Casio's first-generation Exilim EX-S1, a 1.2-megapixel model, had a brief but noteworthy run in the marketplace. Casio now replaces it with an almost identical 2-megapixel version with a few minor feature upgrades. Like its predecessor, the ultrasvelte, eye-catching Exilim EX-S2 is an easy-to-use camera that's designed for snapshooters who want a truly pocket-sized camera with maximum stealth factor. The higher pixel count means you'll be able to print your pictures not only at larger sizes but also with more precise color reproduction and sharper details. Still, don't expect to be blown away by the image quality. Bond, James Bond--that's whom you feel like when you're using the 0.4-inch-thick EX-S2. OK, so maybe a couple of martinis would help get you into character, but the point is that this camera really is bar- and party-friendly. Because it's so small--about half the size and weight of one of Canon's Digital Elphs--you don't have to worry about looking goofy with a bulging pants pocket or a carrying case clipped onto your belt. No, you'll barely feel this baby in your pocket or purse.
The Exilim keeps its controls simple.
The Exilim's user interface is simple. On the back of the camera, you'll find only three controls: one for switching between play and record modes, one for accessing the menu in either mode, and a four-directional navigation button for controlling the digital zoom and steering through the well-organized LCD menus.
While the camera has a nice, sturdy aluminum body, we recommend putting the EX-S2 in some sort of protective case (we used a felt pouch) when you put it in your pocket, to protect it from keys and change. No lens cap is included, but the tiny lens--the Exilim lacks an optical zoom--is recessed and covered by a layer of glass, so you don't have to worry about it getting damaged.
|The recessed lens is protected by glass, but we recommend a carrying case anyway.||It's easy to accidentally hit the power button when trying to snap a picture.|
The only serious design gripe we have is with the positioning of the small power button. It's located where the shutter-release button normally is, on the far right at the top of the camera. To its left is the bigger shutter-release button, but we frequently ended up accidentally shutting off the EX-S2 when we meant to take a picture. In the next iteration of this line of cameras, Casio should reverse the positions of the two buttons. Not surprisingly, the EX-S2 lacks frills, but it does have some extras that allow it to rise above the purely point-and-shoot level. New to this model is Casio's Best Shot function, which allows you to choose from six settings--Portrait, Scenery, Night Scene, Retro, Twilight, and Monochrome--that optimize the camera's white balance and saturation for those types of scenes.
All the other classic low-end features are here, including a 4X digital zoom in both record and playback modes, as well as a movie mode that allows you to record 320x240-pixel video clips as long as 30 seconds. This model doesn't record sound, but the step-up EX-M2--which features a built-in MP3 player--will capture audio. Sorry, action fans, you won't find a continuous-shooting mode here either.
|This dummy card occupies the slot where an optional SD/MMC card fits.||The Exilim docks for uploading images and charging the battery.|
The EX-S2 can capture JPEGs at three resolution settings: 1,600x1,200, 1,280x960, and 640x480. You can store some of your images on the camera's 12MB of built-in memory; there's also a Secure Digital/MultiMedia Card slot for additional storage, which we highly recommend using. Although Casio didn't put a media card in the package, there is a sleek-looking USB camera dock. In addition to making image downloads convenient, it serves as a battery charger.
The small optical viewfinder slightly distorts the scene.
We're pleased with the EX-S2's relatively speedy performance. Even if you make the mistake of shutting off the camera by accidentally pressing the power button, the Exilim has one of the fastest start-up times we've seen. We're also impressed with its shot-to-shot times, which run less than a second without flash at the highest resolution setting.
The EX-S2's 1.6-inch LCD is adequately sharp and bright, and although the optical viewfinder is small and somewhat distorts the scene, it provides a clear view. Your composition will benefit from using the LCD when shooting at close range, however, since the optical viewfinder doesn't show the full frame. Also note that you must keep the camera fairly steady when shooting, or your pictures will end up out of focus.
The tiny camera requires a small, proprietary battery.
This Casio's small flash performed well enough, with a range of about 12 to 15 feet. And we managed to do fairly well on battery life, capturing about a hundred shots before needing a recharge. However, because the EX-S2 doesn't accept standard AA batteries, it's a good idea to go out with a full charge. The lithium-ion battery is removable, and you can purchase a second battery from Casio. Make no mistake: The EX-S2 isn't designed for taking panoramic shots of picturesque landscapes. It's meant for snapshots of people, preferably at close range. All in all, we were reasonably pleased with the picture quality, although we did have some pretty low expectations. If e-mailing photos to your friends after a night out is your primary objective, we think that you'll be perfectly satisfied with the EX-S2. And small prints will turn out acceptably well, too.
|Color noise and compression artifacts bedevil the EX-S2's images.|
The EX-S2 generally produces even, appropriate exposure and vivid colors. We don't see a terribly broad dynamic range, though. There's a noticeable amount of clipping in highlights and shadows, which results in lost image detail in bright and dark areas. Our images also exhibited a visible level of noise and artifacts.
|The camera delivers evenly exposed, if somewhat high-contrast, images.|