HandlingThe 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 This is mainly due to the removal of the deep grip handle, which has been replaced by a bump of barely three millimetres deep.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.
ResponsivenessOne 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 QualityThe 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.
VideoThe 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.