Casio EX-S2 Review
Seems as if all the camera makers are intent on holding the title of the world's smallest digicam, if only for a brief time. Just when you think that you've seen the smallest one possible, an even smaller one appears. As of September 2002 Casio lays claim to being the smallest with their duo of new Exilim cameras. The EX-S2 is slightly thinner than its multimedia twin the EX-M2 which has the same digicam features plus the ability to record sound and playback MP3 audio files.
A marvel of modern miniaturization, the credit card sized EX-S2 is a 2-megapixel
digicam with a 1.6-inch color LCD, optical viewfinder, built-in flash and
rechargeable battery all packaged in a durable, stainless steel body. Just as
Minolta created a new type of optical system for their tiny
DiMAGE X, Casio has developed a single-component lens and CCD imager to keep the
Exilim cameras as thin as possible. The CCD is more sensitive to light which allows it to
capture better pictures in lower light levels without using the flash. Four of the
major digicam components (CPU, ASIC, SDRAM and Flash memory) have been combined into
one Multi Chip Module to lower power consumption by 1/3 and reduce the size by
70%. The color LCD uses an energy efficient white LED backlight and is the
first "digital interface" LCD to be used in a digital camera--other LCD displays are
controlled by analog signals that must be converted to digital.
Not only is the EX-S2 small, it is also very fast. It's ready to take the first shot faster than you can press the power button and bring it up to your eye. I'd say it takes about one second to power up and has a shot to shot time of less than two seconds when using the flash, even faster without it. Unlike most digicams the EX-S2 has almost zero shutter lag time thanks to the fixed-focus lens. This means you won't miss any of those special pictures because the camera was still trying to focus. Switching from Record to Play brings up the last picture captured as fast as you can move the switch. The overall operation of this camera is robust, very robust!
The NP-20 rechargeable battery is a good match for the camera, it's small but more than able to supply power for about 400 pictures. It's a lithium polymer type battery pack so you can slip it into the docking cradle and recharge it whenever you like without shortening its service life. Another benefit of lithium batteries is they hold a charge longer than the NiMH type which are prone to "air discharge" even when not being used. The downside is that this is a proprietary battery and the only one that can power the camera. If it dies then your picture taking is over until it's recharged, unless you are smart enough to carry a spare. Thankfully the NP-20 batteries only cost about $30 so a spare won't set you back very much.
The user controls are minimal, in fact there are only five of them counting the
shutter release. Next to the shutter release on top is the power on/off button
which is indented to prevent accidental activation. On the back is a slide switch
that changes the operational mode between record and playback. The MENU button
enables the onscreen menu system, all settings are displayed and changed on the
color LCD. The menu system is logical and straight forward, this is basically a
"point and shoot" type of camera so there aren't any advanced exposure modes to
worry about. The user can override the metering +/- 2EV with the "EV Shift" option
or select a white balance preset or manually adjust it. And of course the image
size and quality can also be selected.
Navigating the menus, selecting images for playback or controlling the digital zoom is accomplished via the tiny 4-way selector switch on the back. And I do mean tiny, it's too small to be operated properly with the tip of your finger. I'm sure the designers knew this too because they added four little "dimples" that you can snag with your fingernail. I've lost count of how many times I tried to go "up" and ended up going "left" or "right" instead. I can only hope that on the next model they will use five little buttons or a more ergonomic kind of joystick instead of this frustrating device.
Unlike the EX-S1, the EX-S2 has a TRUE 2-megapixel imager so it creates native 1600x1200 size images. The EX-S1 had to interpolate (high-tech word meaning "guess where the extra pixels would be) its 1600x1200 size images from a smaller imager. When used indoors in average lighting you should be able to get good snapshots without need of the flash. This is due to its highly sensitive CCD imager even though it has a not-so-fast F3.2 lens. The non-zoom lens is equivalent to a 36mm wideangle in 35mm photography and doesn't suffer from too much barrel distortion (outer edge curvature.) It's not the sharpest lens but considering its incrdibly diminuitive size it does a good job. It's a fixed-focus optic so there is no auto focus delay when pressing the shutter button. Everything from one meter to infinity is always in focus. You do have to remember not to grab the top left of the camera or else you will end up with your finger in the picture. The best way to hold it is to pinch the lower left of the camera between your index finger and thumb. Your thumb ends up dead-center in the color LCD but it's coated with a non-glare finish that resists fingerprints very well.
And speaking of the color LCD, it's a good one. This tiny camera has the same size 1.6-inch LCD display that most of the full-size cameras are now using. The LCD comes on by default at startup as it is the only "signalling" device on the camera. It shows you the status of the battery, the number of images remaining and the image size and quality settings. To conserve battery power you need to access the menu and select the LCD-OFF option. The EX-S1 required you to do this every time you turned it on as it had no option to memorize this function. Thankfully Casio fixed this on the EX-S2, if you select LCD-OFF it is now remembered from power off to power on until you change it again. The LCD is resolute and colorful and easy to review captured images thanks to the 4x playback zoom although you do have to use our favorite (not) 4-way selector switch to perform all of these chores. There is no Video Out function so you either play your pictures on the color LCD or transfer the image data to your computer.
You couldn't ask for a more "pocketable" digicam if you tried, the EX-S2 is as small as they come -- at least as of the time of this review. It's stylish and built like a tank so don't hesitate to take this silver beauty anywhere that you go short of getting it wet. If other cameras have fustrated you because of excessive shutter delay then this camera is what you're looking for to capture those special moments. The only thing you ever have to wait for with the EX-S2 is the battery to charge, other than that it's one of the fastest little cameras that we've ever used. There's almost a zero learning curve to use it, just turn it on, point it at the subject and press the shutter button - that's it. If you want all the features of the EX-S2 plus the ability to record sound and play your MP3 music files then look at Casio's EX-M2. These are both great little entry-level digicams and with retail prices of just $299 and $399 they're sure to please.
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