DigitalCameraReview.com
Casio EXILIM EX-S500 Digital Camera Review
by Ben Stafford -  8/13/2005

Introduction
The Casio Exilim EX-S500 is the latest ultra-compact from Casio. It's a stylish little camera that comes in gray, white, and orange. The EX-S500 is a 5 megapixel camera, with 3x optical zoom, 2.2 inch LCD, Anti Shake DSP, and 30 Best Shot settings. If you're looking for an ultra-compact with some great features, the Casio Exilim EX-S500 is a good option. While not at the top of the class in image quality, it's images are still good and will satisfy most users.

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In the Box
Included in the box is the camera, NP-20 rechargeable lithium-ion battery, CA-28 USB cradle, special AC adapter, AC power cord, USB cable, AV cable, strap, software, and basic reference guide.

Features
The S500 is a 5 megapixel camera with a 3x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom. The camera does not have an optical viewfinder, only a 2.2 inch LCD. While there isn't a brightness adjustment for the LCD, it does adjust its brightness depending on the ambient light. (If you walk into a dark room, the LCD image brightens).

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One of the selling features of the camera is the Anti Shake DSP. To minimize blurring in low light (slow shutter speed) situations, the camera will boost the ISO sensitivity to allow a quicker shutter speed. It is effective, but will never be as superior as optical image stabilization. The downside to boosting the ISO sensitivity is that "noise" is increased in the image. (See the noise comparison image later in this review).

The camera is very snappy. The start up time is excellent -- under a second. Shutter lag is more or less non-existent after the camera is already focused (by depressing the shutter partway). Even when the camera is not already focused, it's still very snappy. Auto focus is quick, even in dark areas (with the help of the focus assist light).

The lens has a focal length of 38 -- 114 mm (35 mm equivalent). In normal shooting mode, the focus range starts at 15.7 inches and goes to infinity. In Macro mode, you can shoot at subjects between 6.7 inches to 19.6 inches away.

Instead of "scene modes" or shooting modes, Casio has what they call their Best Shot system. By using one of the buttons on the back of the camera, you get access to a menu of different types of shots. Some examples of Best Shot settings are Portrait, Portrait with Scenery, Children, Sports, Flower, Text, and Business Cards and Documents. There are many to choose from in order to get the "best shot".

Images can be captured at 2560x1920, 2560x1712, 2304x1728, 2048x1536, 1600x1200, and 640x480. There are also 3 compression settings: Fine, Normal, and Economy.

The ISO sensitivity can be adjusted at any time by using the menu system -- you can choose Auto, 50, 100, 200, or 400. Exposure compensation (EV compensation) can be set in any mode from -2 to +2 at 1/3 stop increments. The white balance can also be set in any mode, choose from Auto, one of the 6 fixed modes, and Manual.

The built-in flash has a range up to 9.2 feet when taking wide angle shots and 4.6 feet at full telephoto. The flash modes are Auto, Red-Eye Reducing, or Off. From the menu, you can also adjust the flash intensity from -2 to +2 at 1 stop increments.

There are a couple "drive" options. You can shoot in Normal, Self Timer (10 sec), Self-Timer (2 sec), and a 3 shot blast. There is also a Continuous mode where you can hold the shutter down and shoot away.

The images and movies that you shoot with the S500 are stored on a SD/MMC card and the camera has 8.3MB of internal memory.

The lengths of movies are limited only by storage capacity. They can be captured at a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels (30 frames per second) or 320x480 pixels

The S500 has a proprietary lithium-ion battery that demonstrates excellent life. According to Casio, the S500 can shoot 200 shots, on average, by CIPA standards.

The DISP button on the back of the camera lets you adjust the amount of information on the screen when you're taking or reviewing pictures. A nice feature is the live histogram when capturing images to let you know if a shot is under- or over-exposed.

The menu system is easy to use and navigate. The Menu button activates the menu and you navigate with the directional pad. While in capture mode, there are three top level menus: REC, Quality and Set Up.

