Exilim EX-S500 ($399) is an ultra-compact 5 Megapixel
digital camera with a 3X optical zoom lens. And when
I saw ultra-compact, I mean it -- it's just 0.6 inches
thick! Other features include a 2.2" LCD display,
tons of scene modes, and a high quality MPEG4 movie
Like so many of the stylish and thin
cameras on the market these days, the EX-S500 comes
in three colors: white, gray, and yes, even orange.
You can probably tell which color I ended up with.
As you probably know, the ultra-compact
camera space is crowded. Find out how the S500 performed
in our review!
Since the two cameras share many
features, I'll be reusing parts of the EX-Z750 review
What's in the Box?
The Exilim EX-S500 has an average
bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 5.0 effective Megapixel Casio
Exilim EX-S500 digital camera
- NP-20 rechargeable lithium-ion
- AC adapter
- USB camera cradle
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Casio PhotoLoader
and PhotoHands, Ulead Movie Wizard SE VCD, and drivers
- Printed basic manual + full manual
Casio is one of the growing number
of camera manufacturers who no longer include a memory
card with their cameras. A year or two you'd see a
16MB (or 32MB if you're lucky) memory card included
with the S500, but no more. Instead Casio has built
8.3MB of memory right into the camera. That holds a
grand total of TWO photos at the highest quality setting,
so consider a larger memory card to be a required purchase.
The EX-S500 uses Secure Digital and MultiMedia cards,
and Casio recommends the use of a high speed SD card
with the camera. A 256MB card is a good size to start
The S500 uses one NP-200 lithium-ion
rechargeable battery for power. This small battery
packs 2.6Wh of energy, which isn't too much. Let's
see how the EX-S500 compares to other ultra-compact
cameras in terms of battery life now:
life, LCD on
Minolta DiMAGE X1
Minolta DiMAGE X60
As you can see, the S500 falls right
in the middle of the pack.
Proprietary batteries like the NP-20
are standard features on ultra-thin cameras like this.
Just remember that they're pricey -- $30 a pop.
Front of the dock
I/O ports on the
back of the dock
The included camera dock is used for
battery charging, transferring photos to your PC, or
viewing photos on a television. You cannot connect
the video or USB cables directly to the camera -- you
must use the dock.
To charge the battery just put the
camera onto the cradle. It takes about two hours to
fully charge the NP-20. If you want to charge the battery
outside of the dock you can do so by purchasing the
BC-10L external charger ($40).
The S500 has a built-in lens cover
so there is no clumsy lens cap to worry about. As you
can see, this is a very small camera.
Aside from the external charger and
extra battery, the only other accessories that I know
of for the S500 are cases ($15-$20).
The S500 includes Casio's PhotoLoader
and Photohands software. PhotoLoader is used to download
and view stills and movies from your camera. The Mac
version is not OS X native, but works in Classic mode.
Photohands is for Windows only, and is used for retouching
and printing images.
Also included is Ulead Movie Wizard
SE VCD, a Windows-only product for editing the videos
produced by the S500 and then burning them to a Video
CD (VCD). Mac users are left out in the cold in this
department, but there is hope. More on that later.
Casio has been imitating Olympus in
the manual area in recent years. They include a skimpy "'basic
manual" in the box, leaving the full manual on
CD-ROM. My question is: if you're going to print a
basic manual, why not print the whole thing and do
the right thing for your customers? The quality of
the manuals themselves is about average for a digital
camera (read: not great).
Look and Feel
The EX-S500 is an ultra-thin camera
made mostly of metal (with the exception of the battery
cover). The camera feels solid and as you'd expect,
it can fit in any pocket. Whereas some cameras rely
on folded optics to make their cameras thin, the EX-S500
has an extending lens.
The controls on the S500 are well
placed and the camera can be used with just one hand.
Okay, now let's see how the S500 compares to other
ultra-compact cameras in terms of size and weight:
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
x 2.1 x 0.8 in.
x 2.2 x 1.3 in.
x 2.3 x 0.6 in.
x 2.3 x 0.9 in.
x 2.3 x 0.9 in.
x 2.2 x 0.7 in.
x 2.2 x 0.9 in.
