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Casio Exilim EX-S2 on hands review

I’ve been playing with one of these ‘ere tiny Casio Exilim EX-S2 digital cameras for a week or so now, and I’ve got to say that I’m very impressed.

Now it’s important to realise that I’m no photographer, nor am I a camera buff at all. I’m what you might call a happy snapper, and what I look for in a digicam reflects that. And I’ve got to say that the Casio has come up trumps in just about everything that has been on my wishlist, with perhaps one exception which I’ll get to later.

Size. This is really a small camera. You know that of course, if you have been to the Web site, or seen the photos. It’s about the size of a credit card and the thickness of a fat passport, so portability is NOT a problem with this little baby. In fact it’s tiny size may even be a problem. I very quickly realised that in order to use it properly I needed to attach the wrist strap, to avoid it slipping out of my hands as I was wandering around looking for things to shoot.

It wasn’t so much that it would do that, but rather that I *felt* it might, which is entirely a psychological thing I’ll grant. Anyway once the strap was on, I was fine and happily doodled around in shooting mode in streets, buildings, transport and everywhere in between.

Before we leave the marvel of miniaturisation, I am a little surprised that Casio didn’t include a lens cover, LCD cover or indeed overall case to prevent the EX-S2 from getting scratched or worse in the pocket. I had to use a small felt pouch from a business card case.

Photos. Well this to me is the real surprise. I’ve tried other small cameras and without exception they produce fairly average looking shots. The Casio produces images which may not satisfy the purist (they can be a bit soft around the edges it seems to me sometimes) but they’re definitely good enough for the average Joe like me who just wants something to store on CD for that rainy day.

I kept the settings on what I suppose you’d call the medium mode (1280 x 960 and Fine) and the shots were really quite excellent. Secret Surprise No 1 of this device is the Best Shot mode, which gives you a choice of several auto modes, Night, Twilight, Portrait, Mono, Scenery and Retro (sepia) which actually seem to work.

Put it this way, I found that I could get some very moody shots (i.e. no flash) even through holding unsteadily in my hands and shooting at night with the Nightime setting, and they were actually almost worth viewing afterwards! This is a shock to me, let me tell you!

The only quibble that I have, and this is the fairly significant negative that I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, is that the camera doen’t seem to like close up shots at all. This is due to the fact that the minimum focus distance is 1 m, which really is too far because it makes it almost impossible to produce nice sharp close-ups of small products or other items. I’m sure that the designers didn’t have to build in this constraint, but it’s there nonetheless. And it’s a pain.

Apart from that the results are really quite impressive as I’ve said. The only thing that’s missing is a best shot for fast moving/sports images, but hey it’s not a Nikon OK?

Operation. The second Secret Surprise of this camera is the start up time. It’s very very fast, around a second. This may not seem important, but along with the size it really changes your use of a digicam. I found myself hitching it up to the wrist strap and just walking around looking for stuff to photograph on whim.

I didn’t have to worry about battery life (which appears to be great anyway) or waiting for it to start up. If I saw something, I’d simply swing the camera up into my hand, switch it on with the power button and shoot. It was almost that fast. Nor does it take that long between shots, around 4 or 5 seconds, which is fine for most purposes.

On the subject of power buttons, why oh why did Casio put the power on so close to the shutter button? It’s not a huge deal, but it can and surely will cause some people all sorts of confusion until they can remember which is which without thinking. Sloppy!

Flash shots are also really good for this size/type of camera. Instead of all those washed out, over bleached disasters which most digicams visit on hapless hack snappers like me, the results from the EX-S2 are generally excellent. Especially at the optimum 5 or so feet away. Well done Casio software peeps!

Storage and battery. The piece de resistance, though, of any digicam I believe is whether it can hold a battery charge for more than an hour or so before spluttering to a halt, and here again the Casio seems to shine. A day’s worth of shooting of some 32 shots via the LCD only used up one measly slot on the battery counter, leading me to believe that there was plenty more juice to go.

The makers claim 300 plus shots per charge, I can’t vouch for that, but I reckon that you should be able to do a good weekend’s worth of shooting between charging if you’re careful and don’t over utilise the flash too much. Of course the best thing is to buy a second spare battery, and keep it handy, just to be safe!

In terms of storage it accepts those tiny SD/MM cards, and gives good value there also. The 32MB card I installed raised the capacity from the 15 of the internal memory to a whopping 41 shots. So taken together a 32MB card + internal memory will give 56 shots at the medium sized Fine setting. This is great utilisation of compression and space, so more props to the Casio folks.

Caveats. OK, well lest I sound like a walking advert for the Casio UK Digicam Fan Club, let me say that there are still points that need sorting out other than those I’ve mentioned. For one it would be really nice to have more than a 12 page written manual for my 250.00. OK so the manual is on CD in PDF format, but those are really a pain to use.

You also have to remember that there are an awful lot of alternative cameras out there for the same money which will take better pictures all round, but without the convenience factor. My praise for the Casio therefore must be weighed alongside the fact that portability is a hugely important part of my snapping ethos.

The way I figure it, if you’re not carrying a camera around you have no chance of taking any photo, good or bad. Which is the real reason I exchanged my beloved but bulky Canon A1 SLR all those years ago for a compact Nikon – which I found to be nowhere near as good in picture quality terms..

Also the designers really need to go back to the drawing board and take another look at the jog-stick used for navigating the settings menus on the LCD. It is overly sensitive in some ways, and not enough in others. The result is that you continually over-shoot your mark or can’t get the menu to cycle or select something when you didn’t mean to. All of which adds up to user frustration. It’s not a huge problem again, but it needs sorting.

Charging and downloading of images using the supplied cradle is also pain free, especially for those using Windows XP which recognises the camera automatically without even having to install any software or drivers.

Conclusion. This is a nice digicam. No it’s not perfect, but if Casio continue developing this line, iron out the bugs, and somehow improve the optics or software to offer a close up mode, I can see the EX series lasting a long time. The only thing that will come close to supplanting its convenience and ease of use is if/when the smartphone people come up with high resolution digicam innards in their next generation models, and that must be still a couple of years away at least.

Happy Snapping!

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