REVIEW: CASIO EX-FR10 Action Cam (GALLERY; VIDEO)
The Action Camera market is quite the thing at the moment. Ever since Nick Woodman thought it would be a nice idea to capture action shots of his surfing trips and set about creating a little silver box that made him a Hero, companies of every size seem to be bending over backward to put out diminutive cameras that can both take a beating and deliver quality videos of crazy people doing crazy things. Being the risk-averse place that it is, Japan hasn’t been the biggest adopter of the action camera trend, and, being the inward-looking developers and manufacturers that they are, most J-brands didn’t see opportunity until late in the game; they’ve been desperately trying to stake their claim in the action cam market ever since.
Sony has changed up the form factor a bit, JVC and Ricoh have gone for full-on assault drop Space Marine armour (for the glory of the imperium of man!), and Panasonic went with the duo of innovative mounting option and first-to-the-market 4K for theirs. In the end though, they all did basically the same thing: capturing the action. Which the GoPro already does, along with a massive ecosystem of 3rd party enhancements. It’s basically an analog for the classic J-Feature Phones vs. Apple iPhone situation.
The one Japanese electronics behemoth that was noticeably absent from the fray was CASIO… until now.
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Not everyone is a crazy adrenaline seeker.
CASIO being CASIO (or this is what I assume based on their track record for reading markets and placing innovative, successful products into them), after some consideration they realized that no matter how they spun it and what they put into it, an action cam for the Action Cam Market was never going to be anything but a 2nd option for people who prefered not to get a GoPro, and possibly even a 3rd or 4th option because there were so many other cameras doing basically the same thing.
Thus, the EX-FR10 came into being. It is an action cam…it just isn’t for the kind of action that Action Cameras have become known for. Targeting outdoor adventurers who prefer to hike up mountains rather than base jump off them, the EX-FR10 was designed to be dead-easy to use. CASIO knew that the average Taro and Sachiko Yamada weren’t going to spend time in an editing suite cutting together an action cam movie. They want to take photos and videos of their weekend away and post them on social media well before they have to go to work the following Monday. More importantly, they want to be the subject matter.
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Meet the CASIO EX-FR10
Usability dictated the design, software, build quality, accessories, manner of use, and just about everything else about the camera, which makes it a very unique, standout product in the action cam world. As I am very much the target market for the “traditional” action cam, I likely would have put it through more traditional action cam paces, which would have resulted in a very different, possibly negative review. Thankfully, CASIO had the forethought to realize that the majority of reviewers out there would have the same difficulties as I, so they herded a group of journalists into a bus, drove us to the mountains, and had us channel their target market for 2 days (an excellent trip, and as usual we were the only English-language source; read all about it here).
Specs, Features, Includes:
- Sensor: 14 million pixels Imaging
- Element: 1 / 2.3-inch CMOS (back-illuminated), total number of pixels: 16,760,000 px
- File Formats: Stills: JPEG (Exif Ver 2.3 / DCF2.0 compliant) Video: MOV format, H.264 / AVC compliant, IMA-ADPCM audio (monaural)
- Resolution: Stills: 14M (4320 x 3240) / 16: 9 (4320 x 2432) / 5M (2560 x 1920) video: Full HD (1920 x 1080)
- Lens: F Value: F2.8; focal length: f = 3.8 mm; 35 mm-format equivalent: about 21mm
- Zoom: 4x Digital
- Focus: Focus method: contrast detection Auto Focus; Focus Mode: Auto Focus AF Area: Intelligent, multi
- Exposure Control: Control method: Program AE; Exposure Compensation: -2.0EV ~ + 2.0EV (1 / 3EV steps)
- Shutter: CMOS electronic shutter
- Iris: F2.8
- Connectivity: Camera: Bluetooth B2.1 + EDR, Output Class: Class 2; Wi-Fi: IEEE 802.11b/g/n
- Shooting Stills: Premium Auto, Interval Shooting, Art shot, Touch Shutter, Wi-Fi remote shooting, face detection, makeup
- Shootings Movies: Premium Auto, interval shooting, Wi-Fi remote shooting
- Playback: Auto-highlight movies, auto-highlight photos, highlight scoring/rating function, multi-display, enlarged display, rotating display with Wi-Fi connection (viewable on mobile devices and tablets), password security, SSID configuration
- Other Features: Camera remote control, automatic rotation shooting, USB charging, auto-rotate display, mirror display, flick starts, vibration indicators
- Size: Camera: 60.9mm × 28.8mm; Controller: 49.7mm × 84.2mm × 18.9mm; Units Combined: 60.9mm × 153.1mm × 34.2 mm
- In the Box: Controller (EX-FR10CT), hinge unit, lens hood, tripod nut, neck strap, carabiner strap, USB-AC adapter (AD-C54UJ), micro USB cable, Quick Start Guide (with warranty)
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A really well thought out concept.
