Miss a once-in-a-lifetime shot because you didn't have your digital camera? Now there's no excuse not to pack 3 megapixels in your pocket. No larger than a stack of 14 credit cards, the Casio Exilim EX-S3's sleek, 3.1-ounce magnesium-alloy body is eminently portable. A lack of appreciable shutter lag, a bright 2-inch LCD, and long battery life make this ultracompact all the more attractive. But Casio had to make some sacrifices to squeeze a camera into such a tiny package. The S3's fixed-focus, fixed-focal-length lens; average image quality; and ergonomic drawbacks may limit its appeal to even snapshooters who want to travel light.
Measuring a lilliputian 3.5 by 2.25 by 0.4 inches and weighing just 3.2 ounces with a battery and media installed, the S3 is small where it counts, but it still provides decent-size controls and a generous 2-inch LCD. The camera's solid, brushed-metal body is pleasantly styled, and a built-in cover protects the lens from damage when the S3 is in your pocket. This Exilim shares the basic layout and many of the features of its less expensive, step-down sibling, the 2-megapixel.
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Casio recessed the power button a bit more than the shutter release to keep you from unintentionally turning off the camera, but the keys' proximity can still lead to accidents.
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You can program the four-way controller to govern two frequently changed settings. The Display button activates a dynamic histogram, which helps you get an even exposure.
The S3 is easy to use because you don't need or get many picture-taking controls. Freed from fiddling, you'll rarely push any button other than the shutter release. The four-way pad's up/down and left/right key combinations can each be configured to govern one frequently used function, such as the 4X digital zoom, the recording and flash modes, the exposure compensation, the white balance, the ISO speed, and the self-timer.
There are only three other controls. The Menu key summons logically laid-out menus for adjusting settings. The Display button acts as an on/off toggle for the LCD and the various types of information that appear on it. And with the Play/Record switch, you change between the playback and shooting modes.
Despite the simplicity of the S3's control layout and design, they aren't without flaws. When you adopt a two-handed grip, it's easy for your left fingers to stray in front of the lens, which is in the upper-left corner. If you bring the camera to your eye quickly for an impromptu snap, you're as likely to press the power switch as the shutter release; they're only millimeters apart. Depending on the size of your hand, your right thumb may fall naturally onto the middle of the LCD rather than the four-way controller. The camera bottom is an alternative location for your thumb, but there it will rest on the removable SD memory card, so squeezing off a shot will probably eject the media at the same time.
The S3's basic feature set is as plain-vanilla as its controls, but you get everything you need for simple snapshot photography. The fixed-focal-length 35mm (the 35mm-camera equivalent) lens is permanently set at a relatively slow f/4.2 and focused for subjects at a distance of 2.6 feet to infinity. The camera doesn't offer manual focus or macro mode. However, you can select light sensitivity from ISO 80 to ISO 640, manual or preset white balance, flash with red-eye reduction, and a self-timer function. You can also capture up to 30 seconds of 320x240-pixel AVI video with sound.
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You'll want to supplement the built-in 10MB of memory with SD/MMC media.
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The S3 comes with a USB cradle for convenient image uploading and battery charging. If you press the Photo button, the camera's LCD will call up your pictures in slide-show fashion.
Programmed automatic is the only option you get for exposure, although you can adjust it to plus or minus 2EV. Shutter speeds are set automatically from 1 second to 1/6,400 of a second. The S3 offers 15 Best Shots, programmed scene modes that optimize saturation, contrast, and exposure settings for subjects such as portraits, fireworks, sunsets, and pets. In Pre-shot mode, you shoot a background according to your own composition tastes. The image stays on the screen so that someone else can photograph you against it. The Coupling setting divides one scene into two areas that can be captured separately. So, for example, honeymooners can be together in a picture without asking for a third person's help. You can also choose a photo you've already taken and record its settings as a Best Shot mode.
A few novel features spice things up. Right in the camera, for example, you can build an HTML album. You choose its pictures, select from the 10 layouts, and specify whether the album will be viewed offline, printed, or displayed on the Web. When you connect the S3 to your computer via the bundled USB cradle, you can flip through the album on your monitor in a Web browser. You'll also find a built-in calendar, alarm clock, and world-time feature--handy for the traveler.