Minolta DiMAGE X1
x 2.7 x 0.8 in.
x 2.3 x 0.8 in.
x 2.4 x 1.0 in.
x 2.3 x 1.3 in.
x 2.0 x 1.0 in.
x 2.0 x 0.8 in.
x 2.4 x 0.7 in.
x 2.4 x 0.8 in.
As you can see, the S500 is the smallest
and darn close to the lightest camera in its class!
Enough numbers, let's start our tour
of the camera now!
The EX-S500 features an F2.7-5.2,
3X optical zoom lens. As far as I know, this is not
the same ceramic lens that was used by its predecessor,
the EX-S100. The focal range of the lens is 6.2 - 18.6
mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. The lens is
not threaded, nor would I expect it to be.
The hole to the lower-left of the
lens is the microphone. The circle just to the right
of the flash is the AF-assist lamp, which doubles as
the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp is used by
the camera for focusing in low light situations.
And speaking of the flash: if it looks
small and weak, that's because it is. The working range
of the flash is 0.4 - 2.8 m at wide-angle and just
0.4 - 1.4 m at telephoto. While better than the notoriously
bad Sony T-series cameras, the flash on many other
cameras from Canon, Minolta, and Fuji are stronger.
You cannot attach an external flash to the S500.
On the back of the EX-S500 you'll
find a large 2.2" LCD display. While big in size,
this screen is small in terms of resolution, with just
84,000 pixels. While I could easily tell that the resolution
wasn't the best, it didn't hamper my usage of the camera.
In low light the screen gains up nicely, so you can
still see your subject.
As you can probably tell, there's
no optical viewfinder on the EX-S500, as is the case
with most cameras in this class. Whether this is bad
is really a subjective thing: while I like optical
viewfinders, most people never use them.
Directly above the screen are buttons
for entering playback and recording mode. Moving over
to the right of those we find the movie record button.
Yes, like the PowerShot S2, the EX-S500 has a dedicated
button for recording movies. I'll have more on the
movie mode later in the review.
To the right of the movie button we
find the rather small zoom controller. This moves the
lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 0.8 seconds.
I counted just six steps throughout the 3X zoom range.
I do like how the camera shows the current focus distance
on the LCD as you're zooming in or out.
To the right of the LCD we find the
speaker, with buttons for Menu and Best Shot below
it. Best Shot is Casio's name for scene modes, and
the S500 has plenty of them. They include:
- Auto - for normal shooting
- Portrait w/scenery
- Candlelight portrait
- Natural green
- Autumn leaves
- Soft flowing water
- Splashing water
- Night scene
- Night scene portrait
- Anti-shake - see below
- High sensitivity - see below
- Business cards and documents
- White board
- Silent movie
- Short movie
- Past movie
- Voice recording
- Register user scene - create your
That's quite a list! Casio almost
goes a bit overboard with all those scene modes, and
if you don't see one you like, you can create your
The anti-shake and high sensitivity
best shot modes are similar in that they both boost
the ISO as needed in order to use a faster shutter
speed. The difference between the two modes is that
the high sensitivity mode doesn't use the anti-shake
DSP. The problem with high ISOs on the S500 is that,
well, they're pretty awful.
|Fuji FinePix F10
||Casio Exilim EX-S500
Both of the above crops were taken
at ISO 400. As you can see, the Fuji F10, which is
famous for its high ISO shooting abilities, blows away
the S500. The high ISO modes on the S500 are suitable
only for small-sized prints, as things are too noisy
for anything larger.
The anti-shake feature (available
as both a Best Shot mode and a regular menu option)
is NOT an optically based system like on some other
cameras. Rather it's an electronic system that tries
to reduce the effects of "camera shake".
Casio warns that using this feature will add noise
and reduce resolution in your photos, but if you're
printing 4 x 6's that may not matter. Also, please
note that the anti-shake feature is not available in
How well does the anti shake system
work? The answer is: pretty well, though not as good
as a "real" image stabilizer.
Casio Exilim EX-S500, Anti-shake off
Casio Exilim EX-S500, Anti-shake on
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9, OIS mode 2
All three of the crops above were
taken at 1/8 second. There's a noticeable improvement
with anti-shake on the S500, though the optically based
system on the FX9 clearly produces a sharper photo.
In other words, there's no substitute for the real
thing. And, unlike on the S500, the optical image stabilizers
can be used in movie mode as well.
