Casio's Exilim EX-FC100, which features 9.1-megapixel resolution and a 5X zoom, takes everything we loved about the $999 Editors' Choice-winningEX-F1--the slow-motion movies, HD video, and continuous shooting--and crams it into a slim point-and-shoot at less than half the price (and size). With a few minor exceptions, this somewhat hefty $349 digicam is almost as covetable as its big brother.
Although the 6.4-ounce, 0.9-inch thick EX-FC100 is dwarfish next to the FX1, it's a bit chunky for a point-and-shoot: it weighs twice as much as the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS, and the lens protrudes slightly even when closed. On the other hand, we like the tough scratch- and fingerprint-resistant finish. The thin yellow rim around the lens makes it look sporty. The camera comes in gray or silver.
On top of the EX-FC100 is a tiny power button. Next to it is the shutter with an attached knob that controls the zoom. The shutter provides good tactile feedback, and the knob was long enough that we could comfortably rest the pad of our finger on it. Below the power button is another button that allows the user to switch between single-shot and continuous-shooting mode.
The rest of the buttons line the right side of the LCD screen. There's a dial with a record button and notches for high-speed and regular shooting modes. The EX-FC100 has discrete playback and shooting buttons, and a navigation pad. Finally, there are menu and Best Shot Mode buttons. The latter feature matches the camera's settings against a series of built-in sample shots (although an intelligent Auto mode would have been more convenient).
On the bottom of the camera is a hole for a tripod. The only connection is PictBridge (it also comes with a cable, the other end of which plugs into a USB port); on a camera this expensive that also shoots in high-def, we'd want HDMI output, which theNikon Coolpix S60, for example, offers (although it doesn't come with a cable).
Although the 2.7-inch LCD looks a little pixelated, it was bright enough for outdoor shooting. By pressing the Slow button on the top of the camera you can make everything appear in slow motion on the LCD while framing the action. This is meant to assist fast-action photography, but we found continuous shooting to be more effective.
We loved the streamlined menus on the EX-FC100. All the common settings--ISO, exposure, and others--line the right side of the screen. Press up or down to choose a setting, and right or left to make adjustments. You can also press the dedicated menu button to, say, silence all sounds. In both cases, it highlights settings in red, shading the rest in gray. This approach makes the camera less overwhelming.
The EX-FC100 shoots high-speed video at up to 1,000 frames per second. Users can record at 210 fps (480 x 360), 420 fps (224 x 168), 1,000 fps (224 x 64), or anywhere on a sliding scale between 30 and 210 fps (640 x 480). The higher the frame rate, the slower the video and dimmer the picture quality.
The controls for high-speed shooting are twofold. You can select one of the aforementioned resolutions by pressing the Menu button, but you can also adjust the slowness of the video on a scale of 1 to 8 (8 being the fastest); the default setting is 3. We found that level 3 or 4 is slow enough to look amusing but fast enough to hold viewers' attention.
As always, the results are hilarious. Our clips proved to be crowd-pleasers among our friends. For best results, shoot outdoors in bright daylight, and stick to a lower frame rate (420 fps or less). Even in our fluorescent-lit office and inside a local restaurant, movie playback looked too dark.
The 9.1-MP photos we captured with the EX-FC100 looked lovely. It rendered colors pleasantly and accurately, and the 2-second shot-to-shot speed made it easy to get the shot we wanted, when we wanted it. Our sharp, vibrant close-ups were the best photos we took, despite the fact that you have to dig into the menus to enable Macro mode. There's no landscape or scene modes, but the camera was able to handle different shooting situations without having to be manually switched into a particular mode.
The 5X optical zoom is quite versatile, too. Standing on the ground, about a block away from a large, multistoried building, we were able to get a fairly close shot of just four of the floors.
However, in low-light environments, our outdoor shots didn't show much shadow detail. Even under fluorescent lighting, they looked dull. On an indoor portrait, face detection failed to brighten the subject's face; this feature also felt slower than that on the SD780 IS.
The FC100 can take up to 30 6-MP photos per second (once you exceed that limit the camera pauses to process them, which doesn't take long). You can adjust the number of shots per second on a sliding scale. In the settings menu, you can also opt to save these shots automatically, but folders of 30 shots each can hog your memory card's capacity.
Each shot in the series looked crisp. In playback mode, the shots appear as a folder, not 30 individual shots. If you linger on a folder, the camera automatically starts playing them back like a flip cartoon, which, while neat, can be annoying if you just want to skim your collection.
We were impressed by the detailed 720p video. We shot a fast-moving train barrelling into a subway station, and were even able to make out our reflection on the passing train. The sound was accurate, albeit weak. You can use the zoom during filming, something many other cameras can't do. The resulting picture looked smooth, not jerky. However, just as the camera takes so-so low-light photos, our dimly lit videos showed some noise.
Battery Life, Speed, and Warranty
The EX-FC100's rechargeable battery lasted for hundreds of shots and several videos. The continuous shooting didn't seem to drain the battery life, even though we were snapping 30 6-MP photos at a time.
When recharging the battery pack, the LED light on the charger shuts off when the camera is fully charged. Casio confirmed that all the chargers that ship with the company's cameras cut off power to charged gadgets, which makes this point-and-shoot pleasantly green.
Aside from the 2-second shot-to-shot speed, the camera showed fairly normal speeds: it took less than 3 seconds to turn on and turn off. The FC100 also comes with a one-year warranty.
At $349, Casio's Exilim EX-FC100 is a solid high-end point-and-shoot but with a couple of drawbacks. Macro mode is a pain to access, and this camera is on the heavy side, even though it has a generous 5X zoom. What makes the EX-FC100 a gem is its fast speeds, slow-motion video, and HD shooting, a unique combination of features you'll get only from Casio.