Casio EXILIM EX-S600 Overview
by Dan Havlik
Review Date: 10/31/2006
When it comes to ultra slim cameras, Casio and its sleek and sexy EXILIM line have long been at the forefront of the photo industry. While just about all of its competitors have been making waves recently their with own ultra slim models (the popular Nikon Coolpix "S" series comes to mind), Casio continues to churn out new sliver-sized cameras with capable feature-sets in its EXILIM "Card" line. One of the latest is the six-megapixel Casio EXILIM EX-S600.
If you haven't seen a Casio slim camera in a while, it's easy to forget how nicely crafted and solidly built these models are. The Casio EX-S600 comes in three colors -- silver, orange, and blue -- and has a body composed of a very sturdy metallic polycarbonate. Though it measures just 0.8 inch at its thinnest point, the EX-S600 doesn't feel flimsy at all, with a sleek, slightly rounded design that has good balance and fits snugly in the palm of your hand. Along with the sleek design, the Casio EX-S600 has a very impressive set of features for a camera this thin, including a 3x optical zoom lens, nine-point Multi Autofocus with Contrast Detection, a new MPEG-4 movie mode with built-in camera shake reduction, a bright 2.2-inch LCD screen, incredible battery life of up to 300 pictures per charge, and 34 "Best Shot" scene modes including such unusual options as "Collection" which displays a detailed composition outline for shooting objects, and "Old Photo" which is designed to refresh faded colors of old album photos.
Though slim cameras have been immensely popular with consumers in recent years, the biggest gripe has been picture quality. Read on to find out if the Casio EXILIM EX-S600's picture-taking ability matches its stylish, sleek design.
Casio EXILIM EX-S600 User Report
by Dan Havlik
Designer Looks. A Casio EXILIM EX-S600 test unit arrived on my doorstep at about the same time as I purchased a new Motorola RAZR V3m cell phone from Verizon Wireless, and I was amazed at how strikingly similar in size and design these two models are. The RAZR, of course, is one of the most popular mobile phones on the market, so the EX-S600 is certainly in good company.
The EX-S600 I tried out was the "blue" version which is actually an attractive metallic bluish-grey color which the "metrosexual" in me says also might have a hint of lavender. (Sorry, maybe I've been watching too many Fab Five reruns on Bravo lately.) Though it's made mostly of polycarbonate, there are nice silver metal accents on the Casio EX-S600 around the lens and across the faceplate including a solid metal fingergrip and raised metal lettering spelling out the EXILIM name. The metal accents are picked up in a silver band that runs across most of the top of the camera, and in the metal zoom rocker, multi-controller, and various buttons on the back.
At 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.8 inches (89 x 57 x 21 millimeters), the Casio EX-S600 is one of the slimmest cameras I've tested. Though it doesn't have the nice wave-like ergonomics of the Nikon S5 and S6, the EX-S600 doesn't suffer from some of the design flaws I experienced with those models, namely accidentally getting my finger in the shot. In contrast to the S5 and S6, which have the lens placed precariously in the top right corner of the camera, the Casio's lens is set toward the middle right of the faceplate and, consequently, out of the way of errant fingers. The main difference between the S-Series Coolpix models from Nikon and the Casio EX-S600 is that the Casio does not use folded optics so the lens will extend out about an inch when powered on. On the Nikon S-Series models, folded optics allows the camera body to stay flat even at full zoom.
Because the Casio EX-S600 is so slim and small, I never felt totally comfortable gripping it and advise you use the wrist-strap to keep it secure. Speaking of the wrist-strap, the one design feature that I found slightly irksome is that the metal strap eyelet juts out from the camera near the zoom rocker. This is really a minor quibble and I noticed this aberration only because the rest of the camera is so sleekly crafted.
Casio makes an interesting choice in controls on this camera. Instead of having a mode dial or a button that toggles between playback and capture, the EX-S600 has separate buttons for playback (marked with the ubiquitous sideways triangle) and capture (marked with an icon of a camera) across the top rear of the camera. There's also a third button next to playback and capture that, at first glance, gave me pause. It's actually the movie button and is identified by a red circle. Press it once and you are instantly recording a movie with red numbers on the LCD starting up right away and counting off the time of your clip. Simultaneously, a set of white numbers also appears on the LCD to count down how much time you have left on the card for your movie.
Overall, I had no problem figuring out how to work the controls on the Casio EX-S600, which is the way it should be for a camera that is undoubtedly marketed to people for whom ease-of-use is a major concern. The one other small complaint I had about the button layout is zoom rocker, which I wish was bigger and easier to adjust with your thumb when you're one-handing this camera.
Decent LCD. With LCDs on compact cameras now almost standard at 2.5-inches (and many going up to 3.0 inches), you'd think a 2.2-inch LCD like the one on the Casio EX-S600 would look small by comparison. It was perfectly satisfactory, however, for reviewing images and composing shots; though the resolution was slightly low at 84,960 pixels. Casio claims that the LCD on the EX-S600 is twice as bright as on previous models, and though I had no way to test this claim, I did find the display to be bright enough for easy viewing indoors and outdoors. In some cases of shooting in extreme bright light, however, the screen had a tendency to wash out. Since the Casio EX-S600 has no optical viewfinder, this can make composing shots in bright sunlight a bit like flying blind.
