– Derek M. Hansen –
I had the opportunity to try out the recently released high speed digital camera from Casio: The Exilim EX-F1. All I can say is, “Wow!” It does everything that Casio claims it can do and more. If you shoot video or still shots for analyzing sporting performance, this is a camera for you. Even if you can only borrow one for a few days, I highly recommend it.
The EX-F1 is a multi-purpose digital still camera and digital video camera. It has an optical zoom capability of 12x (36 to 432mm) that allows you to catch action that is far away. It also has a digital still photo resolution of 6.1 megapixels, which won’t knock anyone’s socks off in this century. However, what sets the EX-F1 apart from the competition is the speed at which it can shoot both still photos and digital video. Still photos can be shot continuously at anywhere from 1 fps to 60 fps. Additionally, video can be shot at frame rates unheard of for consumer based cameras, creating smooth super-slow-motion videos that make your subjects look like they are floating on air. The EX-F1 can also shoot HD videos at 1920 × 1080 resolution. The total package amounts to a credible digital still camera combined with a very flexible digital camcorder. However, the camera does look more like a digital SLR camera than a video camera.
The EX-F1 has the ability to shoot high speed video at 300, 600 and 1200 frames per second. This allows you to review the video at super-slow-motion speeds, and provides a smooth, seamless account of human performance. The catch is that the video resolution of these various frame rates is lower than standard video. For example, at 300 fps, the camera captures 512 × 384 pixels, at 600 fps it captures 432 × 192 pixels and at 1200 fps it records at 336 × 96 pixels. I found that for sport analysis, the 300 fps mode captures more than enough information. The resolution is also high enough that you don’t miss out on any detail. You cannot zoom in or out during high speed recording, but there typically isn’t enough time or need to change focal length during quick sporting events. Additionally, you cannot record audio at these high frame rates. Usually the audio sounds like someone moaning underwater during slow motion playback anyways.
The camera comes with some basic software that allows you to play the movie clips on your computer, burn them to DVD and/or upload them to YouTube. To view the videos on your computer, you can use ArcSoft TotalMedia on the supplied CD-ROM. On my computer, the files automatically opened up in QuickTime although the videos were a little bit slower to start. TotalMedia can also be used to burn HD quality movies onto DVD.
For individuals who would like to edit their videos in conventional video editing programs (i.e. Premiere, Pinnacle, MovieMaker, Sony Vegas, etc.) you will have to obtain third party software that can convert the Casio MOV files to a compatible format. I downloaded a program called MPEG Streamclip from Squared 5. MPEG Streamclip allows you to conveniently convert individual files into useable formats. Although it is an extra step in the editing process, the high frame rate video files produced by the EX-F1 make it a worthwhile task.
The only consumer level products that come close to providing the fast frame rate of the Casio are a number of Sony Digital Camcorders that employ what is called Smooth Slow Recording at 240 frames per second. One example of a similarly priced camera is the Sony HDR HC9 which is a mini-DV format High Definition camcorder. The resolution of the 240 fps Sony cameras is similar to that of the 300 fps Casio videos. However, Sony does not provide the option of 600 and 1200 fps, as well as the digital still capabilities of the EX-F1. The only advantage of the Sony HDR HC9 is that it records in HDV format, as opposed to the Casio’s AVCHD format which is much more cumbersome to edit. Sony has hard drive camcorders (HDRSR11 and HDRSR12) with the Smooth Slow Record function, but they also record in AVCHD format. For serious high speed photographers who want high resolution capabilities, you will have to look at more expensive professional cameras such as those offered by Vision Research such as the Phantom HD line which can shoot HD quality video at anywhere from 1 fps to 1000 fps.
Watching a video of sporting movements that has been recorded at 300 frames per second or higher – even if it is something as mundane as running – is breathtaking. It’s as if you are watching a Discovery Channel documentary or a the slow motion clips of football games shot by NFL Films. Using normal 30 fps video slow motion is good, but not even close to 300 fps. At the very high frame rates, the movement is slowed down so much and so precisely that it allows your brain to easily digest the information. When I took video clips of athletes at 300 fps and then showed them the results right away, their response was always along the lines of, “Wow, that is so cool!”
Provided below are some sample video clips that I took using the EX-F1. These clips were converted using MPEG Streamclip, recompressed using Windows MovieMaker and then uploaded to YouTube (even though the camera software has an automatic upload to YouTube function). All of these videos look much better than what you see through YouTube. Unfortunately, I still haven’t figured out how to jack up the resolution for my YouTube uploads. Don’t let the quality of these YouTube videos discourage you from testing out an EX-F1. I will try to follow up this article with more video posts of higher quality.
