Casio EX-S1 Review

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Steve's Conclusion

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 July 2002 Casio lays claim to being the smallest with their duo of new Exilim cameras. The EX-S1 is slightly thinner than its multimedia twin the EX-M1 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-S1 is a 1.3-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.

Casio Exilim EX-S1

Not only is the EX-S1 small, it is also very fast. It is 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-S1 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.

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.

Casio Exilim EX-S1

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.

The EX-S1 has a native image size of 1280x960 with its 1.25-megapixel effective imager but thanks to an in-camera interpolation routine it can create up to 1600x1200 size images. These interpolated images will create better looking prints but they're not as clear and sharp as 1600x1200 images created from a 2-megapixel camera. The overall image quality is not bad, it's not excellent either but rather somewhere inbetween. When used indoors in average lighting you should be able to get good snapshots without need of the flash. This is due partly to the highly sensitive CCD imager and partly to the relatively fast F2.5 aperture of the lens. The non-zoom lens is equivalent to a 37mm wideangle in 35mm photography and doesn't suffer from any appreciable barrel distortion (outer edge curvature.) It's not the sharpest lens that I've used but considering its physical 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 is coated with a non-glare finish that seems to resist fingerprints too.

And speaking of the color LCD, it is 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. You have to do this every time you turn it on as there is no menu option to memorize this function. It would have been better to put a DISPLAY button on the back so you could easily turn the LCD on and off without having to battle with that 4-way selector switch. Or an option for the LCD to come on for five seconds and then go off automatically would be nice too. The LCD is resolute and colorful and it's 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-S1 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 camera have fustrated you because of excessive shutter delay then this camera may be what you're looking for to capture that special moment. The only thing you ever have to wait for with the EX-S1 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-S1 plus the ability to record sound and play your MP3 music files then look at Casio's EX-M1. These are both great little entry-level digicams and with retail prices of just $299 and $349 they're sure to please.

EX-S1/EX-M1 Firmware Update

Feb 2003 - Casio has posted a Firmware v1.12R update for EX-S1 and EX-M1 cameras. To check your firmware version hold the MENU button down while pressing the POWER switch. Keep the MENU button depressed until you see the firmware info on the screen. If it says you have the "Ver.1.00-1.01" you need to download the new update and install it.

Follow the link above to go to Casio's web site for the update. Be sure to read the information before attempting this update as it is only for certain models of the camera.

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