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Small and smart
The Casio EX-ZR10 is a small camera that’s packed with bells and whistles, but can it deliver the meat and potatoes—good quality regular photos?
Casio has squeezed a 28-196mm (35mm equivalent zoom lens and a ton of features into the Exilim EX-ZR10, a 12.4MP CMOS-based camera that fits in a shirt pocket—with room to spare when turned off. A new processing engine lets it shoot high-speed movies, full 1080p HD videos, and full-frame shots an surprisingly fast rates. Its LCD monitor is a generous 3 inches despite the camera’s small measurements, and it can do some neat tricks, such as built-in HDR, 360-degree panoramas, and more, at the touch of a button. Casio claims the back-illuminated sensor can capture fine detail at relatively high ISO settings.
Let’s see how it stands up to these claims.
In the hand
The ZR10 is a marvel of miniaturization. Thanks to its mostly metal outer shell it has a substantial feel, more than a typical compact digital camera. There’s no handgrip; I found the most comfortable way to hold the camera was with my thumb resting against the top right corner of the 460K LCD monitor as there simply isn’t enough room for a thumb to the right of the screen. I found the shutter release location to be a bit cramped for my medium-large hands but if you have small hands it should be fine.
The back-of-camera controls are squeezed all the way to the right to make room for the 3-inch LCD monitor. That said, the Set, Playback, video record, and red camera buttons were big enough to be easily pressed, and the four-way toggle control worked well. The menu button seemed a bit too small and not conveniently placed.
The camera’s high-speed modes are easily attained via a largish button atop the camera, while the more typical ones (resolution, ISO, white balance, flash control, exposure compensation) are attained by hitting the “Set” button and using the surrounding four-way toggle switch to navigate. The Menu button, tucked away on the bottom right corner of the camera back, accesses what Casio apparently feels are the least-frequently-changed features, such as AF Area, Anti-Shake, Face Detection, as well as image quality and setup settings.
Long zoom for such a small camera: Wide-angle 28mm (35mm equivalent) setting covers a lot of ground...
Full zoom, which is just under 200mm (35mm equivalent), is impressive for a pocket-sized camera, but I needed shake reduction even in direct sunlight!
The ZR10’s biggest feature is its high-speed shutter and ability to record multiple images at breathtaking speed—up to 40fps at 10MP. Capitalizing on this ability, the camera offers High Speed CS (continuous shutter), which starts recording images into the camera’s buffer when the shutter release is pressed halfway, up to 30 images. This is recommended for action photography.
HS menu shows the different kinds of shots that can be captured by combining or selecting from among photos that are captured at high speed.
The camera has two HDR modes—a standard version which combines multiple exposures shot at high speed to expand the image’s dynamic range and improve shadow and highlight details, and HDR Art, which exaggerates the HDR effect. It’s a cool gimmick but once the novelty wears off, you’ll want to take advantage of some more practical high-speed modes such as high-speed anti-shake. This mode records several images quickly and combines them into a single shot, correcting image blur as you go. I found this one to be very effective in reducing shake, especially when combined with the camera’s CMOS-shift image stabilization.
For videographers, the camera can capture HD videos at 1080p, and can capture high-speed, motion-slowing videos at up to 480fps (224x160 pixels). A stereo microphone is built into the camera’s top plate to record audio.
On the button: Close focus can get down to an inch from the front of the lens, but only at the widest setting.
The lens focuses down to approximately an inch when at its widest setting, but closest focus goes to approximately 20 inches when taken out of the wide setting. There is no manual exposure control—only programmed autoexposure—but you can use exposure compensation (+/- 2 stops in 1/3-stop intervals) for limited exposure control.
Hit the power button and the zoom lens pops out with virtually no hesitation. Likewise, lag time was minimal, less than ¼ second. Using the camera’s high-speed capture options this lag time virtually disappears (although the processing time immediately after you shoot in Lag Correction mode can take a bit longer). If you press the shutter partway down, compose then press it all the way, lag time is eliminated. There’s a separate “lag correction” mode but as far as I can tell, it does the same thing.
For some of the fancier modes that combine multiple images, such as Slide Panorama or HDR Art, processing the image can take 5-10 seconds, but that is to be expected given the fancy footwork the camera accomplishes in this time. Speaking of multiple images, the camera shoots in rapid-fire bursts that take a fraction of a second so you really don’t have much of a chance to shake the camera between exposures. In 1/8 sec it can record 10 images to combine into one, or will choose the best of the batch automatically.
In the field, I found that due to the f/5.9 maximum aperture it was almost impossible to hold the camera steady, although I had better luck with hi-speed anti-shake turned on.
I inspected 100% enlargements of images shot at all ISO settings. At ISO 100, image quality is typical of a small-sensor camera: it wouldn’t win a head-on competition with a DSLR, but it’s fine for prints up to 8x10. Thanks to built-in noise suppression and the backside-illuminated CCD, image quality doesn’t really deteriorate until ISO 1600 so you can expect to make reasonable-looking 5x7-inch prints up to ISO 800, which is not bad for a compact camera. Noise and fogginess creep in at the higher settings.
I was excited to try the camera’s internal HDR modes, but I found the difference between the default non-HDR and standard HDR images was minimal. The HDR Art mode produced the exaggerated Velvet Elvis look, with hyped-up color and over-sharpened details. This can be fun, but is of limited utility.
No HDR: Reasonable dynamic range in a straight shot showing range from shadow to sunlit detail.
With standard HDR applied, there’s a subtle improvement in shadow detail. Can you see it?
HDR Art, however, produces wacky results like this...
...and like this!
I did notice some fringing approaching the corners and edges of the frame when photographing contrasty subjects or when shooting off-center close-ups such as the sunlit screw head below, where the fringing is almost visible even when viewing it at screen resolution. Interestingly, the fringing is less apparent at lower ISO settings.
I found some of the high-speed features, such as HS Shake Reduction to be effective in removing shake by combining multiple images shot in quick succession and removing the movement artifacts. Below: Without shake reduction and then with HS Shake Reduction.
Conclusion and recommendation
The Casio EX-ZR10 is a multi-talented compact camera that aspires accomplish more than a typical compact. Image quality is typical for an average compact camera at ISO 100, but quality remains acceptable up to ISO 800, a big improvement. Its many high-speed features may be of interest to soccer moms and pet owners as well as for travelers who want a camera that takes up practically no space but will deliver reasonable (if not pro quality) shots. For approximately $250, this is a lot of camera and is well worth considering. The cool effects are the icing on the cake.