Camera Review: Casio Exilim EX-ZR400

Casio’s new lineup of small, high speed video cameras has raised it in the past few years to one of the most popular camera makers of the 21st Century. Today, I have a Casio EX-ZR400 that I’m going to review, as well as give you a few tips and tricks. Unfortunately, I can’t show you any video of my own, but I’ll embed a couple of YouTube videos later on as well as give a link to video from other ZR400 owners.

I’ll start by saying that this camera has many relatives, including DSLRs like the EX-F1 or EX-FH9, and also other point and shoot cameras like the EX-ZR200, EX-ZR300, EX-ZR500 (new this year I believe), EX-ZR700, and EX-ZR1000, but today I am going to focus on the ZR400.

This is the one I have, the grey model.
Picture of EX-ZR400

I found six main attractions to this camera:

  • Zoom. This camera has a 24mm to 300mm zoom lens, giving it an amazing 12.5x optical zoom. It also has lossless digital zoom up to 25x and normal digital zoom up to 50x.
  • Battery life. This camera has a huge battery for its size, giving it up to 515 shots on a charge. My experience with my ZR400 is that the battery life is even longer.
  • Video. This amazing little camera can shoot 1080 and 720 HD at 30fps (frames per second), as well as VGA (640×480) at 30fps. It can also shoot high speed video which I will go more in depth on later.
  • Picture quality. The ZR400 takes up to 16.1 MP images, with no image deterioration even at 25x digital+optical zoom.
  • Size. The ZR400 is roughly the size of your typical point and shoot camera, but slightly larger due to the 3″ LCD display and its larger battery.
  • Finally, price. On Amazon, the ZR400 costs just $175 on average, although the price varies between color and season. At Christmas the camera was $205, but you get free shipping. The $175 price does not include shipping. Since shipping is $13, the $205 price is still more expensive, but not a huge amount (around $20 all told).

Now let’s go into the high speed video capabilities. As mentioned before, the ZR400 can shoot at 1080 and 720 HD as well as VGA at 30fps. But the ZR400’s capabilities don’t stop there. The ZR400 can shoot high speed video (slow motion) at the following frame rates and image sizes:

  • 120fps/VGA (640x480px)
  • 240fps/512×384
  • 480fps/224×160
  • 1000fps/224×64

Whoa! Did you see that right? Yes, you did. The ZR400 can shoot high speed video at up to 1000fps! That’s 33x slower than real time when played back at 30fps. But let’s say you play it back at 25fps: 40x slower than real time! You can play back video smoothly to around 20fps, meaning that you can slow things down with this camera up to around 50x!

This feature, combined with its small size, makes it work well for on-the-spot slow motion because you don’t need the laptop and battery pack needed for a real high speed camera. Plus it doesn’t cost $100,000! I would like to acknowledge, however, that the resolution at 1000fps is quite small. But hey, it works!

The ZR400 has two other slow motion features: HS 30-120 and HS 30-240 (HS as in High Speed). In these modes, the camera starts recording at 30fps (real speed) in the resolution for either 120fps or 240fps (depending on which mode you choose). Then, at the touch of a button, the camera switches to 120 or 240fps (once again depending on which mode you’re in). I really enjoy this because I can take videos of my dog running, then have him suddenly run in slow motion, mid-video.

Here is a link to slow motion video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0RIBdagBE8 (this was actually the ZR700, but the slow motion capabilities are the same)

Here are a couple of videos from YouTube showing slow motion from the ZR400.


You may have noticed that the second video has a lot of light grain on it. Let’s talk about that!

When recording video, the shutter is opened for a fraction of a second. The higher the frame rate, the smaller the fraction of the second. You probably know that images are created by light hitting the sensor on the camera. If you think about this, it means that the higher the frame rate, the smaller the amount of light hitting the sensor is. This means that for high speed video, you need a lot more light than you normally would. I recommend shooting outdoors because then you know you will have enough light.

Finally, let’s talk about one more thing: the flickering lights. As you know (at least I hope so), the current in your house is AC. AC stands for Alternating Current, meaning that the current is not constant and flickers on and off to achieve a steady output. This also means that if you have a lightbulb and you put AC current through it, the light will also flicker very quickly. High speed cameras, as you know, slow things down, and that is why the light flickers in the video. The slow motion is actually slowing down the flicker until you can actually see it! That’s just another reason to shoot outside.

I hope that you enjoyed this post! Maybe now you have something else to noodle on as the summer approaches. This camera would be great to take to the beach!

-The Editor
Don’t forget to like and follow for more posts like this one!

Tutorial: Make your camera infrared sensitive.

OK,
I haven’t been very active so far this year, but I found something last week that was really interesting.  I found out that you can modify your camera so that it picks up infrared light. (NOTE: this will not work on film cameras. A similar modification can be made, but you need to use IR sensitive film for it to work.)

DISCLAIMER: this tutorial was designed for a point-and-shoot camera. If you have a DSLR that you wish to do this on, look in the external links section at the end. I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE if you destroy your camera because you don’t know how things work and break something. ALWAYS remove the battery and SD card. The only way to make your camera normal again is to put the IR filter back into the camera. If you lose the filter, this modification is irrevocable. Even as is, it is extremely difficult to reinstall the filter so if you don’t want to take the chance of permanently modifying your camera, you can buy an IR lens filter.

You probably know that humans can only see light waves between roughly 350nm and 720nm. That means we can’t see ultraviolet (UV) light, or infrared (IR) light. Cameras can see both of those, plus our visual range. On a camera, as you probably know, there is a lens, and then behind the lens there is an image sensor, either of CMOS type or CCD. What you probably don’t know, is that over the image sensor (which looks similar to a mirror) there is a red tinted piece of plastic or glass that filters infrared light so that the images look like what we see with our eyes. Let’s look at an illustration so this makes more sense:
camera internals

Now, looking at that, in order to make your camera see IR, do this!

I recommend using a magnetic tipped screwdriver because the screws are really tiny.

Remove the back of your camera. Then you should see the LCD display sitting in some sort of tray. Lift the screen out of the tray. Undo the screws that hold the tray. Now you should see a little metal plate with a couple of screws holding down down a gold colored (most likely) piece of foil material. That is the connector which transfers the image information to the display and SD card. After undoing the screws, carefully lift up one side of the connector. In the middle you should see something that looks like a small mirror with a piece of red polarized glass over it. Remove the red glass, and be sure to get all of the rubber seals that hold it on (on most cameras there are one or two). SAVE THE GLASS because if you ever want to make it normal again you have to have that. Put your camera back together, and you should have IR or near IR photography.

IR photos require a longer exposure, so if your camera normally takes a 1/60 second exposure, it will probably do about 1/20. In good lighting there will not be a noticeable difference, however.

In order to use it as night vision, you will need an IR flashlight or other IR emitter. You will not be able to see the light, but the camera can. DO NOT look into the light for more than a second or two. While you cannot see it, it is still very bright and can damage your eyes just like a bright LED flashlight can.

Thanks for visiting my site and be sure to follow! Look for infrared photographs coming later today or tomorrow!

-The Editor.

External Links:
Original instructions I found online:
http://www.ehow.com/how_5569758_build-own-night-vision-camera.html

DSLR version:
http://www.ehow.com/how_7645833_remove-ir-filter-camera.html