Thursday, May 5, 2011

Casio's Tryx turns camera design inside out

Thursday, May 5, 2011

It's not exactly news that digital cameras come in myriad sizes and shapes. So it catches you by surprise when you come across a camera body design that goes against any preconceptions you have about what a camera is supposed to look like. Such is the offbeat pocket-size 12-megapixel Casio Tryx EX-TR100 point-and-shoot I've been working with for a few weeks. Tryx (pronounced "tricks") only recently went on sale.

  • The Casio Tryx camera.


    The Casio Tryx camera.


The Casio Tryx camera.

Tryx is squarely aimed at the casual sharpshooter, not anyone overly serious about the craft of shooting high-quality images. The camera has no optical zoom (ouch), offers only minimal manual choices and lacks such niceties as image stabilization or a tripod mount (though you can prop it up on a flat surface). And at $250, you're paying a premium for the unique design, especially when you consider the absence of features that are common to other point-and-shoots in the price range.

What it does have is a design that defies conventions. Closed, Tryx slightly resembles a smartphone. The device is a little over half an inch thick. In fact, I couldn't immediately determine which was the Tryx and which was my iPhone 4 when the latter was in a case and both were in my pocket.

But there's no mistaking the Tryx's purpose as digital camera or pocket camcorder once you start fooling around with it. The outer frame swings out a full 360 degrees. The really wide wide-angle 21mm lens, which is hinged onto the hollow frame, can also turn. Separately, the inner 3-inch LCD touch-screen swivels up to 270 degrees.

The moves

The results of all these contortions is you can twist, turn, bend and fold the camera into numerous configurations, making it simple in theory, if not always in practice to capture shots from virtually any angle, including your own self-portrait and decent high-definition video up to 1080p. An orientation sensor makes sure that whichever way you're aiming, Tryx is right side up, good for both right-handed shooters and southpaws. You can stand it up on a table or hang it on a nail or doorknob. I wouldn't recommend trying that with your digital SLR.

At times you'll grab the outer frame like a handle, useful for shooting video. At other times, you'll wrap your fingers across the top and bottom of the Tryx, as you would with a typical digital camera. Mercifully, given these Chubby Checker machinations, the frame and hinge feel sturdy. Alas, I can't say the same for the plastic flaps that cover an SD memory card slot, USB port or HDMI port for connecting Tryx to a high-definition TV.

The shots

Shooting can be a little clumsy depending on how you're using Tryx. There are only two physical buttons on the camera: one to power the device on or off, and the other to snap the shutter. Alternatively, you can tap the touch-screen to trigger a shot. Until I got the hang of it, my fingers were sometimes an unwelcome presence in my pictures. Tryx has a nice touch-screen menu interface, but I occasionally had to press the screen more than once to get it to respond.

The camera, in fact, has a few tricks up its sleeve. A motion shutter feature lets you trigger the shutter by waving your hand, helpful if you're in a group shot. (I sometimes had trouble controlling the feature.) You can shoot slow-motion video. It works with Eye-Fi memory cards and software that let you upload images to online destinations.

I had fun with a Slide Panorama setting in which the camera shoots a series of images as you pan across a scene, then stitches them together into a panorama. But I doubt even Monet would have been impressed with a gimmicky HDR-Art feature that is meant to process images into a scene that resembles an Impressionist painting.

Overall, the still-picture quality was acceptable but not exceptional. Videos came out fine. Lab tests conducted by (owned by USA TODAY) found that a lot of photos were underexposed in low light. And you're left wondering whether the tradeoffs exacted by the camera's funky design compensate for the features sacrificed in the process, probably none of which you'll miss more than the optical zoom. The digital zoom is no substitute. Tryx also has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that cannot be swapped out for a spare when you run out of juice, which seemed to happen faster than with rival cameras.

Give Casio credit for breaking the mold in camera design and function. But the first Tryx (and I hope there are more) may be a little too far out for most casual consumers, especially at its current price.


Casio Tryx EX-TR100

$250, 2 and a half stars (out of four)

Pro. Unique and clever design lets you shoot pictures and HD videos from multiple angles,including self-portraits. Nice panorama feature.

Con. Design exacts tradeoffs. Lacks optical zoom. Battery isn't removable. Tad expensive. Shooting can be awkward.

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