The Casio Exilim EX-H10 has just been given the European Imaging and Sound Association's 'European Travel Compact Camera' award for 2009-10, on account of its 10x zoom range, compact dimensions and 1,000-shot battery life. With an asking price of around £280, is this the best long-zoom compact yet?
Why a 'travel camera' award? It's that 10x zoom, mainly. With a focal range of 24-240mm equivalent, it's really versatile. You can capture wideangle shots in narrow streets one minute, then distant details the next, and all with a camera barely larger than an ordinary compact. Once you've used a compact with this kind of zoom range, you'll never want to return to a feeble 3x zoom.
That 1,000-shot battery life is crucial, too. If you're properly organised and charge your camera up overnight, you'll probably get a full day's shooting out of the average compact. But, if you forget, or you can't be bothered, or you get trigger-happy on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, you'll be glad of the extra amps stored up in the EX-H10's battery. According to the official Camera & Imaging Products Association test, the EX-H10's battery will last between four and five times longer than that of the average snapper. That's a big difference.
One more thing. You get a 1,280x720-pixel, high-definition movie mode that should, in theory, wipe the floor with the 640x480-pixel VGA movies you get with most other compacts. You should, therefore, be able to come away from your trip not just with a beautiful set of stills but with some high-quality videos too.
Devil's in the detail
But what sounds great in theory doesn't always work out in practice. The EX-H10 does everything it says, but it's the details that let it down. The user interface is quite complicated, with the camera's various functions split between the on-screen control panel and the 'rec' and 'quality' tabs in the main menu system. And, while the 'landscape' and 'make-up' functions might be handy now and then, do they really deserve their own buttons on the top? Gadgets like these and the 'lighting' adjustment, which evens up highlights and shadows, are great, but you can lose track of which ones you've got switched on and what they're doing.
It's the picture quality that counts, of course, but the situation isn't so good here either. The EX-H10 produces bright and colourful images, but with heavy processing that leaves coarse detail heavily sharpened and finer textures suppressed. It's okay up to ISO 200, but, after that, the definition nosedives and, by the ISO 3,200 maximum, photos look like someone's been breathing on the lens.