CES - Casio unveils super high-speed digital still camera

Casio will put on sale in March a digital still camera that can shoot 60 images at full 6-megapixel resolution in one second, it will announce Sunday at CES.

Casio will put on sale in March a digital still camera capable of shooting up to 60 full-resolution images in one second, and video at more than 1000 per second to realize a super slow-motion effect.

The high-speed shooting and super slow-motion features are a first in consumer cameras, being typically found on much more expensive and dedicated professional models. Their inclusion in the Exilim Pro EX-F1 tops a two-year development project by Casio that sought to come up with just such a new feature, said Takashi Onoda, an engineer at Casio's research center that developed the camera.

An early version of the camera was shown at the IFA show in Germany in August 2007, but the production model, which debuts at CES, has been improved against the IFA prototype, said Onoda.

Among the top features of the EX-F1 is the fast-shooting mode that will snap up to 60 images at the camera's full 6-megapixel resolution. The length of time over which they are shot is set by the user, and can be between one second and one minute. After the images are shot, the user can browse through them to find, for example, the exact moment at which a baseball player's bat hits the ball, or a baby gives a perfect smile.

To further help get that perfect picture, the camera can record up to 60 images before the shutter button is pressed. It does this by constantly recording and overwriting pictures as soon as the shutter button is pressed halfway down. The maximum number of images recorded in burst mode remains 60, but the feature allows those slow on the shutter to have, for example, 20 images saved from immediately before the shutter is pushed and 40 from immediately afterwards.

The high-speed mode slows down when the flash needs to be used. With the camera's built-in flash it's possible to shoot up to 20 pictures at seven images per second.

Just as innovative as the camera's burst-shooting mode is the high-speed video mode. It can shoot video at between 300 frames per second and 1,200 fps, which when played back at the normal 30 fps realizes a super slow-motion effect. In this mode it's possible to view, for example, the wings of a dragonfly flap as it takes to flight.

The function has been upgraded from the prototype at IFA, which could only manage 300 fps.

The high-speed shooting comes at the expense of image quality. In 300 fps mode video resolution is 512 pixels by 384 pixels, in 600 fps mode it's 432 pixels by 192 pixels and in 1,200 fps mode it drops to 336 pixels by 96 pixels. The latter results in a long and thin image that's just right for capturing something like a golf swing.

In normal video shooting mode the camera is capable of full high-definition recording -- 1,920 pixels by 1,080 pixels at 60 fps -- in addition to standard definition video. All video shot by the camera is stored as an H.264 Quicktime file and there's an HDMI output so it can be hooked-up to a high-definition TV.

Other features of the EX-F1 include a 12X optical zoom lens that protrudes out of the front of the camera's body. The interface also groups together batches of shots taken with the burst-shooting mode so that the user doesn't end up clicking through hundreds of images to get to the scene they want to find.

Casio said the new camera will cost around US$1,000.

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