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Casio Exilim EX-G1 Review
by Jim Keenan -  1/26/2010

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.

Casio Exilim EX-G1


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:

Casio Exilim EX-G1
Wide angle

Casio Exilim EX-G1
Telephoto

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.

Casio Exilim EX-G1

Casio Exilim EX-G1

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.

Casio Exilim EX-G1

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.

Casio Exilim EX-G1

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.

Casio Exilim EX-G1

Casio Exilim EX-G1

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.

Display/Viewfinder
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%.

PERFORMANCE
I had hoped to get into the ocean with the G1 and shoot some surfers close up, but between storm surf and some kind of flu on my part, the G1 never made it into any deeper water than the 8 feet in our backyard pool. Typically, cameras taken into or underwater have been purpose-built like the Nikonos 35mm film camera, or the G1. The other option is to enclose a terrestrial camera in a waterproof housing. Here are examples of both, the Nikonos V (which was rated to an official depth of 160 feet but routinely was taken to 200 ) and a present-day splash housing rated to 15 to 20 feet with its D200 and 50mm lens. You can see how small and compact the G1 is by comparison.

Casio Exilim EX-G1

Besides staying in shallow, still water I also didn't drop-test our unit or expose it to sub-freezing temperatures: no G1 was harmed in the production of this review.

Shooting Performance
The G1 is not overly quick to power up, taking about 2.25 seconds to display an AF icon onscreen. Power on to first shot times ran about 2.75 seconds. Single shot-to-shot times (shoot, write, acquire focus and shoot) times ran about 3 seconds with both class 4 and 6 freshly formatted microSD cards. While the camera produced a 3.5 fps shooting rate for 8 images in the high speed continuous shooting mode in our studio, these images are at a much reduced 2 megapixel resolution. Write times for the class 4 card were about 2.5 seconds, with the class 6 coming in around 2 to 2.25 seconds. Using the normal speed continuous shooting mode the G1 rolled along at a leisurely 0.45 fps, but it will do that until the memory card is full - this rate was the same with either card. And while we're on the subject, after experiencing a dose of digital the microSD way, I'm just real glad all my cameras use CF memory.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Casio Exilim EX-G1 0.01
Olympus Stylus Tough 6000 0.06
Fujifilm FinePix Z33WP 0.06
Canon PowerShot D10 0.08

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Casio Exilim EX-G1 0.20
Canon PowerShot D10 0.36
Fujifilm FinePix Z33WP 0.41
Olympus Stylus Tough 6000 0.83

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames* Framerate*
Canon PowerShot D10 1.2
Olympus Stylus Tough 6000 2 1.1
Fujifilm FinePix Z33WP 3 0.8
Casio Exilim EX-G1 0.5

* Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

However, the camera puts on its track shoes when it comes to AF acquisition in good light, knocking down consistent 0.20 second times. It continues to do pretty well as light levels drop so long as some contrast is present, but struggles (as do most compacts) when things get real dark and contrast drops. Shutter lag was an excellent 0.01 seconds - no complaints from me about focus and shoot with the G1!

Flash range at auto ISO is a fairly close 9.4 feet at wide angle, and 4.3 feet at telephoto. Recycle times are listed as 4 seconds maximum by Casio and the G1 made this number consistently.

The G1 uses Casio's "anti shake" system of boosting ISO sensitivity to provide faster shutter speeds as a means to reduce image degradation due to camera movement. While a system using mechanical (sensor movement) or optical (lens element movement) would be preferable, Casio probably didn't have either option available given the shock-resistance they built into the camera - sensors or lens elements that move probably don't lend themselves to surviving impacts as well as fixed items that can be insulated more easily. Anti shake is disabled as a default, and is disabled automatically when shooting with flash.

Battery life is given as 300 shots at 73 degrees F, but performance will not approach that number in the 14 degree F range the camera is rated for. Recharging a depleted battery takes about 100 minutes.