Speedy Performance. One of the best things about this little camera was how fast it was to use. After testing several compact cameras recently that were frustratingly slow in all areas of operation, it was a pleasure to touch the EX-S600's Power button and have the camera fire up and be ready to take pictures right away. According to our tests, the Casio EX-S600 could power on and deploy its lens for the first shot in just two seconds. Shutting down the camera was even quicker at just 1.6 seconds. Play to Record first shot took just 0.2 second and the camera could display a large/fine file in 2.4 seconds after capture. LCD playback of large/fine image files already on the memory card took 0.2 second. (Most cameras in this class take twice as long to perform these functions.) I found myself whizzing through a day's worth of shots in just seconds on the EX-S600.
In the all-important Shutter lag category, the Casio EX-S600 was also quite quick, taking just 0.47 second to snap a picture -- without prefocusing -- at the full autofocus wide setting, and 0.53 second at the full autofocus telephoto setting. (Some competing models can't even achieve this speed when prefocused.) When prefocused, the EX-S600 was blazingly fast at capturing pictures, just 0.010 second. I also found the camera to have a very fast shot-to-shot speed in single shot mode and even quicker in Continuous mode.
Above Average Quality. Though it certainly wouldn't be a camera I would turn to in challenging situations, such as in lowlight without a flash, the Casio EX-S600 produced images of good quality with fairly accurate color and generally sharp focus. Images I took of 5 Pointz, a building in my neighborhood in Queens that uses its exterior to showcase graffiti art, rendered the bold color of the artwork with accuracy.
The Casio EX-S600 also had a very serviceable Macro mode with a range of 15-50 centimeters, which is slightly closer than on the EX-S600's predecessor. Using the Macro mode, I was able to get some nice shots of flowers that are still in bloom here in New York City thanks to a unseasonably mild Fall.
ISO on the Casio EX-S600, is only manually selectable to ISO 400. The camera will automatically select an ISO 800 setting when it detects low-light, non-flash shooting conditions. When in its Anti-Shake or High Sensitivity Best Shot mode, the camera can record up to ISO 1,600. Though images captured in low light at ISO 800 and 1,600 were cleaner than I expected, they are not recommended for printing because of excessive noise. As a general rule, I would stick to shooting at ISO 200 as a maximum on this model.
Though the 3x optical lens (38-114mm in 35mm equivalent, f/2.7-5.2) suffered from softness at the corners of images, this is fairly typical for cameras in this class. For the most part, however, sharpness was good in the central area of images.
With so many modes, Casio does a good job of differentiating each one in the Best Shot menu. Hit the metal "BS" button on the back of the camera and you'll see three pages of boxes with images (these are mostly actual stock photos, not icons) to identify each scene mode. Most are obvious choices such as a mountain landscape to identify the "Scenery" setting, or a child blowing out a birthday cake for "Candlelight Portrait," but some are more difficult to identify such as "Old Photo" which is designed to restore the faded color of an old photograph. If you tap the zoom button when in the Best Shot menu, you'll receive a close-up of the identifying image and text that briefly describes what the scene mode does.
Though not all of Casio's attempts to create helpful new modes are successful, I appreciate that they're continually trying to make photography easier and more fun though the ample Best Shot functions.
Making Movies. I found the Casio EX-S600's Movie mode extremely easy to use though, as an Apple user, I once again had trouble getting Casio's DivX files to play on my MacBook. Casio, like an increasing number of camera makers, has decided to use the DivX video codec for its movies. DivX is an increasingly popular third party software which uses the MPEG-4 format to compress long video clips into small sizes while maintaining good visual quality.
While I had a blast making lengthy video clips with the little Casio EX-S600 during a recent Rolling Stones concert at Giants Stadium, so far I've only had success playing the full clips back on the camera's LCD. DivX files will not run on Apple's QuickTime player and must be converted via a DivX module that requires a separate download. Even after I downloaded the free DivX package for Mac OS X, which includes a trial version of the converter, I could only get the audio portion of the files to play on the DivX player.
The process is frustrating and disappointing for Mac users especially considering that the Casio EX-S600 has a great new anti-shake processor for its movie mode as well several other cool new features including Snapshot-in-Movie, which lets you snap off a photo during movie recording, and Motion Print that lets you convert movies into a series of up to nine snapshots for printing. The Casio EX-S600's Past Movie feature starts movie recording from five seconds before the Movie button is pressed while Short Movie lets you capture quick clips up to just eight seconds which is adjustable before or after the shutter is snapped.
