Casio Exilim EX-S500 Review

Mindboggling. That's the only way to describe the ultra-tiny new 5-megapixel digicam from Casio.
Mindboggling. That's the only way to describe the ultra-tiny new 5-megapixel digicam from Casio.
Mindboggling. That's the only way to describe the ultra-tiny new 5-megapixel digicam from Casio.

Highs

  • Unbelievably thin; extensive scene modes; good outdoor image quality

Lows

  • Poor LCD screen; uneven picture performance

DT Editors' Rating

Summary

Mindboggling. That’s the only way to describe the ultra-tiny new 5-megapixel digicam from Casio. I’ve handled the vast majority of compact 5MP models with large LCD screens but the Casio Exilim Card EX-S500 is even smaller than the competition. And while camera’s LCD is screen is not as large as say the Sony T series (2.2 versus 2.5 inches), the overall package is appealing–on paper. Unfortunately this camera is far from perfection personified but it is a tour de force of miniaturization. Now if they only spent as much time on photo quality…

Features and Design

The Casio Exilim Card EX-S500 is really small, I mean credit card size, hence the name. Casio states the camera is .54 inches at its thinnest point and it “balloons” to .63 at its thickest. You really have to pick this one up to see what we’re raving about.

The camera comes in gray but if you really want it to be a focal point of conversation, you can get it in white or orange (perfect for Halloween). The front features the 3x optical zoom that pops out when you power up and retracts snuggly with a built-in lens cover when you power down. It’s the typical point-and-shoot 38-114mm range. You’ll also find a metal accent, the flash and a port for the AF Assist Lamp, one of the best features for any size digital camera. The skinny top has a shutter button and a very tiny power switch; make sure you don’t cut your nails too close because you’ll find it a bit of a hassle to turn the thing on.

The rear of the EX-S500 is dominated by the 2.2 inch LCD rated 84.9K pixels, just one of the Achilles Heels of this camera (more on this later). There are dedicated buttons for playback, still and movie recording modes, a menu key, a nicely styled four-way arrow navigating pad as well as individual keys for wide and telephoto adjustment. There’s also a BS key. OK, you can stop laughing. It stands for Best Shot not the barnyard byproduct and it’s Casio’s term for Scene modes. In this case there are 29 of them, covering everything from Children to Soft Flowing Water, Food, Business Cards and documents and so on. There are also a number of movie modes on top of this for a total of 33.

Since the camera is so slim, there are no doors on the side for memory cards or USB and video out connections. The memory card/battery door is on the bottom along with the tripod mount. The camera accepts SD cards and is supplied with a lithium ion battery that is recharged when you place the camera on the supplied docking station. You’ll also find the USB and A/V out connections here as well (it’s USB2.0). Casio states the CIPA rating is 200 shots per charge and after using it extensively we found the figure to be accurate. It’s a good but not great spec.

The camera does not come with a separate quick start guide; it’s on page 3 of the 19-pages of English instructions in the Owner’s Manual. It does the job. When you power up after charging the battery in the supplied cradle, you are forced to pick a language, set the clock, pick your local city and adjust the time and date. Then it’s off to adjusting the extensive list of options on the very easy to read onscreen menus. After putting everything in order and loading a 1GB SanDisk Extreme III card it was time to take some photos.

Casio Exilim SD-500
Image Courtesy of Casio

Performance

With the camera in 2560×1920 pixel Fine mode, set in multipoint AF and auto everything I took some nice photos on a bright shiny day in Asbury Park, NJ, famed as a starting point for rock superstar Bruce Springsteen. The camera reacted quickly but not as fast as competitors since there was some lag as images were saved to the card. It wasn’t a big deal but it was noticeable that Casio had fallen behind the Big Boys (Sony, Canon, Fuji and Olympus).

As I walked around the faded seaside resort searching for The Boss, I also noticed the camera did a very uneven job with auto focus, something that should be a non-issue in this day and age. As I took snaps, I would review them on the LCD screen, zooming in to see if the focus was sharp. In many instances, it wasn’t. I changed from multipoint to spot focus and back but it really didn’t help. As noted, the LCD is very grainy compared to other slim digicams out there including the recently reviewed Canon Digital ELPHs. Fearing my eyesight was going bad, I checked the image quality on my monitor at home and the focus was still uneven. Some shots were excellent while others went into the Delete bin. The same held true for images in shadows, fluffy kitties and my usual list of subjects. This was very disappointing. Not trusting the monitor, I even churned out some prints on a Canon MP780 multifunction device. No luck. And I know it wasn’t the printer since I just made some 8.5×11 beauties from the 8MP Olympus Stylus 800.

Another test of a camera’s capabilities is simply taking a variety of flash shots. Considering the EX-S500 has an AF Assist Lamp, shots should’ve been spot on. They weren’t. Bummer.

The EX-S500 has a movie mode that records in MPEG-4 to the length of the memory card. They looked OK on my TV screen but you’re not buying this as a camcorder–it’s a digital still camera–and not a great one at that.

Conclusion

Life is filled with disappointments but in this new era of Hurricane Katrina, a so-so digital camera doesn’t rank high up there. Still it does cost money and no one wants to throw it away. I tip my hat to the Casio engineers for creating such a small camera. Next time they should spend much more time on image quality.

Pros:

       

    • Incredibly thin
    • Incredibly compact
  • Many Best Shot options (33)

Cons:

       

    • Poor quality LCD screen
    • Dicey auto focus
  • Soft, inaccurate photos