Casio Exilim EX-ZR10 review

Compact digital cameras are both ubiquitous and seemingly indistinguishable, so what is this one’s “hook”? Well, in fact this Casio has several.

First off, its maker is referring to the EX-ZR10 (not to be mistaken for Pentax’s RZ10) as a “hi speed” rather than “hi zoom” camera, which is borne out both in its lightning quick operational response times, but also in its high capture speeds. How about the ability to record video at up to 480 frames per second, so that when you play it back, it appears as if subjects are wading through glue in (fairly low-res) slow motion? Or how about shooting photos at a more modest 10 frames per second, albeit at full 12-megapixel resolution, or up to 40fps if dropping down to 10 megapixels? Much like with a DSLR, Casio claims to have been able to achieve such speeds thanks to dual processors plus the manufacturer-specific “HS” engine shoehorned into its pocket-sized frame. Ironically its slowest response is upon powering up - a process taking just under 2 seconds. But this is still at least a second swifter than others in its class. 

Closely resembling Sony’s Cyber-shot WX5 compact in looks, control layout, specification and price, the Exilim EX-ZR10’s second “hook” is an extended focal range, courtesy of a 7x optical zoom to its rival’s more modest 5x, further digitally extendable to a 14x equivalent if so desired with inevitable softening of detail. The camera is slightly bulkier than the Sony overall because of it, yet not by much, as the lens retracts within the EX-ZR10’s boxy body when not in use.

With a more obvious proportion of metal than plastic in the build, the Casio - a stylish matt black in the case of our review sample - almost feels worth the high-ish £299 manufacturer’s asking price. Dimensions are a slightly-larger-than-your-credit card 102 x 69 x 27mm, while a weight of 176g with rechargeable lithium battery and optional SD card inserted suggests this as a camera to take with you anywhere and everywhere. That’s despite the fact that its lens reach isn’t quite up there with the best of the current 12x, 15x or even 18x “travel zooms”.

Like the WX5, a third hook is provided by the EX-ZR10’s immediately noticeable stereo microphones, sunk into the camera’s top plate. An unusual feature on such a diminutive point and shoot snapshot outside of the Cyber-shot range, and a boon to those who want to shoot HD video, here the full 1920 x 1080 pixels, with side mounted HDMI output for hooking directly up to a flat panel TV. A dedicated one-hit video record button enables users to start filming nigh instantly.

Photos and video are composed courtesy of the back mounted 3-inch, higher than average 460k dot resolution LCD screen, which is as bright and clear as hoped for in the expected absence of an optical viewfinder. While operation is pretty much “auto everything” courtesy of a minimalist button layout set in a vertical strip to the screen’s right, there is the opportunity to get slightly creative courtesy of the Casio’s BestShot shooting modes. These options, 17 in number, are located somewhat confusingly with a press of the top mounted “HS” button, and in the absence of a traditional mode dial or wheel.

Not unsurprisingly we find featured further burst capture options alongside two High Dynamic Range (HDR) settings. Both of these shoot a rapid burst of images - so rapid in fact that we were able to achieve perfectly stable results shooting handheld - and automatically combine them to produce a single image displaying an extended range. We get both standard HDR, which is subtle enough in its processing to just resemble a naturally even exposure, plus “HDR Art” which is slightly wilder and “out there”. Rather more abstract in its processing, its off-kilter results resemble the crude vision mixing effects beloved of 1980s pop videos, but can admittedly be fun if used sparingly and add dynamism to the everyday.

As with the camera’s other features, the aim here seems to have been to produce striking results with the minimum of fuss or user input. Once you’ve found the setting required, operation really is just point and shoot. There’s not one but two auto settings for example; with subsequent presses of a dedicated top mounted button swapping back and forth between them. There’s a regular plain “auto” mode, being in effect an “intelligent auto” mode which recognises common scenes and subjects and adjusts settings for you to suit. Then there’s Premium Auto, which automatically “enhances” shots further, resulting in a fractionally longer writing time than the blink-and-you’ll miss it speed that regular auto images are recorded at. We have to admit to being hard pressed to tell between the pictures generated by each.

Even more impressive meanwhile are the results generated by the Casio’s “slide” panorama BestShot mode, which in the same vein as the Sony WX5’s Sweep Panorama produces a single elongated image from a rapid-fire series of shots taken as the user pans with the camera - here through a full 360 degrees if desired. Inessential while that may be, the stitching is near seamless, it comes into its own on your travels and it’s another way for the camera to stand out from the crowd. No 3D facility as yet, but you can’t have everything. 

Yet another hook is provided by the EX-ZR10’s back illuminated sensor, which in part has allowed for sensitivity range extending from ISO 100 to 3200. OK, so while that’s hardly benchmark raising, it has allowed for much better/clearer results at the higher settings than we expected, with even top whack ISO 3200, while not entirely noise free nor pin sharp, still more usable than most of the Casio’s contemporaries. Even at ISO 1600 we’re getting results comparable to those achieved at ISO 800 on most snappers, so for those who do want to forego the built-in flash on occasion, help is provided and credible help at that.

Rather disappointing but not wholly unexpected when shooting at maximum 28mm equivalent wide-angle setting is a softening of detail towards the corners of frame. The other familiar bugbear that rears its head is pixel fringing between areas of high contrast. Neither are deal breakers but they prevent the Casio from being the perfect package when it comes to JPEG image quality.

More positively, colours are as well saturated and warm when blue skies are in our favour as we’ve seen from previous Casio models, most images requiring little if any adjustment straight out of the camera - which is, after all, what any of us would want from a point and shoot camera.

Verdict

Offering ease of use and a rucksack full of useful features that further enhance the status of this otherwise familiar point-and-shooter, the Casio Exilim EX-ZR10 would well serve those who value the convenience of an auto everything model with few manual features, yet just enough to prevent boredom from setting in. Without the GPS feature of the Casio EX-H20G to make it a more fully rounded travel option, it excels in other areas, such as speed of operation, crisp image quality at higher ISOs, and the creativity offered by its HDR BestShot settings. The EX-ZR10 is rather more enticing than your average point and shoot then, even if its boxy exterior does its best to blend in with existing rivals.