Launching a £700, 6-megapixel 'bridge' camera (one that sits between compacts and dSLRs) is a brave move for Casio, especially now that 10-megapixel genuine SLRs can be bought for less than half that. But the hefty EX-F1 has much to be proud of, from a stabilised 12x zoom lens to record-breaking high-speed modes that can shoot at a mind-boggling 1,200 frames per second -- as you can see in the video below.
Anyone who's ever missed a great photo waiting for automatic focus or flash systems to make up their minds knows the importance of high-speed shooting. Casio's Exilim EX-F1 takes it to the extreme, capable of capturing up to 60 full-resolution snaps in a second (about 30 times as many as most cameras). Even in the dark, the F1 hardly slows down, thanks to a pop-up flash that can unleash a lightning strobe of 7 flashes a second -- great for indoor portraits.
Image quality from the 12x lens is pretty good, full of rich colours and bright exposure, although lacking the crisp detail you get from real SLRs. What does match SLRs are the choice and competence of its manual and creative modes, from easy-to-use aperture and shutter priority exposure to tracking autofocus and digital tweaks.
Its movie modes are special, too. It will capture 'Full HD' 1,920x1,080-pixel movies at a glidingly smooth 60fps to rival dedicated movie cameras -- plus you get an HDMI port (although no cable) for instant hi-def playback.
Flick the movie mode selector (it has a separate shutter release so it's always ready to go) to High Speed and welcome to a surreal new world. With shutter rates from 300fps (512x284 pixels) to 1,200fps (336x96), you can shoot jaw-dropping slow-motion movies where water swirling in a glass or pigeons taking flight become hypnotic art-house classics. Whether you find this a cool gimmick or genuinely useful will probably depend on how often you fire bullets at eggs or track down hummingbirds.
While you get a tonne of features with the F1, you also get a big lump of camera. At 700g, this Casio is much heavier and bulkier than many budget SLRs -- and remember there's no swapping out that 12x lens. Although the lens is stabilised (both optically and digitally), it's not as efficient as the best systems, from Panasonic and Canon, say. You won't want to use high ISOs to keep things sharp, either, as anything over ISO 400 adds pretty unpleasant grainy noise.
For a camera that's so fast on the shutter, the controls can feel sluggish -- especially the lazy zoom, which takes seconds to move between wideangle and telephoto. A simple clickwheel selector next to the smart 71mm (2.8-inch) screen helps, although the flickering EVF is no substitute for an SLR's optical viewfinder.
And as exciting and innovative as the ultra-high speed CMOS sensor is, many will balk at paying such a high price for 'just' 6 megapixels these days -- especially now 12-megapixel resolutions and above are becoming the standard.
Casio has made a brave new camera. With its ultra-high speed stills and movie shooting, anyone who shoots primarily sports, wildlife or parties should put the Casio Exilim EX-F1 at the top of their shopping list. But that's a pretty specialised bunch, and with its inflated waistline (and a price tag to match), this undeniably impressive camera may prove to be a bridge too far.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide