You can tell the FH100 is a top-of-the-range model as soon as you pick it up. It's very well designed and made, and has a kind of stick-out handle on the front that helps improve grip. The controls and buttons have been designed and assembled with care. However, the connections compartment (USB and mini-HDMI) is very deep-set, and shuts so tightly that you'll have to use some kind of lever (or have very long and strong nails) to get it open!
The only real design flaw is the 230,000-pixel screen. In fact, it's difficult to understand why the brand's flagship model hasn't been treated to a screen with better resolution. Then again, Sony didn't do any better with its HX5V!
The controls are classic Casio, and although the FH100 doesn't have the best interface we've ever seen, it is very clear. The button in the middle of the four-way controller takes you to a quick menu containing picture and exposure settings, whereas the Menu button takes you to all the other options. Note that in S, A and M modes you can select different settings for photos and videos, including aperture (with just two levels: f/3.2 or f/7.5 in wide angle, f/5.7 or f/16 in telephoto) and speed (up to 1/40000 in video mode or 1/1000 in photo mode).
One feature we particularly liked was the ring around the video record button for switching instantly between the 720p HD video mode and the high-speed video mode. These settings are all-too-often relegated to the depths of the menus on cameras with similar such functions.
One, two, three, four ... wake up, the FH100 is finally ready to use. Start-up is seriously slow, and after waiting for the zoom to pop out, you'll have to wait a further two seconds for the screen to come to life. Once it's up and running, the camera is fairly reactive, with an autofocus that works well at all focal lengths.
The lens is the same as that used in Casio's H10 and therefore has all the same problems, such as inconsistent picture quality (edges of pictures are less sharp at certain focal lengths), purple fringes etc. Chromatic aberrations are, however, better handled and they're not visible in actual viewing conditions like A4 prints or on a computer screen.
The backlit sensor has good sensitivity, but Casio has never been an expert in the field of image processing. The photos look pretty good up to 800 ISO, with a decent compromise between noise and sharpness. However, things quickly go downhill at 1600 ISO when detail is lost and blurring is visible.
The FH100 has a 720p HD video mode with stereo sound. It may sound promising but don't get your hopes up, as even though sound is recorded in stereo, it's still nowhere near as good as cameras like the Panasonic TZ10, for example. Worse still, you can't use the optical zoom in video mode. The stabilisation system is a little inconsistent too, as it sometimes suddenly cuts out at the longest focal length. This makes the camera stop recording a smooth, seamless film and start capturing jumpy, jerky footage instead.
The FH100 does, however, have an excellent high-speed video mode for taking slow-motion sequences without compromising resolution (from 120 fps in VGA to 1000 fps in 224 x 64 pixels). This won't come in handy every day, but it's certainly a good feature to have.