FREESTYLE CAM­ERA RE­DE­FINED

HWM (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - Text by Zachary Chan

Last year, Ca­sio ex­per­i­mented with a con­cept cam­era de­sign they termed the ‘freestyle’ cam­era. It came in a two-piece de­tach­able de­sign with a lens mod­ule and con­trol mod­ule that com­mu­ni­cated with each other wire­lessly. The EXILIM FR10 al­lowed users to shoot from un­ex­pected an­gles with a semi-rugged de­sign that tar­geted the ac­tive com­mu­nity. How­ever, un­like ac­tion cam­eras like the GoPro, which fo­cuses on video, the FR10 was de­signed for pho­tos first.

Now, this con­cept isn’t ex­actly new. Sony ex­per­i­mented with lens-only cam­eras (the Cy­ber-shot QX10 and QX100) that made use of your smart­phone as the main con­trol unit back in 2013. Ca­sio just took it one step fur­ther by de­sign­ing a stand­alone cam­era sys­tem, com­plete with an en­tire range of ac­ces­sories.

The FR10 was in­no­va­tive in a sense that it broke new ground in a stag­nant dig­i­tal cam­era in­dus­try; it wasn’t just an­other lens for your smart­phone. It was very func­tional and ver­sa­tile. What it lacked how­ever, was ac­tual imag­ing per­for­mance that would make you choose it as your pri­mary cam­era. Then comes the FR100.

FORM AND FUNC­TION

The suc­ces­sor to the FR10, the new EXILIM FR100, is iden­ti­cal only by de­sign and con­cept. Ca­sio has al­most over­hauled the en­tire cam­era with new imag­ing hard­ware and more ad­vanced soft­ware al­go­rithms to en­sure sub­jects are bet­ter framed and scenes are prop­erly ex­posed. The FR100 is also able to ex­tend the ‘freestyle’ con­cept with stronger, and more ro­bust con­nec­tion be­tween the con­trol unit and lens mod­ule. While it still uses the same Blue­tooth 2.1+EDR con­nec­tion as the FR10, Ca­sio has tweaked an­tenna place­ment for a more sta­ble con­nec­tion. It also makes use of Wi-Fi and Blue­tooth 4.0 LE to con­nect to your smart­phone through the free EXILIM Con­nect app.

The lens mod­ule it­self now also has im­proved shock re­sis­tance with the in­clu­sion of the use of gel shock ab­sorbers in its cas­ing de­sign. The FR100 lens can with­stand drops up to 1.7m (or 1.3m com­bined when con­nected with its con­trol unit). You get IP6X dust-re­sis­tance, which is good enough to keep out dirt in most sit­u­a­tions. Like the FR10, the FR100 uses rubber seals and caps to close its ports. Wa­ter re­sis­tance of the cam­era mod­ule has been bumped (from IPX7 of the FR10) to IPX8 stan­dards now. It may not sound like much, but in­stead of just be­ing able to dip it in still wa­ter, you can now swish it around sub­merged up to 1.5m for up to 60 min­utes. The con­trol unit re­tains a wa­ter re­sis­tance of IPX6 how­ever, as you’re not sup­posed to dunk it.

The con­troller unit it­self hasn’t changed much in terms of de­sign, but is an­other mas­sive upgrade in LCD clar­ity and us­abil­ity. It now comes with a larger 3-inch touch LCD at a much higher res­o­lu­tion of 960K dots. Com­par­a­tively, the FR10 only had a 2-inch 230K dot screen. This makes

“The FR100 lens can with­stand drops up to 1.7m (or 1.3m com­bined when con­nected with its con­trol unit).”

“Be­sides hard­ware, Ca­sio also im­proved the soft­ware al­go­rithms for scene de­tec­tion and im­age-anal­y­sis.”

im­age pre­views, fram­ing and touch con­trols so much eas­ier to work with. How­ever, we did no­tice that touch re­spon­sive­ness can still be im­proved. How­ever, due to the larger screen, the FR100 con­troller has a much bet­ter grip.

