DCRP Review: Casio Exilim EX-S1
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, July 31, 2002
Last Updated: Thursday, August 1, 2002

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In a world of look-alike cameras, it's not hard to get excited when you see a camera like the Casio Exilim EX-S1 ($299). The Exilim is the smallest camera out there, by far, and is just 0.4" thick.

The EX-S1's sister camera is the EX-M1, which adds a microphone and MP3 playback capability. The EX-M1 is $349.

Does the Exilim perform as well as it looks? Find out now!

What's in the Box?

The Exilim has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 1.2 (effective) Mpixel Exilim EX-S1 camera
  • NP-20 Lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • USB docking cradle
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Dummy card
  • CD-ROM featuring PhotoLoader software and drivers
  • 115 page manual (printed)

When you have a camera this small, you've gotta have a proprietary battery. Casio uses one called the NP-20, which seems familiar for some reason. This 2.3 Watt/hour battery will get you about 80 minutes of juice per charge, according to Casio. Charging the battery (in the USB cradle) takes two hours.

Speaking of the USB cradle, this is a dock similar to those found on other cameras. Unlike Kodak, HP, and Fuji, Casio actually includes the dock with the camera. You use the dock to transfer photos as well as recharge the battery. The dock does not have to be powered to use the USB connection, which usually isn't the case with docking stations.

The Exilim has a slot for Secure Digital / MultiMedia cards, but one is not included. Instead, the camera has 12MB of built-in memory. A "dummy card" sits in the SD/MMC slot to protect it from dirt and dust.

So just how small is the Exilim? Have a look:


Camera in hand


Exilim with Kyocera Finecam S4 and deck of cards

Tiny enough for you?

As far as accessories go... well, there aren't any. I should add that neither of the Exilim models support video output to a television.

Casio's PhotoLoader software has never been a favorite of mine. Their manuals, however, are pretty good and are much easier to read than most.

Look and Feel

As I mentioned, the Exilim EX-S1 is a tiny camera -- the smallest one I've tested. It fits into any pocket with ease. It's easy to hold with one hand, as you'd expect.

The body is all metal, which means that it's both sturdy and attractive. One thing that you have to watch out for with these metal cameras is their amazing ability to get dirty and scratched.

The Exilim's dimension are 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.4 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs just 85 grams! By comparison, the Kyocera Finecam S4 pictured above has dimensions of 3.8 x 2.2 x 1.2, with a mass of 175 grams.

Let's begin our 360 degree tour of the EX-S1, starting with the front.

The Exilim has an F2.5, fixed focal length lens. What that means is that it's always focused, so there's no need to "half press" the shutter release button in order to lock focus. In fact, it won't even let you half press it. Anyhow, the Exilim's 5.6 mm lens is equivalent to 37mm.

The only other item on the front of the camera is the flash. I'm still amazed that they could fit one on a camera this small. The flash has a relatively unimpressive range of 1 - 2 meters.

If you get the EX-M1 model, you'll also find a microphone on the front.

Casio has managed to fit a 1.6" LCD on this tiny camera. What's funny (and sad at the same time) is that some new, expensive, and much larger Nikon cameras have the same size LCD as the Exilim! The resolution on the LCD isn't terribly high, but the images are bright and movement is smoothly reproduced.

Straight above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which as you'd expect is pretty small. No diopter correct is available.

Over to the right of the LCD, you'll find the menu button, four-way switch, and mode switch (you can see that this will be a short review!). The four-way switch could be better in terms of movement -- I would try to push it inwards but it would go down.

The four-way switch operates the 4X digital zoom while in record mode. In playback mode, it marks photos for printing (DPOF) and also deletes them.

On the top of the camera, you will find the shutter release button and the rather small power button. As I mentioned earlier, the shutter release button is one step only -- no pre-focusing is needed.

One really dumb thing is that the power button and shutter release button feel the same, and you end up pressing the wrong one. I shut the camera off numerous times when I wanted to take a picture.

There's not much to see on this side of the camera. Wow, is it thin!

On the other side, you'll find the battery compartment, with the NP-20 battery shown.

Last, but not least, here's the bottom of the Exilim. In the center is a connector for the dock. When you're not docked, a rubber cover protects it. To the right of that is the SD/MMC card slot, with the plastic dummy card shown. The Exilim cameras do not have a tripod mount!

