The High Speed Casio EXILIM Pro EX FH20 is all about speed. 40fps continuous shooting for stills and up to 1000fps video capture, all tied in with a 20x optical zoom makes this one beast of a high speed superzoom. But is it any good, or a mere gimmick? The What Digital Camera Casio EX-FH20 review…
Casio EXILIM Pro EX-FH20 review
The High Speed Casio EXILIM Pro EX-FH20 is, as the title suggests, a high speed 9.1megapixel superzoom compact – but one with a difference; not only can it shoot 40 frames per second stills on a continuous burst, it can also capture video at up to 1000 frames per second. The most frequent frame rate found in stills cameras is 30fps, so when you’re adding an extra 970 to the concoction the EX-FH20’s results have the potential to take your usual motion and transform footage into an unseen world of super slow-mo. It’s clear that the EX-FH20 is all about speed, but it also comes equipped with a 20x optical zoom too, making it a superzoom compact/bridge camera not to be messed with, or at lease on paper. But is the Casio EX-FH20 a mere gimmick with less-than-useful video, or the kind of product that other manufacturers should aspire to follow? The What Digital Camera Casio EXILIM Pro EX-FH20 review reveals all…
Casio EXILIM Pro EX-FH20 – Features
High speed is the name of the game, and the Casio EX-FH20 isn’t short of options here. To begin with there are the stills – with a possible 40 frames per second continuous shooting mode, you’ll require very decent light to capture frames that don’t show blur – don’t expect to be firing off 40fps down a dark alley as, irrelevant of the subject, you wont have sharp capture. Its use is much more targeted at a ‘stop motion’ type playback, so picking out the files and saving them as something like an animated gif for the web is ideal, if that’s what you’re looking for. Step the mode down a few notches however, and having a compact shoot 5fps with a burst flash (at 8MP max) is undoubtedly impressive. It’s not a weedy flash either, proper foreground illumination makes for sharp continuous shots – not something many other compacts can claim to offer.
Moving on to the video front, the Casio EX-FH20 has a 30fps HD 720 mode which shoots crisp, smooth video in 720P high definition. Other modes have considerably higher frame rates, but capture at considerably smaller resolutions. There’s 210fps (480×360), 420fps (224×168), and 1000fps (224×56) – the latter being so letterbox-like and noisy that it will have limited use for most.
It’s not all about unusual high speed modes however, as the EX-FH20 is still a superzoom compact at heart. Casio haven’t just chucked away a wealth of standard photographic needs in preference of video modes and burst rates – the 20x optical zoom lens offers a wide 26mm through to super tele 520mm. That’s a wide range, further complimented by the EX-FH20’s full manual control. Be that ISO, shutter or (limited) aperture adjustment. Casio’s ‘Best Shot’ mode also features a multitude of automated scene modes designed to tackle any scene at hand.
Design & Performance
Casio EXILIM Pro EX-FH20 review – Design & Performance
The EXILIM Pro EX-FH20, as with so many bridge cameras, isn’t small or light. Not least because it has to house a large lens to make its 20x optical zoom possible. That’s a whopping wide-angle stretching from 26mm through to 520mm. The EXFH-20’s body, however, fits rather snugly around the lens and – at least assuming you’re right handed – fits to the hand using the grip well. The flash is manually controlled on the top of the camera, so your fingers wont get in the way of your shot. The wide/tele toggle at the front right is well placed too, making for easy use that feels intuitive at all times.
The Casio EX-FH20 places its various high speed modes on a thumbwheel on top of the camera, which is easy to navigate. Scene modes – Casio’s ‘Best Shot’ offers a wide variety – take a back seat, accessed via a ‘BS’ (seriously!) button on the back of the camera. This is less immediate than the high speed modes on the thumbwheel, though remain relatively easy to access and are always available when needed.
As the EXILIM FH20 isn’t a DSLR there’s no mirror – which it what makes it possible for such high frame rate shooting. It also means that the viewfinder is electronic (EVF), showing an electronic version of what would otherwise be seen on the LCD screen (as selected via the EVF/LCD button on the back of the camera). Electronic viewfinders are less pleasing to the eye, but, to the EX-FH20’s benefit, can be useful in bright sunlight when it becomes too tricky to see the screen. Most compacts fail to feature an electronic viewfinder of any kind, so whilst its inclusion is welcome – and indeed where the ‘bridge camera’ term is derived from – it does fall-down compared to truly high-end EVFs. However, the 230K dot LCD screen performs relatively well, even in bright light, and has a decent viewing angle when tilting the camera.
The buttons on the back of the EX-FH20 are largely without symbols, given that all menus appear on the screen. This means that even in the dark you can easily change your settings and know exactly what you’re shooting with. The controls are, overall, pretty decent too and, whilst they’re never going to have the rapid speed of control that a DSLR would offer, make clear and simple sense. The main digital menu to the right of the screen can be vertically scrolled through, with additional options displaying horizontal electronic sliders to adjust settings, as controlled via the rear d-pad. Simple, effective stuff.
In performance terms, the Casio EX-FH20 is good for the most part. The lens is a little slow to focus on occasion, but consistent throughout the range and feels sturdy. Finding focus at the superzoom level can be tricky, especially without the ability to manual focus. It is possible to manually move your AF point via the menu, but this is slow and wont be particularly useful for grabbing the action shot. There are additional controls on offer, such as quick-reference AEL (exposure lock) and macro to the left side of the lens. This is particularly effective when using the viewfinder, without taking your eye away. However, AF is what the EX-FH20 relies on, so those looking for greater control may want to look towards the DSLR end (or pseudo-DSLR) of the market, as something like a Panasonic G1 is about the same size and weight.
