"More features than you'd expect to find on a pocket camera". That's the pitch for the subject of today's review, the Casio Exilim EX-ZR10 point and shoot. At first inspection it might well have the specs to support this claim, with a 7x optical zoom, Slide Panorama feature, 1080p video recording with HDMI output, and a high-speed video function supporting speeds up to 480 frames per second.
The EX-ZR10, not to be confused with the Pentax Optio RZ10, closely resembles Sony's rival Cyber-shot WX5 in terms of its boxy yet not unsophisticated design. Even the control layout - via its top-mounted stereo microphones in particular - and feature set is similar, the Sony being some £20 cheaper at time of writing.
At 102 x 69 x 27mm the EX-ZR10 is not much bulkier than the average mobile phone and slips comfortably into any trouser pocket. While many rivals in this class have a 3x zoom, and the Sony WX5 a 5x zoom, Casio calls this model a 'travel zoom' and features a handy 7x optical zoom. This yields a versatile focal range stretching from a wide-angle 28mm to 196mm at the telephoto end (35mm equivalents), providing scope for shooting landscapes and candid close ups at a nudge of the zoom lever.
For getting even closer to the action there is the option of boosting to 14x zoom through a fancy equivalent of digital zoom that Casio calls Multi Frame SR zoom. Rather than just mere upscaling the image, sacrificing detail and sharpness, this function combines a number of images to try and achieve a clear shot. For general shooting, the f/3.0-f/5.9 lens is not particularly 'fast' but is at least average for its class.
Having said all that, rather than push it as a high-zoom model, Casio is positioning the EX-ZR10 has a high-speed compact. It has shoehorned in dual image processors as well as a new 'HS' engine to, it claims, ramp up operational speed and reduce shot-to-shot times. For stills this translates as being able to capture 10 photos per second at the full 12.1 megapixels resolution while dropping fractionally to 10 megapixels will get you up to 40 frames per second.
While Sony's latest models have the much trumpeted auto-stitching Sweep Panorama feature, the EX-ZR10 counters with its own impressive Slide Panorama for those who want to fully take in their surroundings. While the Casio doesn't offer a stereoscopic version, it does allow the photographer to pan with the camera through a full 360° arc. Do so, and you'll hear a machine gun-like sample of a shutter rapidly firing, the Casio automatically delivering a single elongated image at the end of the process, without the need to resort to specialist stitching software. It's a fun tool with great creative potential.
Shooting video also boasts some impressive performance, with Full HD 1080p at 30fps. Select High Speed mode and you can record at up to 480 frames per second, albeit at the dramatically reduced resolution of 224 x 160 pixels. Great for grabbing headlines but the sub-webcam resolution means this super slow-motion mode is less useful than we'd hoped.
At least the same criticism can't be said of the other aspects of video reporting with this camera. A dedicated record button is a welcome addition, as the the ability to use the zoom fully while filming - something a layman would assume every camera could do yet frustratingly absent from some models we've tested. There is also an HDMI output for playing back your videos directly to your TV.
It does however indeed appear that Casio has lived up to its stated intention and packed a fair amount in to this pocket camera, with more to come as we'll see.