The FR10 launched with a host of straps and ca­ble ac­ces­sories to help you mount the cam­era just about any­where you want, but it was sorely lack­ing in func­tional ac­ces­sories. With the FR100, Ca­sio is in­tro­duc­ing a wider range of op­tional at­tach­ments with this in mind, such as an LED ring light (EAM-7) and a marine case (EAM-5), which al­lows you to bring the FR100 down to depths of 20 me­ters. Do note that the marine case is a hous­ing only for the lens mod­ule, so you’ll have to rely on the cam­era’s au­to­matic in­tel­li­gent in­ter­val shoot­ing.

IT’S A WIDE, WIDE WORLD

We field tested the new FR100 in Ja­pan, brav­ing the great out­doors and were suit­ably blown away by the vast im­prove­ments Ca­sio has made to the cam­era since Au­gust last year.

On pa­per, the FR100 has a smaller 12-megapix­els 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS sen­sor (as op­posed to 14MP on the FR10). How­ever, im­age qual­ity and shoot­ing per­for­mance has been greatly im­proved, thanks to the use of Ca­sio’s ad­vanced dual-core HS En­gine 3 pro­ces­sor. Pre­mium Auto Pro mode is bet­ter able to iden­tify and se­lect the best shoot­ing modes with im­proved scene de­tec­tion, ex­po­sure and brack­et­ing. One thing that stood out was a very ca­pa­ble HDR mode. The cam­era is also now ca­pa­ble of high-speed shoot­ing with 30fps full-res­o­lu­tion stills and 240fps video. Th­ese im­prove­ments put the FR100 on par with Ca­sio’s other pre­mium com­pacts such as the EX-100 and ZR3500 in terms of get­ting the best shot.

As a bonus, the FR100 is now equipped with an ul­tra-wide an­gle 16mm, f/2.8 lens (the FR10 had a 23mm, f/2.8 lens). This al­lows for much more im­pres­sive panoramic shots with min­i­mal dis­tor­tion at the sides (as op­posed to ac­tion cams like the GoPro that fa­vor fish-eye lenses for a POV ef­fect). In ac­tual use, it just means more of the scene cap­ture than what the FR10

Be­sides hard­ware, Ca­sio also im­proved the soft­ware al­go­rithms for scene de­tec­tion and im­age-anal­y­sis. This re­sults in a new In­tel­li­gent In­ter­val shoot­ing mode, where the cam­era doesn’t just shoot at pre­s­e­lected in­ter­vals, it will now also in­tel­li­gently se­lect the best shot to keep based on sharp­ness, ex­po­sure, fram­ing and sub­ject track­ing from a burst of “more than a 100 frames” (Ca­sio was coy at re­veal­ing the ex­act num­ber of shots the cam­era analy­ses from in this mode). The FR100 also now comes with two lev­els of anti-shake cor­rec­tion to make bet­ter use of that Full HD 1080p video footage you take.

Ca­sio wasn’t able to fix ev­ery­thing from the FR10, as user ex­pe­ri­ence could still be im­proved in some ar­eas. For in­stance, bat­tery life bal­ance be­tween the lens and con­troller mod­ule can be more bal­anced. Also, the High­light Movie func­tion – which au­to­mat­i­cally stitches to­gether a se­ries of im­ages and video to form a sort of video di­ary – needs more man­ual con­trols and post-pro­cess­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Still, the FR se­ries is an am­bi­tious pro­ject by Ca­sio to carve a new niche in ac­tive or travel pho­tog­ra­phy, and the FR100 aims to bring the im­age qual­ity one ex­pects from a pre­mium compact into the fun, mod­u­lar con­cept of last year’s FR10.

Split the lens mod­ule and you can ex­per­i­ment with all kinds of an­gles while re­tain­ing easy ac­cess to the con­troller and LCD.

Get cre­ative in strap­ping the FR100 for some POV pho­tos of your ad­ven­tures.

The FR100 has a 16mm wide-an­gle lens for great scenic shots with­out the bar­rel dis­tor­tion of a fisheye lens.

Na­tive IPX8 wa­ter-re­sis­tance al­lows ex­po­sure dur­ing water­sports. An op­tional marine case ac­ces­sory al­lows you to go even deeper up to 20m.

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