Lens Performance
The G1's 3x optical zoom has fairly slow maximum apertures of f/3.9 and f/5.6 at the wide angle and telephoto ends respectively. Wide angle shows light falloff in the corners, along with some softness in the corners and edges. There is also wave ("moustache") distortion present - barrel distortion to the edges of the frame and pincushion to the corners.

Telephoto is better along the edges, but a little soft in the corners as well. Wave distortion is also present to a lesser degree than at wide angle. Here's a look at this distortion at both ends of the zoom, and in the real world, where straight lines like horizons near the edges of the frame are likely victims of the effect.

Casio Exilim EX-G1
Wide angle
Casio Exilim EX-G1
Casio Exilim EX-G1
Telephoto
Casio Exilim EX-G1

There is chromic aberration (purple fringing) present in some high-contrast boundary areas at both the wide and telephoto ends of the zoom, and sharp-eyed viewers might discern some defects at 100% enlargement. For more casual reviews this will probably not be an issue, particularly at smaller print sizes.

One nice feature of the lens is that with the digital zoom enabled (on by default), you can zoom to the maximum 3x optical setting, at which point zooming stops. You need to release the zoom button and then re-engage it to zoom into the digital range. Pretty hard to go digital by mistake.

I was somewhat surprised to find no macro mode in the Best Shot library, but there is a macro AF mode that can be accessed via the REC menu in the auto shooting mode. Whether you'd want to use it is questionable - it limits AF range to 3.9 inches to 19.7 inches instead of 3.9 inches to infinity in normal AF. The G1 won't focus in any mode closer than 3.9 inches which explains why no macro mode per se - so why bother with the macro AF setting? Here are two "macro" shots made in plain old auto mode with normal AF. Just don't get any closer than 3.9 inches.

Casio Exilim EX-G1 Casio Exilim EX-G1

Video Quality
Video quality is OK at the highest resolution 848x480 captures, but no one will mistake it for HD. The G1 microphone is quite adept at capturing video related sound. The lens will zoom during video capture and refocus upon completing the zoom. Maximum movie size is 4 gigabytes for the 848x480, 640x480 and 320x240 formats; the YouTube 640x480 format is limited to 10 minutes.

Image Quality
Probably the first thing folks want to know is how the G1 does underwater - and the answer is not bad. Here are shots of the pool cleaner in about 4 feet of water made in auto and underwater modes respectively; ISO was manually set at 100 in each case. For comparison, a shot from the housed D200 in a bit shallower water at 100 ISO, and finally a shot of the Nikonos in a couple feet of water.

Casio Exilim EX-G1
Casio Exilim G1, auto mode
Casio Exilim EX-G1
Casio Exilim G1, underwater mode
Casio Exilim EX-G1
Nikon D200, ISO 100
Casio Exilim EX-G1

Looking at some of the first images out of the G1 for the first impressions article it seemed the shots were a bit soft at default settings. By the end of the shooting for first impressions I was changing my view a bit, and now I think Casio did a pretty good job of establishing default settings for color and sharpness. Trying a few of the Best Shot scene modes didn't produce a lot of difference in the overall image to my eye - here are auto mode (the default) and scenery, pet and flower Best Shot modes.

Casio Exilim EX-G1
Default
Casio Exilim EX-G1
Scenery
Casio Exilim EX-G1
Pet
Casio Exilim EX-G1
Flower

If the camera doesn't produce images to your liking at the default settings, you have a host of inputs available in auto mode (which happily is the default shooting mode - good call, Casio!), and some, if not all in many of the Best Shot scenes. I have one nagging reservation about the G1 images overall, and it's not a major concern, but at 100% enlargements the G1 shots seem to have just a bit more artifacts than a lot of other compacts I've reviewed.

