The Casio Exilim EX-G1 costs about £230. It's clear that most of that cost is down to its ruggedised body, which allows you to take photos and video in situations that you can't with a standard camera. This ultra-compact, 12.1-megapixel snapper can withstand a 2.13m drop because of its two-layer construction, with a stainless steel outer casing, a resin ring protecting the lens, and a polycarbonate cover on its right side, among several other protective measures. It's waterproof down to a depth of approximately 3m for up to an hour, and it's freezeproof to about -10C.
Available in red and black versions, the EX-G1 certainly looks different from your average pocket camera. It's very small, which is what you want in a rugged compact camera, and you won't hesitate to take it with you, no matter what the conditions are.
That said, the camera seems over-designed. For starters, there's a dial on its right side for opening the cover on the memory card and mini-USB/AV compartment, located directly below the dial. It takes less than a quarter turn to unlock the door and it turns easily. Other than adding to the rugged mystique, the dial's rather pointless.
The battery compartment on the bottom of the camera requires a special tool, or a very long fingernail, to open. Even with the tool, opening it requires plenty of dexterity. The battery doesn't charge in the camera, so you have to remove it from the compartment whenever it runs out of power. Casio includes two types of detachable shock-absorbing protectors, attached by small screws. Also, Casio has gone to the trouble of reinforcing the wrist-strap holder by making it out of die-cast zinc. But the wrist strap is made of the typical braided nylon you get with a normal compact camera -- not so tough.
The camera takes microSD and microSDHC cards, which need to be handled with nimble fingers. This isn't much of an issue, though, since you can always use the USB port to transfer files from the camera, rather than removing the card, and it means you can use the card in a variety of other mobile devices. If you plan to use an SD card from another camera, then the type of card will be an issue.
In our informal durability tests, the camera proved tough. The compartment doors stayed shut after drops, and there were never any malfunctions because of shock, underwater use or the cold. The instruction manual, a PDF file on the included software disc, goes into detail about what the camera will survive and what you need to do to ensure its survival.
Fat-fingered folk beware
The sizes of the EX-G1's various controls are acceptable, but people with larger hands may have some trouble. On top are Casio's 'best shot' button for accessing shooting modes, a power button and the shutter release. The remaining controls are angled down the back right-hand side, just as the camera body itself is angled.
There's a one-press record button for movies, a vertical zoom rocker, a play button, a four-way directional pad with a 'set' button in the centre, and a menu button. All of the buttons look cramped, but, for the most part, they're easily pressed. The exception is the bottom of the zoom rocker (the wide position) and the play button, which are the same height and too close together. More often than not, when we went to retract the zoom, we'd enter playback mode. Putting on thick gloves didn't help matters.
Another issue is that the EX-G1's body is fairly slick. This, combined with its slim size, keeps you from getting a secure one-handed grip on it.
Straightforward shooting options
All of the camera's settings are accessed through the menu button. For faster access to shooting options, however, a programmable panel of settings can be opened on the screen's right side, with a press of the set button. The system is easy to navigate and straightforward.
As always, Casio throws in some extra little options. For example, with the EX-G1, the autofocus assist lamp is an ultra-bright LED that can be turned on for use as a recording light for video, or as an impromptu flashlight. Another option worth mentioning is Casio's 'auto shutter', which will take a photo when the camera and the subject are still. Without optical or mechanical image stabilisation, it's a big help when trying to reduce blur.
The EX-G1's shooting features are tame. With only a couple of exceptions, the camera has similar shooting options to Casio's budget compact, the Exilim EX-Z33. With a press of the best-shot button, you can pick one of more than 20 scene types, including standard options like 'portrait', 'landscape' and 'night scene'. There are 'underwater' and 'snow' modes, too.
The actual 'auto' mode is more of a 'program AE' mode, letting you adjust all of the EX-G1's settings, except shutter speed and aperture. There's also a 'best shot auto' mode, which is Casio's automatic scene-recognition shooting option.
The camera's 'movie' mode shoots VGA-quality video, but the recordings looked good in our tests and are suitable for online sharing. Also, the optical zoom works while recording. You can take a still while recording movies but the camera will take a chunk out of the movie while it's storing the shot.