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|Duncan Evans gets to grips with the hidden charms of the Casio EX-ZR10.|
It’s a generally accepted rule that if you want high speed capture and lots of frames per second, you need a DSLR, fancy lens, lots of money etc. The Casio EX-ZR10 is about to knock that apple cart over and run off with the fruit. Here’s an unassuming compact camera, nice and tidy, sleek design, but inside is a high speed engine that’s going to change the way you look at compact cameras.
Casio Exilim EX-ZR10: Features
First let’s talk about the standard features. There’s a 28mm wide angle lens with a standard 7x optical zoom taking the reach up to a 35mm equivalent of 196mm. Clever use of the chip and combining imagery can take that up to a 10x zoom. After that it’s the dreaded digital zoom. Inside beats a 12MP CMOS chip, with a standard 4:3 aspect ratio, or 3:2 and 16:9 if you don’t mind losing some vertical pixels. The form is slender, neat with good quality black plastics and metal. There’s minimalist controls and a large 3in LCD screen on the back. Inside are scene modes, premium auto (automatically detects the scene) and regular auto with access to metering, exposure compensation, focus modes, EV compensation and the ISO range. So far we’re just ticking the expected boxes, this could be any digital camera. So what’s this button on the top marked HS? Ah, that will be the high speed best shot menu. Activate this and you have access to high speed auto and a range of scene modes that all use the high speed engine to one degree or another. You can shoot stills at a scorching maximum speed of 40fps for up to 30 shots. Needless to say there are also movie modes, both high speed ones and regular, full HD. The high speed video can capture frames at a unbelievable rate of 480fps.
Casio Exilim EX-ZR10: Handling
There’s a nice feel to the ZR10. It’s slender enough to drop into a pocket and light enough to carry around all day and night. The buttons and zoom rocker are all finished nicely and the back has a minimalist feel around the large LCD screen. There is a consequence to both having the high speed engine and the minimal controls and that’s, perversely, in the use of a couple of extra buttons, but mainly, more menus. The joypad is only used for flash and display options when shooting and deleting images on playback. However, you can assign one of the most important photo functions to the left-right action. While EV compensation might seem the most obvious, the ISO range is the most useful to apply. Where things get messy is the menus. There’s a menu button for setup and also photo functions. The on-screen Set button menu shows configurable options for the mode you are in, and also highlights the best shot menu. Select BS and a different, full screen menu for the screen modes comes up. On top of this, there’s the Auto button that jumps out of any mode and into Auto or Premium Auto mode which it toggles between. And on top of that, there’s the High Speed button that brings up the HS best shot full screen menu.
Casio Exilim EX-ZR10: Performance
The ZR10 shares a lot in common with the H20G thanks to the EXILIM engine. That means shooting backlit subjects usually gets you plenty of detail in the foreground. You can clearly see the camera’s brain kicking into gear and brightening it up. The other area of technical wizardry is the use of fast processing to extend the focal range of the zoom. This isn’t the digital zoom as you know it, because that’s present as well, it grabs multiple frames and composites them. If it sounds unlikely to work in practice then prepare to be surprised because the quality is still quite good. Not as good as with the optical zoom, but if you need the extra reach, it’s handy to have. The digital zoom extension that simply interpolates the image gives mediocre results as you might expect.
Colour reproduction is strong as you’d expect, but tones it down for faces. In portrait modes or Premium Auto then there’s distinct smoothing of lines and blending of irregular tones in the skin. You’ll hardly notice this for kids but anyone over 40 will thank you. Focussing is good, offering the expected face detection that happily tracks a mugshot in focus and the tracking AF works fairly well also. Not to the extent that you can track fast flying birds, but people and cars are within its grasp.
The real key features for the Casio ZR10 though are the high speed menu options. If you’ve seen the headline-grabbing 480fps video and had some doubts then, again, you better sit down. Firstly, the high speed modes for still pictures drop the resolution to 10MP and also Normal quality. This is not an issue because that’s plenty of pixels for everyone. Once in a high speed mode, the fps for still shooting can be configured, bearing in mind that the buffer will only accept up to 30. So, you could shoot the entire lot in less than a second, or capture 15fps and cover two seconds of action. It’s still remarkable and unheard of on a compact. The ZR10 can also record stereo audio and full HD movies at 1920x1080 at 30fps. It can record super-fast video, so that when you play it back at normal speed you get slow motion or super slow motion. The caveats are that the faster the speed you use, the lower the resolution. So, the 240fps mode records 432x320 res and the 480fps mode drops to a thumbnail size 224x160.
