The marriage of the compact camera with the pretentions of a high-spec digital SLR has been an uneasy one in recent history. It has been difficult for manufactures to justify the high prices that ultra-slim, high quality compacts with extensive optical zoom levels fetch. However, the Exilim EXH10 is not only the slimmest addition to this range, it may also offer the most ‘bang per buck’ to the avid amateur photography fanatic. In the following in-depth analysis we will dissect the various features and functions on offer and hopefully expose the true nature of this superficially super digital camera.
Pictured left: Front view of the h10
Basic Technical Specifications
It is easier to get down to the nitty-gritty straight away, so let’s look at how the EXH10 performs on paper. The 10x optical zoom puts it in the lower echelons of the superzoom camera range, but is still a significant improvement over most other compact cameras in this area. The zoom is complimented by a 24mm wide angle lens and the EXH10 has a 12.1 megapixel CCD image sensor. On the back of the camera there is no optical viewfinder and you will take all your pictures and access the menus via a 3 inch LCD screen. The screen itself is not particularly high resolution and the true quality of the images you take cannot be appreciated on the small scale. As such any reviewing of shots you do in the field should be for reference only and is not representative of the final pictures.
One of the most impressive features of the EXH10 is its lithium-ion battery. In standardised tests endorsed by the Camera and Imaging Products Association the EXH10 was able to take 1000 shots before the battery ran out. This is near class-leading performance in this category and makes the EXH10 a great choice for extensive use away from the nearest mains outlet. Obviously your own usage and battery life will vary and with lots of shot reviewing and menu use the number of shots you can take per charge will obviously decrease.
You can adjust the shutter speed of the EXH10 for between 4 to 2000 seconds and an ISO of 3200 is the maximum on offer. Overall the EXH10 has a wide range of adjustable settings you would expect to find on similar cameras and though the image quality is impressive for basic shooting, it is not a world-beater by any means. The question is what exactly the EXH10 has to offer the market. If you are willing to delve a little deeper into its menu systems you will discover that there are a host of unique shooting options that most competitors do not offer. Whether this is enough to make the EXH10 the best choice for you will depend on your reaction to these software-based capabilities.
Dynamic Photo – Gimmick or Killer App?
There has been much debate about the main unique function offered by the EXH10. Casio are keen to instil their cameras with at least one quirky function that no other manufacturer has bothered to include and they should be partially praised for their ingenuity. The Dynamic Photo function on the EXH10 is almost like a built-in greenscreen capability, in which you can swap out the background of one photo for the background of another. The foreground image has to be a moving object, whether it is a waving hand or a crazily dancing friend or relative. Then you can overlay the image on a background of your choosing.
Without too many onscreen prompts and little information in the included documentation you may do well to consult the detailed web page that Casio have set up to help EXH10 users make the most of the Dynamic Photo function. But since the camera gives you hints and suggestions as you make your way through the Dynamic Photo process we will rely on these to make an assessment of the function.
The first step is to find a suitably blank background against which you can capture the ‘dynamic’ moving image. You need a uniform, plain surface such as a wall, because then the EXH10 will automatically detect the moving foreground object and be able to crop it out for use without too much bother. It may be slightly difficult to find an uncluttered piece of wall and a particularly keen user could hang a sheet up for complete uniformity.
Once you have your blank wall you need to take the dynamic shot. This consists of 20 frames of movement and of course you can make whatever you wish of the allotted frames. Because of the speed at which the shots are taken you will not be able to see what you are shooting on the LCD viewfinder. As such it is possible for your subject to move out of the frame as they flail and cavort, so it may take some practise and multiple uses to ensure you have captured the movement properly. The camera will quickly single out the moving portion of the picture, remove the background and then present it to you suspended in mid air against a grey backdrop. This will allow you to assess the suitability of the image and then you can move on to the next stage.
Once you have taken your dynamic shots you need to take a reference shot. You can combine the two, but you need to set the camera to Playback mode. You will be asked to select a reference image for use behind the dynamic image, though sadly you will only be able to use images shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is slightly disappointing considering the wide angle ability of the lens. The background image will be resized to 2 megapixels to make it suitable for conversion to a video file later on. You can choose where you want to place the dynamic picture on the background image and once you have made your decision the EXH10 creates a composite of the two layers and you can see roughly what the finished video will look like.
The composite images need to be transferred to your PC if you want to create a single video file of the 20 individual shots. If you have a bit of technical knowledge and access to your own software then you can use the images as you see fit, but for most people using the Casio Dynamic Studio site online is the quickest and easiest way to convert your images into a usable video file. All you need to do is upload the sequence and then you can download a video in many popular file formats, including FLV Flash and MP4. You can even turn the sequence into a GIF file.
The best thing about the dynamic photo is you have the choice to use the reference image you chose when you shot the picture in the first place, or use the dynamic image set separately over whichever background you choose to upload. The Casio Dynamic Studio is simple to use and most importantly it is free.
The Dynamic Photo mode can also incorporate moving clip art into the sequence and you can adjust the length of the sequence to a maximum of 4 seconds, though regardless of your choice you will only have 20 frames at your disposal. At the end of the day the Dynamic Photo mode is a fine addition to the EXH10, but it is little more than a fun function. If you are a serious photographer you may only use it once. On the other hand, there is no limit to the amount of creative fun you could have with the software if you are willing to spend a bit of time and exert a little imagination.
Other Unique Modes
There are two more noteworthy modes built into the EXH10. The first, called ‘Make-Up Mode’, is a glorified combination of face recognition and image re-touching. Simply take a shot of your face and the EXH10 will get to work on it, smoothing out lines and decreasing the shadows on your face, most notably the bags under any tired eyes. It is a slightly eerie mode to include, though it is given its own dedicated access button, suggesting that it is highly regarded by Casio. It will at least keep any particularly vain subjects happy.
The second is an enhanced version of a feature many compact cameras include; Landscape mode. According to the promotional material, the Landscape mode is not just a simple adjustment to contrast and colour levels when you are shooting outdoor scenes. Instead there are thousands of high-speed calculations made when you capture a scene using either the Vivid Landscape or Mist Removal options. Though these enhancements are welcome and can improve landscape shots, they are not as revolutionary as they sound in practise.
Ease of Use
If you are going to be living with the Exilim EXH10 every day and taking advantage of its ample battery life, the most important consideration will be how easy it is to get along with as a camera. In terms of design, the EXH10 is small enough to be easily slipped into a pocket or a bag and you can choose either a black or silver finish, the former being the least brash. The controls are laid out as you might expect, with the shutter and power buttons adorning the top, along with the zoom lever which actually circles the shutter button for ease of access. Both the Landscape and Make-Up mode dedicated buttons are also found on the top.
On the back you have two mode buttons, a menu button and navigation keys. There is also a dedicated record button which automatically begins capturing video when you select the Video mode. The button is slightly too small to be hugely helpful, but it is nice to see another dedicated button put to good use.
Overall the Casio Exilim EXH10 is an excellent compact superzoom camera that bolsters out some basic functionality with unique and interesting modes and features.
Our test shots