I wrote about the CASIO EXILIM FR-10 less than a year ago, and within this relatively short time, CASIO has further refined the camera and released the next iteration, the new EXILIM FR-100. Retaining its innovative form-factor and rugged built, the EXILIM FR series is CASIO’s answer to the needs of the adventurous traveller. I tested the FR-100 over several weeks in various situations to find out if it is the perfect outdoor recorder.
The EXILIM FR-100 retains its unique form-factor which allows it to be used in three different styles – conventional camera style, selfie camera, and free-style with the camera module detached from the remote control screen.
Among other improvements to the FR-100, the camera now peeks through a 16mm-equivalent ultra wide-angle lens that enables a wider field-of-view with minimum distortion. The 21mm-equivalent lens on the FR-10 is sufficient for most purposes, but the 16mm wider lens offers a more interesting perspective and is able to capture more of the scene in the shot.
Secondly, the touch-screen has been upgraded to 3 inches with 921k pixel, a 50 per cent improvement and four times as many pixels as the FR-10. Since the function menu and options are accessed via the touchscreen, the increased screen real estate significantly improved the usability of the FR-100 over the 2-inch screen on its predecessor. With everyone being spoilt by high pixel density displays on their mobile phones nowadays, the higher pixel count on the FR-100 is a much welcomed improvement over the dated screen on the FR-10.
One subtle upgrade to the hardware greatly improves the versatility of the camera – the water-proof sealing. Previously only rated with IPx6 for water splashes on the FR-10, the FR-100 is now IPx8 rated and can be used down to 1.5 metres underwater up to an hour continuously. There is no need for any additional casing to give it this ability.
Besides the image quality, the intelligence of the FR-100 has also been significantly improved. In addition to the comprehensive suite of functions from the FR-10, such as Make-up mode, Interval Shooting and Art shots, the FR-100 has a new High-Speed Engine. I had loads of fun capturing myself in mid-air using the 30 frames per second burst mode and the remote control. With the FR-100, none of my travel companions had to be left out of the ubiquitous jumping shots that everyone loves to take during travels.
The High-Speed Engine works with smarter algorithms and acceleration sensors to not only allow freeze frame action shots, but also allows the FR-100 to minimise out of focus and motion blur shots, and movie stabilisation to minimise shaky video footage. A 240 frames per second slow-motion mode is also now available, albeit with a lowered video resolution.
The new High-Speed engine and smarter algorithm also allow the camera to continuously shoot and keep the best shots while it is on “Intelligence Interval Shot”. Using the improved Highlight Movie, it is now even easier to create a short movie of your travels or outings. The FR-100 will select short videos and photos based on their “Highlight scores” and create a short video of up to a one minute long with soundtrack within the camera. This eliminates the need to learn movie editing software and makes movie creation as simple as pressing a button. A Highlight Photo function works similarly by combining several photos into a single collage.
The new EXILIM Connect phone app, which works on both Android and iOS phones, has also been streamlined to make wireless transfers easier. In addition, there is an option for the camera to “push” photos to the phone automatically, instead of having to do it manually.
Beside the standard micro-USB charging accessories that come in the box, the FR-100 comes with a tripod nut and a carabiner strap. The tripod nut is essential to attach the camera module to a tripod or a selfie stick, and the carabiner strap allows for quick attachment to a backpack or belt loop.
The FR-100 has a range of mounting accessories which can be purchased separately to facilitate easy attachment of the camera module and the remote control module. Although the tripod nut can be used in most situations where a standard tripod screw is available, attaching and removing the camera module with it can be fiddly at times, especially with gloves on. The three mounting accessories – the tripod mount (EAM-1), Multi-angle Clip mount (EAM-2) and Multi-angle Belt Set mount (EAM-3) will certainly improve the functionality of the FR-100 in many situations. My personal favourite accessory is the CASIO selfie stick (EAM-4), which has a special attachment for the remote control.
In order to further extend the underwater capabilities of the FR-100, CASIO has launched two new accessories: a marine case (EAM-5) which allows the camera module to dive up to a depth of 20 metres, and an antenna cable (EAM-6) set to allow the remote control unit to communicate with the camera unit when either module is underwater; Bluetooth connection does not work underwater.
Lastly, the new LED Ring Flash attachment (EAM-7) extends the low-light capability of the camera. Combined with the Make-up mode of the FR-100, the Ring Flash attachment can drastically improve video and photography for beauty-minded users.
In the Field
I put the FR-100 through its paces over several weeks in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Bali. The compact little camera certainly managed to capture shots that would have been impossible using my phone or a regular camera. The rugged shock-proof construction put my mind at ease while tumbling on a quad-bike through mud tracks in Bali, and the IPx8 water-proofing allowed me to take it along with me while kayaking in Singapore, or snorkeling and canyoning through Bali.
I clipped the carabiner to the shoulder strap on my CabinZero backpack while travelling, and enjoyed the easy accessibility of the camera. In most cases, I was able to take group selfies without using a selfie stick because the 16mm ultra wide-angle was able to fit everyone into the frame at arm’s length. The panoramic perspective captured more of the scenery and made the photos look different compared to the ones taken using a phone.
Once the EXILIM Connect app and the FR-100 was set up, the Wi-Fi connection was relatively quick. It made selecting and transferring photos to my phone to share on social a breeze. However, for bulk transfers of full resolution photos and videos to my phone, I used an OTG micro-SD card adapter which I carry on my keychain. Alternatively, the automatic transfer function can be enabled to pushed photos to my phone whenever the camera module was put in stand-by mode. However, this function seemed to drain the battery life on the camera module rather quickly and I limited its use.
The trade-off for the compactness of the FR-100 comes at the cost of battery life. With the waterproof sealing, it also means swappable battery is not in the design. There is no electrical contact between the camera and remote control modules, so both modules have to be charged independently, which makes it awkward to ensure a fully charged unit. With moderate to heavy usage during a day’s outing, the camera module had trouble keeping up and I had to use my power bank to top up the juice occasionally.
I hope future firmware will update the camera to improve its user interface. For example, the touch menu, where most of the functions reside, pops out from the left instead of the right which makes operating with my left thumb counter-intuitive, and could perhaps be better if it pops out from the right side of the screen instead, or at least have the option to choose either sides. The touch screen interface also becomes unresponsive when wet, something that most capacitive screens suffer from.
At S$699, the CASIO EXILIM FR-100 makes for an interesting preposition in a world where almost everyone has a camera in their pocket. Yet, it has managed to carve a niche as a rugged, water-proof and dust proof compact outdoor recorder that is packed with fun software features. The FR-100 performs the best in the outdoors, especially in activities involving water, and also makes for an excellent travel camera with its compact size and ruggedness. It certainly made for a great compliment to my phone’s camera during my travels. I think the perfect outdoor recorder is almost within reach — if only CASIO would make a rose gold version of EXILIM FR-100.