Using the Casio Exilim EX-S1

Record Mode

Since it has no lens to extend, the Exilim starts up in just one second. Since there's no focusing to be done, you just press the shutter release button and the picture is taken. Shutter lag is not a major problem, as the camera is quite responsive.

Shot-to-shot speed is pretty good too. You will wait just 2 seconds before you can take another shot, at the fine quality setting.

The EX-S1 does not have a burst/continuous shooting mode.

Here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the EX-S1:

Image Size # photos on 12MB built-in memory
Fine Quality Normal Quality Economy Quality
1600 x 1200 10 15 30
1280 x 960 16 24 42
640 x 480 57 75 120

The 1600 x 1200 resolution is done via interpolation. The camera only records 1.2 million pixels, so it has to guess about 800,000 of them in order to create that 1600 x 1200 image. So while the image will be larger, it may have more artifacts and other weird stuff than the native resolution. There is no TIFF or RAW mode on the Exilim cameras.

The Exilim has an attractive and easy to use memory system. Here's what you'll find in the menus:

  • REC mode (Snapshot, night scene, movie)
  • Flash (Auto, off, on, red-eye reduction)
  • Self-timer (Off, 10 sec)
  • Indicators (LCD on/off)
  • Size (1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x 480)
  • Quality (Fine, normal, economy)
  • Digital zoom (on/off)
  • EV shift AKA exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, shade, light bulb, fluorescent, manual)
  • L/R key (REC mode, EV shift, flash, white balance) - define what left/right on the four-way switch does

Other camera manufacturers take note -- the point-and-shoot Exilim has manual white balance! Everything else in the above list should be self-explanatory.

An additional "memory" menu lets you choose what settings are stored when the camera is turned off. The choices include REC mode, flash, digital zoom, and white balance. There is also the standard issue set-up menu for setting the date and all that fun stuff.

I did not do the macro or night shot tests with the EX-S1. Why? Well, for one, it has no macro mode. The minimum distance to the subject is one meter, so close ups are out. I didn't perform the night shot test because the camera lacks a tripod mount.

I can, however, comment on the photo quality. It's not great, but certainly not horrible either. Images have a soft look to them, reminiscent of a video grab. I get the impression that most people will buy the Exilim for its looks, rather than it's ability to take photos. You should be able to get decent 4 x 6 inch prints out of it. Take a look at the photo gallery to see what I mean.

Movie Mode

The EX-S1 can record silent movies up to 30 seconds in length (the EX-M1 model records sound). Movies are saved in the AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

You use the digital zoom during filming.

Here is a sample movie for you to check out. The quality isn't great -- it looks like they have the compressed cranked up pretty high.


Click to play movie (1.0MB, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

Despite being a low-cost camera, the Exilim has a pretty full-featured playback mode. The basic features like DPOF print marking, zoom and scroll, and image protection are here, but there's no slide show.

Zoom and scroll lets you zoom up to 4X into your photo and then move around in it.

You can also resize images (to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240) and copy images from the internal memory to an SD/MMC card.

A unique feature is a "favorites" area -- you can mark your photos as favorites and then easily access them later via the menu.

The camera doesn't display any exposure information with your photos. It does move through your photos instantly, though.

How Does it Compare?

Like I said earlier, people won't buy the Exilim EX-S1 (or the MP3 cable EX-M1 model) for their picture quality. They buy it for its size -- this thing is as close to a "spycam" as I've seen. The picture quality is pretty average, but is fine for small prints and webpages. Despite being a point-and-shoot camera, the Exilim has a good number of features, including manual white balance. The fixed focal length lens means fast startup and shooting speeds. On the downside, there's no macro mode or tripod mount. It's also expensive for a 1.2 Megapixel camera. For those who want a small camera to carry with you, the Exilim should definitely be on your list. If it's going to be your primary camera, I'd look carefully at other cameras in this price range!

What I liked:

  • The ultimate small camera -- it's just plain cool!
  • Robust operation
  • Built-in memory plus a SD/MMC slot
  • Decent photo quality for a tiny camera
  • Many controls, even manual white balance
  • Handy dock for photo transfer / battery charging

What I didn't care for:

  • No optical zoom (can't see how they'd do it)
  • No sound recording on EX-S1 model (get the EX-M1 for that)
  • No macro mode
  • No tripod mount
  • Buttons on top of camera plus the four-way switch need a redesign
  • Pricey

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Exilim EX-S1 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Check out Steve's Digicams for another review of this camera!

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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