The four-way controller is used for
menu navigation and also:
- Up - Display (toggles info on LCD
on and off)
- Down - Flash setting (Auto, flash
off, flash on, auto w/redeye reduction) + Delete
- Left/Right - Customizable (see
menu section for options)
On the top of the S500 you'll find
the power and shutter release buttons. I found the
power button to be a little too sensitive, as I often
turned the camera on accidentally when inserting or
removing the camera from my pocket.
There's nothing to see on this side
of the S500, though it's fun to admire just how thin
this camera really is.
Nothing to see here either!
We end our tour with a look at the
bottom of the S500. Here you'll find the battery and
memory card compartment, the dock connector, and a
metal tripod mount. The plastic door covering the battery/memory
compartment isn't the greatest. Depending on your tripod,
you may or may not be able to swap memory cards while
the camera is on the tripod.
Using the Casio Exilim EX-S500
The startup speed on the EX-S500 is
amazing -- just one second!
There's a nice live histogram on the LCD in record mode
(sorry these are so crummy, they're photos and not captures)
Focusing speeds were quite good, with
typical times of 0.3 - 0.5 seconds. Low light focusing
was impressive, due in large part to the S500's AF-assist
I did not find shutter lag to be a
problem on the S500, even at the slower shutter speeds
where it sometimes crops up.
Shot-to-shot speeds were excellent,
with a delay of just one second between photos, assuming
you've turned off the post-shot review feature.
Unfortunately there's no way to delete
a photo immediately after taking it -- you must enter
playback mode first.
Now, here's a look at the image size
and quality choices available on the EX-S500:
||Approx. file size
||# images on 8.3MB built-in
||# images on 256MB SD
To say that a larger memory card is
needed is an understatement. Why even bother with built-in
memory if you're going to include just 8.3MB?
Images are named CIMG####.JPG, where
# = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even
if you replace and/or format memory cards.
Let's talk about menus now.
The EX-S500 has a slightly different
menu system than other Casio cameras I've used recently.
Instead of Rec, Memory, and Setup tabs there is now
Rec, Quality, and Setup. Here is what you'll find under
those first two tabs:
- Rec Tab
- Focus (Auto, macro, pan, infinity, manual)
- see below
- Continuous (on/off) - see below
- Self-timer (Off, X3, 2 sec, 10 sec) - X3
takes three shots in a row
- AF Area (Spot, multi)
- AF-assist light (on/off)
- Anti-shake (Auto, off) - I discussed this
- L/R key (Focus, EV shift, white balance,
ISO, self-timer, off) - customize what the
left/right directions on the four-way controller
- Quick shutter (on/off) - when this is on
the camera takes the picture without focusing
first when you press the shutter release all
the way down
- Audio snap (on/off) - add 30 second voice
clips to your photos
- Grid (on/off) - helps you compose your photos
- Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best to keep
- Review (on/off) - post-shot review feature
- Icon help (on/off) - shows "guidance
text" on the LCD when you change certain
- Memory (Best shot, flash, focus, white balance,
ISO, AF area, metering, self-timer, flash intensity,
digital zoom, MF position, zoom position) -
what settings are remembered when you turn
off the camera
- Quality tab
- Size (see chart above)
- Snapshot quality (see chart)
- Movie quality (HQ, normal, LP) - more on
- EV shift (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
- exposure compensation
- White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, shade,
day white fluorescent, daylight fluorescent,
- ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
- Metering (Multi, center-weighted, spot)
- Sharpness (-2 to +2 in 1-step increments)
- Saturation (-2 to +2 in 1-step increments)
- Contrast (-2 to +2 in 1-step increments)
- Flash intensity (-2 to +2 in 1-step increments)
- Flash assist (Auto, off) - see below
There are five focus modes on the
EX-S500, including auto, infinite, and macro (discussed
later). Pan focus mode is a fixed focus length that's
useful for when autofocus won't work -- the range is
about 1.1 m to infinity. The manual focus mode lets
you use the four-way controller to set the focus distance.
A guide showing the selected focus distance is shown
on the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged
The continuous shooting mode on the
S500 will keep taking pictures at a sluggish 0.6 frames/second
until the memory card is full. The LCD blacks out briefly
The manual white balance option lets
you use a white or gray card so you can get perfect
color even under the most unusual lighting.
