Casio Exilim EX-H20G review

4 out of 5
£329

For

Broad focal range, high resolution, decent battery life, the “extra” draw of built-in GPS

Against

The premium price tag, optical zoom is disabled when recording video due to the mechanical buzz of the lens adjusting, sluggish to power up and down

There are still only a handful of digital cameras incorporating GPS facilities, particularly at the point and shoot end of the market. Casio likes cramming its cameras with gadgets and gizmos however, so its Exilim EX-H20G, updating the EX-H10 and sibling to the cheaper EX-H15, betters both by packing a GPS antenna just above its lens, hence its “G” suffix.

The smart looking silver/grey EX-H20G doesn’t just offer any old GPS, but rather something Casio is calling “hybrid GPS”, by virtue of it twinning the facility with a motion sensor. This enables the camera to continue to try and pinpoint your location even when a signal is lost – should you tumble down a crevasse, for example. The EX-H20G “counts” the steps since your last known position, while an integral compass provides an indication of direction.

This clever stuff transforms the angular, metal build Exilim into a travel zoom camera that you might actually want to take on holiday. That’s if the rather steep manufacturer’s asking price of £329 doesn't force you into economy class and “prix fixe” menu deals for the duration.

Also worthy of note on the Exilim EX-H20G are its headline features of a 14.1 megapixel effective resolution, 10x optical zoom with focal range equivalent of 24-240mm in 35mm film terms supported by blur-reducing CCD shift anti shake, plus 3-inch LCD screen. This offers a better than average 460,800-dot resolution for increased clarity in the absence of an optical viewfinder.

Add in a battery offering 600 shots from a single charge according to CIPA testing - much better than the average 250 shots offered in its class - plus 1280 x 720 pixels HD video recording with dedicated backplate button which means that recording can commence in an instant, and it seems like you are getting a fair return on investment. The Casio further boasts proportions that will fit into any pair of travel slacks or bum bag too, at 102.5 x 67.5 x 28.8mm, fielding a manageable weight of 216g.

Though the Exilim EX-H20G feels reassuringly solid when shooting handheld, slightly thicker than average for a pocket model and resembling a toughened model despite the fact it’s not shockproof or waterproof, the need to nevertheless deliver compact proportions has resulted in the lack of a decent handgrip. Here there’s a gentle curve and raised edge at the bottom left-hand corner of the faceplate, if viewed face on, to dig your fingertips into, and that’s it.

Turn the camera on and it takes just over 2 seconds to power up from cold, rear LCD blinking into life and lens extending from internally folded storage position to maximum wideangle setting with audible mechanical buzz. The fact that it takes a moment to respond when said button is pressed to power up or down the camera makes performance seem slightly more sluggish however. And yet more positively, once we were up and running the camera reacted as instantly to each button press as we’d hoped it would.

With a half press of the shutter release button there’s barely a moment’s pause before the camera decides on focus and exposure, AF point/s highlighted in green accompanied by a bleep of confirmation that the user is good to press down fully and take the shot. Do so and full resolution JPEG images are committed to memory in just 2 seconds, screen momentarily blanking out before presenting a preview of the captured shot. If you want to use the zoom, the Casio powers through the entirety of its focal range, from extreme wideangle to maximum telephoto in just 2 seconds, which is quick. Disappointing though that the optical zoom cannot be used when recording video, due to its noisy adjustments. The lens merely stays wherever it was positioned before the red video record button was hit. HDMI output for hooking the camera up to a flat panel TV is however presented alongside standard AV and USB connectivity.

In terms of GPS performance, the camera commenced operations by being marginally off course and informing us we lived in one of three boroughs closely neighbouring our own. Such area information appears on a “bulletin board” that sits at the bottom of the screen when in regular image capture mode. But that isn’t all: the camera also gives directions by functioning as what Casio refers to as a mini travel guide. It has up to 10,000 photos of popular destinations stored by way of inspiration for what you might like to photograph at locations in your vicinity. 

