Casio EX-FH100 Review
Text and Photos by Allison Gibson
The Casio EX-FH100 has been making waves since its announcement at CES due to its inclusion of a back-illuminated CMOS sensor, 10x optical zoom and—most notably—high-speed video and still recording. Priced at $349.99, the FH100 offers a lot of features, including full manual shooting and the ever-alluring possibility to capture slow-motion video, all in a sleek and compact body. The fact that the FH100 can shoot high-speed movies at 1,000 frames per second (fps) and burst mode stills at 40fps tops the list of reasons that it’s an exciting piece of equipment, and the superb quality of its still image capture makes it a nice overall camera, albeit with a few frustrating UI kinks.
High Speed Still Images
High-speed shooting is accessed at any time by pressing the HS button on top of the camera, or by turning the shooting mode dial to the red Continuous Shooting option. With the HS button you can toggle between continuous shooting and single shot, regardless of whether you are in CS mode, Manual, Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority. Continuous shooting is not available when shooting in Best Shot mode. In continuous shooting mode, you have the option of capturing up to 30 images at rates of up to 40fps. These choices are accessed by pressing the SET button. For capturing action such as sports or fast-moving subjects such as pets, the EX-FH100 is almost unparalleled among compact cameras.
Super Slow Motion Video
As I mentioned, the show-stopping feature of this camera is its ability to shoot high-speed movies at up to 1,000 frames per second—which allows for a super slow-motion effect (33 times slower than true life). With video becoming not only popular but expected in compact cameras these days, the Casio EX-FH100 goes above and beyond in delivering exciting possibilities for creating slow-motion movies with pocket-size equipment. The drawback, however, to recording these impressive slow-motion movies at 1,000fps is that the resolution is substantially decreased, bringing videos all the way down to 224 x 64 pixels in size (640 x 480 at 120fps, 448 x 336 at 240fps, 224 x 168 at 420fps).
What Needs Work
This camera is a serious piece of equipment—both the features and the price reflect that—and yet the thing handles quite inelegantly. The screeching electronic noise that the lens motor makes when you zoom and focus is truly painful. It sounds as if the camera is frying on the inside. Frankly, it sounds cheap. And then there’s the auto focus lag, which is a problem in several of the shooting modes from the Best Shot menu—even when you press the shutter release half way down. The worst of it happens when shooting in “Multi-motion image” mode from the BS menu. Once the image is finally captured, the screen goes black and then says “Busy…Please wait…” for 15 seconds. Obviously in the interim you are bound to miss any other photo-ops. It’s hard, however, to complain too much about this when the high-speed camera offers continuous shooting mode to make sure you capture a whole sequence instead of worrying about shot-to-shot lag time. But sometimes you just want to take one picture, not 30, not 10, not even 5.
The layout of the camera’s buttons also leaves much to be desired. Where one’s thumb would naturally sit when gripping the camera, the video record button also sits. There is also the chance that a thumb will inadvertently press the HS button when pressing the shutter release because of where it sits, making it easy to accidentally switch to or from high-speed mode. The camera’s large 3-inch LCD is nice and bright, but is probably the culprit as to why buttons seem awkwardly placed in the meager space beside it.
The battery life of the EX-FH100 is remarkable, and its compact size makes it easily portable, though it is noticeably heavier than many point-and-shoot cameras on the market right now. Because it uses a backlit CMOS sensor, it does incredibly well in low-light, capturing sharp images even in the dimly lit temperate rain forests of northern Washington State. With a whole host of Best Shot scene modes, as well as Manual, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes, the EX-FH100 does stand alone as a feature-rich compact digicam, but if you are looking into purchasing this camera it’s most likely for its specific high-speed capabilities.
Samsung NX10 Review
Text and Photos by Allison Gibson
Interchangeable Lens Digital Cameras
A new genre has emerged in digital photography gear: the compact interchangeable lens digital camera. Not to be confused with its rival, the Micro Four Thirds system camera—which is, in turn, the rival of the digital SLR camera—the interchangeable lens digital camera is, in bare-bones terms, a hybrid point-and-shoot/D-SLR. With a large APS-C size CMOS image sensor that’s as big as those found in entry-level D-SLRs, the compact interchangeable lens camera has the advantage of a smaller, more lightweight body. The major defining difference between the compact interchangeable lens digital camera and the D-SLR is that the former is mirrorless, meaning it abandons the mirror box (which in a D-SLR is necessary for the viewfinder to see exactly what the lens sees), operating exclusively with Live View shooting—the same way that the Micro Four Thirds camera does. (See my recent review of the Panasonic Lumix GF1 to learn more about the Micro Four Thirds standard.)
