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DCRP Review: Casio
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: May 25, 2004
Last Updated: May 25, 2004
The Exilim EX-P600 ($650) is the first prosumer camera from Casio. Those who are new to digital photography may not know this, but Casio was a pioneer of consumer digicams. Really. The EX-P600 has every bell and whistle imaginable, from a 6MP CCD to a 4X zoom lens to support for an external flash. It even has a feature called image roulette, which shows plays back images like a slot machine. If that doesn't win over buyers, I don't know what will.
Sarcasm aside, the P600 is truly a "fully loaded" digicam. How does the P600 perform? Find out in our review!
What's in the Box?
The EX-P600 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
It seems that more and more companies are skipping the memory card altogether in their camera bundles, leaving it to the consumer to shell out the bucks for one. Casio has been doing that lately as well, and on the P600 they've built an inexcusably small 9.7MB of on-board memory into the camera. This will hold a grand total of 2 photos at the highest quality setting, so I probably don't have to tell you to buy a good-sized memory card. You can either SD or MMC cards with the camera, though I recommend the former for its superior capacity and performance. A 256MB or even 512MB card is what I recommend buying for this camera.
One thing you won't need to buy along with the camera is a battery. Well, maybe just a spare one. That's because the camera includes an NP-40 lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which hold a so-so 4.5 Wh of energy. According to Casio, that translates into 130 minutes (260 photos) of shooting time in record mode (50% flash use), or 300 minutes in playback mode. That's pretty good, but not as good as some of the other cameras in this class which have batteries with more than 10 Wh of energy.
The usual negatives of proprietary batteries apply here. For one, they're expensive: an extra NP-40 will set you back $45. Also, if your battery dies, you can't stuff in some AA alkalines to get you through the day.
When it's time to recharge the battery, just pop them into the included charger. It takes around two hours to fully recharge the two batteries. This is my favorite kind of charger, too -- just plug it right into the wall (those of you in other countries may get a different type).
The P600 includes a wireless remote control which you can use in both record and playback mode. Its one of the more full-featured remotes I've seen, even letting you operate the menus. The camera has IR sensors on both the front and side of the body.
The EX-P600 has a built-in lens cover, so there is no lens cap to worry about. Despite its... unconventional... looks, the P600 is fairly small.
Finally, a Casio camera with some accessories to talk about! The P600 supports conversion lenses... and not just any lenses -- it uses familiar Canon models! The TC-DC58 1.5X teleconverter ($100) brings the top end of the P600's focal range to 198 mm. The WC-DC58N 0.7X wide converter ($150) brings things down to a handy 23.1 mm. For fans of macro shots, the 250D close-up lens ($83) lowers the minimum distance to the subject from 10 cm to 6 cm at wide-angle. All three of these lenses require the use of the LU-60A conversion lens adapter kit ($30).
But wait, there's more. Since it has a PC flash sync port, you can hook up any external flash to the P600. Don't forget to buy a flash bracket, either. The only other accessory for this camera that I could come up with was an AC adapter ($30).
The R51 includes Casio's PhotoLoader and Photohands software. PhotoLoader is used to download and view stills and movies from your camera. It's not Mac OS X native, but works in Classic mode. Photohands is for Windows only, and is used for retouching and printing images.
I've been giving Olympus a hard time for years about putting the camera manual only on CD-ROM, but now Casio is doing it too. They already have a printed "basic manual" in the box, so why not just print the whole thing? Once you actually load up the manual, expect its quality to be about average (translation: not great).
Look and Feel
One thing's for sure: the EX-P600 isn't going to win any awards for looks. It's right up there with the Olympus C-5000Z as the ugliest camera I've reviewed in the last year. But who buys a camera for its looks, anyway?
Anyhow, the P600 has a mostly-metal body, and it feels quite solid for the most part. It's smaller than most cameras with this feature set, but it's not exactly pocket-sized either. The important controls are easy to reach, and I found it easy to grasp the camera with one or two hands.