The first thing that strikes you is the unique, detachable form factor. The small camera unit contains the sensor, processing engine, storage, and just about everything needed to make images. The control unit is simply a rectangular box with a touch screen that interfaces with the camera proper. Both boxes have a power switch, shutter button, and video record button. They are paired via bluetooth at the factory so each camera is tied to a single control unit. The downside is that one can’t control multiple cameras from one unit, which I would have liked…but that would have introduced a mountain of complexity that neither CASIO nor the camera's target market would want. The two units attach via a hinged metal bracket that slides into slits in the back of the two units. The metal bracket can also be used to attach the camera and control unit to all the accessories.
One hinged bracket, lens hood, tripod nut, neck strap and a carabiner strap are included with the camera, but you can also buy a head/wristband, clothes/strap clip, or tripod quick release attachment accessory set for a little extra. I would have prefered to see all accessories included. Yes, I know all other manufacturers squeeze their customers’ wallets for accessories, but they really are optional. The ones for the FR10 are necessary to make the most out of the camera so they really should be included.
Both the camera and control unit are encased in water resistant plastic. While not quite divecam material, it can survive a quick dunk in a stream and just about anything the weather can throw at it. As one would expect from the company that makes the mighty G-SHOCK, it’s built tough. I’ve dropped the camera from the top of my head onto a concrete floor and have dropped the control box more times than I can remember without a scratch. The camera even survived a Slipknot moshpit, including falling out of my hand in the wall of death where it was trampled for a bit. I did end up losing the normal lens hood and clothes clip (my favorite accessory), but the camera itself took the beating a good deal better than many of the guys in that pit.
[Editor: Nayalan always gets extra points for inserting death metal references and Shatner homages in his work.]
By and large, the design is easy to handle and useable without needing to look at what you’re doing. The video and power buttons do feel very similar, but one learns to differentiate between them based on their position. I would have prefered some tactile indicator that you were pressing one and not the other. The stills shutter button, however, is large, unmistakable, and easy to press.
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It Just Works
At first, the idea of splitting the viewfinder apart from the camera itself seemed a bit gimmicky, but the seamless connection and the surprisingly low lag between the two parts makes it quite usable. The camera can be left on - beyond your reach - and within a few split seconds can be activated by the control unit without the need to search, pair, and fiddle around with passkeys as one must do with other remotes and smartphone-connected cams. It also allows for some really interesting creative options because the camera can be controlled anywhere within 10m of the control unit (nobody in the modern world cares how many feet that is, so I won’t tell you that it’s just over 30). On the above-mentioned CASIO media excursion, the ability to mount it on an extendable boom made for some pretty good selfies and also gave the camera that little bit more reach while shooting. A quick press of the release and the hinged clip slides off the tripod mount and into the headband mount for shooting interesting POV shots; all the while, each shot can be framed and monitored comfortably from the control unit.
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In my large paws it can feel a little fiddly, but it is so damn easy - I’ve found myself using it much more than I ever thought I would. I can rely on it, which is something I can’t even say about the ‘pro’ camera I use to pay the bills.
As for the image quality...
Still image quality, for the size, is impressive (particularly in sunlight). The 21mm-equivalent field of view makes for a wide enough image without becoming distorted or fish-eyed, and stills remain sharp. The sensor seems to capture colours well and is capable of quite impressive dynamic range for its size and specs. It’s actually very similar to the EX-TR35 Selfie-Cam that we took for a test drive in July.
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Like that camera, however, the low-light performance leaves a lot to be desired. The EX-FR10 also doesn’t do the digital zoom thing very well. It isn’t a dealbreaker though, because it’s par-for-the course for every sensor that size.
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This could very well be a deal breaker for some. While the EX-FR10 is meant to be a stills camera first, the dedicated video button and the inclusion of video in the interval options means that it is supposed to be of some importance. Video recording is restricted to 29 minutes per file (because of silly, no stupid European laws) but because the control unit allows for easy recording starts and stops, it was rarely an issue.
The big issue is the quality. It captures the same accurate colour and dynamic range as its stills, but, either the codec or the engine seems unable to properly handle that rich information feed and crunches up the footage quite badly and introduces a lot of noise into the final video (particularly if things are moving at any decent pace). It is decidedly late-model smartphone quality (pre iPhone 6 and Xperia Z3 anyway). The quality is sufficient for the average flick on the YouTubes, and I don't mind using the footage from it on my VLOGS, but I wouldn’t be able to intercut it with my GH3 for paying work as well as I could with a GoPro or even a FauxPro.
