Review: Casio EXILIM EX-FC100

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I want you to know a couple of things before I start this review. First, I am not a professional photographer. I have spent a bit too much money on a DSLR and a nice lens but I had to get them. Second, I simply like taking photos but most of the time I wish I had a smaller camera than my Canon 20D. A compact camera that takes DSLR-like pictures seems impossible to get. I think the new Olympus E-P1 is very promising but is quite expensive. With the 17mm that I would get, the total price comes to a whopping US$899.99 at Amazon. With that out of the way, I got a chance to review Casio’s EXILIM EX-FC100. Now, I don’t have all the tools to give you detailed specifications so what I will do is to give you a layman’s review of the EX-FC100. Let’s start with the conclusion.

Conclusion The EX-FC100 is a fine compact camera if you take pictures mostly when there is a lot of light. The HD record feature is pretty good but again only when there is a lot of light. Low-light performance for both pictures and videos is simply terrible. There is too much noise. My Canon IXUS 70 (bought it in Korea; in the US is PowerShot SD1000) does a much better job. The EX-FC100 retails for US$349.99 and can be found on Amazon for US$278.95. With the conclusion out of the way, let’s get into more specifics.

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Megapixels The number of pixels on modern digital cameras almost do not matter for most users. The EX-FC100 has a 10.29 million pixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor with an effective 9.1 million pixels. In terms of resolution that is 3456 x 2592, more than almost any LCD monitor that is out there. Let’s just put it this way: The EX-FC100 has enough. The images are saved in JPEG format. This camera takes HD movies too with a 1280 x 720 resolution at 30fps. The quality is very good as long as you have a lot of light. Ditto for images.

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Hi-Speed In the picture above, look closely at the icons surrounding the button with the red dot (the dedicated movie record botton) and you’ll find there is an icon with the letters HS on it. If you switch into HS mode, you’re in hi-speed mode. In hi-speed mode, you take videos in 30-210fps, 210fps, 420fps or 1000fps. At 30-210fps the resolution is 480 x 360, at 210fps 480 x 360, at 420fps 224 x 168 and at 1000fps it is 224 x 64. Gets really small the faster it takes.

It’s kind of neat to see micro-movements of my kids. I guess if I was working for Dr. Cal Lightman at The Lightman Group (from the TV series “Lie to me*” on Fox in the US), this would be great tool for analyzing whether someone is lying or not. BTW, I love that show.

The resolution isn’t HD anymore, far from, and you don’t get sound, which for most of us is a must. I didn’t play around with the HS mode too much because to me it was a gimmick that didn’t have much real world use. Dr. Lightman would disagree. But he’s fictional so his opinion doesn’t count. That dedicated red button to record movie is a great idea. Even my wife thought it was very convenient.

There is another hi-speed mode and it relates to picture taking. The EX-FC100 has a 30 shot-per-second burst rate. You push this button, press the shutter button and you get 30 shots in just one second. Nifty when something is moving really fast, like your kids. But the quality was a bit lacking and the resolution gets kicked down to 6 megapixels, still quite enough.

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ETC The LCD is 2.7-inch size so is quite large. Viewing angles are good so you can take pictures at different angles and still be able to see what’s on the LCD. Epson calls it Super Clear LCD and I agree it was quite clear. The EX-FC100 uses SD cards to record but I found it very difficult to get the SD card out and I have average fingers with above-average dexterity. This might not apply to guys and gals that are used to tons of features and tons of buttons but I found the EX-FC100 to have a bit too many… features and buttons.

iPhone 3GS It might be weird that I bring up the iPhone 3GS on a review for a compact digital camera, but I think it is a big development that will change the way we think of the iPhone. Full disclosure: I own an iPhone 3G. I am thinking of getting the 3GS for precisely these reasons I will tell you about. The iPhone 3G has a terrible camera. Barely acceptable. I’m glad Apple improved the camera in the 3GS. In the 3GS the camera is actually quite good! The user selectable autofocus is really cool. Of course it is only 3 megapixels but for the occasional printout and use for the Internet, the images captured on the 3GS is good enough. And the other neat thing is that the 3GS is really good in low-light.

The 3GS can do video with a 640 x 480 resolution at 30fps. Not HD by any stretch of the imagination but the quality is quite good, even in low-light. What I am getting at? With the iPhone 3GS you don’t need to carry an additional compact digital camera–the built-in camera is good enough. If you’re serious about getting quality photographs you’ll need to invest in something more, like the Olympus I mentioned at the beginning of this review or a full-blown DSLR. But if all you need is to take quick snaps (with GPS tags) and videos, the 3GS is an elegant and simple solution.

Here is a list of other sites that have reviewed the EX-FC100: PhotographyBLOG, Trusted Reviews, Infosync World, Digital Camera Info, MacWorld, Steve’s Digicam

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