(Pocket-lint) - Casio's Exilim digital camera brand originated from a play on the word "slim", the manufacturer being an early pioneer of slender pocket models back in 2002. However, fast forward to 2010 and the 10.1-effective megapixel Exilim EX-FH25 super zoom/bridge camera takes its design cue from a digital SLR and has a whopping great 20x optical zoom bolted on its front, protected by an easily lost slip-on plastic cap.
So whilst slightly smaller than an entry-level DSLR, and a lot, lot more diminutive than a DSLR plus 26-520mm interchangeable lens equivalent would be, this Casio won't squeeze into your jeans or jacket. Neither will any of its big zoom competitors in the Nikon P100, Fujifilm HS10, Kodak Z981, Pentax X90 nor Olympus SP-800UZ though, so while it gives the lie to the description "compact", this isn't a black mark.
With moulded grip ensuring it can be held comfortably in one hand - though you'll want to use two to steady it when shooting and make use of the tactile rubber surround to the lens barrel - the camera feels lightweight. It's constructed from moulded plastic rather than the magnesium alloy of DSLRs.
With dimensions of 122.6 x 81.4 x 84.5mm, it weighs 483g without the insertion of the four AA batteries required for power, or optional SD/SDHC card (including wireless Eye-Fi variety) for storing images to expand the 85.9MB internal data capacity. Battery life is good for around 340 stills according to CIPA standards, or 500 images if replacing with the rechargeable NiMH variety.
A first glance at the EX-FH25's controls, and, compared with the competitors listed above, the Casio appears a little basic. Ranged around its top-mounted shooting mode dial are just 5 options, compared with the 10+ of its rivals, and as they're bunched up together, it looks like something is missing from the rest of the dial. Its manufacturer could argue of course that for ease of use functions have been pared back to the key essentials, and the five selections here cover regular speed photo and video capture, plus impressive high speed versions of both: up to 30fps at a reduced 9 megapixels for stills, or a incredible 1000fps for video at lowly 224 x 64 resolution, which provides ultra slow motion replays. Imagine subjects wading through invisible treacle, which is admittedly fun.
The alternative is to plump for 1280 x 720 pixels video at a more prosaic 30fps, in Motion JPEG format with mono sound. Though most of its competitors now include a dedicated camcorder-style red record button in addition to the main shutter release button - the advantage being that users can jump to filming movies in an instant without having to alter whichever setting they were previously shooting in - mystifyingly Casio hasn't here.
Otherwise the top plate of the camera follows a similar layout to most bridge models, with shutter release button on the forward slope of the grip surrounded by a rocker switch for operating the zoom. Both fall readily under the forefinger. In operation the zoom takes 3 seconds to travel the length of its admittedly broad focal range. This movement is sound-tracked by a low mechanical buzz. Luckily, minimal operational noise is picked up by the in-built microphone.
Further photo functionality is to be discovered with a press of the enigmatic "BS" button on the backplate, indicating Casio's plethora BestShot or collected scene modes; pre-optimised settings for common scenes and subjects and in our opinion providing the widest selection on the market.
The other thing that its manufacturer is pushing here is the fact that the FH25's regular 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor is backlit. This means there are no wires in front of (and partly obscuring) said chip, so, it is claimed, sensitivity is maximised. Up to ISO 3200 is offered for shooting in the dim without the aid of the camera's pop-up flash.
Results at this top setting are just as good as what standard compacts can manage at ISO 1600. So, while there's telltale fuzziness as the detail begins to break up, Casio's claim appears at least partly true. Incidentally the camera's flash also has to be manually raised. A text prompt will ask the user to do so if an active flash setting has been selected.
Given the above, the EX-FH25 comes across as a camera with something of an identity crisis: it is a specialist camera for the mass market. It undoubtedly hopes to pull in both action/sports fans and the harassed parent who can't get the kids to stay still long enough for a decent snapshot. The other stumbling block is the price. For its manufacturer's suggested £399.99 one could buy an entry-level DSLR with standard lens which, while it will not give you the Casio's range of shooting options or capture speeds, will provide sharper shots overall. That's if picture quality, as opposed to flexibility, is your ultimate aim.
Though no great surprise, the FH25 is also slower in operation than a DSLR, taking 3 seconds to power up from cold, lens extending to maximum 26mm equivalent wide angle setting and the 3-inch, fixed rear LCD screen bursting into life - the alternative being an electronic viewfinder nestling above - with a dedicated button allowing users to swap between them.
There's the choice of shooting full resolution, Fine quality JPEGs or Fine JPEGs plus RAW; the latter option only selectable outside of the BestShot or full auto modes. With a half press of the shutter release button there's a brief pause while the FH25 determines focus and exposure, followed by imperceptible shutter lag as you go on to take the shot. Write speed for a maximum 10-megapixel resolution JPEG is roughly 2 seconds, which is par for the course for this class of camera.
If we're being super critical, images taken at maximum wide angle setting reveal a slight fisheye effect, and, conversely, at extreme telephoto a telltale softness. That's despite sensor shift anti-shake in place to support the FH25's longer reach and avoid the potentially blurring effect of hand wobble. There is a screw thread at the base should you wish to mount the camera to a tripod rather than attempt to shoot handheld of course.
Colours are realistically rendered, though we did find white balance drifting from shot to shot when shooting daylight interiors, and pixel fringing in evidence if looking closely at areas of high contrast.
Though the Casio can take in a wider range of subjects than a compact with a lesser zoom, there are better value deals for those looking for an even broader focal range and a more general-purpose performer. For example, the Fujifilm HS10 and Olympus SP-800UZ both offer 30x optical zooms for an identical price. Okay, so the Fuji, which would be our overall choice of the three, offers 10fps stills as opposed to the Casio's 30fps, and if action photography is really your specialist subject, that might make all the difference. But then again if you're really serious you'll want better image quality anyway, and thus may be adoringly studying a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, despite the eye-watering price tag.
Ultimately the EX-FH25 is probably best suited to doting mums and dads wanting keepsakes of tearaway tots or the school sports day, and are prepared to pay a premium for the privilege, than anyone else.