Casio Exilim EX-S200 Review
by Allison Johnson -  12/13/2010

Pat Benetar once told us that love is a battlefield. So is the compact point-and-shoot market. Manufacturers are battling ever-improving smartphone cameras, and traditional point-and-shoots are smaller and more feature-packed every year. How do you make a camera stand out in a saturated market?

Casio Exilim EX-S200

One of the answers, at least right now, seems to be to make cameras thinner, lighter and sexier than before. The Casio Exilim S200 fits that description, well under an inch thick with a bright orange finish (other available colors are deep blue, black, pink and silver). It just screams out "Put me in your back pocket and take me to a party!"

Aside from its good looks, the Exilim S200 offers a 4x optical zoom lens with a wide angle equivalent to 27mm, 720p HD video recording and an assortment of beginner-friendly shooting modes like Premium Auto. A 14.1 megapixel CCD sensor and a current Exilim engine 5.0 do the imaging grunt work. It also slides under the $200 mark with a $179 MSRP at the time of this writing.

Does the skinny Casio S200 back up its curb appeal with solid performance? Or is it a pretty but forgettable 14+ megapixel point-and-shoot in a market overrun with pretty 14+ megapixel cameras? Read on for our full analysis.

At the risk of overstating the obvious, I'll say it again - the Exilim S200 is a really slim camera. It measures and weighs about the same as my Blackberry Curve, and it's easily carried in a coat pocket. As a testament to the camera's ultra-compact-ness, I pulled it out of my purse more than once thinking it was my phone.

Casio Exilim EX-S200

Ergonomics and Controls
The camera body appears to be thick plastic with chrome accents. The plastic tripod mount on the bottom of the camera is offset below the lens, making it possible to change out memory cards while using a tripod. A tiny on/off button and a shutter button with a zoom ring occupy the top of the camera. The backside is equally minimalist. There's an auto button to toggle between the camera's two primary shooting modes, Auto and Premium Auto, an image review button, and a one-touch movie recording button.

There's also an unusual "REC" button denoted by a camera icon that will power the camera on, but not off. It will also bring you back to the main shooting screen if you're in any menu, though a half press of the shutter will do the same thing.

Casio Exilim EX-S200

There's also a circular directional controller with a "set" button in the middle. Pushing the middle button brings up a quick menu with shortcuts to change AF mode, image size and so on. In minimalist fashion, the directional buttons aren't labeled except for small delete and flash icons at the "south" position and a "disp" function at the north.

On the front panel, you'll find a small flash, microphone and an AF lamp. The curvaceous side of the camera has a hook for the included wrist strap and a USB/AF port. The SD card slot at the bottom is easy to unlock, open, and then close and relock.

The S200 comes with a quick start guide on paper and a CD containing a user's guide and photo/video uploading software. A battery charger, USB cable, AV cable and power cord are included (as is a rechargeable NP-120 lithium-ion battery, of course). The S200 is SD/SDHC compatible.

Casio Exilim EX-S200

The control layout is logical, if a little redundant, and the camera itself presents no unusual challenges in handling and operation. The left side of the top deck is clear of buttons for left handholding, and there's enough room on the front to keep fingers clear of the lens. The only potential problem is that there's no thumb rest on the back. Such a slim, slick camera would be liable to slipping out of a one-handed grip. It might be wise to use the included wrist strap.

Menus and Modes
One look into the menus and it's clear that this camera is designed for hands-off, no nonsense beginners.

There are two main shooting modes, Auto and Premium Auto. A few basic controls available to the user in Auto mode. Premium Auto will analyze the scene in front of the camera and make some adjustments for the user, so there are fewer control options in this mode. If it's quick and painless snap shooting you're after, the Casio S200 was designed for you.

Casio Exilim EX-S200

As mentioned above, pushing the "set" button from the main shooting screen brings up a quick menu. Here are your options in Auto mode:

In this quick menu there's a shortcut to a broader three-tabbed settings menu. Here you have access to controls like image stabilization, AF assist light on/off, and image quality. The middle tab contains two pages of image capture settings like ISO and White balance.

Premium Auto limits your selections to just image size, movie quality, flash settings, self-timer and the Best Shot menu. Under the settings menu, you'll still be able to control image quality and EV, but that's about all the control you'll have over image capture.