Find such a visual temptation, and with a paucity of manual control, operation here is mainly of the point and shoot variety. Should your subject take off at high speed, Casio has provided auto tracking AF, plus its own take on intelligent and smart auto functionality via the image enhancing Premium Auto function, which although producing good results does very slightly slow down proceedings. This no-brainer option is to be found among the Casio’s 27-strong “Best Shot” scene and subject shooting modes, covering the usual portrait and landscape-biased options, located with a press of the button marked “BS” in lieu of a more commonplace bottle top-styled shooting mode dial or wheel. 

Worth also singling out in particular from the Casio’s capture offerings is a fully automatic panorama function. This works in a similar simple-to-operate fashion to the Sweep Panorama feature on Sony T-series Cyber-shots. So, pan with the camera in an arc, of up to the full 360° in the case of the EX-H20G, and the camera will fire off an audibly impressive machine gun-like burst. From this it then automatically produces a single, narrow elongated image after a few moments of internal “processing”. It’s another feature that plays up to the concept of the all-encompassing travel snapper, and is surprisingly effective as well as fun. 

The other buttons worth taking note of, as regards the EX-H20G’s backplate controls, more directly relate to its picture pin-pointing potential for globetrotters. Found next to the on/off button are a pair of controls. The first, displaying a squished globe icon, summons up a miniaturised world map on screen, with a beacon flashing over your location on it at any time. And, should you be playing back an image, you’ll get the longitude and latitude coordinates given as part of its file information. Very cool, as is the fact that a nudge of the zoom lever enlarges or reduces the displayed portion of the map. Zoom in to the fullest extent and the camera will indicate local points of photogenic interest – even if it did choose Heathrow Airport in our case. If you lose yourself in the process of hunting around, there’s the opportunity to re-discover your location with a press of the adjacent current location button.

Whilst neither are arguably essential aids to the art of picture taking, if you’re the type who likes their gadgets just as much as their photography, then the EX-H20G could be worthy of further investigation. Overall operation is reasonably intuitive, though we could have done with better than the quick start guide Casio provides out of the box, which unhelpfully prints instructions in several languages across each page, so requires a bit of wading through and deciphering.

In terms of picture quality we appreciated the warm colour tones delivered by the Casio as its default setting, particularly as we were shooting in the dull depths of winter during our test period. As to how the zoom performs, we did notice some loss of definition towards edge of frame when shooting at max wideangle, along with other usual niggles such as occasional pixel fringing and softness when shooting handheld at extreme telephoto. Another concern with this number of pixels crammed onto its sensor was the possible ruinous effects of image noise at higher ISO settings, but we found these perfectly usable up to and including ISO 1600. That said, we have to be clear that what you are getting with this camera are snapshots at best, so you’ll have to decide whether that’s good enough in terms of quality for whatever trip you have planned. For most but keen amateur photographers, the answer will probably be yes.

Verdict

Like most point and shoot propose to do, the Casio Exilim EX-H20G delivers decent results with the minimum of fuss, even if those pictorial results are only on a par with the average snapshot camera. Extending creative framing opportunities is that lens reach, but in truth the premium you’ll be paying here can only really fully be justified if you’re going to be making good use of its GPS facilities and are the type who might actually want to at some point retrace their steps around the world, thanks to the coordinates embedded in each image file and the assistance of Google Maps or similar.

Those points aside, the EX-H20G is well made, easy to use, feels like it will withstand the odd knock, and is portable with it, so it would appear that sizing it up as a potential travel companion requires serious thought. The other consideration is, GPS-aside, would a beginner’s DSLR or compact system camera be a more sensible bet for a similar outlay? Personally we’d rather pack the best camera possible in terms of image quality on that holiday of a lifetime to get shots that more dynamically reflect our experience of a place than the Casio’s snaps, whilst not bad for general use, can do justice to. And so, locating a great online or high street deal could make all the difference as to whether the EX-H20G is the right travel companion for you.