So far in 2010, three cameras of this type have been announced: the Samsung NX10, which was floated as a concept at PMA 2009 and then introduced in full at CES 2010; and the Sony NEX-3 and NEX-5, which were both announced on May 11, 2010 after Sony introduced the concept at PMA.
Pentax Optio I-10 Review
Text and Photos by Allison Gibson
Retro Cool Compact
Similar to the white Pentax K-x D-SLR, the white Pentax Optio I-10 compact camera is eye-catching and envy-inducing—a beautiful object in the hand of the photographer. Weighing only 5.4-ounces, and measuring 1.1-inches thick, this ultra compact point-and-shoot is light and slim. And with the charming retro look of its pearl white body, the I-10 (which also comes in black) has style.
What’s Old is New
Because so many point-and-shoot cameras share similar specs and price points, manufacturers sometimes try to attract consumers by setting their cameras apart with style. Most camera makers opt to go the route of sleek and futuristic for these compacts, but Pentax has taken a look back for their style cues—back to the once beloved Pentax Auto 110 film camera. The new Optio I-10 (notice the homage to the past even with the name?) is styled after its elder—with a digital face-lift of course. At PMA in February, I had the chance to check out the old and new side by side, and the similarity is staggering. Both fit right in the palm of your hand. With the popularity of all things vintage in photography right now, such as the Hipstamatic iPhone app and resurgence of Pinhole photography, the I-10’s retro cool looks are right on trend. But how does it fare as a contemporary camera?
Beyond the Beauty
With a 12.1-megapizel CCD sensor and offering 5x optical zoom, the I-10 features much of what consumers want in a slim and stylish point-and-shoot. The 5-25mm (28-140mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.9 PENTAX zoom lens does offer a less than desirable aperture range, however. The camera’s 2.7-inch LCD screen—with a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio—is quite bright, even in direct sunlight. Though a 3-inch screen is ultimately more desirable for framing, it would have caused the camera body to be larger, and one of the I-10’s most celebrated features is its petite size.
Shooting Modes and Special Features
The I-10 features a host of subject and setting-specific shooting modes, which are accessed at the touch of the “Mode” button on a four-way D-pad to the right of the camera’s LCD. It is convenient that Pentax has chosen to not bury this menu deep in a digital folder somewhere because most users of this point-and-shoot will opt to swap modes fairly often, as the shooting environment changes from, say, Surf and Snow to Night Scene. Also included among the 24 shooting modes are: Auto Picture, Program (which allows slight tweaks to Auto such as white balance and exposure compensation), Portrait and Digital Shake Reduction (SR). There is also a mode called Digital Wide, which stitches together two pictures to create a wider image. This is not to be confused with Digital Panorama mode, which stitches together more than two images taken with the camera to create a panoramic photograph.
In addition to the point-and-shoot friendly shooting modes, there are a few features that are meant to assist in quality image capture. Another of the four-way D-pad choices takes you directly to a Focus Mode menu, where you can choose from among: Standard, Macro, Super Macro, Pan Focus, Infinity and Manual. To help the photographer avoid taking blurry pictures in challenging lighting conditions, the I-10 features a mechanical sensor shift Shake Reduction system. The Optio I-10 also features High Definition video (720p at 30fps) in .AVI format.
As I touched on above, there is a four-way control on the back of the camera, located to the right of the LCD, and owing to its petite size, there is room for few other manual controls on the body. A playback button and a button for Smile Capture and Face Detection are found above the four-way D-pad. Pentax’s “Green Button,” which is also found on the Pentax Kx, allows for a customizable quick-jump to a specific menu feature—I set it to EV Compensation. The button also doubles as the trash option when reviewing images in playback mode. To the left is the Menu button, where a fairly straight-forward set of options is presented in lists. At the top of the camera, we find the on/off button, shutter release and zoom toggle.
Beyond the D-SLR-like looks of the I-10, it carries over the feel of one in a small but important way with the raised hand grip on the front of the camera and the “leatherette” texture in the same place. I find that too many ultra compact digicams are hard to get a comfortable handle on, with their sleek body designs and slick plastic cases. The I-10 feels a lot more secure in-hand than most due to the small details of the grip and texture.
I did the bulk of my test shooting outside on a sunny day at a farmer’s market, and found that this was the ideal shooting condition for the I-10. It does well handling detail in bright spots and shadows, and focuses quite quickly on still objects in good lighting. In Auto Picture mode, with the Standard Focus option, I was able to get close-up shots with shallow depth-of-field, as it “took the guesswork out of photography” for me, as they say, reverting automatically to f/3.5 and ISO 80 to capture food displayed at a seller’s stand. When I shot the food that was inside of my farmer’s market tote, it punched up to ISO 800 in Auto mode and still maintained low noise. The results of photographing moving subjects in difficult lighting conditions were less consistent, however. At a fashion show in Malibu (a prime environment for showing off the stylish little digicam, by the way), the I-10 had some trouble tracking the fast-moving runway models under the inconsistent catwalk lighting.
The Price of Beauty
The I-10’s price that has been raising a few eyebrows since its January announcement, though I have to note that at $299.99 $249.99 (updated price) (MSRP) it’s not outrageous. People seem to expect to get everything they ever dreamed of in a camera these days for less and less money. All said, it is in the same ballpark as—or even less expensive than—some digicams with comparable specs. But I don’t like to play the spec-by-spec comparison game. It’s best to get your hands on a camera, get your eye to the viewfinder (or fixed on the LCD in this case), to judge whether it’s worth your money. You’ll need to weigh the limited aperture range against the stylish looks and ultra compact portability; the less consistent capture of moving subjects in difficult lighting against the impressively low-noise capture at higher ISOs when shooting still objects. In my estimation, the Pentax Optio I-10 packs an intuitive UI, HD video and a good zoom into its ultra compact and portable little body. Your major decision might come down to whether or not you want to commit to the camera’s unique retro look.
Pentax Optio I-10
$299.99 $249.99 (updated price)
4.0”W x 2.6”H x 1.1”D; 4.7 oz. loaded
Still Recording Format:
SD/SDHC, 26.7MB internal
2.7-inch LCD (230,000 pixels)
Video Recording Mode:
1280×720 (30/15fps); 640×480 (30/15fps);
320×240 30/15fps in .AVI (Motion JPG) format
Still: Sensor-Shift SR, Pixel Track SR, Digital SR (ISO 3200-6400 5M or 3.8M) Movie: Movie SR
Auto: 80-800, Digital SR 80-6400 (ISO 3200-6400 at 5M or 3.8M) Manual: 80-6400 (ISO 3200-6400 at 5M or 3.8M)
Panasonic Lumix GF1 Review and All About the Micro Four Thirds System
Text and Photos by Allison Gibson
The Micro Four Thirds System
The Micro Four Thirds standard, co-developed by Olympus and Panasonic in 2008, has been gaining popularity since its inception. But many consumers (and manufacturers) are still hesitant to commit their money to the system. The advantage of the mirrorless Micro Four Thirds camera is that you get an interchangeable lens system on a more compact body, and with a smaller lens mount (about 6mm), than that of a D-SLR. Also, though the size of the image sensor is 30-40% less than the APS-C size sensors used in most D-SLRs, it’s about nine times larger than that of a point-and-shoot. The slimmer body of the Micro Four Thirds camera is achieved by abandoning the mirror box (which in a D-SLR is necessary for the viewfinder to see exactly what the lens sees), operating exclusively with Live View shooting. Essentially, Micro Four Thirds offers photographers the image quality—and freedom of interchangeable lenses—of a D-SLR, while at the same time allowing for the portability of compact fixed lens cameras.
However, the difference between Micro Four Thirds and D-SLR isn’t about the former having a lower price tag, necessarily. The eight Micro Four Thirds cameras on the market right now—the Panasonic G1, GH1, GF1, G10* and G2*, and the Olympus PEN EP1, EP2 and EPL1—are in the $600 to $1,500 price range (*the G10 and G2 were announced by Panasonic on 3/8/2010 but are not yet available to consumers). Meanwhile, entry-level D-SLRs can be found for under $500. There are also new competitors to the Micro Four Thirds genre, beyond the existing D-SLR. There have been a couple new advancements in the realm of compact interchangeable lens cameras since the beginning of 2010, including the Samsung NX10. Introduced in full at CES in January, the NX10 (not yet available to consumers) incorporates a 14.6-megapixel APS-C size CMOS sensor with a mirrorless interchangeable lens, all in a package much smaller than a standard D-SLR. And at PMA in February, Sony announced a concept camera that will also rival the Micro Four Thirds genre in terms of what it offers—a larger than point-and-shoot image sensor, interchangeable lenses and a stealth body size.
