The Casio ZR100 combines a 12.1MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor with 12.5x optical zoom. A Casio revolution? The What Digital Camera Casio EXILIM ZR100 review takes a look…

Product Overview

Overall rating:

85%
Overall score:85%
Features:85%
Value:85%
Performance:90%
Image Quality:85%
Design:80%

Pros:

  • Close-up macro, ISO 100-400 quality, manual controls

Cons:

  • Clunky menu system, flash can be obstructed, HDR Art mode

Product:

Casio EXILIM ZR100

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£300.00

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The Casio ZR100 is a continuation of the popular EXILIM series – but it looks as though the latest Casio models are making bigger leaps forward than previous generation models. The ZR100 adds a brand new back-illuminated CMOS sensor to the Casio fray, coupled with image stabilisation, a 24-300mm (12.5x) optical zoom and high speed shooting. Is the Casio EXILIM ZR100 part of a new Casio cameras revolution…? The What Digital Camera Casio ZR100 test takes a more thorough look… 

Casio Exilim ZR100 review – Features

The ZR100’s back-illuminated sensor is designed for better image quality performance. By essentially moving the wired parts of the sensor further back there is less interference to the light that enters the sensor and, therefore, this better quality of light should result in better quality images. Coupled with Casio’s latest EXILIM Engine HS and the ZR100 is capable of high-speed recording too. This latest image processor improves processing speeds and, according to Casio, sets a new standard in subject recognition too.




The ZR100’s back-illuminated sensor is designed for better image quality performance. By essentially moving the wired parts of the sensor further back there is less interference to the light that enters the sensor and, therefore, this better quality of light should result in better quality images. Coupled with Casio’s latest EXILIM Engine HS and the ZR100 is capable of high-speed recording too. This latest image processor improves processing speeds and, according to Casio, sets a new standard in subject recognition too.

 

Casio EXILIM ZR100 review sample image WEB

 

As well as point-and-shoot auto modes, the ZR100 also offers Manual, Aperture-priority and Shutter-priority, as well as Best Shot, Premium Auto, Panorama and the latest HDR and HDR Art modes. The latter two are certainly a subject of taste and sit quite some way outside of what we’d consider ‘conventional’ photography.



Not only is the Casio ZR100 adept at stills, there’s also a Full HD movie mode to capture high definition 1920×1080 resolution motion pictures. This utilises the H.264 compression codec for optimum quality.



One of Casio’s specialities over the last few years has been the inclusion of super high speed modes. The ‘HS’ setting on the Exilim ZR100 means that some 30 10-megapixel images can be captured at a rate of 40fps. When this rate is lowered to 10fps the ZR100 can increase its resolution to 12-megapixels. 


While the Exilim ZR100’s lens ranges from a 24-300mm equivalent, there are one or two other tricks up the camera’s sleeve. The 12.5x optical zoom can be effectively ‘increased’ to 25x using the Multi Frame SR Zoom – a feature that combines multiple shots into a single frame, thus pulling the level of detail from the cropped digital zoom areas of multiple frames into one shot with apparent little difference to quality.

Design

Casio Exilim ZR100 review – Design

Design-wise and the ZR100’s body is a fairly angular construction, though the grip to the front does soften up the camera’s overall look somewhat. It’s not the slimmest of designs either, but then this is going to be inherent in a camera that has a 12.5x optical zoom lens that’s stowed in the camera body when turned off.

Casio EXILIM ZR100 product shot frontHolding the camera is comfortable, though having to slightly arch fingers over the mode dial to the top right can mean the front flash is slightly obstructed by a finger – this isn’t always the case, but the flash isn’t ideally placed (a pop up solution may have been better placed). Also the ZR100’s lens can feel a touch ‘loose’ when extended from the body.

Internal menus are relatively simple to navigate but too many options are embedded within them, plus it’s easy to get ‘kicked out’ back to stage one rather than having a previous menu position save. Some options do take a fair bit of trawling to locate and the d-pad on the rear isn’t especially clearly marked. However this is (in part) for fairly good reason: the left and right of the pad are customisable and can be set to quick-adjust ISO, metering or other settings as you please. Once the camera’s set up how you like it this is a nifty little touch, although no matter what display you select options such as macro don’t visibly show icons on the screen and it can be confusing to understand exactly how the function option has been set. However there is a quick menu control that pops up when pressing the ‘Set’ button, but, again, not all controls are immediately visible or fully listed here which is a bit of a shortcoming.

