Casio EX-S600 Review
Casio's Exilim EX-S600 is the 2006 upgrade of the very popular EX-S500 from last year. This stylish and compact model is almost identical to its predecessor, with only one major improvement; resolution is boosted to 6-megapixels. It features a wealth of fully automatic "Best Shot" exposure modes (33 to be exact), that will allow you to capture great images in various shooting conditions. The Auto or "program mode" is also automatic, but still offers adjustments to more advanced camera settings like ISO, metering, white balance, etc.
Although it is very compact, what we consider an "ultra-compact", its ergonomics are good. The raised right hand side of the body, brings the shutter release and power button up, making it much easier to access with your index finger. There's also just enough space between the 4-way controller and zoom controls to place your thumb without interfering with any buttons. Its onscreen menu system was logically organized and very easy to navigate, which made for quick changes to the camera settings. The durable all-metal body ensures it can stand the test of time as well as being tossed into Mom's purse (just be careful with things pressing against the LCD.)
The large 2.2-inch LCD is used for composing your shots, reviewing captured images and navigating the menu system. This display occupies most of the back of the camera, leaving no room for an optical viewfinder. Thankfully, it's a high-quality display which I found was quite usable in most outdoor conditions, with only a few angles that reflected the sun and made it difficult to see. While being used indoors, it "gains up" the live image, helping you compose your shots in dim lighting. Unlike the EX-S500, the S600 does brighten and darken the live image in response to your exposure compensation adjustments, so you can accurately see what your final product will look like.
The EX-S600's shooting performance is quite good. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 1.6 seconds. Shutter lag, the time from depressing the shutter release and capturing the image, was instantaneous when pre-focused, and about 1/10 of a second when pre-focused. Rapid shooting in single drive mode captured images at intervals of 1.3 seconds without flash, and between 2.7 and 4 seconds with flash, depending on your subject distance. You must wait for the flash to recharge, as indicated by the Operation Lamp, before depressing the shutter button for the next shot. Using its continuous capture or burst mode allowed me to capture 5 images in about 5 seconds, a frame rate of 1fps or less; the LCD viewfinder briefly displayed the live image between exposures, helping you follow a moving subject. All tests were done using a Sandisk Extreme III 1GB SD card, Auto recording mode, 6M Fine size/quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless noted otherwise.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The 3x optical zoom lens produced good results throughout its range. It is sharp at the center, but exhibits some softness at the edges. Its 38 - 114mm (in 35mm equivalence) focal length range is typical for a camera in this class. At 38mm, there's enough field of view for group portraits and landscapes, while its 102mm telephoto extreme will bring distant subjects a bit closer. The lens exhibits a slight chromatic aberration (purple fringing in high-contrast areas), noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle, and slight barrel distortion at telephoto.
Image quality was excellent for a consumer 6-megapxiel camera. We used the highest quality setting, 6M Fine, and were very pleased with our results. Outdoors it captures images that are sharp and well exposed. Colors are richly saturated, and you can even adjust the saturation as well as sharpness and contrast via the Record Menu. While we feel the default settings are just fine, you will have the ability to "dial in" that certain look. One issue consumer models have, is imager noise that is present throughout an image. This becomes even more noticeable as the camera's sensitivity is increased. I was happy to see that the EX-S600's noise levels were very low, even at ISO 400 (the highest setting.) Yes, you can see a "grain" to the image when viewing it at 100%, however it is much better than similar models, and you will still be able to produce useable prints.
Indoors, you will have to work within the limited flash range of approx. 9 feet at wide angle. While it will be sufficient for close-up portraits, do not expect it to illuminate your family in a mid to large sized room (like the living room etc.) If there is plenty of ambient light, you should be fine, but if is dark outside, be sure to shoot from about 5 - 6 feet away at the most. However, this is a common problem with "ultra-compact" models, tiny cameras + tiny batteries = tiny flash with a short range. When staying within its limitations, the EX-S600 produced beautiful flash portraits, that showed good exposure and skin tones that were very natural.
Like past Casio Exilim models, the EX-S600 is loaded with helpful and "cool" features. In addition to Auto exposure mode, it has 33 Best Shot scene modes ranging from the typical Portrait, Scenery and Sports to the unusual Soft Flowing Water, Splashing Water, Text, White Board and Business Card. Business Card mode allows you to capture images at an angle or bad perspective, then correct the images in-camera to make the perspective as if you had shot the picture dead on to the subject. There's also the Anti Shake technology, that will allow you to capture blur free images in lower lighting. I found this mode also worked great when recording movies; holding such a small camera steady can be extremely challenging at times.
Movie mode allows you to capture VGA (640x480) resolution video with audio, limited in length only by the amount of available memory. It too has some cool features, like the Past Movie mode, which captures moving images continuously, but begins saving the clip from a point in time 5 seconds before the record button is depressed. And, because of its separate movie and still image shutter buttons, you can capture a still image in the middle of recording a movie, with only a small interruption in the recording. All features aside, this camera's movie mode produced high-quality clips with very little compression noise. It also did well indoors in lower lighting. You can see for yourself by taking a look at our indoor and outdoor examples on the samples page.
Power is supplied by a small 3.7-volt 700mAh NP-20 rechargeable Lithium Ion battery, which is charged in-camera when placed in the included camera dock. Casio claims a battery life of approx. 300 shots or 150 minutes of continuous playback on a fully charged pack. I had no problems capturing all of our samples (over 105 shots) and concluded many of our other tests on a single charge. However, we still suggest that you obtain a second battery and keep it charged to avoid the inevitable disappointment of finding a dead battery during a unique photo op.
Bottom line - The Exilim EX-S600 wears the Casio name proudly, continuing the tradition of a
durable, lightweight model that can be tucked away just about anywhere, while still
capturing great photos and offering outstanding performance. Not to mention, there are loads
of user-friendly exposure modes. With an MSRP of around $399, we feel it offers a good
value, and is sure to please the family, business or tourist user.
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