The Casio Exilim Pro EX-FH20 is a 9-megapixel superzoom that doesn't hang about: its selling point is its blisteringly fast speed. But after its even faster predecessor -- the record-breaking 1,200fps F1 -- proved to be more gimmicky than useful, we're determined to see past the impressive numbers and see what the camera has to offer. The FH20 is available online now for around £420.
Much smaller than the F1, the FH20 is now a more portable superzoom size. It's not tiny, but it will fit in a smallish bag. It has a comfy contoured grip, with a rubberised textured area for the palm that's chunky enough to hold one-handed. AA batteries are stored in the handgrip. One small niggle with the design is that the sliding hatch covering the memory card slot is under your right palm, and tends to open while shooting.
Sadly, it's lost the F1's neat scroll wheel, but at least the controls are uncluttered. There are only three buttons on the back, next to the circular clickpad. These call up the menu, toggle display options, and select Casio's 'best shot' scene modes. Most of the shooting options are adjusted by an onscreen sidebar, which is controlled by the clickpad.
Above the enormous 76mm (3-inch) screen, there's an electronic viewfinder, with a button that toggles between screen and EVF. Two buttons switch between playback and shooting, although for us one button would do.
The FH20's biggest selling point is its speed. The camera's 40 frames per second (fps) continuous shooting speed is emblazoned on the side of the lens. The camera will take up to 40 pictures in a single burst: 40 shots in 1 second at 40fps, 40 shots in 3 seconds at 15fps, 40 in 7 seconds at 5fps and so on.
You are asked to save each batch after shooting them, with the option to save all of the pictures or scroll through at speed to pick just the shots you want. In playback mode, these pictures are grouped together in batches allowing you to skip through the large numbers of pictures. As well as looking through each image normally, you can skip at extra speed, which creates a fun animated effect. Casio has clearly put a great deal of thought into easily managing the large number of files this camera can shoot.
Video is even faster than still capture. If you're prepared to drop the resolution down, you can get a maximum 1,000fps. Even at standard 30fps, the FH20 shoots 720p high definition video.
Fun as these features are, the F1 didn't have much going for it beyond the novelty value of the speed gimmick. Fortunately, the FH20 is more of an all-rounder: the drop in speed is balanced by a longer zoom, higher resolution and more useful features. The number 20 is given equal prominence on the other side of the lens, denoting the 20x optical zoom. With a creditable 26mm wide angle lens, the FH20 is a versatile superzoom to challenge the longest zooms in the market.
The usual features are also present and correct, including face detection, image stabilisation and Casio's wealth of best shot scene modes.
There's no denying the 1,000fps video mode is cool -- in theory. Doing something clever that plays to the camera's strengths -- we fired a confetti cannon for our video review -- can look beautiful, a heartbeat's action unfolding in ghostly detail.
Sadly, the actual video at that speed looks horrible. The speed means you really need the scene to be flooded with light, and resolution is so low that the resulting frame is tiny, at 224x56 pixels. We recommend sticking to frame rates of around 200fps when you approach VGA resolution. Even that is head-spinningly faster than the usual, and affords stunning effects when used cleverly.
The stills burst mode also fires at speed, but every burst requires a couple of seconds for the camera to process the images, during which the camera cannot be used. The fast modes are great for capturing motion such as sport or performance, but you do have to use some anticipation when you snap, as one burst leaves the camera out of action for the next few seconds, and if something more interesting happens in that time you're left frustrated.
As an everyday snapper, the FH20 holds up well. Autofocus is fast, purple fringing and noise aren't too marked, and despite the length of the lens, distortion is negligible. Images are crisp, with plenty of manual control and control over colour levels.
The Casio Exilim EX-F1 without a doubt casts a shadow over the Exilim Pro EX-FH20; while that first-sgeneration model was faster, the FH20 is in many ways a better camera. The speed is still there, but now the camera's everyday specs are more realistic. The fast modes get to just be fun rather than having to carry the FH20, which stands up as a decent superzoom to challenge the likes of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18. And enormous fun they are, as the FH20 takes another step towards realising the full potential of digital photography.
Edited by Cristina Psomadakis