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Over the ten years that I've been using and reviewing them I've handled hundreds of different digital cameras, ranging from the cheapest budget compacts to professional studio cameras costing tens of thousands of pounds. I've seen sensor resolutions climb from a quarter of a megapixel to over twelve megapixels, I've seen zoom lenses of all shapes and sizes, I've seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of…oh, wait, wrong movie. The point is though, that I've seen every kind of feature, option, gadget and gimmick there is, and I'm perhaps just a little bit jaded. These days it seems that every camera that comes along has virtually identical features to every other camera. One manufacturer goes to twelve megapixels and everyone else follows suit. Another adds face detection, and within three months every new model has it. Smile detection? Same story. So it's a very rare and special thing when a manufacturer breaks the mould and produces a camera that actually surprises me. Casio has managed to do it though. When every other manufacturer is producing endless streams of near-identical cameras, Casio has produced something quite different; its first full-sized super-zoom camera, the Exilim EX-F1.
If you just look at the basic specifications, the EX-F1 doesn't sound that impressive. It's a six-megapixel SLR-style camera with a 12x optical zoom lens, equivalent to 36-432mm. There are plenty of cameras around with more than twice the sensor resolution, and many super-zoom cameras with much longer zoom range. However the EX-F1 has capabilities unlike any other camera on the market. It has a newly-developed ultra-high-speed CMOS sensor and LSI image processor and other speed enhancements giving it the ability to shoot full-resolution 2816 x 2112 pixel stills at an astonishing 60 frames a second with a maximum shutter speed of 1/40,000th of a second, shoot continuously with flash at seven frames a second, or to shoot video at an equally amazing 1,200 frames per second, allowing slow-motion shooting at up to 40x reduced speed. As well as this it can shoot video at full 1080P HD quality (1920 x 1080 resolution at 60 fields per second) with stereo sound and full use of the optical zoom. In many ways, the EX-F1 is a hybrid video/still camera. If it's a success, it may also be the first of an entirely new generation of digital cameras. Casio is definitely hoping so.
The EX-F1 is certainly an impressive-looking camera. It is larger than most current super-zoom models, measuring 127.7 x 79.6 x 130.1mm, nearly the size of the Fuji S100FS. Weighing 671g minus its very large 1950mAh Li-ion battery it is also quite a bit heavier than average. The general shape of the camera is the conventional SLR-style, with a large and very comfortable handgrip with a textured non-slip rubber coating and a sculpted shape on the back panel providing a secure thumb grip. The body is mostly plastic but the overall build quality is excellent, and there are some nice design touches. The top of the camera is very low and flat, and the flash housing only protrudes about 10mm above the top of the lens, but it is also very long, which enables the flash to be raised well above the lens. The flash housing also carries a powerful white LED lamp for video shooting.
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