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DCRP Review: Casio Exilim EX-S500
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: May 6, 2005
Last Updated: January 3, 2012

The Casio 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 mode.

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 here.

What's in the Box?

The Exilim EX-S500 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

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 with.

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:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD400 150 shots
Canon PowerShot SD500 160 shots
Casio Exilim EX-S500 200 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z57 400 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z750 325 shots
Fuji FinePix Z1 170 shots
Kodak EasyShare V550 120 shots
Konica Minolta DiMAGE X1 150 shots
Konica Minolta DiMAGE X60 150 shots
Nikon Coolpix S1 200 shots
Olympus Stylus 800 300 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX8 300 shots
Pentax Optio S5z 180 shots
Samsung Digimax i5 N/A
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T5 240 shots

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:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD400 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in. 5.7 cu in. 130 g
Canon PowerShot SD500 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.3 in. 9.7 cu in. 170 g
Casio Exilim EX-S500 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.6 in. 4.8 cu in. 115 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z57 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.2 cu in. 130 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z750 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.2 cu in. 127 g
Fuji FinePix Z1 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.7 in. 5.4 cu in. 130 g
Kodak EasyShare V550 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.3 cu in. 143 g
Konica Minolta DiMAGE X1 3.7 x 2.7 x 0.8 in. 8.0 cu in. 135 g
Nikon Coolpix S1 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 6.4 cu in. 118 g
Olympus C-630 Zoom 3.1 x 2.4 x 1.0 in. 7.4 cu in. 125 g
Olympus Stylus 800 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in. 12.3 cu in. 182 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX8 3.7 x 2.0 x 1.0 in. 7.4 cu in. 127 g
Pentax Optio S5z 3.3 x 2.0 x 0.8 in. 5.3 cu in. 105 g
Samsung Digimax i5 3.4 x 2.4 x 0.7 in. 5.7 cu in. 133 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T5 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 7.1 cu in. 114 g

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:

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 own.

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 movie mode.

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:

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

Record Mode

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 lamp.

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:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 8.3MB built-in memory # images on 256MB SD card (optional)
2560 x 1920 Fine 3.0 MB 2 80
Normal 2.0 MB 3 118
Economy 1.0 MB 7 226
2560 x 1712
(3:2 ratio)
Fine 2.9 MB 2 84
Normal 1.9 MB 4 124
Economy 950 KB 7 237
2304 x 1728 Fine 2.0 MB 4 124
Normal 1.5 MB 5 153
Economy 800 KB 9 277
2048 x 1536 Fine 1.6 MB 4 138
Normal 1.2 MB 6 184
Economy 630 KB 11 356
1600 x 1200 Fine 1.1 MB 7 215
Normal 710 KB 10 319
Economy 370 KB 20 623
640 x 480 Fine 190 KB 39 1118
Normal 140 KB 52 1559
Economy 90 KB 83 2495

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:

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 as well.

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 between shots.

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:

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 expectations.

Movie Mode

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 filming.

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.


Click to play movie (3.6 MB, 640 x 480, HQ quality, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

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 photo printers.

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, 30 frames/second.

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 compact camera.

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:

What I didn't care for:

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 Cyber-shot DSC-T5.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the EX-S500 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read another review at CNET.com.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

 

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