At less than 100% the images look good, and they're not bad at 100%, but just not quite as clean to my eye. Personally, I'd shoot this camera in auto mode at 64 or 100 ISO for almost everything, possibly with one extra notch of sharpening. Here are the default, +1 and +2 sharpening settings:

Casio Exilim EX-G1
Default

Casio Exilim EX-G1
Sharpened +1
Casio Exilim EX-G1
Sharpened +2

There are color filter options that allow you to shoot in black and white, sepia, and a number of other hues.
Auto white balance worked well in the field and did a good job with the incandescent light in the studio. The G1 provides daylight, overcast, shade, day white and daylight fluorescent, tungsten, and manual white balance options.

Casio Exilim EX-G1
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

Multi-pattern exposure metering is the G1 default and was used for all images produced by the G1 for this review. Center-weighted and spot metering options are available, but multi-pattern proved quite accurate for all but some high contrast scenes, where it would lose some highlights on occasion - a not unusual occurrence for this class of camera.

ISO noise performance would probably have to be termed average at best for a 1/2.3 inch sensor packing 12.1 megapixels of resolution. The ISO 64 sensitivity did not appear quite as clean as many other compacts I've reviewed, and I found it lacking in detail with regard to the inscription in the pen case - the fine print is usually legible at the base ISO for every compact I can ever recall. This may speak more to the overall image quality from the lens - the top of the pen case shows a bit of the wave distortion we discussed earlier, as does the base of the display - rather than ISO alone. 100 ISO showed slight but definite deterioration, with 200 exhibiting a like amount.

Casio Exilim EX-G1
ISO 64
Casio Exilim EX-G1
ISO 64, 100% crop
Casio Exilim EX-G1
ISO 100
Casio Exilim EX-G1
ISO 100, 100% crop
Casio Exilim EX-G1
ISO 200
Casio Exilim EX-G1
ISO 200, 100% crop
Casio Exilim EX-G1
ISO 400
Casio Exilim EX-G1
ISO 400, 100% crop
Casio Exilim EX-G1
ISO 800
Casio Exilim EX-G1
ISO 800, 100% crop
Casio Exilim EX-G1
ISO 1600
Casio Exilim EX-G1
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Casio Exilim EX-G1
ISO 3200
Casio Exilim EX-G1
ISO 3200, 100% crop

ISO 400 dropped off a bit more and there was a large jump in image degradation between 400 and 800. ISO1600 dropped off a significant amount over 800, and 3200 was a clear drop from 1600.

Additional Sample Images
Casio Exilim EX-G1 Casio Exilim EX-G1
Casio Exilim EX-G1 Casio Exilim EX-G1
Casio Exilim EX-G1 Casio Exilim EX-G1

CONCLUSIONS
With the EX-G1 Casio can target not only adventure/outdoor types who might need a small and light camera with survivability in adverse conditions, but also Joe Average who can take it to Disneyland on a rainy day and not have to worry about Splash Mountain soaking its circuits. This camera is slim and trim, well built and simple to operate - auto shooting modes are all there is. At the same time, Casio has built a lot of adjustability into the default auto mode, and offers a fair amount of input into the specific scene modes as well.

Autofocus and shutter performance are excellent and the flash recycles in a timely fashion. The lens has its faults and while not a bad performer it is also not among the best I've ever reviewed. Image quality gets a slightly guarded assessment as being good - at 100% enlargements the images seem to have a bit more artifacts than many other compacts I've shot - but short of that the images are pleasing and color accurate.

ISO noise sensitivity is average - 400 is really the high edge of the range you can use for anything you plan to enlarge, with 800 being OK in a pinch. There's no true stabilization which becomes a drawback when compounded with relatively slow maximum apertures on the lens and nothing special in the ISO department. Personally, a 10 megapixel sensor with improved noise performance in this body would have been a great combination.


It's survivable, shoots promptly, and produces good images if you can hold the ISO sensitivity below 400 and don't need huge prints. All in all, that's not a bad combination - if I were in the market for an all-weather compact digital I'd buy a G1.

Pros:

Cons: