Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Casio Super-zoom EX-FH20 Review

I've been using this Casio Exilim Super-zoom camera throughout Peru and Mexico City, but it has taken me a while to get a review together because it's hard to boil down all this thing can do into a few paragraphs. I feel like this is the camera I've been looking for in order to get great photos in any situation, without having to be an SLR geek with a bag full of lenses.

First the bad news: it's as big and heavy as an SLR camera with one lens attached, so don't go thinking you'll save on weight or space. But the key thing is, you don't have to carry anything else. It has an incredible 20X optical zoom that works really well. I don't know how I'll go back to something less after this. I could stand anywhere and get a great shot of something far away, like a Peruvian highlands woman at a cattle market that was a good 100 yards away from me. This camera has lots of built-in software that's useful rather than gimmicky and one feature is image stabilization that really works. Unless you're shaking like a recovering alcoholic with the D.T's, you'll usually get a good shot even at full zoom if there's enough light.

There is also an image composition feature that works behi
nd the scenes in low light. It figures out if you are using a tripod or not, then takes and blends multiple shots if you're not. So you end up with something like the vertical shot here in Arequipa---very cool!

All the Exilim cameras have Casio's "best shot" menu, which allows you to choose a specific situation from a menu such as "sports," "night portrait," or "scenery." Shutter speed, aperture, and even saturation are adjusted to fit. In my tests, this worked extremely well, to the point w
here I almost never bothered to use the manual override.

There are a few other unique features to this camera, including the ability to shoot video in high definition and the the ability to shoot 40 frames per second as still shots. The former I found to be too much of a memory hog to be useful (a gigabyte for just over a minute of video---and loads of fun to try to upload anywhere). The latter really came in handy though when I was watching Andean Condors soar by in the Colca Canyon of Peru. I was able to take a hundred action shots at a time and be sure I got a few good ones. See one of them below. There is also a facial recognition program that makes sure four or six faces in a group are all in focus.

All this cool technology takes some getting used to of course; it took me three weeks to figure out how to turn on the shutter delay timer. The manual doesn't make it easy since it's printed in just about every language but Swahili, three of these languages on each page. After you get the feel of the controls though, it's easy to make changes quickly on the fly as needed, adjusting for a cloudy day or flourescent light.

The viewfinder on this camera was what really got other people's attention when I was using it though. At 3 inches it's bigger than my iPod classic's screen and really allows you to size up whether your shot or video is a good one or not, even without using the zoom feature. My videos did come out well too: here's a sample I shot in Peru. There is also a (digital) viewfinder to look through at the top for when the light is too bright.

You can change the image size, shoot in RAW, and adjust all kinds of factors from shot to shot. So you have almost as much control as with an SLR, but in a more versatile package.

The Casio Exilim EX-FH20 uses four AA batteries and burns through rechargeables fairly quickly (90 to 130 shots in my tests) so you need to carry some spares. There's no way to recharge batteries while they are in the camera, so you'll need to buy a travel charger. If you're using disposable batteries, you might as well start your own private acidic landfill.

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