As for the macro mode, this too is strong, offering a close-to-lens functionality at the wide end and a more than reasonable shortest distance at various telephoto ranges.
Recording video with the EX-FH20 does have some rather serious limitations however. For relatively fixed subjects you’ll find shooting is great, but where subjects move the lack of both manual and autofocus means there’s considerable liklihood that your subject will fall out of focus. Upping the aperture to try and accommodate can only make so much difference, plus previewing video exposure isn’t possible either. Additionally, video modes that record in frame rates beyond 210fps introduce what is essentially a crop factor. So if you set up shot ready to record, when you push the shutter you will effectively remove your framing. This doesn’t effect the standard HD 720p recording.
The Casio EXILIM Pro EX-FH20 also comes equipped with image stabilisation – different options help stabilise against handshake or subject movement, depending on your preference. With such a long zoom available (520mm) it’s much needed, as keeping a shot steady when hand held at this zoom range is, as with any product, tricky indeed.
Image + Video Quality & Value For Money
Casio EXILIM Pro EX-FH20 – Image & Video Quality
First thing’s first, the EX-FH20’s video quality: At HD 720/30p it’s great; at 210fps (480×360) the quality is fairly poor, though the frame rate is superb and really does open up a whole new world of creative possibility. Beyond this though, the 1000fps mode is of such a tiny resolution that its practically un-useable and extremely noisy. Even the 420fps (224×168) fails to inspire given the quality of picture and hugely limited resolution. So, a gimmick? Well, yes, effectively so. But one that will capture the imagination of many and, hopefully, of competitive companies to take the idea and run with it – it’s a superb concept, but just isn’t executed to its fullest potential.
The EXILIM EX-FH20 has a 9.1MP sensor, which sounds about the right size for optimum balance between picture quality and resolute capture. However, particularly in low light, image quality does lack. Banding can be notably apparent, and shadow noise is fairly prominent. Even at lower ISO ratings in dim lighting there’s a fairly smeary, non-sharp look – though this wont be noticeable at most reasonable enlargements. Casio has included a Raw shooting option too, even a Raw + JPEG option. If you invest more time into your selection and post production then this will offer the fullest dynamic range and greatest image quality, though you have to work that little bit harder to acheive it. Whilst having the capability to shoot Raw is always a plus point, it’s a bit of a shame that the initial JPEG image quality wasn’t improved in certain areas. Undoubtedly some image engine upgrades in the future, possibly even firmware updates, will see this gradually edge forward to a more professional-like quality.
In better light image quality is fair, though Casio’s system perhaps currently doesn’t quite have the image processing prowess of some of its competitors. There are upsides such as a good flash, which makes great use for fill-in – even in strong daylight. The 26-520mm lens also offers a significant zoom range, one that outshines the majority of compacts and matches up with many other superzooms. So, whilst the ‘image surface’ quality may lack at times, the EX-FH20 has the tools to help you capture the shot, and for that reason – the ability for greater creative control of Raw, a huge zoom range and quality flash – you’ll find yourself capturing some great images that essentially outweigh a bit of shadow noise here and there.
Casio EXILIM Pro EX-FH20 – Value For Money
The Casio EXILIM Pro EX-FH20 can come at a price – £342 is around the average ask. However, at the time of writing, Jessops has it in stock for a meager £199. For that sort of money it can come nothing but recommended; it’s a steal. Towards the mid three-fifties however, and it becomes a bit of a wallet-stretch given the shortcomings.
Indeed, for around the £300 mark you could buy the 24x optical zoom Nikon P90, which – whilst covering all the features you could hope for in a superzoom – otherwise lacks the greater video functionality that the EX-FH20 has. So, really, if the video modes are the reason you’re looking to buy the Casio in the first instance then it may still be your ideal choice. For those looking for a top superzoom that places stills first, look further in your quest for the right piece of kit. But, if video’s your bag then swing by Jessops as soon as you can and pocket a bargain.
The Casio EXILIM Pro EX-FH20 digs deep to gather attention – and that it does with great success. Its super slow mo video and continuous shooting modes are definite eye-catchers, though for many photographers may come across as nothing more than a gimmick; especially given the limitations of both video quality, resolution and functionality – a professional video camera this isn’t.
However, video modes aside, the EX-FH20 is a fine 20x optical superzoom compact/bridge camera. It handles well, the controls are simple, intuitive and – whilst the image quality can lack without some processing and careful consideration – pictures are of ample quality.Of course, for the video modes you’re set to pay a premium – a premium which, if you wont use the video, begs the question of whether you should buy one for its photographic stills quality alone. It’s a yes and no answer really as, should Jessops continue to put out models for £199 then it’s a sure-fire bargain but, for the more realistic £342 price tag, the EX-FH20 is a bit on the wallet-heavy side, especially considering the already well-occupied superzoom market.
All in all, the Casio EX-FH20 is a solid camera, it balances quirky fun against serious superzoom, all wrapped up in a neat package and, for both the dual video/stills functionality, it’s not set at a bad price point either. It’s just with the video limitations it feels lacking compared to more advanced superzooms available out there.