The EX-P600's dimensions are 97.5 x 67.5 x 45.1 / 3.8 x 2.7 x 1.8 (W x H x D), and it weighs 225 grams / 7.9 ounces empty.
Let's begin our tour of the EX-P600 now, beginning with the front.
The front of the P600 is what makes me call it "unusual looking". Anyhow, the main thing to see here is the F2.8-4.0, 4X optical zoom Canon lens. The focal range of this lens is 7.1 - 28.4 mm, which is equivalent to 33 - 132 mm. As I mentioned in the previous section, there are three conversion lenses that you can attach to the lens (with the appropriate adapter). Just unscrew the metal ring around the lens enclosure, screw in the adapter, and then the conversion lens.
Directly above the lens is the optical viewfinder, with the microphone and self-timer lamp around it. Just to the right of that is the receiver for the remote control.
To the upper-left of the lens is the external focus sensor. This helps the camera focus quickly in good lighting. I'm not so sure that it helps in low light -- that's where an AF-assist lamp would come in handy, and the P600 does not have one.
Above the focus sensor is the camera's built-in flash, which is quite weak. It has a range of just 0.2 - 2.9 m at wide-angle and 0.2 - 2.0 m at telephoto. Compare that to 0.7 - 5.0 m and 0.7 - 4.0 m on the PowerShot G5. If you want more flash power and/or less redeye, then you'll want to use the flash sync port that you'll see in a minute.
The EX-P600 has an LCD that's big on size but not on pixels. It measures 2" diagonally which makes it larger than most LCDs, but it only has 115,200 pixels (I've seen cameras with 1.5" LCDs with that resolution). You'll notice that the LCD isn't terribly sharp - it's okay, but could be a lot better. Two other quips: the LCD is unusable in low light, and it freezes momentarily when you halfway-press the shutter release button.
To the upper-left of the LCD is the P600's optical viewfinder. It's fairly large, though it lacks any crosshairs or a diopter correction feature (to focus what you're seeing).
To the right of that are two buttons:
The manual focus feature lets you use the four-way controller to get the focus just where you want it. A guide showing the current focus distance is displayed on the LCD, which also enlarges the center of the frame (so you can ensure that your subject is in focus).
On the left side of the LCD you'll find three more buttons:
Whoa, look at all those bracketing options! I think Casio wins the award for most bracketing functions. If you've got the memory card space, this looks like a great way to either ensure a quality picture or just have fun.
The EX menu is a quick way to adjust white balance, ISO, metering, and AF area. I'll describe each of these options later in the review.
On the opposite side of the LCD, you'll find more buttons, the four-way controller, and the mode dial. The two buttons closest to the screen are for menu and display (which toggles the LCD on and off, as well as what is shown on it). The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, adjusting manual settings, and more. The buttons to the lower-right of that are for self-timer/remote control and preview (quick way to playback mode). Casio cameras have a unique "x3" self-timer feature. The camera takes three shots in a row, with a 10 second delay for the first shot, and a 1 second delay for each subsequent shot.
|Best Shot modes|
The mode dial is the last item on the back of the camera, and it has the following options:
Whoa, that's a whole lot of scene modes! Casio continues to be the king of scene modes, and the consumers are the winners here.
|Manual Assist feature -- great!|
Something else that's really cool on this camera is the Manual Assist feature. Ever wonder what changing the aperture or shutter speed will do to your pictures? By pressing the "set" button on the four-way controller, you'll find out thanks to some nice examples.
On top of the camera you'll find the power button, shutter release button, and zoom controller. The controller (wrapped around the shutter release) moved the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 2.8 seconds -- about average. There appear to be eleven different "stops" in the zoom range.
On this side of the P600 you'll find another sensor for the remote control, plus the speaker and PC sync port. You can hook up any external flash to the PC sync port -- just remember your flash bracket.
On this side, under a plastic cover, are the camera's I/O ports. These include:
Last, but not least, here's the bottom of the P600. You can see the SD/MMC card slot (card not included), the battery compartment, and the metal tripod mount. The door covering all this seems like it could bust off if forced. The tripod mount is located all the way to one side of the camera.
