Design & Usability
The ZR1000's body is actually smaller than the ZR100, and will slip easily into your pocket thanks to a fully collapsible lens barrel. This slim form factor is particularly impressive because Casio has also added a tilting LCD, which normally adds a bit of bulk, and this panel actually swings up a full 180-degrees to aid with all those Facebook-bound self-portraits.
On the metal top plate you'll find the shutter release, zoom lever, and mode dial, all of which have borrowed some style elements from the retro-inspired cameras that are all the rage these days. The shutter button feels great, but the mode dial is rather stiff and annoying to turn with the thumb.
Casio's new interface is rather ingenious. The quick menu overlay is a vertical list, but selecting each item brings up a radial dial with options arranged in a circle. The dial on the rear control panel is then rotated to choose the option you're looking for. The main menu is unfortunately less intuitive, a simple tab-based system that—frustratingly—closes after each selection, so you'll have to keep opening it back up over and over to change multiple settings.
Another improvement is the new control ring that surrounds the lens barrel. It's a "digital" ring with mechanical stops at regular intervals, like Canon's S110 or the digital setting on the new Olympus XZ-2, as opposed to an "analog" ring that's smooth all the way around. Functionality of the ring is easily mapped using a prominent "Ring" hotkey on the rear control panel, and it's a lot of fun to use. Direct control over aperture or shutter would've been great here, though.
In examining the "Triple Zero" claim, we'll take each one in turn.
Reduction of time lag is achieved by the camera's very fast power-up time, as well as its shot-to-shot speed. Power up time really is instantaneous, but we were even more impressed by the absence of processing lag between individual shots. In this way, the shooting experience of the ZR1000 is almost as responsive as an SLR, and that's something even mirrorless cameras have largely failed to master.
"Zero blur" is, on the other hand, the weakest of the three claims. This is really just a matter of the camera's firmware selecting faster shutter speeds to freeze action, and the ZR1000 should be able to do this easily thanks to its particularly sensitive sensor (an ISO 25600 maximum). But it doesn't make it happen in practice, as we got a several blurred test shots from the show floor. Continuous focus mode also slowed down the shooting process, but we'll need time to test this out more thoroughly.
"Zero camera shake" is something we could not test on the show floor, but anecdotally the stabilizer seems extremely aggressive at long focal lengths (though not to the point of distraction). We'll be able to say more on this if and when we take the ZR1000 into the labs. What we can say is that the new "Best Shot Selector," a feature often reserved for interchangeable lens cameras, is working well. This is a repurposing of Casio's famously quick in-camera processing, and it makes a lot more sense now that we stop and think about it. Sixty frames per second is pretty excessive for light- or medium-duty photography, but as a technique to increase sharpness, this feature is a useful safety-net. And unlike competing cameras, no buffer delay is triggered afterward on the ZR1000.
The Exilim ZR1000 looks great. From what we could gather on the rear LCD, image quality is solid for a fixed-lens camera, and Casio has borrowed from other manufacturers' designs in a smart and cohesive way. We also think the company's familiarity with high speed shooting is used more effectively here than in previous models, delivering a feature that's compelling and new in a pretty stagnant compact camera market.
Whether this camera will be enough to resuscitate Casio's reputation in America remains to be seen, but we hope so.
Casio has struggled in the states this year, to say the least, and they're in dire need of a new flagship model to re-establish a foothold in the American market. The Exilim ZR1000 just might be the cure they needed.
We've been clamoring for updates from Casio since they released the ZR100, one of our favorite travel zooms of 2011. This fast-shooting compact was an affordable camera, but also a great value for the money. We found ourselves recommending it often. For this latest iteration, Casio is aiming for what they're calling "Triple Zero" shooting, that's zero "time lag," zero blur, and zero camera shake. That's a lofty goal, and promises and performance are often two very different things....
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