If I was an engineer at Casio, and I'm sure as heck not, I'd replace the "auto" button on the back with a "menu" button. Drilling down through the quick menu and the quality menu to get to the white balance setting is a little tedious. If you aren't a control freak and you don't mind leaving those settings up to the camera, then the menu system probably won't bother you much.

The Casio S200 utilizes a 2.7-inch LCD with a 230,400-dot resolution. That's about par for the course in cameras less than $200. It's adequate for framing quick shots and reviewing images.

We measured a peak brightness of 680 nits from the LCD, which would suggest that it's somewhat viewable outdoors. I was able to use it for composition outside, but very bright conditions and direct sunlight proved (as predicted) very challenging for the screen. A contrast ratio of 829:1 suggests that the LCD displays a nice range of light and dark tones, and I found that to be true. Colors are vibrant and true to the image.

The S200 performed about as well as expected in terms of speed. The camera takes just a second or so to power up, and shot-to-shot times were acceptable for the class.

Shooting Performance
Auto focus speed in good lighting is very reasonable. Dim lighting is trickier, but I found the AF system fairly reliable, especially with the help of the focus assist lamp. Shutter lag wasn't noticeable.

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

Camera Time (seconds)
Fujifilm FinePix Z800EXR 0.01
Casio Exilim EX-S200 0.01
Canon PowerShot SD4500 0.02
Kodak EasyShare M590 0.03

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

Camera Time (seconds)
Casio Exilim EX-S200 0.17
Fujifilm FinePix Z800EXR 0.19
Kodak EasyShare M590 0.30
Canon PowerShot SD4500 0.49

Continuous shooting modes are disappointing considering that there's no full-resolution continuous shooting mode available. Scaling down to 2 megapixels will allow you to shoot at 4.4 fps, and reducing image size to 1 megapixel boosts the framerate to 10 fps.

Casio claims that the NP-120 rechargeable battery included with the S200 will record about 270 images with standard LCD brightness settings in Auto mode. Based on my results, this seems a bit optimistic. I did a lot more menu diving and video recording than a typical user might do, but be prepared to purchase an additional battery if you're planning on taking the S200 on an extended day of shooting.

The S200 uses sensor-shift image stabilization to help combat blur in images due to camera shake. If you don't expect it to perform miracles, then it seems to be a satisfactory system. A few images I took indoors under fluorescent lighting at 1/60th shutter speed and slower came out clear. The greatest problem I saw with regard to image clarity was when the camera raised the ISO. At ISO 400, my images weren't blurry due to camera shake, but they were smudgy thanks to high levels of digital noise.

Results will continue to get worse with less available light and higher ISO settings. Even though the sensor-shift stabilization seems to be doing a good job, the S200 seems to be suffering from overcrowded sensor syndrome. But more on that later.

So are you better off using the on-board flash shooting indoors and in dim light? Based on my testing, that's a viable option. Using the flash will bring ISO back down, and with it, noise levels will decrease. The handheld shot below on the left was taken at ISO 800 and details are pretty murky. With the flash on, details are brought back though there are some shadows and reflections. Skin tones were slightly washed out with the flash on full force, but using the "soft" option helps.

Casio S200 Sample Image
Flash off
Casio S200 Sample Image
Flash on

Lens Performance
The Casio S200 features a 27mm wide angle lens, which is always a benefit when you're trying to get a picture of the whole family in front of the Christmas tree, or the Grand Canyon, and so forth. The lens isn't especially fast with a maximum aperture range of f/3.2 at wide angle and f/5.9 at telephoto. It extends to an equivalent of 108mm, or a 4x optical zoom magnification.

Casio touts the S200's "SR Zoom" function as being able to expand the optical zoom range by 1.5x without degrading image quality. This is evidently achieved through processing by the camera's Exilim Engine 5.0. According to Casio's press materials from the camera launch, it does this by "analyzing and adjusting the contours in images and the relief of the subject."

Panasonic has attempted to do the same kind of thing with its "Intelligent Resolution" technology. Skeptics argue that additional processing in-camera doesn't make up for the harm that's done using digital zoom, which is essentially what Casio's SR Zoom is doing.

So did SR Zoom offer a little more reach, or is it best left alone? Take a look at the series of images below. They were shot indoors under reasonably good lighting at a model train display.

Casio S200 Sample Image
Wide angle 27mm
Casio S200 Sample Image
Standard zoom 108mm
Casio S200 Sample Image
Digital SR zoom

Once the lens is extended into SR Zoom territory, fine details are a distant memory. To be fair, results might be a bit better outside in ample light. Still, the system didn't seem to do much more than make the noise problems that were already there more apparent. For the best results, stick to standard zoom and be careful not to stray into digital zoom territory.

