DCRP Review: Casio Exilim EX-S3
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: July 26, 2003
Last Updated: July 27, 2003

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The Exilim EX-S3 ($349) is the latest in Casio's line of ultra-thin digital cameras. With 3.2 Megapixels, its the highest resolution model yet. The EX-S3 has been overshadowed lately by its big brother, the EX-Z3, which has a real 3X zoom lens (which the S3 lacks). The Z3 model is a little thicker, but is still very small.

In this latest generation of Exilims, there's no longer an "M" model that plays MP3s.

Is the EX-S3 the ultimate portable camera? Find out now...

What's in the Box?

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

  • The 3.2 (effective) Mpixel Exilim EX-S3 camera
  • NP-20 Lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • AC adapter
  • USB docking cradle
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Dummy card
  • CD-ROM featuring PhotoLoader software and drivers
  • 11 page basic manual (printed) + full manual on CD

Casio does not include a memory card with the EX-S3. Rather, you get 10MB of on-board memory, plus a slot for a Secure Digital (SD) or MultiMedia (MMC) card that you can buy separately. I recommend picking one up right away, as 10MB doesn't hold many 3 Megapixel photos. (And didn't the older Exilim models have 12MB of memory?)

When you have a camera this small, you've gotta have a proprietary battery. The EX-S3 uses the same NP-20 Li-ion battery as its predecessor. This 2.5 Watt/hour battery will get you about 80 minutes in record more, or two hours in playback mode, according to Casio. Charging the battery (in the USB cradle) takes two hours.

EX-S3 in dock

Speaking of the USB cradle, this is a dock similar to those found on other cameras. It's nice to see that Casio includes it with the camera, rather than trying to get another $80 out of you after your initial purchase. You can 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 actually has a tiny lens cover, which the older models didn't have. This is a nice addition. Above you can also see just how small this camera is.

In terms of accessories, don't expect a lot. You can buy a spare battery ($30), a leather carrying case ($20), and a belt holster ($15).

The Exilim 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.

Casio has "pulled an Olympus" and is now including the full manual only on CD. This is a bad move, in my opinion. Once you actually load up the manual, expect its quality to be about average.

Look and Feel

"Thin" is the operative word when discussing the EX-S3. This is a camera that you can stuff in a pocket and have with you at any time. 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 smudged and scratched (as you'll see in the frontal shot below).

The Exilim's dimension are 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.5 inches (W x H x D, excluding protrusions), and it weighs a paltry 72 grams empty.

Let's begin our tour of the EX-S3 now, starting with the front.

Each revision of the Exilim seems to bring a slower lens with it. The one here is now F4.2, where it was F3.2 and F2.5 on earlier models. This is a fixed focal length lens, which 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 7.1 mm lens is equivalent to 35 mm.

To the lower-left of the lens is the microphone, with the self-timer lamp next to it.

The other major item on the front of the camera is the flash, which is at the top-center. The flash has a relatively short range of 0.8 - 2 meters.

One of the biggest features on the EX-S3 is its 2.0" LCD display (no pun intended). This is quite a step up from the 1.6" screen on the older models. But don't get too excited -- the resolution of this screen is quite low, and you'll notice. It is bright and fluid, though.

Straight above the LCD is the optical viewfinder which, as you'd expect, is pretty small. There's no diopter correction feature available, either.

Over to the right of the LCD, you'll find two buttons, a switch, and the four way controller. The menu button does what it sounds like -- it activates the menu system. The display button toggles the LCD on and off, as well as what's displayed on it. The play/rec switch moves between playback and record mode.

Below that is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, operating the digital zoom, deleting photos, and using the "zoom and scroll" feature in playback mode. The digital zoom will enlarge your image, but please note that the photo quality will drop rapidly when you use it.

That's all for the back of the camera -- sounds like this is going to be a short review!

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.

Casio added a little dimple as well as a little plastic notch around the power button. On the older models, it was too easy to accidentally turn off the camera, when all you wanted to do was 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. The door covering the compartment is pretty average in terms of durability.

Last, but not least, here's the bottom of the Exilim EX-S3. At the lower left, you can see the SD/MMC card slot, which has a "dummy card" installed in this shot. The dummy card prevents dust and dirt from entering the slot. Over to the right is the dock connector, which doesn't seem to have something to cover it.

Using the Casio Exilim EX-S3

Record Mode

Camera startup times don't get much better than this: it takes under two seconds for the EX-S3 to turn on. Do note that you must turn off the startup screen in order to get this fast startup time.

Since there's no focusing needed on the camera, there's no AF lag to worry about. There's also no real shutter lag, which is a rarity.

A live histogram is displayed in record mode

Shot-to-shot speed is pretty good too. You will wait about 2.5 seconds before you can take another shot, at the fine quality setting.

There's no way to delete a photo right after it is taken; you must enter playback mode.

Now, let's take a look at the image size/quality choices on the EX-S3:

Image Size # photos on 10MB built-in memory
Fine Quality Normal Quality Economy Quality
2048 x 1536 5 7 14
1600 x 1200 8 12 24
1280 x 960 13 20 35
640 x 480 46 61 98

There's no TIFF or RAW mode on the Exilim cameras. The file numbering 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.

