Casio EXILIM EX-F1 Digital Camera Review
It may not have the interchangeable lenses or through-the-lens viewing of an SLR but, at a glance the EX-F1 looks like a sleekly styled variant on a traditional SLR body. The typical SLR viewfinder hump is missing, of course, giving the camera a streamlined appearance, and the oversize lens and hand grip are certainly more dramatic than your average Nikon or Canon SLR. Overall, we like the balance between unusual and traditional design choices. The EX-F1 gives the impression it's a camera to be taken seriously, but it's just different enough to produce curious stares at Starbucks.
The EX-F1 provides a very deep, dimpled hand grip on the left side in a slightly rubberized material that contrasts with the overall hard plastic body. There’s a substantial indentation in the grip below the shutter to serve as a rest for your middle finger. This helps position your index finger in just the right shutter position as soon as you grab the camera.
Between the hand grip and the lens is a small green auto focus assist lamp. The large lens barrel juts out on the right side of the camera. At the top it’s labeled "EXILIM OPTICAL 12X", at the bottom the lens specs are spelled out. Above the lens is the word "Casio" printed on the angled front edge of the pop-up flash housing.
If not for the lack of a viewfinder hump,
you might mistake the EX-F1 for an SLR.
The 2.8-inch LCD screen takes up the lower left of the camera back, slightly raised with a smooth beveled edge. Centered over this display is the electronic viewfinder (EVF), surrounded by a fairly stiff rubber eyecup that protrudes about half an inch from the camera body.
To the right of the LCD is a cluster of black single-purpose buttons clearly labeled with silver text. On top is the EVF/LCD toggle control for shifting between viewing on the LCD and the electronic viewfinder. To the right of this button is a 12-dimple pattern that lets you know your thumb is properly placed for holding the camera without accidentally depressing the movie shutter button - this is an issue, as we’ll discuss later.
By default, when the camera is off, pressing either the Playback or Record button will turn the camera on in the appropriate mode, without a side trip to the ON/OFF button on top of the camera. This can be defeated via a menu setting if you prefer. These buttons can also be used to turn the camera off, though that’s not the default setting.
Below the EVF/LCD button is the DISP button, which controls how much information is displayed on screen or in the viewfinder. Next to this is the MENU button.
On the right is the movie shutter button, highlighted by a red dot in the middle. Around this shutter is a control that pivots into three positions: HS (High Speed), HD (High Definition) and STD (Standard). There’s a prominent bump sticking out from this control to let the user pivot it effectively with the ball of the thumb. This design has a problem, though, because it makes it more difficult to press down on the movie shutter lodged in the center: the bump gets in the way.
Unlike many cameras, you can’t shift from Playback to Record mode by pressing down on the shutter button. Instead, you have to press the small red Camera button. While the button is well placed under your thumb while holding the camera (assuming you have large hands), the shutter button mode swap is a faster way to grab a shot that comes up unexpectedly while you’re admiring your previous photos.
At the lower right of the camera back is an interesting control combination: a four-way controller, with a set button in the middle, surrounded by a rotating control wheel. In menu operations, camera settings or when scrolling through photos, the buttons and the wheel have the same function, moving you forward or backward through choices. If you’re moving a cursor a step or two down a menu, the four-way buttons work just fine. If you want to move quickly, though (particularly when scrolling through stored photos), the control wheel zooms through your options much faster.
The red button on the back is the movie mode shutter.
Left Side* (5.50) *At the back of the camera’s left side is a tethered snap-off port cover, which we can’t imagine opening successfully without fingernails (abandon hope, all ye nail-biters). Reseating the cover can also be a chore, since the plastic tether holding it to the camera tends to get in the way. When closed it’s reasonably secure, though we worry that rain could make it past the less-than-tight-fitting edges.
Under the cover are a power connector for an optional 9-volt adapter, a mini HDMI port for connecting an optional cable to an HDTV, a proprietary connector that does dual duty for both USB and AV connections, and a round plug for an industry-standard microphone.
The camera body has a handsomely sculpted shape that nicely combines secure handling practicality with aesthetic flair. The side narrows from full-width to lens-width by way of a curved body section. Within the crescent-shaped nook this design creates are three more camera controls: from front to back, Focus, Backlight Compensation (represented by a sun icon, with no explanatory text) and AE-L/AF-L (auto-exposure lock / auto focus lock). Above these controls "60 FPS CONTINUOUS SHOOTING" is boldly printed, and below the controls "DIGITAL CAMERA EX-F1" appears. All the text is printed in a metallic gold ink that manages not to appear gaudy thanks to the clear but slender typeface. The only fashion faux pas we spotted was a gaudy gold stick-on label printed with "FULL HD 1920 x 1080". Fortunately this one’s a sticker that can be removed.
The black eyelet for connecting a camera strap (a much better choice than the traditional silver given the camera’s overall look) sticks out quite far from the left side to make threading the loop easy.
The diopter control dial is located on the left side of the electronic viewfinder. It’s very difficult to turn, requiring fingernails and dumb luck to hit the desired position.
Your left hand can readily access the focus,
backlight compensation and AE-L/AF-L controls.
The right side of the camera is largely taken up with the side of the textured hand grip. Behind this is a slide-back, pop-out door concealing the SD card slot. A patch with raised plastic bumps on the door makes it easy to open, but the solid latch and smooth fit of the edges along the door makes it unlikely you’ll open it accidentally.
Above this door is a black metal eyelet for attaching the camera strap. Unlike the left side eyelet, this one is recessed in a well in the camera body, which makes it exceedingly difficult to connect the camera strap.
*The memory card slot door is secure yet easy to open.
On the right side of the camera top are two side-by-side dials. The one on the left is the CS (for Continuous Shot) dial, with six icons printed in silver and red. These represent, in clockwise order, Flash CF, Prerecord, High-Speed CS, Single Shot, Slow Motion View and Bracketing. Next to this is the Mode dial, with five settings: the unfortunately named BS (for Best Shot), Auto (an orange rectangle), A (Aperture), S (Shutter) and M (Manual).
Moving forward toward the front of the camera we encounter a small silver On/Off button, inset into the body so the top of the button is flush with the top of the camera, preventing accidental pushes. In front of this is the zoom control, with a prominent off-center bump in the front to catch your finger. The zoom control encircles a large silver shutter button.
*My what a big lens you have, EX-F1 - the
better to span 36mm - 432mm.*
The bottom of the camera features a metal tripod socket on the right, centered under the lens, and a latched battery compartment door. The tripod socket seems sturdy enough, though the ridged bottom of the camera attracts scratches when it butts up against the tripod plate.
The battery door is one more instance where fingernails are a necessity, but the latch does flip shut securely when closed. A small sliding clip keeps the battery from falling out accidentally when the door is opened.
*The EX-F1 proved secure and steady when tripod-mounted.
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