FREESTYLE CAMERA REDEFINED
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.