Archive: Compact and Bridge Cameras 2011-2012

REVIEW / Casio Exilim ZR100

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Franck Mée Published on June 28, 2011
Translated by Catherine Barraclough
 
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SPECIFICATIONS

  • Sensor BSI CMOS 12 Mpx, 1/2.3" , 42 Mpx/cm
  • Lens 12.5x 24-300 mm f/3 -5.9
  • Stabilisation Mechanical
  • Viewfinder NA
  • Screen 7.2 cm, not TN, 460800 dots, 4:3, Not touch-sensitive
  • Sensitivity (ISO range) 100 - 3200 ISO
After the very nice FH100, whose only real problem was a less-than-perfect lens, Casio is back with the Exilim ZR100. It has a slightly more classic design, a new 12-Megapixel sensor and a 24-300 mm zoom lens.

Handling

The ZR100 is a high-end camera in Casio's range but we don't think it's as well designed as the FH100. This is mainly due to the removal of the deep grip handle, which has been replaced by a bump of barely three millimetres deep. To be fair though, that doesn't cause too many problems, as the plastic bar supports your middle finger perfectly while your thumb rests on the mode-selection dial.


One new feature on the back of the camera is the 460,000-dot definition screen. This tends to display grey shades a little too lightly and colour fidelity is way off the mark (the deltaE is 9 when it should ideally be under 3), but it's still a nice, detailed screen that's pleasant to use, especially thanks to its wide viewing angles.

Otherwise, there's not much new, but we're disappointed to see that the shutter-release button with an integrated control for switching between Full HD video and high-speed video in the FH100 has been ditched in this new model. You therefore have to use the internal menus to switch between these modes, which is much less practical. It does, however, mean that the ZR100 has the same shutter button as the H30, which almost certainly saves Casio a few quid.

The interface is nice enough, even if Canon and Panasonic systems are simpler to use. You use the Quick menu to change settings like shutter speed and aperture in the camera's manual modes. Note that the Quick menu can't be customised like it can in the H30, which means you'll have to go in and out of the menus quite often if you like to play around with the settings.

Like Casio's H-series cameras, the ZR100 is loaded with the excellent NP-130 battery, which has twice the capacity of most other digital camera batteries (6.7 Wh, compared with 3.3 Wh for Olympus and Panasonic superzooms or 3.4 Wh for Sony models). The battery life is therefore advertised at 450 photos in spite of a power-hungry processor, which means you can take this camera out for a day of eager snapping with no need to worry about it running out.

Responsiveness

One problem with the ZR100 is its start-up time. Although superzoom cameras rarely start up in less than two seconds, 2.6 seconds is still a bit of a long time to wait when you've spotted something you want to capture before it's too late.

That's a real shame, since the ZR100 is otherwise a relatively responsive camera. The autofocus works in under a second in pretty much all situations and in under half a second in good light conditions. Plus, you only have to wait two seconds between taking two photos, which is really very good.

The burst mode can be set to between 3 and 30 frames per second. You can take a maximum of 30 pictures in burst mode (to the capacity of the buffer memory), taking from 1 to 10 seconds. Unlike many compacts that have this kind of high-speed burst mode, the ZR100 doesn't freeze up completely until it's finished copying the photos from the buffer memory to the memory card. A counter appears on the screen as soon as you take your finger off the shutter-release button, showing the amount of buffer memory space remaining and the maximum possible burst time. You can then take another burst of pictures straight away. This is something often seen in SLRs but it's still quite rare in compact cameras.

Picture Quality

The 12-Megapixel BSI CMOS sensor has been used in plenty of other cameras, notably in Canon's very good HS series of compacts. The lens isn't entirely new either, as it's the same lens seen in Casio's H30, and which very probably also equips certain Olympus cameras, including the SZ-20.


Noise handling is a bit disappointing. While speckling noise is kept in check reasonably well, smoothing is visible on 8" x 10" (20 x 27 cm) prints from 800 ISO. The Canon SX230 HS offers a better compromise between noise and smoothing, even if this Casio camera is still far from catastrophic.

The colours, however, can be a bit more surprising. The ZR100 took very cold looking photos under the lighting in our test lab, which is designed to recreate natural daylight. You can see that the pictures have a blue tinge to them but, strangely enough, the camera gives Barbie a fairly accurate skin tone under halogen/tungsten light, which usually catches other cameras out.

The problem is that this cold overtone sometimes crops up in pictures taken in real-life situations—particularly those taken in shadows or shade—although this seems to happen fairly randomly. Switching the white balance to manual can help keep things more consistent.


Interestingly, the lens actually does a better job than the H30 lens, and it performs in a surprisingly similar way to the Olympus SZ-20 lens. Maybe Casio kept the best-quality versions of this lens for its higher-end cameras, or maybe the lens in the H30 we tested just happened to be a particularly duff model, but here, the lens does a decent job. It lacks consistency at wide-angle settings (the edges become blurred) but gives good results at longer focal lengths.

Video

The ZR100 films Full HD video in the H.264 format and with stereo sound. Picture quality is pretty good and, although there are the same colour issues as in photo mode, the image is sharp and contrast is well controlled, particularly since bright scenes and objects don't look blinding. There's not a great deal of fuzzy noise either, and you can use the optical zoom while filming.

The only real downside is the sound. It may be stereo but you can barely hear any spatialisation and everything sounds a bit fuzzy. Worse still—the microphones pick up the noise of the zoom motor!

Note that the ZR100 doesn't use the full width of the sensor in video mode, losing 5° from the horizontal field of view to give an equivalent wide angle of just 28 mm.

HDR Art
Casio is keen to promote this camera's HDR Art mode.

The ZR100 has two extra settings on its mode-selection dial, as well as the regular PASM modes (the Programme mode is the red box with a P in it, and is actually an Intelligent Auto mode). The first of these extra modes is a standard HDR mode, which takes two pictures with different exposures then pastes them together to get a shot that's more richly detailed in very light or dark areas (in our example, the sky, in particular, has more subtle nuances in HDR mode).

The second is the more original HDR Art mode, which is basically the HDR mode pushed to the extreme. As you can see in our example, the brightness of the image is harmonised, with dark and shadowy areas lightened to the extreme and light tones that look over dense. The borders between zones processed differently are clearly visibl too. The result is an artistic and no doubt fun effect that looks more like a painting than a photo, making landscapes look surreal and portraits look sightly painful.

PROS

  • Good build quality and excellent battery life
  • Priority and manual modes
  • High speed modes (video and burst mode)
  • General responsiveness once up and running
  • Decent picture quality, especially at telephoto settings / Very good video picture quality

CONS

  • White balance isn't always consistent
  • A bit slow to start up
  • Sound quality
  • Photos aren't consistently sharp across the frame at wide-angle settings
  • Some of Casio's previous good ideas have been ditched (HS video control, separate photo/video settings, customisable menu)

CONCLUSION 4/5

The Casio Exilim ZR100 is a nice superzoom compact. It's pretty speedy once it's running and it has some unusual creative filters (HDR Art). However, the ZR100 seems to struggle to set itself apart from an increasing number of high-quality competitor superzooms, some of which take distinctly better pictures.
4 Casio Exilim ZR100 DigitalVersus 2011-06-28 00:00:00
Compare: Casio Exilim ZR100 to its competitors
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