The REC menu is where you can adjust the basics of the shot::
Focus -- Choose Auto focus, Macro, Pan Focus, Infinity, or Manual
Continuous -- Turn Continuous mode on or off
Self-timer -- set the timer options
AF Area -- set the AF system to Point or Multi
AF Assist Light -- enable or disable the AF Assist lamp
Anti Shake -- enable or disable Anti --Shake
L/R Key -- Great feature that lets you set what the left and right keys on the directional pad control - to either adjust the Focus, EV Shift, White Balance, ISO, Self-Timer or nothing.
Quick Shutter -- on or off
Audio Snap -- When turned on, the camera lets you record up to a 30 second audio clip with an image
Grid -- turns a layout grid on or off
Digital Zoom -- enable or disable the digital zoom
Review -- when turned on, the captured shot displays for a couple seconds
Icon Help -- provides in-camera help for some items
Memory -- lets you choose the camera settings to remember the next time you turn it on. If you set the Flash to be remembered, the next time you turn on the camera, the flash will be in the same mode you left it.

The Quality menu lets you set the image capture size, the compression setting for still images, and the compression settings for videos. Also, you can adjust the EV Shift, White Balance, ISO sensitivity, Metering (Multi, Center Weighted, or Spot), Filter (Off, Black & White, Sepia, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Pink, and Purple), Sharpness, Saturation, Contract, Flash Intensity, and Flash Assist.

The Set Up menu lets you adjust the Sounds, Date, File settings, Auto power off settings and so on.

While in Image Playback mode, you get a PLAY menu when you active the menu system. The PLAY menu lets you watch your images as a slideshow, print images, edit movies, rotate, resize, trim, and copy images or add an audio clip to an existing image.

Form & Design
The EX-S500 is very tiny -- about the same footprint as a deck of cards and only .54 inches thick. The body is stainless steel and the camera has some nice styling. As with any ultra-compact or ultra-slim camera, it can be a challenge to hold. Another nice design feature is that the camera comes in gray, orange, or white.

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Along the top of the camera is the power button, which is very small, and the shutter release button.

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On the front of the camera, you can see the lens, flash assist light, and flash.

The back of the camera has the playback and capture mode buttons above the LCD. To the right of the mode buttons is the zoom control which consists to two independent buttons. In the lower right corner is the directional pad (4 directions and a button in the middle), the Menu button and the BS (Best Shot) button.

The bottom of the camera has a tripod mount, the dock interface and the door to access the battery and memory card. The battery is charged while in the camera by placing the camera on the cradle. The cradle also has the USB connection to connect to your computer and the A/V out jack to output images to at TV. You are required to use the cradle in order to transfer images or charge the battery. However, Casio does sell an external battery charger if you want other charging options.

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Image Quality
I was impressed with the image quality of this tiny camera. The automatic settings and Best Shot features make it very easy to take shots and choose optimum settings for different situations.

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Wide Angle [larger] [original]

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Full optical zoom [larger] [original]

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Full optical and digital zoom [larger] [original]


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Colors were accurate but at times maybe a bit washed out (see the picture of the toy train below). Exposure was also good. Some images did come out lacking some sharpness (close up of peaches in tree) and some light purple fringing (see full size of peach tree image) occurred in areas of high contrast.

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As I noted before, noise is a concern.  It increased quickly above ISO 100.  Normally, this probably wouldn't be an issue, but since the camera's Anti Shake increases the sensitivity, I would expect more images to be taken at higher ISO values than a camera where the sensitivity doesn't get changed as often.

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100% crop of toy train

There was some barrel distortion at wide angle - a bit more than similar cameras.

Specifications

Conclusion
The Casio Exilim EX-S500 is an attractive, well-built camera. While the ultra-compact size is nice for some, for others it can easily slip out of your hand. With three colors to choose from, it's obvious that a large point of difference for this camera is its looks. The image quality is good with some minor issues at times (softness, slightly less color saturation) but I think that most users of this camera will not notice. The LCD is nice and sharp and makes for excellent viewing and framing of images.

This camera is a good choice for people who need a stylish camera to take out on the town, as it won't take up much space in a pocket or purse. The speed of the camera and great battery life make it easy to catch the right "moment", which could come in handy for snapshots of kids. The Best Shot modes give you a ton of choices for those special shots, but the Auto mode works well too.

Pros
Attractive styling
Quick start up
Low shutter lag
Plenty of "Best Shot" scene modes
Excellent LCD screen

Cons
Lack of sharpness in some images
Color a bit washed out at times
You need to use the cradle for charging and transferring images to your computer
Small size may be hard to hold for some
Flash not very strong