Casio EX-F1 Review
Continuing Casio's popular line of "Pro" series Exilim models, the Exilim EX-F1 is a versatile "SLR" style, prosumer digicam. While the camera "only" offers 6-megapixels of resolution, it is the fastest camera we have ever seen, with burst rates up to 60fps at full resolution as well as High-Speed movies at up to 1200fps! Other features include a 12x optical zoom lens (34 - 432mm in 35mm equivalence), high-speed CMOS image sensor, RAW and JPEG still image modes, 2.8-inch wide view "Super Clear" LCD, high resolution EVF (Electronic Viewfinder), Pop-up flash unit, hot shoe for external flash units or microphones, powerful Li-ion battery, SD/SDHC/MMC card slot, full HD movie recording at 1920x1080 (60fps), and a built-in "REC" or media light for capturing video in marginal lighting.
The EX-F1 is a well designed camera, that offers the feel of an SLR with its large hand grip and long lens barrel. This is in no way a compact model, however it is rather light for the size. I had no problem carrying it around for an afternoon while taking various outdoor sample images. The camera controls are all laid out comfortably, within reach of either your thumbs on index finger. There are two controls that I especially liked. One is the separate Movie mode shutter release on the back. Not only does this button allow you to start recoding at any time, but Casio included a handy mode switch mounted around it that allows you to switch from High-Speed, HD, and Standard recording. The other is the control ring that is mounted on the lens barrel. You can set it to adjust Focus (when manually focusing), CS fps (when in Continuous Shutter mode), or Zoom range. I set it to Zoom, and enjoyed using it to control the lens and frame subjects. While zooming is not continuous, I counted 31 steps from wide angle to telephoto with a 3-5mm change between steps. This should be more than adequate for you composition needs.
This 12x optical zoom lens is one of the main features of the EX-F1. Like we mentioned above, the lens covers a 35mm equivalent range of 34 - 432mm. Although it's not quite as wide as many super-zoom models at 34mm, the 432mm end of the zoom range is sure to bring those distance subjects up close. I feel this lens is a nice addition to the F1 and complements the 6-megapixel CMOS image sensor nicely. It helped me produce sharp images throughout the zoom and aperture range, with noticeable amounts of chromatic aberrations (aka purple fringing) and barrel distortion.
For framing, reviewing images, and browsing the menu system, Casio equipped the F1 with both a 2.8-inch wide LCD monitor and an EVF. These displays offer a nice clear picture with over 200,000 pixels of resolution. When shooting in bright light, I did have some problems with the LCD as there is not an anti-glare coating. In fact, the display is very reflective and collects smudges and fingerprints easily. The rubber eye cup of the EVF was comfortable, and deep enough to block out most ambient light; I favored using it over the LCD outdoors. While both screens will display the menus and playback of stored images, there is an option in the Setup menu to set the priority to the LCD. This means, when you hit the menu or playback button, the live image will switch to the LCD. Speaking of menus, the complete menu system of the F1 was very easy to navigate. I especially like the "Panel" or shortcut menu, which allows you to quickly change settings for resolution, ISO, metering, etc.
It's no coincidence that this camera was named the F1, as it performs like the digital camera equivalent of an Formula 1 (aka F1) race car. The only area where this thing is slacking was Start up time, which took 5 seconds from Power-up to first image captured. Shutter lag, the time it takes for the camera to capture and image after to have depressed the shutter release, was almost instantaneous when the camera is pre-focused and 3/10 of a second including the autofocus system. In single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.8 images between frames without the flash, and 1.8 - 2.5 seconds with the flash.
There are several CS or Continuous Shutter modes to choose from (High-Speed CS, Prerecord (still image), Flash CS, Slow Motion View, and Auto Bracketing). The High-Speed CS mode is rated at up to 60fps, and allowed me to capture 60 frames in just 0.8 seconds! These are full size 6-megapixel images too. After the 60th frame is captured a menu pops up asking if you'd like to Save Selected, Save all, or Cancel save. When you choose save all, it takes all 60 frames and turns them into a single animated file (kinda like a movie). You can then select the Divide group option in the Playback menu, and it will separate each frame into it's own 6M JPEG images (quality depends on what you are currently using.) Via the Panel shortcut menu, you can set the max. frame rate as well as switch to Normal-speed CS. Normal-speed CS allowed me to capture 10 images in only 3.3 seconds (about 3fps). In either of these modes the LCD and EVF quickly show the last image captured, making it possible to track a moving subject. The EX-F1 also offers RAW image capture. Using this feature slows the camera's shot to shot performance quite a bit. Using it, I averaged 4.9 seconds between frames. This is typical for a consumer level model that features RAW mode. Our tests were completed using an ATP Pro Max Class 6 4GB SDHC memory card, Program (Auto) shooting mode, ISO Auto, flash off, anti-shake on, preview off, and all other settings at the factory defaults. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Overall, I was pleased with our image quality results when using the 6M Fine setting. With the sharpness set at 0 (default), images are a bit soft when viewing them at 100%. This is not necessarily a negative issue, as many people like this look and you can at least adjust it in-camera or in an image editor later. Colors are very natural, and the white balance and auto exposure system did well in various situations. I like the fact that you have the ability to be more creative and "dial in" that certain look with various settings for contrast, saturation, sharpness, and color filters. While 6-megapixels seems "low" these days when you look at the average super-zoom or prosumer model, there is still plenty of resolution to make beautiful 11x14-inch prints. Image noise is something that users will have to deal with, especially when using ISO 800 and 1600. The lower settings (100-400) look relatively good, and you could probably get away with some 4x6-inch prints at 800. However, ISO 1600 is pretty much useless, in my opinion. I personally would leave the camera at IS0 100, and only use a max of 400 when shooting in marginal lighting; where the extra sensitivity will help increase shutter speeds.
