Duncan Evans tries to keep up with another Casio camera featuring the high speed EXILIM engine.
If there’s one thing that is not associated with compact cameras it’s speed. Tidy, functional, pocket-friendly and good for beginners, but not speed. But that’s exactly where the ZR100 comes in, being the latest Casio to feature the high speed EXILIM engine that can deliver up to 40fps at 10Mp. That’s just the start though, the high speed trickery is used for lots of other things as well.
Casio Exilim EX-ZR100 Features
While the ZR100 looks very similar to the Casio H30, except maybe a bit posher with some gold finishing, the addition of the aforementioned high speed engine takes it to a different place altogether. Let’s start though with the feature set. There’s a 24mm wide angle lens, backed up with a handsome 12.5x optical zoom that takes the range up to the 35mm equivalent of 300mm. Inside is a 12Mp back-lit CMOS chip with an ISO range from 100 up to 3200. There’s mechanical CMOS-shift image stabilisation, full HD movie capture with HDMI output and a raft of control features. These include AP, SP and Manual modes for your photographic control, HDR, Best Shot and Premium Auto for your scene mode requirements and super macro right down to 1cm for close up shots. Inside though, it’s the high speed functions that are the most interesting and fun. Here there are modes that make use of the super-fast processing. It starts with high speed capture that is configurable up to 40fps at 10Mp in Normal quality mode. You can only capture a maximum of 30 frames in continuous shooting modes, but the exact rate can be configured from 5fps up to 40fps. There are specialised modes that also use the high speed engine such as panoramic capture, low-light, high speed anti-shake, high speed night scene, sports and pet movies so they can be replayed in slow motion, sports/pet/kids continuous shooting. It’s the way that Casio has taken the technology, then thought of ways to use it that’s impressive.
Casio Exilim ZR100 Key Features:
12.1 Megapixel High Sensitivity CMOS Sensor Digital Still Camera
24mm wide angle lens
12.5x Optical Zoom Lens - 24-300mm
Full HD Video (1920x1080) at 30fps with stereo sound
450 shots on one battery charge
3 inch LCD Monitor
CMOS shift stabilization mechanism
360 degrees Panorama shooting
30fps shooting at 10mp
HDR, and HDR Art modes
1cm Macro / Super Macro modes
SD / SDHC / SDXC Memory card support
Casio Exilim EX-ZR100 Handling
Build quality is nice, the gold elements adding a touch of class to the chassis. In terms of size and handling it’s almost exactly like the H30 and in terms of control layout it is like the H30 and the ZS5 and 10. Because of all the functionality, there’s a mode dial on the top allowing access to the program modes, scene modes and specialised functions. There’s also a short cut button to toggle on the high speed capture mode. On the H30 this was for ECO mode. Largely pointless, but here it’s put to better use. The issue for handling is the same for all the cameras in this range. There’s not much room for your thumb on the back, but at least the ZR100 has space on the front for a grip. The back contains buttons for camera mode, playback mode, video recording, the joypad control with an inset button for shooting functions menu and a separate menu button. The problem is that the ZR100 is packed with features, yet most of the photographic ones are inside menus, and sometimes not in ones where you’d expect them. The left-right motion on the joypad is unused and as there is no control wheel it makes accessing all the goodies slower than it should be.
Casio Exilim EX-ZR100 Performance
There’s a choice of metering systems, but as these are hidden in the setup menu, finding them will probably take more effort than it’s worth. Stick it on centre-weighted and leave it unless you want to spot meter something I say. Centre-weighted and zone give much the same results anyway since the zonal system is weighted towards the landscapes. This can mean losing highlights at times, but forewarned is forearmed as they say and this is where the HDR mode comes in. Bright white skies? Use HDR mode to put detail into the sky while giving a perfect exposure for the ground. The result won’t look like traditional HDR, but it works a treat for circumstances like this.
Focussing is okay for a compact, it’s pretty quick but not always that accurate. There’s also a rudimentary tracking focus which is okay for slow moving things. Face detection is reasonably good at picking up multiple occurrences in the same frame but tended to lose them quickly when anyone wasn’t looking straight at the camera. It requires people to really pose and look at the camera.
Mixed light ISO1600
Super Resolution Zoom: There’s the SR zoom to contend with at the end of the optical range which Casio claims is almost as good as an optical zoom. Well, they’re almost right. The edges get more defined with processing artefacts, the interiors lose detail. It’s okay though, and extends the reach to 18.8x, or the equivalent of 451.2mm. The Multi-Frame SR zoom combines multiple exposes to try and squeeze more detail out and deliver 25x optical zoom but really, this is clearly processing-based and the result looks very digitally created.
