DCRP Review: Casio Exilim EX-S2
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Friday, October 11, 2002
Last Updated: Wednesday, January 29, 2003

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Just a few weeks after I finished my review of the Casio Exilim EX-S1, the new Exilim EX-S2 ($299) was announced. It's basically the same tiny camera as its predecessor, but with a 2 Megapixel CCD. For another $100, you can pick up the EX-M2 model, which offers sound recording and MP3 playback.


Exilim vs. Sony DSC-U10

It's funny, but since I reviewed the original EX-S1, a smaller camera has appeared: the Sony DSC-U10. I didn't think they could get much smaller than Casio's Exilims, but Sony has done it. Look for a review of that camera in the future.

Update 10/14/02: Several readers wrote in to say that the Exilim is actually smaller than the Sony, at least in terms of volume. The Exilim has 50% less volume compared to the Sony. I doesn't seem that was when you use the Sony, but they are correct!

Anyhow, let's get into the details on this latest Exilim model. Since it's virtually identical to the EX-S1, I will be reusing a lot of text from that review, updating where necessary.

What's in the Box?

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

  • The 2.0 (effective) Mpixel Exilim EX-S2 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
  • 117 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 65 minutes of juice per charge, according to Casio. Charging the battery (in the USB cradle) takes two hours.


EX-S1 in dock

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

Tiny enough for you? Never though I'd say this, but now that I've seen the aforementioned Sony camera, the Exilim isn't so little.

As far as accessories go, your only options are cases. You can get natural leather or black leather models. That's it!

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

I don't have to tell you that the Exilim is tiny -- you already knew that. It fits into any pocket with ease, and is 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 (I know from experience).

The Exilim's dimension are 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.4 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs just 88 grams (3 grams more than the EX-S1).

Let's begin our 360 degree tour of the EX-S2, starting with the front.

The Exilim has an F3.2, fixed focal length lens (the S1's lens was faster at F2.5). 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 7.5 mm lens is equivalent to 36 mm.

The other major item on the front of the camera is the flash. The flash has a relatively unimpressive range of 1 - 2 meters.

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! Images on the LCD 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 operates the 4X digital zoom while in record mode. In playback mode, it marks photos for printing (DPOF) and also deletes them. Pushing to the left in record mode also switches between record, best shot, and movie mode (this is customizable). I should add that the switch isn't the greatest... it's not easy to maneuver and I often pressed one way, and got the other.

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, other than how thin it is!

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, which has a plastic "dummy card" to protect it as well. The Exilim cameras do not have a tripod mount!

Using the Casio Exilim EX-S2

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 problem.

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-S2 does not have a burst/continuous shooting mode.

Here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the EX-S2:

Image Size # photos on 12MB built-in memory
Fine Quality Normal Quality Economy Quality
1600 x 1200 11 16 29
1280 x 960 15 24 42
640 x 480 56 74 118

Unlike the EX-S1, the S2 can produce pictures at 1600 x 1200 without interpolation, thanks to its 2 Megapixel CCD. The built-in memory doesn't hold a ton of pictures at the high resolution, so buying an SD or MMC memory card isn't a bad idea. 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, best shot, 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)
  • Review (on/off) - whether picture is shown on LCD after it is taken
  • 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!

While new to the EX-S2, the Best Shot mode has been on other Casio cameras for years. Here's how it works: you select a scenario on the LCD, and the camera picks the best settings for it! The choices are:

  • Portrait
  • Scenery
  • Night Scene
  • Retro (low contrast + sepia color filter)
  • Twilight (high saturation + magenta color filter)
  • Monochrome

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 setup menu for setting the date and all that fun stuff.

I did not do the macro or night shot tests with the EX-S2. 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.

While the EX-S2's photo quality isn't going to win any awards, it's certainly very good for a tiny camera like this. Images can be soft, and there is some distortion in the corners of the frame sometimes, but overall, I think most people will be happy with what the S2 produces. Take a look at the photo gallery to judge for yourself!

Movie Mode

The EX-S2 can record silent movies up to 30 seconds in length (the EX-M2 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.


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 very quickly, though.

How Does it Compare?

Using the Exilim models, and now the Sony U10 have taught me something about these ultra-small cameras. If you view them as primary cameras, they're not really competitive at their respective prices. But if you think of them as a secondary, always-in-your-pocket camera, then they are very appealing. While the Exilim isn't the smallest camera anymore, it's still tiny. It offers quite a few manual controls, and takes pretty good pictures. They're not going to win an award for best photo quality, but for 4x6 prints, e-mail, or webpages, they are adequate. The EX-S2 and its MP3-playing cousin, the EX-M2 are both worth checking out if you're looking for a small, portable digicam!

What I liked:

  • Very cool, tiny body
  • 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 in movie mode (get the EX-M2 for that)
  • Some distortion in corners of images
  • No macro mode
  • No tripod mount
  • Buttons on top of camera feel too similar -- can't tell them apart

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Exilim EX-S2 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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