Indoors, the F1 does well. The flash offers a generous range (up to 21 feet at wide angle, ISO Auto) and had no problems illuminating my subject from about 7-8 feet away. The camera also controls the output nicely for macro photography. You can see an example by taking a look at the candy dish shot on the samples page.. I used Portrait mode for the samples we posted, and overall it worked very well. I like the fact that you can set the sensitivity, even when using a "Best Shot" scene mode. The Face Detection AF mode worked very well, locking onto faces almost instantly. This system surprised me, as it would even lock onto a face that was partially hidden or blocked by an object in the way. Our portrait examples show good flash exposure, sharp facial features, and pleasing skin tones.
Movies are recorded as a H.264/AVC .MOV (Ouicktime format) file. This is a high quality video compression that greatly reduces file size while keeping a high level of quality. The F1 offers more movie mode options than most cameras on the market today as well as the fastest frame rates I have ever seen. Using the High-Speed movie mode, you can choose from frame rates of 30 - 1200fps. These are so fast, that the human eye can not even keep up. Luckily they playback in a "slow-motion" style. The only issue I saw with the 1200fps mode, was the field of view is a bit narrow (336x96) and hard to frame with. The 300fps and 600fps modes offer a bit better field of view, and should be great for capturing sports and other action movies. The only other downfall with HS mode is the fact that No sound is recorded. Other than the typical Standard Definition 640x480 mode, the F1 can also capture Full HD resolution video at 1920x1080 (60fps) or 1280x720 (30fps). Thanks to the H.264/AVC codec, the FHD movies don't consume that much space at about ~2MB per second. Our outdoor movie samples turned out great when using STD, HD, and FHD modes. Colors are vivid, video is smooth, and the exposure and AF systems did well when panning and zooming. I also did not notice any compression artifacts or noise in our outdoor videos. When recording indoors, the picture does get a bit grainy. I found the "REC" or media light to be a cool addition, and it seemed to do well indoors, as long as your subject is no more than about 8-10 feet away (depending in zoom range.) The FHD and HD files most likely will not open properly on your PC. However, this is common with digicams that can record at HD resolutions, and these modes were designed for users who plan on plugging the camera directly into a HDTV for playback.
The F1 is powered by a "beefy" NP-100 7.4v 1950 mAh Lithium Ion battery pack. Casio includes an AC charger and cord. They claim a fully changed pack can capture up to 520 still images using Program (Auto) mode and standard monitor brightness. I found battery life to be pretty awesome, capturing around 200 still images and 20 or more short movie clips as well as completing all of our other tests with plenty of power to spare; battery indicator still shows 2/3 full.
Bottom Line - the Casio Exilim Pro EX-F1 is one awesome prosumer digicam. While I was hoping for a bit better high ISO performance from the 6-megapixel CMOS image sensor, I came to the realization that Casio built this camera for Speed! Like an F1 race car, this is the fastest camera we have ever tested in the burst mode category. Shooting performance all together was great, and with 60fps at full resolution, you are sure to be able to capture that once in a life time shot at the kids baseball, football, basketball games, etc. While this camera can be used as a photographic tool with all of the advanced and manual controls, it still has plenty of user-friendly exposure options that will allow almost anyone to snap some great photos. If you are hesitant on taking the plunge into the dSLR world and want a versatile and fast digital camera with a SLR feel, look no further. However, you're gonna have to dig pretty deep into your pockets, as the EX-F1 has a MSRP of US$999. While I personally feel this a bit over priced, if you are looking to be the fastest "shot" in town, it might be just the ticket; partner.
Casio has announced a Firmware update for the Exilim Pro EX-F1.
New Features in Firmware Ver. 1.10
Prerecord Movie function added, allowing recording to commence 5 seconds before the user presses the Movie Button
To download or for more information, please visit Casio's Support Center.
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