We’re particularly fond of the DSLR-like mode dial on the camera’s top. It’s well marked out, though may have benefitted from being on the left side of the camera rather than close to the shutter button.

There’s also an ‘HS’ button to control the high speed capture modes and this is located on the top of the camera – it’s good to see this separated from the rest of the settings.
 

Performance

Casio Exilim ZR100 review – Performance

Once you’ve got to grips with the controls the ZR100’s performance is rather impressive. The 24-300mm zoom sails rapidly enough through the full range, though you may find that subtle zoom adjustment is hard to achieve. The sensor-based image stabilisation means that at the full 300mm extension your final images will benefit from stabilisation but, sadly, without lens-based stabilisation, this isn’t visible through the viewfinder. Hand-holding at such mid-telephoto lengths can be tricky, though this is the case with all cameras.

There are a number of autofocus area options: it’s possible to select a single ‘spot’ point for focus; multi point where the camera auto selects the focus areas; intelligent AF; or Tracking AF which follows moving subjects to maintain focus. These various options are all rather clever, and when using the Intelligent or Multi options the camera is very quick to identify points of contrast or interest, visually showing the focus areas on the LCD screen. However, using ‘intelligent AF’ for close-up macro work tended to struggle to realise a close focus distance, whereas the Spot or Multi options were much better.

Casio EXILIM ZR100 review sample image WEB

Which leads to macro: the ZR100 has a very close focus option which, when at the wideangle setting, can focus on subjects just a few centimetres from the camera’s lens. This opens up a whole variety of shooting possibilities and was suitably impressive.

From stills to motion and the ZR100 is also fairly adept with its Movie mode too. Capable of capturing Full HD 1920×1080 using the H.264 compression codec makes good quality, though the data rate is rather limited, compression is noticeable and this can result in notable shadow noise and some limitations to detail. However both the zoom and continuous autofocus are available during recording and, in good light, the results are decent indeed. Jumping into the movie mode is easy too thanks to the one-touch movie button on the top of the camera, though it must be noted that the full image on the rear of the screen is cropped into. Thankfully there are subtly superimposed crop marks to help framing in advance.

The ZR100’s ‘HS’ or ‘High Speed’ mode offers up a 40, 30, 15, 10, 3 or 3fps burst that can be captured by pressing and holding the shutter. Images are saved in ‘stacks’ inside the playback menu or can be viewed individually on a computer. It’s a nice idea and the images are 10MP, so measure 3648×2736 pixels, but the compression is considerable and the individual file sizes around a fifth that of the usual 12MP single shots. As such you can expect to see around a fifth less detail due to more noticeable compression, plus certain lighting scenarios don’t lend well to burst shooting which makes softness a particular problem. This mode also fills the buffer and it can take considerable time before the camera’s ready to shoot with again. For certain analysis scenarios, like checking out every step of your golf swing or a stop-motion step by step of someone diving into a swimming pool, for example, it’s a fun feature – but you’re not likely to get exhibitable prints from the image files.

Image Quality

Casio Exilim ZR100 review – Image Quality

The ZR100’s back-illuminated CMOS sensor does a good job in low light, but similar compression and processing performance to other Casio EXILIM models means that beyond ISO 400 there’s a significant dip in final quality, sharpness and colour depth.

At ISO 100-200 the results are generally very crisp and clean, with well defined subject edges, a good level of detail and decent colouration. ISO 400 maintains much of this trend but is a touch softer, whereas ISO 800 begins to lose most of the finer details though is still useable. ISO 1600 is softer still, and colours pale out somewhat, but actually image noise in general is kept under control. ISO 3200 shows some prominence of image processing, yet only a slight smattering of colour noise is evident.

Casio EXILIM ZR100 ISO range 200 800 3200

Considering the small sensor size the overall image quality is pretty decent. An ongoing issue, however, is the presence of lumiance noise and textured JPEG artefacts
that appear as tiny grey blotches throughout the entire ISO range – though you’ll need a block-colour area
or to be examining images at close-up 100% detail to notice. This type of processing and resulting image quality is common among Casio EXILIM compacts.