The other big problem with video is the image stabilization, or lack thereof. CASIO assured me that there is some software stabilization in there, but it is not nearly good enough. Just walking makes for some uncomfortable motion; attach the camera to your helmet for a ride and you’ll be in for a shakefest. The way the mounts work also doesn’t help. While they are quite secure and extremely versatile, there are a lot of parts involved, which means it can never be as stable as something with a built-in or otherwise solid mount.
Technically, the EX-FR10 is not aimed at vehicular action, but if it could do stable video at decent framerates, and given the quality of its stills combined with the innovative form factor and great usability, it could easily be the best HD action cam on the market.
There is a 3rd party mount that lets the FR10 attach to GoPro mounts making for a more stable solution, but from the example footage I’ve seen on Kazunori Yanagi’s YouTube videos, it’s still not quite as good as a camera built specifically for action videos.
...however, in realistic concession:
When I put aside my preferences and use the camera as CASIO intends, it really shines. It is terribly easy to use and the only real creative limits are available light and remembering to remove footage from the memory card (can never have too many micro SD cards, :p) Battery life is decent. You can coax a day out of the camera unit if you are careful though, though I found myself needing to juice it up at least once a day while on the move. The control unit generally lasts 3 times longer than the camera, and I only had a problem with it dying when we were on the mountain and using the camera far more intensely than one typically would.
Hipster filter is hipster.
Moreover, the camera auto rotates the image plane based on how it’s attached, so you don’t need to worry about upside down shots, and it still handles portraits and landscapes well. Face detection works well and autofocus is as quick as any high-end smartphone. There are enough art filters to please your inner hipster, and CASIO has even carried over its in-camera makeup feature from their selfie-cam range - so your skin will always be Photoshop perfect (or close enough), even after sweating your way to the top of Mt. Fuji. The camera can connect to a smartphone via CASIO’s app to both control the camera and to view your shots so you can upload them to your “Look at how much moar awesum my life is than yours!” network of choice.
Innovations that improve the everyday action cam experience
The Auto-Interval Mode
You can choose shooting interval times of 5 seconds, 15 seconds, or 2 minutes and set the camera to shoot stills, 5-second video clips, or both. Just set it and forget it, and it will record until your memory card is full or the camera runs out of battery. At first, apart from timelapse and novelty, I didn’t really get this feature, but when paired with the highlight photo collage feature, it works really well.
The Highlight Feature
Which is, frankly, brilliant. The camera takes a selection of media stored on the memory card and automatically compiles a video slideshow. You can choose among 5 pre-installed musical tunes or go musicless and add your own track later on a PC/smartphone editing platform or through YouTube’s Creator options. It’s simple and it’s fantastic because it removes the biggest hurdle to action camera ownership: compiling the photos and videos you shoot. Yes, most action cameras come with easy to use editing software, but that still requires a computer and a modicum of effort. The highlight feature is all done in-camera, and you can tether the camera to any smartphone, transfer the rendered highlight reel, and immediately stick it on the interwebz. As for the theme music, the 5 tunes that CASIO’s built in are a bit iffy and there is no way to add your own in-camera...that would have been a nice feature.
Because the highlight photo feature is automated, there is a good chance that the images and footage it selects will not be the ones you prefer, so to get around this, CASIO has a rating system whereby you give the pics you really like a “+” and the blurry, strange, “huh?” shots a “–” so the system knows what to include and what to skip. It’s a great idea, and assigning +s and –s is really the only part of the entire EX-FR10 experience that’s tedious (very, very, VERY tedious). You have to open the menu, assign a ranking, hit OK, and then return to the photostream for every single one. A simple + or – button on the screen while viewing would have been much easier and made for a more effective system. However, it’s something that a firmware update should be able to fix, and I really hope that they do so because, from a usability standpoint, it’s the only thing that really detracts from the EX-FR10 experience. As a cornerstone feature that sets the camera apart from the others on the market, this update should be a priority.
In the end though, it is but a single irritation which is vastly offset by all the other cool stuff.
For what it does, and for who it’s supposed to do it for, this is a solid, easy to use camera. It has the potential to bring action cameras to places that are not terribly spectacular, and capture scenes that are more mundane and slow-paced - which is exactly the kind of action that just about everybody on earth engages in.
The CASIO EX-FR10 is not meant to capture epic flights from cliffs in a flying-squirrel suit, or to record people as they space dive from massive altitudes. It is meant to capture your weekend, your memories, and most importantly, the person to whom those memories are most important. You.
AkihabaraNews reviews are voluntary, unpaid, and objective. Thanks to Miho & team at CASIO for providing a review unit.
All photos & videos by Senior Contributor Nayalan Moodley, AKA DarcNoodles - Darc.jp
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