While Casio has been in the consumer electronics business since the company was founded in 1957, their first Exilim digital camera reached market fairly recently in 2002. Expanding upon their "card", "zoom" and "high speed" camera product lines, the company has recently introduced the "G" or "endurance" line with the EX-G1 compact digital. The G1, billed as the world's slimmest shock-resistant digital camera, builds upon Casio's earlier forays into durable products with watches and mobile phones.
The G1 features a 12.1 megapixel 1/2.3 inch CCD sensor and 3x optical zoom lens covering the 38 to 114mm focal range (35mm film equivalent). Here's what that range looks like:
There are 35.7 megabytes of internal memory and the camera can also make use of micro SD/SDHC memory media. ISO sensitivity ranges from 64 to 3200 and the camera incorporates Casio's anti shake feature to promote sharper images. There is face detection technology, make-up and landscape settings and one button transition to movie capture - image composition and capture is accomplished via a 2.5 inch LCD monitor. Casio includes a battery and charger, A/V and USB cables, printed Quick Start guide, CD-ROM software, wrist strap and two optional user-installed protectors for the camera side to help deter impact damage.
If you're thinking all these specs sound relatively tame and not unlike a lot of other products on the market, you'd be right. The G1 is notable not for what it can do, but for the conditions under which it can do it. Dustproof and waterproof to depths of 10 feet for up to 1 hour. Shock resistant to falls of up to 7 feet. Freezeproof to temperatures as low as 14 degrees F (-10 degrees C). Is the G1 the toughest compact digital on the planet? Maybe, but surviving in harsh conditions is only part of the equation - how does the camera do in the image quality department? Come along and find out.
BUILD AND DESIGN
Casio has incorporated a two layer construction for the G1 body to provide the waterproofing, shock and cold resistance that are the major reasons to pick up a G1 in the first place. A stainless steel outer casing is adorned with a polycarbonate cover near the shutter to absorb impacts in that region. Two different types of detachable protectors may be user installed on the opposite body side for additional protection.
A resin ring, reinforced glass lens cover and internal "high performance" damping material provide additional protection to the lens unit from external shock. The acrylic plate to protect the LCD from water pressure and shock is 1.5 times the thickness of typical compact digitals, and the monitor itself features a resin mount to resist shock.
The waterproof camera inner body is fiberglass-reinforced polycarbonate and uses a "buckle-lock" construction to require fewer attachment screws. Speaker and microphone filters provide additional waterproofing.
Ergonomics and Controls
As you might expect from a camera designed for underwater use without need for a housing, external controls tend to be minimized to cut down on possible water entry points. The G1 has best shot (shooting modes), power and shutter buttons atop the body, with movie, lens zoom, playback, set and menu buttons on the rear. The memory card door and battery compartment door are located on the camera side and bottom respectively.
The spacing and shape of the controls posed no real problems for a bare hand, and I was pleased to note that wearing the fairly thin fleece and neoprene "glacier gloves" I like for shooting in extreme cold still afforded me access to all controls. Folks who use the jumbo insulated gloves (the ones I put on when I'm done shooting) will have a hard time hitting the majority of the buttons.
The G1 body itself has a nice angled side for the right hand that allows the camera to sit very nicely in the forefinger/thumb area, but the location of the lens can lead to it getting obscured by the fingers of the left hand for folks who tend to wrap these fingers around the body. Gloves (particularly the big ones) make it that much easier to block all or part of the glass.
As you probably have imagined, the camera is negatively buoyant (it sinks), so installing and using the included wrist strap (or one of your own choosing) is a prudent idea in and around water environments.
Menus and Modes
While the menus in the G1 are fairly straightforward, finding shooting modes other than the default auto mode might be a bit trying for a first-time Casio user. The printed quick start guide provided with the camera makes no mention of other still shooting modes, and the camera illustration describes the small rectangular button with the "BS" stamped on it as the (BS) button, nothing more. Just calling it the "best shot" button would go a long way to pointing folks in the right direction. Casio provides a complete user's manual in the included software, but you've got to print it yourself.
The G1 offers only automatic shooting modes, the bulk of which are accessed via internal menu through the BS button. "Make up" and "vivid landscape" options may be accessed from the display screen in "auto" mode and movie capture may be initiated via one button from any shooting mode. The available modes don't readily lend themselves to compartmentalization as on many compacts, but rather exist in a large pool of auto shooting options, which I'll try to make some sense of.
The 2.5 inch LCD monitor on the G1 is of 230,400 dot composition and adjustable for 6 levels of brightness. It proved difficult to use in bright outdoor light no matter the level of illumination. Casio doesn't specify the area of coverage, but it appears to approach 100%.
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