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Casio Exilim EX-S20U review: Casio Exilim EX-S20U

Need a digital camera to go with your Mini Cooper and your itsy-bitsy cell phone? You won't find anything much smaller or niftier than the 2-megapixel Casio Exilim EX-S20U. It's only half an inch thick and about as tall and wide as a standard credit card. At 3.5 ounces with a battery and media installed, the camera weighs next to nothing. But this extraordinary portability comes at a price: you'll have to live without a zoom lens and autofocus, and don't expect stellar image quality.


Casio Exilim EX-S20U

The Good

Amazingly slim and compact; fast; light sensitivities from ISO 64 to ISO 500; custom white balance; included USB dock.

The Bad

Lens vignetting; fixed focus yields mediocre sharpness; no zoom.

The Bottom Line

You'll love carrying this tiny Casio everywhere, and its pictures are surprisingly good for the camera's class.

The Exilim's stainless-steel body is well built and nicely finished, though getting a comfortable grip on its tiny dimensions is a bit tricky. Using the hardware and menu-based controls is generally quick and simple. The camera has 10MB of built-in flash memory and an SD/MMC slot. The box doesn't come with a media card, however, so leave some room in your budget. Casio does include a USB dock for battery charging and easy file uploading.

Carefree snapshooting is the guiding principle of this Casio's feature set, but you'll find unexpected extras here and there. Programmed auto is the only exposure mode, but you can fine-tune your settings using a live histogram and exposure compensation, which is adjustable to plus or minus 2EV. And Casio's Best Shot function offers numerous programmed scene modes. Light sensitivities range from ISO 64 to ISO 500. For white balance, there are four presets, but it can also be automatic or manual. The camera captures JPEG stills and 60-second silent 320x240-pixel MJPEG video clips. The 37mm (the 35mm-film equivalent) fixed-focus lens operates at either the Infinity or Macro distance setting; you select one with a slide switch on the camera back. No optical zoom is available, but you do get a 4X digital zoom.

Fairly good performance complements this Casio's sleek design and decent feature set. Start-up takes about two seconds, shutter lag is shorter than half a second, shot-to-shot time runs just longer than a second, and there's almost no delay when you switch between recording and playback.

At 1.6 inches, the LCD is small, but it's reasonably sharp and bright, and it works well in outdoor light. The optical viewfinder, on the other hand, is tiny, imprecise, and distorted. It shows about 82 percent of the actual image. Also disappointing is the 5-foot maximum flash range, but that's counterbalanced by the camera's endurance. The proprietary lithium-ion cell gave us 200 shots per charge--very respectable for such a small battery.

Our test shots were generally well exposed with adequately vibrant colors, but the images suffered a bit from noise and oversharpening. And vignetting, light falloff at the edges of a frame, was severe enough to be noticeable in many scenes that would normally mask it. All told, however, this Casio's photos were above average for its class.