Chromatic aberration was the lens flaw I saw cropping up most frequently. I saw a very small amount of barrel distortion and virtually no pincushion distortion at the wide and telephoto ends of the range, respectively.

Casio S200 Sample Image
Wide angle
Casio S200 Sample Image

Video Quality
The S200 records 720p HD video at 20 fps. A framerate of 24 fps is generally considered to have a "cinematic" look and will produce good results when panning slowly or following action. Based on those numbers, it would be reasonable to assume that video recorded at 720p with the S200 would look choppy.

It was indeed somewhat choppy. The videos I shot indoors (again, at the train display) are also fairly noisy. Results may be better outdoors, but a setting like this shouldn't have been such a challenge for the camera. The S200 also records at standard VGA resolution at a 30 fps rate. The reduced resolution looks much more pleasant and the video isn't quite as choppy.

Image Quality
As is the case with so many of its point-and-shoot brothers and sisters, the Casio S200 takes very nice pictures in plenty of sunlight at low ISOs. The details in the image of the penguin below are pleasantly sharp, and the text in the sign is relatively crisp. Both images were captured at ISO 50, the S200's lowest setting.

Casio S200 Sample Image Casio S200 Sample Image

Moving indoors produced mixed results. The print on the bag below is clear, and details in the woven material are somewhat sharp. This image was shot using Auto ISO, and the camera selected ISO 640. There's some noise visible in the brick background, but the image is definitely usable.

Casio S200 Sample Image

I saw some tendency to lose highlights in scenes with a wide range of light and dark tones, but nothing unexpected. The Casio S200 has no options outside of a default evaluative metering mode, though there is an extra level of "brightness correction" available in the quality menu. Colors are reproduced nicely, though problems occur there too when ISO increases and colors are clipped. Contrast is slightly strong and flat.

Auto white balance was fairly reliable. It tended to give images under incandescent lighting an orange cast, which is typical, but performed nicely under our studio fluorescents.

Casio S200 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

It's a given that image quality will decline as ISO is raised, it's just a question of when it will become unacceptable. Sadly, for all of its good looks the S200 doesn't offer great-looking images at mid-to-high ISO sensitivities. While most images will look fine on the camera's LCD or reduced to an e-mail-friendly size, inspecting images shot at ISO 400 and beyond reveals significant amounts of digital artifacts.

The image below of the miniature figures on the skating rink is a good example. It's fine as is for posting on Facebook, or resizing and sending as an e-mail attachment. Looking closely though, it appears that details are somewhat soft, especially in the house and the merry-go-round.

Casio S200 Sample Image

Images were generally acceptable for web or email below ISO 800. From 800 and beyond, even at reduced sizes the noise level is apparent and impacts image quality significantly. Our tests in the lab support this assessment.

Casio S200 Sample Image
ISO 50
Casio S200 Sample Image
ISO 50, 100% crop
Casio S200 Sample Image
ISO 100
Casio S200 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Casio S200 Sample Image
ISO 200
Casio S200 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Casio S200 Sample Image
ISO 400
Casio S200 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Casio S200 Sample Image
ISO 800
Casio S200 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Casio S200 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Casio S200 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Casio S200 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Casio S200 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

The S200 mercifully limits ISO in auto mode to 800. ISO 1600 would only be acceptable at very small sizes, and ISO 3200 is best left alone.

Additional Sample Images
Casio S200 Sample Image Casio S200 Sample Image
Casio S200 Sample Image Casio S200 Sample Image
Casio S200 Sample Image Casio S200 Sample Image
Casio S200 Sample Image Casio S200 Sample Image

The Casio S200 makes a good first impression. With a slick, modern design it easily competes for attention in a world of slick, modern electronic devices. It will take good pictures in ample light outdoors and okay pictures indoors. If it's an attractive, low-cost camera you're after, the S200 would seem an easy pick.

The ultra-compact camera market is a battlefield though, and there's some very steep competition. Pictures that are just "okay" in anything less than bright sunshine makes it tough to recommend. The menu systems are at times redundant, and changing settings for ISO and white balance aren't easy tasks. For its size, the lens does a good job, but sharpness declines quickly as ISO is increased. In this battlefield, the Casio S200 is just an average competitor.