Interestingly, one of the high speed modes is a HDR function. Now you might not immediately tie the two together, but this works by taking two shots of the same scene at once and then combining them. It does it so quickly you can be hand-holding the camera. For backlit shots with the Lighting function turned on, there’s not a real need to use this, but in regular shots which have some deep shadows, the HDR function can give really impressive results without turning the picture into a ghastly cartoon.
ISO and noise performance
There’s noise present from the start in ISO100 test shots but it’s hardly noticeable, certainly not unless you zoom in to look for it. It increases through the range to ISO400 without becoming an issue. At ISO800 it’s starting to spread around and at this point the noise suppression starts to lose slight detail on edges of things. At ISO1600 it’s noticeable on solid shades of black, green, blue, less on mixtures of colours but more significant in shadows. There’s some more loss of detail but it’s only problematic in darker areas. The noise suppression really kicks in at ISO3200 which gives a much softer image but it’s actually quite effective giving one of the best ISO3200 results on a compact that I’ve seen.
|Casio Exilim EX-ZR10 Test chart ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
Like its bigger sibling the H20G, the ZR10 AWB copes faultlessly with fluorescent lighting in the studio but leaves the incandescent AWB shot a little warm. In practice, the firmware is clever enough to make sure portraits indoors are properly coloured regardless of the lighting unless it’s really dark. General indoor shots with lots of coloured lighting present no problem either and give some very clear and attractive results.
At the wide angle end of the zoom there’s plenty of distortion around the edges with verticals bending right into the shot. The centre of the image is sharp enough but it certainly falls off towards the edges. At the telephoto end there’s no real distortion and the sharpness is fairly good so no complaints there. Shooting right at the sun is not to be recommended, but with it in the sky there’s not a lot of flare though you can lose highlights in these shots. There’s a shift-CMOS anti-shake mechanism and this is fairly effective for shots down to 1/20th second handheld. There’s also a composite shooting mode that combines images to give a shake free result for slower speeds. As mentioned, the digital extensions to the focal do affect the image quality, the SR mode a little, the straightforward digital zoom much more so. You get the impression when using the ZR10 that the firmware is doing a lot of the work to get over any shortcomings elsewhere.
Casio Exilim EX-ZR10: Verdict
On the face of it, the ZR10 is just another reasonably well specified compact camera in a pocket-friendly form. When out and about shooting, it will deliver shots that will keep most people happy. There’s no real manual control, this is more fly-by-wire. You tell the camera what you want to do and it goes and gets the best result for you. Where the ZR10 gets really exciting is in the high speed functions. These suddenly take the camera into a different league altogether delivering both sports, kids and action shots that regular compacts could never get, and also providing really interesting features like super-slow motion, full HD video, pre-capture, composite shots and a very handy HDR function. While the ZR10’s clothing isn’t particularly sheep-like, there's certainly a wolf-like engine underneath, waiting to take your hand off. Casio are offering £20 cashback on this model, more details here.
|The features of the EX-ZR10 take this camera into a league of its own.|
Incredibly fast burst modes
Clever Premium Auto
Great macro at 2cm
Effective HDR mode
Full HD video
Casio Exilim EX-ZR10: Cons
Menu systems are confusing
Noise at low ISOs
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Casio Exilim EX-ZR10: Specification
|What comes in the box||Camera, strap, charger plus lead, AV to phone lead|
|Optical zoom||7x (28-196mm equiv)|
|Sensor type||Back-illuminated CMOS|
|Max image size||4000 x 3000|
|Aspect ratio||4:3, 3:2, 16:9|
|Focusing system||Contrast detection AF|
|Focus modes||AF, Macro, Infinity, Manual|
|Focus distance||Normal – 2cm-infinity, Macro – 2cm-50cm|
|ISO sensitivity||Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|Metering modes||Multi-pattern, Centre-Weighted, Spot|
|Exposure compensation||+/- 2EV|
|Shutter speed range||Normal: 1sec-1/2000th secs, Night: 4sec-1/2000th sec|
|Frames-per-second||40fps for 30 frames stills.|
|Monitor||3in LCD (460k dots)|
|Media type||SD, SDHC, SDXC|
|Interface||HiSpeed USB, HDMI, AV out|
|Size||102 x 69 x 27mm|
|Weight||176g inc battery and card|