Panasonic Lumix GF1
The latest addition to Panasonic’s Lumix G series lineup of Micro Four Thirds cameras is the Lumix DMC-GF1. At $899.95 (MSRP), the 12MP GF1 is at the middle price point of the three in the series. The kit comes with a 20mm f/1.7 Micro Four Thirds “pancake” lens, though I tested it with Panasonic’s Lumix G Vario14-45mm f/1:3.5-5.6.
The boxy retroish style of the GF1’s body makes the camera seem important, like a part of photographic history. And though the manufacturer markets the camera as, “the world’s smallest and lightest system camera,” it definitely feels solid in-hand. In fact, it seems too solid, and heavy really, to hold out in front of you to frame a shot with the LCD, but since there is no built-in viewfinder that’s what you’re left to. Panasonic does sell an optional external electric viewfinder (DMW-LVF1), which offers 100% field of view when attached to the hotshoe, and I regret that I didn’t test the camera with it.
The 3-inch wide angle LCD is nice and bright, but I had the urge to hold the camera up to my eye to frame each shot, the same way I would with a D-SLR. It’s funny that the key function buttons on the camera are even set up in such a way that they’d work fine if you had your eye to the viewfinder. The dial for adjusting the aperture and shutter speed hits right where the thumb can get to it, and there is even a dedicated video button on the top near the shutter release so that you can jump to video mode regardless of what shooting mode you’re currently in. Other external functions include: a drive mode lever (for burst, auto bracket and self-timer), and buttons for: playback, opening the pop-up flash, ISO control, White Balance and Auto Focus mode, among others. Within the digital menu, there are easy to navigate layers, including Film Mode (more on that later), Aspect Ratio choices and controls for video (“Motion Picture”) mode.
With the GF1’s impressive full-time Live View, you’re able to see your real time adjustments to exposure, aperture and even shutter speed, so there are no surprises after you take a shot. And as soon as you press the shutter release, you’re taking your picture—there’s no lag time from shot-to-shot like with a point-and-shoot—which is another reason this camera feels on par with a D-SLR.
The GF1 shoots in RAW and JPEG, and offers full Manual shooting mode as well as Aperture and Shutter Priorities, Auto mode, 18 dedicated still image Scene modes and 11 movie Scene modes. The GF1 also boasts an interesting list of “Film modes,” including for color: Standard, Dynamic, Nature, Smooth, Nostalgic and Vibrant; and for black-and-white: Standard, Dynamic and Smooth, which emulate film effects. There are also options to create and save custom Film modes. The GF1’s available ISO sensitivity is from 100 to 3200 with Auto and Intelligent ISO. It shoots High Definition video (1280 x 720 at 30fps) in AVCHD Lite format (Motion JPEG).
You probably don’t know a lot of people who own a Micro Four Thirds camera, mainly because the standard is relatively new and there are so few models out there. If you’re looking into it now, it’s probably because you’re drawn to the interchangeable lens system, compact size and D-SLR-like image quality, and you’re excited by the technology of it all. The Panasonic Lumix GF1 will certainly set you apart, and you will have the tools to capture large, sharp and dynamic images. While the smaller lens mount size means you can’t use anything from an existing arsenal of D-SLR lenses, there are more than 20 available Leica M/R lenses and 30 Four Thirds lenses that can be used with the Micro Four Thirds System standard GF1 (with a lens mount).
Panasonic Lumix GF1
$899.95 (comes with a 20mm f/1.7 Micro Four Thirds “pancake” lens)
4.69”W x 2.8”H x 1.43”D; 0.63 lbs.
Image Sensor Size:
17.3 x 13.0mm
Still Recording Format:
JPEG(DCF, Exif 2.21), RAW, DPOF compatible
3-inch LCD (460,000 pixels)
Manual Exposure Control:
Program AE, Aperture Priority AE, Shutter Priority AE, Manual
Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, Intelligent ISO
Full-time Live View, Built-in Pop-up Flash, Hotshoe, Burst Shooting Mode, Scene Modes
Video Recording Mode:
1280 x 720/30fps in AVCHD Lite format (Motion JPEG)
PHOTOfunSTUDIO 4.0 HD Edition software, SILKYPIX Developer Studio 3.0 SE software, USB Driver, Battery Charger/AC Adapter, Battery Pack, Body Cap, AV Cable, USB Connection Cable, AC Cable, DC Cable, Shoulder Strap, CD-ROM
Canon’s latest G-series flagship compact—the PowerShot G11—features some marked improvements from its predecessor, the G10. Image quality is sharper, thanks to the cutback in megapixels to better suit the 1/1.7-inch image sensor, and low-light performance is improved, with less noise at higher ISO ranges. The lure of the G11, and its predecessors, is that it looks and feels more professional than a standard point-and-shoot (and of course, offers full manual shooting control), while at the same time offering a much more compact alternative to an interchangeable lens D-SLR or Micro Four-Thirds standard camera. This place in the market—often referred to as “prosumer”—attracts both professional photographers who want a compact second camera, and advanced amateurs looking to move into more serious gear but who aren’t yet ready for the heft, price and responsibility of a D-SLR.