Full Optical zoom
18x Super Resolution
25x Super Resolution Zoom
When looking at colour, there’s no complains. Everything is nicely saturated, people are healthy and landscapes are verdant. Subtle colours stay subtle too. A quick word about white balance. This is generally good but could throw up the odd off result in bright light and shady area conditions. However, putting it inside into an area saturated with high power tungsten and the AWB gave possibly the best rest I’ve seen in this location. The Tungsten setting gave the same result showing that the AWB had picked the correct setting to use. Very impressive for indoor shooting then.
High Speed Capture
The big feature is of course the high speed modes and these are a real treat. They make the HDR mode work well, the low light captures enable images that would require higher ISOs or not be possible and the continuous shooting modes can blast out bursts of shots at 40fps. There’s also anti-shake and capture the moving pet modes that combine bursts of shots. These all work really well and give the Casio a significant advantage over other compacts at this price.
Examples of HDR / HDR Art:
There’s also a panorama mode that takes multiple shots and combines them. I tried this handheld while turning around in a circle so the lens was going everywhere. Yes, you can see some of the joins, but the result from even this ad hoc capture were spectacular. Personally, it’s the HDR mode that’s my favourite, but for capturing bright skies when the tonal range would otherwise be exceeded. The other area of interest for the ZR100 is in taking movies and here Casio has switched from AVIs on previous models to MOVs on this, presumably to save space. However, quality is now typical compact camera standard. There’s full HD capture at 30fps but for those super-fast modes that produce slow motion effects you need to drop down to 432x320 to get the flexible 30-240fps.
Mixed Light ISO800
Casio EX-ZR100 ISO and noise performance
Noise and ISO performance are an interesting combination when you have a large CMOS chip in a small compact. There’s bound to be some noise or consequence. I wouldn’t say ISO100 images were clean because you can see some artefacts in solid colours, but the firmware is processing away right from the start. This means that as you progress through the range, there’s more and the edges start to get more defined while the interiors pick up more artefacts. The good news is that the dreaded colour noise is avoided completely and the interior of the image only starts to get soft at around ISO1600. It’s still perfectly usable though. Even ISO3200, which really is smudgy and soft is usable at smaller sizes – not A4 – because the processing really smooths out the noise. There’s no colour shifts and the colours in the image are preserved as they were shot. So, it’s not clean throughout, but noise is very well controlled as you progress.
Casio EX-ZR100 Lens performance
High Speed Anti-Shake
With a 24mm wide angle lens there’s obviously distortion on verticals. The centre of the images is sharp with lots of detail but it falls off towards the edges noticeably. Not really an issue though. The optical zoom runs up to the equivalent of 300mm where the CMOS-shift stabilisation will attempt to keep things steady. It does a good job too. At this range there’s less detail over the entire image and some artefacts in the solid colours. At the other end of the spectrum there’s regular 5cm macro and 1cm super macro where the lens can be poked right up against the subject. Ideal for flowers and insects. It’s a great combination of focal lengths all in one place.
Shooting into the Sun Normal
Shooting into the Sun HDR
Portrait with flash
Super Macro Watch
In terms of flare etc, there is certainly some when shooting into the sun and bright days create plenty of colour fringing, both in the sky and in other areas. It’s more noticeable than on the sibling H30 camera.
Value for Money
The street price of the ZR100 is more like £249 which is still a premium price for a compact (although there is £50 cashback available until the 31st of July 2011). It does pack in a huge amount of features, and the high-speed ones really are unique selling points because no-one else has got this. Switch on time is a little slow compared to some alternatives, but once on it’s ready to fly. The Sony Cybershot HX9v offers 10fps for 10 shots and the Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR has 8fps for eight shots.
Casio Exilim ZR100 Verdict
Really, there’s nothing close to the Casio ZR100 except other Casio cameras. Where it really tells though, is in the uses Casio has put the high speed processing to and here the HDR, anti-shake, low light, panorama and pet capture modes are all huge fun and work amazingly well. Yes, the handling could be better and it’s tiresome to have lots of photographic features hidden in menus, but the ZR100 is bursting with features and tricks. With decent results and super-fast speeds the ZR100 is versatile and lots of fun to use.
With decent results and super-fast speeds the ZR100 is versatile and lots of fun to use.
Casio Exilim ZR100 Pros
Low light capture
24mm wide angle lens
1cm super macro
Casio Exilim ZR100 Cons
Some artefacts at low ISOs
Not great quality at end of zoom