Flash assist is similar to the Digital
Flash feature on HP cameras or D-Lighting on Nikon
cameras. This will brighten up any flash pictures that
may be underexposed due to the limited range of the
camera's built-in flash. Do note that this option will
increase noise levels a bit.
Now here are the options found in
the Setup tab of the menu:
- Sounds (Startup, half-shutter,
shutter, operation, operation volume, playback volume)
- adjust all the blips and bleeps plus the volume
- Startup (on/off) - you can use
your own startup image if you'd like
- File numbering (Continue, reset)
- World time
- Home/world - choose the current
- Home time setup
- World time setup
- Date style (YY/MM/DD, DD/MM/YY,
- Adjust (time setting)
- Language (Japanese, English, French,
German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean)
- Sleep (30 sec, 1, 2 mins, off)
- Auto power off (2, 5 mins)
- Rec / Play (Power on, Power on/off,
Disable) - what these two buttons do
- USB (Mass Storage, PTP/PictBridge)
- Video out (NTSC, PAL)
- Reset camera
Well enough about menus, let's do
photo tests now.
The EX-S500 did a decent job with
our macro test subject, though it's on the soft side.
Colors look good, and aren't unnaturally saturated
like the EX-Z750 was.
In macro mode you can get as close
to your subject as 17 cm at wide-angle and 40 cm at
telephoto, which isn't spectacular. As I mentioned
before, the camera shows the available focus range
on the LCD when you zoom in or out.
The S500's night shot was average.
You cannot manually select a slow shutter speed on
the S500 -- you must use one of the Best Shot modes.
Even with that, the exposure wasn't long enough for
this shot (4 seconds is as slow as it goes) so I had
to increase the ISO to 100. This, of course, adds noise,
resulting in the image you see above. Purple fringing
levels are reasonably low.
Our distortion test shows mild to
moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the S500's
lens. What you can't see here is the blurring around
the edges of the frame that I'll describe in a moment.
The redeye on the S500 wasn't as bad
as expected. It's there, but it's not very "bright".
I'm a little suspicious of this result, so I'm going
to test it a few more times to make sure the redeye
levels are this low. Stay tuned.
I was disappointed with the majority
of the real world photos that I took with the EX-S500.
While they're well exposed, with accurate color and
low purple fringing levels, they have major noise and
softness problems. Noise levels are above average in
the entire photo, while the softness is mostly around
the edges of the frame. While some photos were alright,
the vast majority turned out poorly. Check out the photo
gallery for plenty of examples.
And after you've looked over the gallery and
maybe printed a photo of two you'll be able to decide
for yourself if the S500's photo quality meets your
The Exilim EX-S500 has an excellent
movie mode. You can record video at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second)
with sound until the memory card is full. That takes
just 13 seconds using the built-in memory, so you'll
want a large, high speed memory card for longer movies.
You can also reduce the quality a bit (the resolution
and frame rate remain the same) for double the movie
length. If you want smaller movies, a "long play" mode
(320 x 240, 15 fps) is also available.
There are two other movie modes available
as well. In the Past Movie mode the camera is always
saving video to its buffer memory. When you press the
shutter release button, the last five seconds of buffered
video is saved to the memory card. The Short Movie
function is similar to the "hybrid" movie
mode on the Sony DSC-M1. The camera records a total
of 8 seconds of video -- up to 5 seconds before the
shutter release is pressed and up to 6 seconds after.
I guess this gives your movies some "context".
You can also take still images while
recording movies. Images are saved at the chosen image
quality, and as you'd expect, the movie pauses briefly
while the still image is taken.
You cannot use the zoom lens during
The EX-S500 saves movies in the AVI
format using the MPEG-4 codec. The MPEG-4 codec allows
for high quality movies that take up much less disk
space than other (older) codecs. Mac users cannot view
the movies by default -- however, by downloading this
file from Casio you can view them and import them
into your favorite editing software. Once you download
the file, put it into the /Library/QuickTime folder
-- that's it!
Here's a sample movie for you. Sorry
that it's a little shorter than usual.
to play movie (3.6 MB, 640 x 480, HQ quality, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Exilim EX-S500 has a full-featured
playback mode. The basic features like slide shows,
DPOF print marking, zoom and scroll, voice annotations
(30 secs), and image protection are all here. The camera
is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to compatible
The zoom and scroll feature lets you
zoom up to 8X into your photo and then move around
in it. Just like everything else on the S500, this
feature was nice and snappy.