What’s Different from the G10
The MSRP for the G11 is $499.99, and it remains the same also for the G10. With this new generation G series camera, Canon recognized the need to cut back on the megapixel count—going from the G10’s 14.7 down to 10MP with the G11— despite the industry’s penchant for using these ever-increasing numbers as a selling point. Though comparing the number of effective pixels may be an easy spec for consumers to swallow, jamming more and more megapixels into a sensor the size of the G10’s wasn’t doing image quality and noise control any favors.
The G11’s CCD sensor is the same as its predecessor’s, as is Canon’s DIGIC 4 Image Processor, but the G11 features a newly developed High Sensitivity System for improvements in low-light shooting. The improvements are noticeable—even in conventional settings—with higher ISOs. I tested the G10 last year at ISO 800 in a dark jazz club in Boston, only to find the captured image (unsurprisingly) teeming with noise. The G11 does much better at ISO 800, and even ISO 1600, yielding usable results with greater detail preserved. The G11 has essentially the same wide-angle 28-140mm f/2.8-4.5 lens as the G10, bumping it up slightly to offer 5x optical zoom.
Let’s Get This Out of the Way—the Viewfinder is Awful
An optical (or electronic, even) viewfinder is expected by most photographers on a camera of this level, and it’s nice that the G11 includes one. However, it’s virtually useless for framing shots because the lens is in the way and the coverage is a paltry 77%. The good news is that the 2.8-inch, wide Vari-angle LCD is diverse in all of the various angles you can position it in. It’s extremely bright, making it functional even in direct sunlight, though it’s smaller than the G10’s 3-inch fixed screen. Having been basically forced to use the G11’s Vari-angle LCD exclusively, because of how bad the coverage of the viewfinder was, I found myself contorting it all kinds of ways—even holding it at 90 degrees to block people nearby from seeing exactly what I was shooting. (Which is admittedly neurotic, but comes in handy when you’re trying different settings and don’t need nosey folks next to you looking on.)
Handling the Camera
The G11, as I’ve said, feels more professional than other compact cameras. It’s heavier, larger and much sturdier with its magnesium alloy shell. You feel confident hanging it from a strap around your neck or shoulder—like you know what you’re doing. The controls on the body include: a shooting modes dial on top, which sits atop a very convenient dedicated ISO control dial; an on/off button; a zoom control; and the shutter release. To the left of those on top are the hotshoe mount for an external flash and a dial control for exposure compensation. On the back of the camera, to the right of the LCD, are: a four-way control pad for MF on/off, flash, self-timer and Macro, with a set button in the middle and a scrolling ring around the outside.
The G11 has the ability to shoot in RAW (CR2) and JPEG, and offers full Manual shooting, Aperture and Shutter Priorities and Auto mode. There are also 17 Scene modes, including: Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene and Stitch Assist. It also shoots video (640×480 at 30fps). Capture is to SD/SDHC Memory Card, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus card or HC MMCplus card. It offers no internal memory.
The G11 is fun to use, with impressive image quality, as was the case with the G10 before it. The major improvements are the better quality results at higher ISOs and the Vari-angle LCD, which provides a lot of freedom for getting creative angles. The most exciting thing, though, about shooting with the G11 is actually fantasizing about what the next generation of the G series will hold. Better viewfinder? Please! Full HD video? The lens control ring found in the Canon S90? Thank you! Of course, at $500, it has been argued that one might as well jump into the entry-level D-SLR market and reap the benefits of that level of image quality, lens options and overall control. One generation back, there are several such D-SLRs at a comparable price—lens kit included—such as the Nikon D40 or Canon EOS Rebel Xs. However, as I previously mentioned, an advantage of the G11 is its stealth size, and that’s something you won’t find with interchangeable lens cameras.
Canon PowerShot G11
4.41”W x 3.00”H x 1.90”D; 12.5 oz.
Still Recording Format:
SD/SDHC Memory Card, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus card, HC MMCplus card