Casio. Normally I think of scientific calculators, wristwatches, and budget synthesizers. I was surprised to learn that they make cameras, too—and if the Exilim EX-H10 is any indication, pretty good cameras at that.
The H10 is marketed as a camera for tourists and travelers, and it makes sense: It's sturdy, takes nice long-range shots, and has a tremendous 1,000-shot battery life. It's also pretty affordable, so your vacation won't be ruined if it gets lost or broken. But this is more than just a throwaway, one-trip camera, and total novices and experienced hobbyists alike could both enjoy the H10 in any casual setting.
The marketplace is crowded for this type of "fun zoom" camera, and Casio isn't exactly a big-name manufacturer. The H10 won't send Casio's stock skyrocketing—it's really nothing groundbreaking—but it is one of the better cameras in its class. I still prefer the Panasonic ZS3, the king of all fun zooms, but the H10 is a worthy competitor. Here's why:
Sturdy, comfortable body, solid specs
I was pleasantly surprised by the H10 from the moment I took it out of the box. It's sturdy for a pocket-sized camera, but is as comfortable as a brick-shaped point-and-shoot can be. The interface is easy enough to navigate and the buttons are positioned nicely among the rear and top of the body, leaving plenty of room for the vivid 3" LCD display. The zoom tilter is in a bit of an awkward position around the shutter button, but all in all, it's a nice design for a small body.
There's some solid hardware inside, too. It has a 12 megapixel sensor, 24mm wide-angle lens, 720p HD video, and best of all, 10x zoom with CMOS-shift image stabilization (that is, the sensor sort of "floats" within the body to compensate for the user's shaky hands). The guts aren't quite up to par with those in the Panasonic ZS3 or the Canon SX200, which both include a 12x zoom, but are admirably close.
Great daytime photos, nice color effects
As I had guessed from the solid design, the H10 performed quite well in favorable conditions. Indoor and daytime outdoor photos are crisp, bright, and color-accurate. The Best Shot settings have most scenarios covered, with more than 30 presets for for all range of scenes and subjects including self-portraits, flowers, candlelight portraits, splashing water, autumn leaves, and a setting optimized for eBay listings (I'm still trying to figure out what that last one really does). Action shots were difficult due to a noticeable shutter lag, but portraits and landscapes both came out nicely.
To this effect, the H10 includes hot keys for Vivid Landscape and Makeup Mode. Both of them apply simple color effects that Photoshop could do better with a few keystrokes, but I guess it was cool to include them for the sake of instant gratification. Makeup Mode I could take or leave, but Vivid Landscape was a barrel of fun; when I used it during an afternoon excursion in upstate New York during peak foliage, it produced some stunning shots readymade for my computer's desktop background. The colors were super-saturated; the leaves redder, the grass greener, the sky bluer. The shots are maybe, maybe a bit cheesy and cartoonish, but I felt like an accomplished postcard photographer for one afternoon, at least.
The 10x zoom was a treat to use. It extends from 1x to 10x in under a second, and the image stabilization ensures that even the long-range shots don't suffer the ill-effects of camera shake. The lens is pretty noisy when it zooms, but I believe that has to do with the stabilization system. That whirring sound is a small price to pay for crisp images at such a high zoom level.
Poor images at night
The H10 has one major Achilles' heel: Simply put, its nighttime shots are lousy. I wasn't actually expecting it to perform well—most point-and-shoot cameras are hit-or-miss at night—but this came in beneath even my low expectations. Every twilight shot came out as a big blurry mess. I couldn't get a good shot of a few shrubs ten feet across my buddy's driveway after dark, even with the Night Scene Portrait and High Sensitivity presets. Fiddling with the ISO is hopeless; noise is noticeable in a big way around 400, and shots up at 1600 are totally unusable. Don't count on this when the sun sets.
My only other (minor) complaint is the movie mode. It's unremarkable, but hey, this is a still camera. There's a dedicated video record button, and it captures in 720p HD, which are both nice, but fairly common these days. Optical zoom isn't supported, digital zoom is grainy, audio is grainy. Overall, it's nothing to write home about.
Keeps going and going...
Leave your extra batteries at home, because the lithium ion beast in the H10 will not die. Casio claims that it can shoot up to 1000 photos per battery charge; I only got about halfway there and the battery was still about halfway full, so I'll take their word for it. If the H10 has a standout feature, this is it. One charge will probably last for the better part of a week-long vacation, so yeah, that's pretty awesome.
I'd say that the Casio H10 is worth a look. It's not a game-changing camera by any means, and the Panasonic ZS3 is still a better (though slightly more expensive) choice, but given the price-to-performance ratio, I'd rank it well above the Olympus 9000 and even the Canon SX200.