The Bottom Line. With the EXILIM EX-S600, Casio continues its tradition of creating some of the best ultra-slim cameras on the market. Though its 6.0-megapixel sensor is slightly lower in resolution than some competing models, the Casio EX-S600 takes photos about equal to many of its rivals, producing images with fairly accurate, rather than oversaturated color. There's some compromise in image sharpness as the Casio EX-S600 struggles to overcome a high level of noise even at its lowest ISO, which results in a watercolor appearance, and the usual softness we see in the corners. Like most super slim cameras, it struggles in low-light situations and offers selectable light sensitivity of up to just ISO 400, but the Casio EX-S600 is one of the speediest compact cameras I've tried. Along with being the perfect size for a "take anywhere" camera, its ability to power on and get to first shot very quickly means you'll always be ready to capture revealing candid images of friends. With the EX-S600, Casio has slender good looks, though with only average image quality. Still, it's super speedy and easy to use, with excellent battery life.
- 6.0-megapixel (effective) CCD captures images as high as 2,816 x 2,112 pixels
- 2.2-inch color TFT LCD with 84,960 pixels of resolution
- 3x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera)
- 4x digital zoom
- Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 4 seconds
- Maximum aperture from f/2.7 to f/4.3, depending on zoom position
- Built-in flash with four modes
- SD/MMC card storage slot plus 8.3MB built-in memory
- Power supplied by one proprietary, rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- USB 2.0 high-speed computer connection via bundled cradle
- Ulead Movie Wizard SE VCD software, and Windows Media Player include on CD Rom
- DivX MPEG-4 movie mode (maximum 640 x 480 resolution) with sound
- Anti-Shake DSP movie stabilizer function
- "Snapshot-in-Movie," and "Motion Print" movie print functions
- Two- or 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release, plus Triple Self-Timer mode.
- Super Life Battery provides up to 300 pictures per charge
- Continuous shooting mode
- Automatic exposure control, plus 34 innovative preset "Best Shot" Scene modes.
- Macros (close-up) setting allows focusing up to 15cm
- ISO settings of 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1,600 ISO (800 and 1600 are not selectable, only available in Auto, Anti-Shake, and High Sensitivity modes)
- Image Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation adjustments
- White balance (color) adjustment with eight options, including a manual setting
- Multi-segment, center-weighted, and spot metering
- Eight digital Filter modes -- B&W, Sepia, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Pink, and Purple
- Automatic exposure compensation with manual adjustment at +/-2 EV in 1/3 step sizes
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge printing compatibility
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Casio EXILIM EX-S600 digital camera
- Casio NP-20 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack
- Cradle with USB, AV, and DC in ports
- USB cable
- AV cable
- AC adaptor
- Wrist strap
- Software CD Rom
- Basic operating manual and registration card
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. (These days, 512 MB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.)
- Soft camera case
- Additional battery pack
Casio has long been at the forefront of the digital camera ultraslim category and the EXILIM EX-S600 is a great addition to that lineage. Sleek and stylishly designed with a solid overall build, the 6.0-megapixel EX-S600 is good camera option for anyone who is constantly on the go. Along with being known for the sliver-sized cameras in its EXILIM "Card" line, Casio has also had a reputation for its "everything but the kitchen sink" preset exposure settings known as "Best Shot" modes. With the EX-S600, Casio squeezes in 34 "Best Shot" modes including now old favorites such as "White Board" and "Business Card," which are great for taking notes, alongside newer but less successful modes including "Old Photo" which pumps up color in digital renderings of old faded prints (though at the expense of sharpness). While not all its Best Shot modes live up to their billing, Casio's continuing effort to add features to its cameras to make them more fun and easier to use is appreciated. Another hallmark of Casio cameras is their incredible battery life and the EX-S600 carries on that tradition with its ability to capture 300 shots on a single charge.
Hopefully part of a new tradition on Casio cameras is the EX-S600's impressively fast operation speed. The EX-S600 fires up and is ready to shoot in just seconds and I experienced virtually no shutter lag when I pre-focused the camera. The Casio EX-S600's also great for showing images. Though its 2.2-inch LCD is on the small side (most top ultraslim models have 2.5-inch screens) and the resolution of the display really should have been higher, I was able to speed through a day's worth of shots in just seconds in playback mode.
Image quality in ultraslim models has been notoriously hit or miss, pictures I captured with the Casio EX-S600 were somewhere in the middle for the category. Good up to 8x10, but soft beyond, sharpness at low ISO was about average with pleasing color. Dynamic range suffered, however, as did detail as the Casio EX-S600 struggled to overcome noise even at the lowest ISO setting. Typical of super-small cameras, corners of images were a bit soft and there was some purple fringing in areas of extreme contrast. Similarly, the Casio EX-S600's low-light shooting capability was limited and the camera's ISO 800 and 1,600 (only available in Anti-Shake and High Sensitivity modes) was too noisy to create good prints. Though I liked how easy it was to operate the camera's movie mode, because it uses the PC-friendly DivX file format I was not able to get video clips to play back on my MacBook despite downloading additional software.
While the Casio EX-S600's pluses stack up nicely, it is not without its faults. If you're never planning on printing above 8x10 and need a very portable camera, the Casio EX-S600 will not disappoint. But it just missed being a Dave's Pick due to over-agressive noise processing that robs all shots of detail, regardless of ISO.