The included NP-40 battery is shown at left.
Using the Casio Exilim EX-P600
It takes the EX-P600 about 2.5 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting.
Once you're up and running, there are two ways to preview shots on the LCD. The normal way (above left) is just what you're used to seeing on other cameras. But the other way, known as the EX Finder (above right) is a radical departure from the norm. The EX finder looks more like a heads-up display on a fighter jet than what you'd expect to see on a digital camera! It shows things like focal length, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and more. There's also a pretty snazzy histogram in the lower left corner. You can change the color of the EX finder if you like, for better viewing in different conditions. Even with all that, I found myself using the normal view instead -- the EX finder is so cluttered that I can barely see what I'm trying to take a picture of.
Thanks to its hybrid AF system, the P600 locked focus quickly in most situations. Regardless of the focal length, the camera usually locked focus in 1/2 a second or less. Despite not having an AF-assist lamp, the camera did a fairly good job of focusing in low light. One note for action photographers: the LCD will freeze while the camera is focusing, making it difficult to follow a moving target.
Shutter lag was not a problem on the EX-P600, even at slower shutter speeds.
Shot-to-shot speed is good, with a wait of around two seconds before you can take another picture (assuming you've turned off the post-shot review feature).
To delete a photo right after it is taken, you must first hit the preview button (and then the delete button).
Now, let's take a look at the image size/quality choices on the EX-P600:
|Resolution||Quality||Approx. file size||# images on 9.2MB onboard memory||
images on 64MB card
|2816 x 2112||TIFF||17.0 MB||0||3|
|2048 x 1536||TIFF||9.0 MB||0||5|
|1600 x 1200||TIFF||5.5 MB||1||9|
|1280 x 960||TIFF||3.5 MB||2||14|
640 x 480
Hopefully now you see why I gave Casio a "boo, hiss" about the paltry amount of built-in memory back in the first section of this review.
The P600 supports the uncompressed TIFF format at all six resolutions. The downside of this (besides the huge file sizes) is that the camera will be locked up for 30-something seconds while the image is saved to the memory card. And that's with my super-fast SanDisk Extreme SD card, too!
The camera's file numbering system is simple: CIMG####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. File numbering is maintained as you switch and erase memory cards.
Let's take a look at the menus now.
Like all of Casio's cameras, the EX-P600 has an attractive and easy-to-use menu system. Here's what you'll find in the record menu:
As you can see, the EX-P600 has a manual white balance feature. Using this, you can shoot a white or gray card to get perfect color in any lighting.The "free" AF area mode lets you use the four-way controller to move a target around the frame. Find what you want to focus on and the camera will aim for that! The continuous AF mode will keep focusing even while the shutter release is halfway pressed -- great for moving subjects. You can turn off the hybrid AF system as well by choosing the contrast-only mode.
There's also a memory tab in the menu that lets you choose what settings are stored when the camera is turned off.
There's also a setup tab in the main menu. The items found here include:
Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
The P600 took a very nice (though slightly underexposed) photo of our macro test subject. Colors look good and the subject is plenty sharp. The camera's manual white balance allowed me to get accurate color under my 600W quartz lights.
The focal range in macro mode is 10 - 50 cm -- not great. Purchasing the closeup lens will bring the minimum distance down to 6 cm.
The camera did a great job with the night shot, bringing in plenty of light. The buildings are all very sharp, though I think the color is off a bit (a white balance issue). Noise levels seemed a little above average, eating away at details that are usually "clean" on other cameras. I did not see any purple fringing (often seen in this photo), which is a good thing.
Now, here's a look at how raising the ISO sensitivity affects image noise:
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As you can see, noise levels are low until you get to ISO 200, at which point they start to go up rapidly.
The P600 did a very nice job in the redeye department -- there's just a bit of flash reflection. My only complaint is that the flash is quite weak.
