Casio isn't really a brand that immediately pops to mind at the first mention of digital cameras, unless you happen to be comparing them to credit cards like what we did with the Casio EXILIM EX-S10. The S10 turned out to be the slimmest camera we'd ever laid hands on but unfortunately, together with its tiny size came comparatively tiny performance. As a follow-up, Casio pushes itself onto the prosumer scene with the Casio EXILIM EX-F1, which is an admirable step up but one which lands Casio into an almost oversaturated market.
The F1 scored very well with its tennis-like grip and has impeccable weight distribution for a camera of its size, fitting nicely into our hands. Utilizing a dual dial system, the F1 uses the further dial for manual, program and scene mode switching while the other is reserved to alternate its six continuous modes. At the rear, there's a nice scroll wheel for configuring the settings. Interestingly, the lens barrel has a programmable function ring for a variety of uses, including manual focusing and zooming, but a slight lag is apparent due to its non-mechanical nature.
One of the first things you'll notice (or not) about the F1 is how modest its resolution is at 6-megapixel. However, this sensor is a more advanced CMOS variety known for less noisy imaging results and measures a bit larger than normal compact cameras at about 0.55 inches diagonally. With its lower megapixel count and a faster image processor, the F1 is capable of breathtaking full resolution images at up to 60 fps, high speed videos ranging from 300 to 1200 fps as well as shooting movies in full high-definition. To determine the authenticity of its claims, we gave the F1 a thorough workout.
Though the EX-F1 took on average around 4.4s to start up, it took less than a second to snap out of its standby mode. Shutter lag was non-existent without the flash but we saw a tiny slowdown to 0.03s with a little lighting assistance. Speaking of the flash, the F1 includes both a regular variety and an LED version below it, which illuminates videos as well as continuous stills that range from 8 - 60 fps. At speeds of up to 7 fps though, the regular flash acts as a repeating strobe, allowing for some interesting action shots.
Moving on to the F1's unique selling point, we have its high speed video capture mode that slows down almost any high speed activity that cannot be registered by the human eye. Bursting balloons, splashing water or birds in mid-flight, the F1 slows them down to speeds that makes them discernible to the naked eye. In our barrage of tests, we were mesmerized by the undeniable 'coolness' of being able to see almost everything in slow motion, even though this feature is likely to be underutilized. In the end, shooting at 1200 or 600 fps comes with a price in the form of a much reduced image size and even a reduction in the recordable area of the sensor. Yes, it actually appears as a cropped portion on the LCD as well and requires some pre-shot planning to capture the caliber of videos that a number of users have posted on YouTube.
While the F1 does seem to be a jack of all trades, it performed just as well at its primary function as an imaging device, giving us resolution readings of about 1300 LPH on both the horizontal and vertical axis. These results were definitely more than acceptable for a 6-megapixel camera. Colors were also very balanced with no noticeable enhancement for any particular hue. Alternatively, color filters are available within the camera should you wish to tweak certain hues.
There's a definite market for do-it-all prosumer cameras despite the fact that an entry level DSLR can be had for close to half the S$1799 retail price it's going for. Nonetheless, the F1 is a good prosumer camera with a lens that doesn't go terribly wide at 36mm (35mm terms) but manages to reach an amazing 432mm, something that requires multiple lenses on a DSLR to achieve. The additional feature to slow down almost any fast moving object imaginable is definitely welcome, but whether this fits your needs is debatable. As a decent prosumer that does something no other camera in its league does, the Casio EXILIM EX-F1 is an incredible achievement, whichever way you look at it.