chromatic aberration is noticeable as well, along the outermost printed details of the dollar bill. Minimum coverage area is 1.35 x 1.01 inches (34 x 26 mm). The camera focuses so closely that the flash is partially blocked by the lens at the most extreme closeup. Thus, external lighting will be best for such close range.
Casio EXILIM EX-FC100 Image Quality
Color: Color saturation is a bit punchy overall, as strong reds and blues are a bit overdone and greens and oranges also tend toward becoming too bright. Hue is also a little off for colors like yellow and cyan. Dark skintones are quite oversaturated and pushed toward orange, but lighter tones are better, with just a little added redness.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is quite good at ISO 100, and just starting to soften at ISO 200. By ISO 400, fine detail is quite soft, though you can still make out the essence of the mosaic pattern. At ISOs 800 and 1,600, noise suppression greatly blurs detail, and some chroma noise begins to dominate, altering the overall color balance. See the Printed Results section below for how this affects printed images.
Wide: Slightly dim
Auto WB: Very warm and reddish
Incandescent WB: A little warm
Manual WB: Very good
Incandescent: Manual white balance handles our tungsten lighting test better than either Auto or Incandescent modes. Auto resulted in a very strong warm-reddish cast, while the Incandescent setting had just slightly too warm of a tone.
Printed Results: ISO 100 Printed results look good at 13x19 with good color, though detail is slightly soft in some places at this size. This becomes less pronounced at 11x14 inches. ISO 200 shots look better at 11x14 inches, with barely noticeable luminance noise showing up in the shadows. ISO 400 shots are usable at 11x14, but really look better at Letter size, or 8.5x11. ISO 800 shots look great at 5x7, and ISO 1,600 shots make a decent 4x6, with just a hint of luminance noise in the shadows at that size. Overall, though, a pretty good printed performance for the Casio FC100.
Casio EXILIM EX-FC100 Performance
Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is a little slow, at 0.84 second at wide-angle and 0.94 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 0.012s, which is blazing fast.
Cycle time: Cycle time on the other hand, is pretty good, capturing a frame every 1.5 seconds in full resolution single-shot mode. Full resolution continuous mode is rated at one frame per second, but the FC100 can shoot 6-megapixel images at 3, 5, 10, 15 or 30 frames-per-second with a 30 frame buffer.
Flash Recycle: The Casio EXILIM EX-FC100's flash recycles in a relatively quick 4.2 seconds after a full-power discharge.
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Casio EX-FC100
- 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-FC100 Conclusion
If you enjoy the hunt of stalking your photo prey and bringing it down with a well-timed press of the Shutter button, the Casio EX-FC100's innovations with time-shifting will spoil your fun. But for the rest of us, it does things no other camera can, letting us capture the moment we saw not the one the camera got around to recording or slowing things down so we can actually see what happened. Tricks like layering images when shooting night scenes produce very smooth images that you wouldn't get with mere high ISO.
Start to think outside the still image, and you can begin to explore time, because the Casio FC100 is already recording before you press the shutter button, and it can record movies at a faster rate than you'll see from any other camera design, all the way up to 1,000 frames per second. And that, combined with good image quality, both onscreen and printed, make the EX-FC100 a Dave's Pick.
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