The Casio Exilim EX-FH20, like most all megazooms, is basically a puffed-up point-and-shoot camera. However, it's what Casio puffed it up with that sets it apart: the ability to shoot at 40 frames per second and 1,000fps video capture. In fact, these are really the only reasons to choose the FH20 over another megazoom. The camera can be a bit trying to operate, and its photo quality, even at its full 9-megapixel resolution, is just OK, leaning toward mediocre when you factor in the FH20's price tag. Unless you need the speed and the long lens more than you need great-looking photos, you'll probably want to pass on the FH20.
The FH20 design doesn't stray from typical digital SLR-style megazoom territory. It has a big, comfortable handgrip and a large thumbrest, well-positioned controls, a respectably large screen, and a decent electronic viewfinder (EVF). The 20x zoom lens is responsible for a bulk of the weight, but it's balanced well with the four AA batteries in the handgrip.
On top is a mode dial, but not for the usual shooting modes such as auto or program AE. It's for switching between the five shot types: continuous shutter with flash, high-speed burst, single shot, high-speed movie, and high-definition video. If you want to change shooting modes, you have to head to the camera's menu system, but not by hitting the actual Menu button. No, instead you press the Set button at the center of the four-way directional pad. This brings up the main shooting controls, while hitting Menu gives you less-used shooting controls, in addition to basic setup options. Should you want to take advantage of the FH20's scene modes--called Best Shot--you press the BS button on back or you can change to Best Shot mode by hitting Set and switching to it through the onscreen menu. But if it's not the scene type you want (there are 19, including a user-configurable one), you have to hit the BS button anyway. Ultimately, the controls are decently arranged and eventually make sense; getting adjusted to them without regular use is a little maddening, though.
Wrapped up in all the controls and menu system is a fairly robust megazoom digital camera. Much like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 and the DSC-HX1, the FH20 is loaded with shooting options to experiment with, including eight color filters, dynamic range expansion, and sharpness, saturation, and contrast amounts. Or you can set everything to Auto and never touch a thing. However, if you're considering this camera at all, you're probably up for some experimentation with at least two of its features: the 40-frames-per-second high-speed burst and 1,000fps high-speed movie capture.
In Single Shot mode, you can shoot at resolutions up to 9 megapixels or raw plus a low-res JPEG. There is no full-resolution continuous shooting option on the FH20. Instead you get the capability to capture up to 40fps at 7 megapixels or up to 30fps at 8 megapixels. Also, if you let it, with a half-press of the shutter release the camera will start prerecording photos. Press it all the way down and it will immediately capture what's in the frame. You can divvy up the shots between prerecord and record. So for example, you can set it to continuously prerecord 20 frames and then capture another 20 frames once the shutter is fully pressed.
The camera can be set to store all shots automatically, to ask if you want to save all, save nothing, or save selected, or start immediate playback so you can pick which photos to save by pressing the shutter release. Unfortunately, while you're doing all of this decision making, there's a good chance you've missed shooting all sorts of other things. Even if you set it to just store all images, it takes on average 10 to 15 seconds before you can shoot again (it is, after all, storing up to 40, 7-megapixel photos). Plus, just accepting them all means you have no idea of what you captured and if they're worth keeping, and storage fills up quickly if you keep taking 40 shots a second. Not to mention the batteries it eats through while doing so. (You'll definitely want to invest in some NiMH rechargeables.)
Another of the camera's notable features is the high-speed video capture. Like the 40fps burst mode, the 1,000fps video is fun to play with, but at that speed the highest resolution you can capture is 224x56, which is really small. If you want a larger view, it will record at 420fps at a resolution of 224x168 or up to 210fps at 480x360.
The Casio FH20 performs as promised, able to capture 7-megapixel photos at up to 40fps in 1 second. Its other performance numbers were reasonably good, too, considering megazooms tend to be slow. Start-up time to first shot is 3.6 seconds and its time between single shots is only 1.8 seconds. Shutter lag is 0.5 second in bright conditions and 0.8 in dim lighting.
The biggest disappointment of this camera is its photo quality. Colors, while generally pleasing, weren't terribly accurate. What was accurate was the white balance, even the auto white balance, which tends to be too warm in other cameras. However, almost all of our test shots had some amount of purple fringing around high-contrast subjects. Sharpness and detail start dropping off early at ISO 200. Moving up to ISO 400 makes subjects look unclear and fine detail is pretty well gone. We don't suggest shooting above ISO 400 unless the photos are destined for small prints or Web use, mostly because of increased noise amounts and smoothing from noise reduction. That being said, if you're using the vast majority of your pictures online and/or at small sizes, you probably won't notice or care about the lack of detail or sharpness. It's just that for the money, we have a hard time putting a full recommendation behind the photos the FH20 produces.