If that's not enough, you can also
rotate, crop, or resize your images right on the camera.
You can also tag photos as "favorites" for
easy viewing later.
A nine-frame collage
created using Motion Print
A movie editing feature lets you cut
unwanted footage from what you've recorded. You can
also create a still image from a movie frame using
something that Casio calls Motion Print. In fact, you
have two choices: you can just grab a single frame
(which will be saved at 640 x 480) or you can create
a nine-image collage of sorts which has one big image
in front with eight other frame grabs behind it (see
above). The collage is saved at the 1600 x 1200 resolution.
By default, the camera doesn't show
much information about your photos. But press the display
button ("up" on the four-way controller)
and the S500 displays exposure information and a histogram
too (see above). The camera moves through photos instantly
-- very nice.
How Does it Compare?
The Casio Exilim EX-S500 is an ultra-thin
camera that has a lot going for it, but I was ultimately
let down by its poor image quality. The S500 is an
ultra-compact camera that comes in your choice of three
colors. It's design is stunning and the orange body
that I tested garners even more attention. The S500
features a 2.2" LCD that could use some more pixels.
Thankfully the screen is visible in low light situations.
There is no optical viewfinder on the S500.
The S500 has plenty of features, though
it's lacking some useful manual controls. It has tons
of Best Shot (scene) modes, and if you need more you
can create your own. The only manual controls on the
camera are for white balance and focus -- which are
both handy -- though shutter speed would've been nice
too. The camera's anti-shake system works, but not
as well as a camera with "real" image stabilization.
In addition the anti-shake system cannot be used for
filming movies, where it would come in awfully handy.
The camera's high ISO performance was not great, and
it's probably best to avoid using it. If you want that,
buy the Fuji FinePix F10. The S500's movie mode is
quite good, with unlimited recording at 640 x 480,
The S500 is a fast performer, with
a one second startup time, low shutter lag, and fast
shot-to-shot times. Low light focusing was good thanks
to the camera's AF-assist lamp. Photo quality is where
the S500 falls apart. Images were too soft and too
noisy -- much worse than the competition. On the bright
side, redeye doesn't seem to be too horrible for a
There are a few other annoyances worth
mentioning. Like other cameras in this class, the flash
is on the weak side. To transfer photos to your computer
or to view photos on your television you must use the
included camera cradle. Same goes for charging the
battery, though at least you can buy an external charger
to get around that. The camera includes just 8.3MB
of on-board memory, which is hardly worth printing
on the box. I'm also not a fan of Casio's refusal to
put a full, printed manual in the box. And finally,
the S500's continuous shooting mode was pretty slow,
especially compared to cameras like the Canon SD400.
If the Exilim EX-S500's photo quality
was better I'd have no problem recommending it. However,
it consistently disappointed me where other cameras
do not. While it has a lot of potential, your money
would be better spent on another camera.
What I liked:
- Ultra-thin metal body comes in
- Above average 2.2" LCD display
- Robust performance
- Anti-shake system (though see issues
- Limited manual controls
- AF-assist lamp; good low light
- Excellent movie mode
- Tons of scene modes
What I didn't care for:
- Very soft and noisy images
- Electronic image stabilizer doesn't
work as well as optically based systems; cannot be
used in movie mode
- High ISO settings are too noisy
and camera likes to use them with certain Best Shot
- Unimpressive continuous shooting
- LCD resolution could be better
- Weak flash
- USB and video out requires use
of camera dock
- No memory card included; just 8.3
MB of on-board memory
- Full camera manual only on CD-ROM
Some other ultra-thin cameras worth
a look include the Canon
PowerShot SD400, Casio Exilim EX-Z57 and EX-Z750, Fuji
FinePix Z1, Kodak
EasyShare V550, Konica
Minolta DiMAGE X1, Nikon
Coolpix S1, Olympus D-630Z and Stylus
Verve S, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX8 and DMC-FX9, Samsung
Digimax i5, and the Sony
As always, I recommend a trip down
to your local reseller to try out the EX-S500 and its
competitors before you buy!
See how the photos turned out in
Want another opinion?
Read another review at CNET.com.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this
review, please send them to Jeff.
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