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(P)REVIEW: CASIO EX-FR200 Action Cam

Editor’s Note:
It should be known that this (p)review was conducted a while back with a pre-release version of the camera, but we still wanted to get the info out there. The full-on version, with fully cooked software, is now available, and we’ll hopefully get around to reviewing the whole shebang sometime soon!  

Third time’s the charm.  

CASIO has released the third installment of their EX-FR modular outdoor “action” camera series with the new EX-FR200. Unlike last year’s incremental EX-FR100 (released after 2014’s inaugural EX-FR10), however, the FR200 brings two big new features into play that should revolutionize the lineup and finally give the series a practical leg-up over the competition that the previous two didn’t quite deliver.  

[RELATED]
MINI-REVIEW: CASIO EX-FR100 Outdoor Recorder
REVIEW: CASIO EX-FR10 Action Cam (GALLERY; VIDEO)
 

180° and 360° video and photography...  

...are growing in popularity, and with two of the biggest social networks, Facebook and YouTube, now supporting 360° images and video, in addition to the push for consumer VR in the Android and gaming PC markets, there have been a number of solutions popping up for creating 360° content. On the high-end, it generally involves expensive, multi-camera rigs; on the consumer side, the focus has been smaller, easy-to-use devices that necessarily sacrifice overall quality.

Enter the EX-FR200  

In the most simplistic terms, CASIO has essentially taken the EX-FR100 body and slapped a massive 185° lens on it (...okay, so there is a bit more to it, but that general idea is on-point). They have also expanded on the previous model’s ability to communicate with devices beyond its dedicated controller - so a single controller can now connect with two cameras.

When combined with their 360° mount and CASIO’s EXILIM 360 video stitching software, the consumer space has gained an affordable multi-camera setup, which should provide a seamless, end-user friendly, camera-to-social 360° capturing experience. We say “should provide,” because at the time we got to play with the pre-production version of the EX-FR200, the camera was pretty much sorted, but the software was still in development, and as a result we had trouble taking full advantage of the device and the content it produced.  

Taking it around the block:  

The camera itself is robustly built, but the massive protruding lens is vulnerable and should be kept capped whenever not in use. It’s fully weather-sealed and withstood our unscientific, running-around-in-a-typhoon weatherproofing test. It carries over the same controller as the EX-FR100, with its responsive and bright 3-inch touch screen. Most options are fairly easy to access, though the exposure compensation requires a few too many steps.


Image: CASIO  

It sports a 1 / 2.3-inch CMOS backlit sensor, resolving 21 megapixels, but due to crop factors, lens aspect ratios, etc., stils are limited to 12 megapixels, which keeps it in line with higher-end smartphones. The EX-FR200 also shoots stills at 3888 x 3888px in 180°, 7456 x 1864 in panoramic mode, and 3232 x 2424 in super-wide-angle mode.  

It can shoot in full 180° in standard 16:9 aspect ratio wide-angle, a panoramic 4:1 aspect ratio, and Instagram-friendly 1:1 videos at resolutions ranging from 4K UHD down to 640 x 480. depending on the framerate you choose. The EX-FR200 can shoot slow motion at 120 and 240 fps in 720p and 480p, respectively. Driving all of this is the same HS.V3 EXILIM imaging engine as the EX-FR100, though it appears to be optimized well for the new lens setup.  

Some Test Video:

In testing, the video quality was significantly better than the EX-FR100, which is good news as this iteration will likely be used for video far more than it’s predecessors were. When shooting 1080p or lower resolutions, there is the option to use electronic image stabilization, and like the FR100 it comes in two levels. Unlike the FR100, however, the first level is quite usable; the second level still reduces the quality enough that the stabilization is negated.  

In 180° mode and super-wide-angle 4K mode, not only is there no image stabilization, the camera doesn’t output imagery to the remote so you can’t effectively frame your shots. The extreme width of the lens means you’d definitely get what you want in the shot, but after you set it up and hit record, you’re just winging it.  

Actual 180° and 360° footage is decent. It can’t compare to multi-million-yen professional multi-camera rigs, but in the consumer space, it’s a real step up from the Ricoh Theta and Kodak Pixpro SP360. It will be interesting to see how it compares with the Nikon Key Mission 360.  

Some Test Stills:

Quality-wise, the 185° lens will of course result in softness toward the edge, so overall image quality takes a bit of a hit, which is to be expected. For the super-wide-angle, standard aspect ratio images, it is degraded further as it appears to be cropping the sensor to get the correct field of view. It’s on par with the 1st-generation EX-FR10 (MORE), which wasn’t bad, but if you care more about overall photo quality than you do about the 180° FOV, you’d be better off with the EX-FR100 (MORE).  

Some 360° Test Video and 180° Stills  

When paired with a second camera, the EX-FR200 can also take full 360° images and video, or it can be paired with the EX-FR100 for different creative options, whether that’s self-shooting, picture in picture, or just capturing different angles of the same subject.  

None of this would mean anything if you couldn’t use what you shoot, and to that end, CASIO has drastically improved the way in which users can interact with their images and videos through the EXILIM album app for both android and iOS, as well as their EXILIM 360 app for Windows.  

In the final versions of the software, the mobile app can collate what you’ve shot into galleries based on when the images and videos were shot and automatically processes the spherical 180° media for panning views. Users should also be able to share images or sections of the images from the app. However, we weren’t able to test this fully because the pre-release beta software we had wasn’t fully ready for use. (Editor’s Note: That software is now fully-baked, and we’re hoping to get our hands back on another EX-FR200 to put it to the test.)

Additionally, there is an  EXILIM 360 PC and Mac app that not only lets people view their 180° media, but also exports videos and photos from CASIO’s spherical format to the current web-standard cylindrical 360 format used by YouTube and Facebook (the kind that allow users to view and pan through 180° and 360° content on social media). The software can also stitch together footage from two linked EX-FR200s for full 360° images. Thus far we’ve only had one EX-FR200 to play with, so we couldn’t test the quality of full-360 and see how well the stitching process works.  


Here and in the following, comparing how the EX-FR200 captures images, and how they work after exported from the EXILIM 360 software for uploading to Facebook.

We had better luck with the EXILIM 360 software, though sadly only after we’d have to return the camera, so by the time we could see how the 180°footage looked when processed, it was too late to then go out and shoot to to the camera’s strengths, fully review the EX-FR200’s  imaging capabilities, and produce content with it beyond random snapshots.  

Verdict:  

Despite the (admittedly pre-release) software issues and our inability to use the camera as fully as we’d have liked, My impressions were positive. Where the first two were nice concepts, what set them was their unique form factor, which only appealed to a niche audience. Adding 360° functionality now catapults it into a much broader market which has a lot of growth potential. And with most solutions either having very bad quality images in easy-to-use devices or good quality footage from expensive rigs with complex post production workflows. With the EX-FR200 CASIO has a chance to find a happy medium that can allow users to capture decent quality 360° media at a more reasonable price point.  

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