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

  • REC mode (Snapshot, best shot, movie)
  • Flash (Auto, off, on, red-eye reduction)
  • Self-timer (Off, 10 sec, 2 sec, x3)
  • Size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • EV Shift [exposure compensation] (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, shade, light bulb, fluorescent, manual)
  • ISO (Auto, 80, 160, 320, 640)
  • Digital zoom (on/off)
  • Review (on/off) - whether picture is shown on LCD after it is taken
  • L/R key (REC mode, flash, EV shift, white balance, ISO, off) - define what left/right on the four-way controller does
  • U/D key (REC mode, digital zoom, flash, white balance, self-timer, off) - define the up/down buttons

As you can see, the EX-S3 has manual white balance -- the only manual control on the camera.

The Exilim has a rather unique "x3" feature that uses the self-timer. 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.

The EX-S3 has the same "Best Shot" modes that have been on 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
  • Portrait w/scenery
  • Coupling shot - combine two shots into one
  • Pre-shot - Shoot the background first, then have someone shoot you in front of it
  • Pet
  • Flower
  • Natural green
  • Sundown [sunset]
  • Night scene
  • Night scene portrait
  • Fireworks
  • Monochrome
  • Retro - low contrast + sepia filter
  • Twilight - high contrast + magenta filter
  • Register favorites - create your own Best Shot using a photo you've taken

The memory tab in the menu lets you choose what settings are stored when the camera is turned off. The choices include REC mode, flash, white balance, ISO, and digital zoom.

There is also the standard-issue setup menu for setting the date and all that fun stuff. Interesting items here include:

  • Beep (on/off)
  • Startup [screen] (on/off) - turn off for faster bootup time
  • File no. (continue, reset) - file numbering
  • World time - choose your home city and another one abroad
  • Language (Japanese, English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean)
  • Auto power off (2, 5 mins)
  • Reset - go back to default settings

The photos tests in this review are going to be very limited. Since there's no tripod mount, I can't do my night shot or distortion tests. And with a minimum focus distance of 80 cm, I can't do a macro test shot either. So that leaves us with a rather hard to see redeye test shot:

The first thing you'll see is some noticeable redeye; that's not surprising, consider how close the flash is to the lens. Another thing to notice is the amount of noise, even at ISO 80. Do note that I enlarged this shot a bit, and adjusted the levels, so you can see it a little better.

The Exilim EX-S3's photo quality isn't great. There's a lot of noise in my test photos, giving them an "over-processed" look to them. There's noticeable vignetting (dark corners) as well, and some softness at the edges. Purple fringing was not a problem. The S3's photos don't match up to those from a "regular" 3 Megapixel camera... then again, those cameras can't slide into your back pocket this easily. Have a look at our photo gallery and judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

The EX-S3 has as very basic movie mode. You can record up to 30 seconds of video, with sound. The resolution is 320 x 240.

Movies are saved in 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 is lacking.

Click to play movie (924KB, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Exilim has a pretty full-featured playback mode. The basic features like slide shows, DPOF print marking, zoom and scroll, and image protection are all here.

The zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom up to 4X into your photo and then move around in it. The scrolling was quite slow.

You can also resize images to 1280 x 960 or 640 x 480, and you can rotate them as well.

But there's more -- the Exilim has three very unique playback features.

The first is favorites, which lets you "tag" your best photos for easy retrieval later.

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 still unique to Casio cameras.

The last interesting playback feature 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 way to jump through your photos by date!

As you can see above, the Exilim can display exposure information about your photos, including a histogram. The camera moves through photos almost instantly.

How Does it Compare?

The same things that I said about the Sony DSC-U60 apply here. The Exilim EX-S3 is a nice secondary camera that you can take anywhere. If this is your first camera, I'd probably skip it -- the photo quality isn't that great, and you're really find yourself missing a zoom lens. With tiny cameras like the Casio Exilim EX-Z3 and Pentax Optio S available with 3X zooms, the non-zoom Exilims aren't that appealing anymore. Still, you get a ultra-thin camera with great performance, a good amount of features, and a top-notch playback mode. Downsides include very mediocre photo quality, no optical zoom, the tiny 10MB of on-board memory, and the average movie mode. And although I like the large 2" LCD, I don't care for its low resolution. If you're looking for a go-anywhere camera to complement your larger digicam, then this latest Casio may be worth a look.

What I liked:

  • Ultra-thin, all-metal body
  • Robust performance
  • Large (though low resolution) LCD
  • Many controls, even manual white balance
  • Handy dock for photo transfer / battery charging
  • Lots of useful "best shot" (scene) modes
  • Cool calendar, favorites, album features in playback mode

What I didn't care for:

  • No optical zoom
  • Lots of noise in photos, plus some blurriness and vignetting
  • Redeye
  • No macro mode
  • No tripod mount
  • Average movie mode
  • 10MB of on-board RAM is not much
  • Bundled software not Mac OS X native

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Exilim EX-S3 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!


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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