Sample Video Clips
This video focuses in on the legs during a running drill for a football team. Notice how you can easily watch every aspect of lower limb mechanics: how the foot is landing, where it is landing in relation to the hip, where the stress is being transferred.
This video is of a casual jogger taken from about 50 yards away. Not as dynamic as the football sprint, but still gives you lots of information.
I was in my backyard when I heard a lot of buzzing from some flower pots. Needless to say, I sprang into action and shot this honey bee working over the flowers.
Finally, I had to finish with the requisite slow motion capture of a dog shaking water off its body. Nothing new, but still gives you an idea of the capabilities of the camera.
Digital Still Performance
I’m no expert in the area of digital photography, but I’ve had enough digital cameras in my day. And, I also owned a nice Canon AT-1 35mm SLR when I was a student, shot lots of film and even developed a number of rolls myself. So, when I shot some photos with the EX-F1, I was still pretty impressed. Remember, I would not buy this camera for its digital still performance alone. The 6.1 megapixel photos can be shot in RAW or JPEG format and look quite nice. I won’t post any in this article, as there are many other reviews that handle this aspect of the EX-F1 much better than I could. However, given that the camera had such nice video performance, I was suprised to find that the photos were better than any of my previous digital cameras. The ability to shoot up to 60 frames per second is nice too, although it is a bit of overkill for much of the sporting movements I analyze. Thankfully the camera can shoot pretty much anywhere between 1 and 60 frames per second (10-15 frames per second is usually enough for me), and has a function ring on the lens that can be used to select your frame rate quite easily.
Specifications at a Glance
Number of Effective Pixels – 6.00 million
Imaging Sensor – 1/1.8-inch high-speed CMOS
Image Type – RAW, JPEG and movies in MOV format (H.264/AVC)
Number of Pixels Recorded – Photos – RAW, 2816 x 2112, 2816 x 1872 (3:2), 2816 x 1584 (16:9), 2304 x 1728, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 640 x 480
Number of Pixels Recorded – Video – Standard Video – 640×480 at 30fps, HD Movies at 1920 × 1080 and 1280 × 720 at 30fps, Hi-Speed Movies at 512 × 384 (300 fps, 30-300 fps), 432 × 192 (600 fps), 336 × 96 (1200 fps)
Operating Speed – Normal Speed Continuous Shutter – Maximum is 3 frames per second, High-speed Continuous Shutter – Maximum is 60 frames per second, Flash Continuous Shutter – Maximum is 7 frames per second (Up to 20 images)
Lens Focal Length – f=7.3 to 87.6mm/Approx. 36 to 432mm
Zoom Capabilities – 12x optical, 4x digital
White Balance – Auto WB, Daylight, Overcast, Shade, Day white FL, Daylight FL, Tungsten, manual WB
Sensitivity – Auto, ISO100, ISO200, ISO400, ISO800, ISO1600
Other Recording Functions – BEST SHOT, YouTube Capture Mode, Face Recognition
Built-in Flash Modes – Auto, Flash Off, Flash On, Red Eye Reduction, External Flash
Viewfinder/LCD – 2.8-inch wide TFT color LCD (Super Clear LCD), 230,160 dots (959 × 240) and a 0.2-inch, Equal to 201,600 dots electronic viewfinder
Inputs/Outputs – USB/AV port, HDMI™ output (Mini),, hot shoe, external microphone jack, AC adaptor connection (DC-IN)
Power Requirements – Rechargeable lithium ion battery (NP-100) x 1, AC adaptor
Weight (excluding battery and accessories) – Approx. 23.67 oz
Bundled Accessories – Rechargeable lithium ion battery, lithium ion battery charger, AC power cord, USB cable, AV cable, strap, lens cap, lens hood, remote shutter release, CD-ROM.
Find the Casio EX-F1 at BH Photo and Video below:
I would definitely buy this camera given my current situation: I’m a father of two small, active children, and I work with athletes in all sorts of sports, where I’m constantly analyzing movement mechanics. The amount of information I get from the high speed video alone is more than worth the money. And, watching your kids jump, bound and run around at 300 frames per second is fantastic. The camera also shoots adequate still photos and normal and high speeds. The 12x zoom lens also allows me to zoom in or out while recording standard or high definition video. The only downsides of the camera are the low light shooting issues, the video format conversion time (AVCHD format) for editing purposes, and the size of the camera, although the camera really isn’t that heavy at all. One figures that the camera has to be quite large to allow for the zoom capabilities and to allow enough light into the lens for high speed shooting.
As with any time you are choosing a camera to buy, it really depends on your needs, your preferences, and how much you are willing to spend. The good thing is that perhaps Casio has now raised the bar for other manufacturers to provide much more advanced features on their digital still cameras and their camcorders.
Who Should Buy This Camera
Who Should Wait to See if Something Better Comes Along