Exposure-wise and the ZR100 can easily err towards the ever so slightly over-exposed side of things, though learning to adjusting metering (which can be applied to the d-pads function settings) is a good way to control this.

Stepping away from ‘normal’ images for a moment, and the presence of HDR and HDR Art are two features that Casio has been pushing hard in promotional materials over the last year or so.

Casio EXILIM ZR100 review sample image WEB

Frankly we’re not sure why as the HDR Art shots are nothing short of hideous, overworked gimmicks that are far removed from what photography is. If more time was put into improving standard image quality yet more then we’d be even happier, as the ZR100 takes many positive steps in the right direction – why then try to unnecessarily distract with an ‘Art’ feature that’s not going to lure in the keen and genuine photographer? However, saying that, the ‘standard’ HDR mode can work very well in some circumstances but is rather gung ho and doesn’t leave much subtlety where it may be desired.

All in all the standard of images are improved as a whole over previous Casio EXILIM models, particularly at the lower ISO 100-400 settings. However the back-illuminated sensor isn’t a total miracle worker, as there’s still plenty of room for improvement in the higher ISO settings, plus the processing could do with tweaking to produce smoother results.

Value & Verdict

Casio Exilim ZR100 review – Value

Casio products are often well-priced, if not with a tendency to ‘undercut’ the competition in terms of price. Although the ZR100’s suggested retail price is £300 that’s not too bad at all considering all that’s on offer here: 24mm wideangle coupled with 12.5x optical zoom, that new back-illuminated sensor, Full HD movie and high speed shooting.

Weighing the ZR100 up against something like the Fujifilm F550 EXR with its 15x optical zoom and there are a fair number of similarities, including the asking price of both.

Casio Exilim ZR100 review – Verdict

Casio EXILIM ZR100 product shot front angle

The ZR100 is indeed a step forward in Casio’s portfolio. While the company seems to have spent much of its promotional time talking about the HDR Art mode – something we, quite frankly, don’t care for even one little bit – there are loads more top features here that ought to be given far more credit. Although the menu systems are a bit clunky and some options are a little too tucked away, there are far more positives to speak of…

The back-illuminated CMOS sensor produces great images from ISO 100-400 and close-up macro works a treat. Although ISO 800 through to ISO 3200 are much softer the results are better than a number of competitor compacts out there.

The ZR100’s autofocus system is also generally very on the ball and the AF Area modes know which areas of interest to focus on. Add to this manual controls, a reasonable (if not over-compressed) Full HD mode that can utilise all of the 24-300mm (12.5x) optical zoom in real time during recording and there’s very little missing from this release.

If you’re looking to buy a decent compact with a wide ranging zoom for £300 then the Casio ZR100 certainly doesn’t do a bad job and would be worthy of a place on your shortlist.

Full Specification

Weight:
Approx. 205 g (Including Battery and Memory Card)
Other:
Sensor-shift image stabilisation, high speed continuous shutter (40fps, 30fps, 15fps, 10fps, 5fps, 3fps @ 10MP), HDR function, manual control

Power:
Rechargeable lithium ion battery (NP-130)

Dimensions:
104.8 x 59.1 x 28.6 mm
Memory Card:
SD / SDHC / SDXC

Connectivity:
USB, AV out, mini HDMI out
White Balance:
Auto WB, Daylight, Overcast, Shade, Day White Fluorescent, Daylight Fluorescent, Tungsten, Manual WB

Flash Modes:
Auto, Flash off, Flash on, Red eye reduction
ISO Range:
100-3200

Metering System:
Multi pattern, Center Weighted, Spot by CMOS
Exposure Modes:
M, S, A, HDR Art, HDR, Single Shot, Premium Auto, Best Shot, Panorama, Best Selection

Shutter Speeds:
15-1/2000th sec
Sensor:
12.1MP, 1/2.3in size back-illuminated CMOS

Lens:
12.5x optical zoom; 24-300mm equivalent
File Formats:
JPEG, MOV (movies)

LCD:
3in, 460k-dot LCD

  1. 1. Casio Exilim ZR100 review - Features
  2. 2. Design
  3. 3. Performance
  4. 4. Image Quality
  5. 5. Value & Verdict
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