The distortion test shows mild to moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens. It also shows some vignetting, or dark corners, which I also saw in a couple of my real world test shots (see them in the gallery).
Aside from the occasional vignetting problem, the EX-P600's photo quality was very good overall. Casio seems to have done a good job at keeping noise levels down -- it's really not that bad. Something else that wasn't a problem was purple fringing. It did seem that images were a bit on the soft side, but you can fix that by either cranking up the in-camera sharpening or post-processing in software.
Don't just take my word for all this -- have a look at the gallery and judge for yourself!
The EX-P600 isn't going to win any awards for its movie mode. You can record 320 x 240 video at 15 frames/second until the memory card is full. Sound is recorded as well. The 9.2MB of built-in memory can hold a grand total of 30 seconds -- so you'll want to use a memory card.
You cannot use the zoom lens during filming.
Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.
Here is an unexciting sample movie for you to check out. The quality is unimpressive.
Click to play movie (3.4MB, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
Like all Casio cameras, the P600 has a full-featured playback mode. The basic features like slide shows, DPOF print marking, zoom and scroll, voice annotations, 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. This feature was nice and snappy.
You can also rotate images, or resize them to 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960 or 640 x 480.
But there's more -- the EX-P600 has four very unique playback features.
The first is favorites, which lets you "tag" your best photos for easy retrieval later (kind of like bookmarks in your web browser).
Cool feature number two is the "create album" item, which will make an HTML photo gallery automatically! You can then copy over the album folder to your website, and that's it! You can choose from 10 different album layouts, or make your own. This is a useful feature that is (surprisingly) still unique to Casio cameras.
Interesting playback feature three is the calendar. This shows a calendar of the current month, with a tiny thumbnail picture shown on the day it was taken. This is a nice (and different) way to jump through your photos by date. My example above doesn't really show its usefulness, though.
And finally, the last, umm, unique playback feature is image roulette -- the one feature you never knew that you needed. Turn on the camera while holding left on the four-way controller, and the LCD flips through pictures at an amazing clip. Then it slowly reduces its speed, until it stops -- kind of like a slot machine.
By default, the camera doesn't show much information about your photos. But press the display button and the EX-P600 displays exposure information and a histogram too. The camera moves through photos instantly -- very nice.
How Does it Compare?
I was quite impressed with the Exilim EX-P600 -- it may be Casio's best camera yet. It's not the best looking camera out there, but it takes good quality pictures, is very responsive, and is loaded with features (and some gimmicks too). The P600 takes nice pictures, with much less noise than I was expecting. One thing that was an occasional issue was vignetting, or dark corners. In the redeye department, the camera did well, though the flash range leaves much to be desired. Thankfully you can add an external flash via the flash sync port on the side of the camera. That's not all you can attach to the camera: the EX-P600 supports three Canon conversion lenses as well.
In terms of performance, the P600 is as fast as they come. It starts up quickly and has minimal AF and shutter lag. The only time I thought it was slow was TIFF mode recording. The hybrid AF system helped the camera focus quickly and accurately, and low light focusing wasn't bad. The camera is loaded with manual controls, ranging from the usual shutter speed and aperture controls to manual white balance. There are multiple bracketing modes as well.
The EX-P600 is also loaded with gimmicks. Some are useful, like the Manual Assist, album, and Best Shot features, while others are just plain silly (image roulette and EX Finder come to mind). The camera's movie mode is one thing Casio engineers haven't spent a lot of time on -- it would've been state-of-the-art in 2002, but now it's lacking.
Overall, I recommend the Casio Exilim EX-P600, which proves that you can't just a book by its cover.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the EX-P600 before you buy!
Some other high resolution, full-featured cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot G5 and Pro1, Fuji FinePix S7000, Kodak EasyShare DX7630, Konica Minolta DiMAGE A1/A2, Nikon Coolpix 5400 and 8700, Olympus C-5060WZ and C-8080WZ, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1.
So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Get another view of the EX-P600 over at Steve's Digicams.
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.
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