Casio EX-S10 Review
|Full model name:||Casio EXILIM CARD EX-S10|
|Dimensions:||3.7 x 2.1 x 0.6 in.
(94 x 55 x 15 mm)
|Weight:||4.6 oz (130 g)
Casio EXILIM Card EX-S10 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 10/16/08
Promoted as the world's smallest and thinnest 10 megapixel digital camera, the Casio S10 has a 3x optical zoom lens with a 36 to 108mm equivalent focal length coupled to a 1/2.3 inch CCD. The S10's stylish body, measuring just 94.2mm wide, 54.6mm high and 15.0mm thin (13.8mm at the thinnest part) is the product of Casio's relentless pursuit of thinness.
The S10 incorporates Casio's newly developed 2.7-inch Super Clear LCD. This displays extremely sharp and vivid images, thanks to its high contrast ratio and its 230,160 dot high resolution. According to the company, the S10's display can be viewed easily from above, below, left or right thanks to its wide viewing angle, and it is extremely bright, making it easy to see even in daylight.
The Casio EX-S10's Auto Shutter function automatically records the moment of a smile or the instant when hand shake ceases, using motion blur detection technology. The camera also offers iTunes-compatible H.264 video which utilizes the AAC audio codec widely enjoyed in Apple's iPod, etc., and it's possible to record movies in an appealing wide format. The S10 also features a Movie Button which makes movie recording easy. Images are stored on SD, SDHC, or MMC cards, plus 11.8MB of built-in memory, and the S10 derives its power from a custom lithium-ion battery pack.
The Casio EXILIM Card EX-S10 digital camera lists at U.S.$249.99, ships February 2008, and comes in four colors -- red, blue, silver, and black.
Casio EX-S10 User Report
by Mike Pasini
Intro. A thin camera is like a credit card. There's no reason to leave it stashed in a drawer. There's always room to bring it along and before you know it, you'll be glad you did.
The Casio S10 is indeed thin (but not flimsy), if not remarkably thinner than its competition. And I did indeed take it along with me whenever I left the bunker, capturing a wide range of shots whenever I felt like it. Which was a lot.
But just as a credit card does, the S10 extracts a price. It's missing some features I've really come to expect in a digicam. Things like image stabilization and a zoom range beyond 3x. And then there's that interest charge. In the case of the S10 it was image quality. But we'll get to that.
I came to think of the S10 more as a notetaker or a sketchpad than a travel companion. Fun, that is, but not particularly smart. If you're experienced behind the camera, you'll be happier with something else. If you're new to the game, the S10 has some appeal. It does have one unusual feature, though, that might make it a must-have for students or others faced with taking lots of notes.
Look and Feel. Most thin digicams rely on folded optics to stay trim. But relying on that periscope design with a compact-lens size optic in the corner of the camera introduces all kinds of optical aberrations. The S10 uses a lens that extrudes from the thin shell in three barrels, a common approach for thicker digicams with real glass. It should be an advantage.
While Casio makes a lot of the S10's thin profile, other digicams aren't exactly Hummers. Thin really boils down to a convenience. Fujifilm, Nikon and Sony make some pretty thin cameras, too. And I wouldn't turn up my nose at a Canon ELPH because it wasn't card-like. Personally, if it fits in my pocket without bulging too much, I'm satisfied.
More importantly, despite its thinness, the S10 is not light. It isn't heavy either. But it has a nice heft that keeps it stable when you press the Shutter button. I found it a very well-balanced box, in fact. So no complaints here about the form factor. I don't think Casio compromised on anything (except perhaps the buttons) to make such a thin camera.
While the buttons are located conveniently enough that the camera can be operated with just one hand, they are not only small but very shiny. That looks nice, sure, but to my mind, Casio made a big mistake with them. It's impossible to read the icons on the shiny little buttons. They're legible, sure, but unreadable.
So write this down: Playback and Record are above the Navigator and Menu and Best Shot are below. And if you actually buy an S10, take some nail polish or acrylic paint and fill in the icons. Paint to fill, wipe to see.
The Navigator itself doesn't use the arrow keys for anything but moving around. That's because Casio uses its wide screen LCD in a novel way. Casio uses it to display the Shooting menu all the time, even when you're shooting in 16:9 mode.
The 2.7 inch LCD with 230,160 pixels and usable in bright sunlight makes it easy to read the integrated screen menu. Just hit the center button on the navigator to activate the Menu. The Up and Down positions on the navigator, consequently, select a different option, while Left and Right change the current option's setting.
It may not be standard, but it's a simple and effective arrangement, easy to learn and hard to forget.
What is a bit too simple and not at all effective is the user manual. It's a thick little booklet but only 24 pages are given to the topic and even then each item is shared with three other languages, making a very frustrating reading experience. The other pages? More languages.
But don't bother reading it. There's almost no useful information in the thing, just a gloss of the usual nonsense you don't need to be told. It's hands down the worst manual I've ever seen accompanying a digicam -- and I've been reading them since 1998.
To understand any of the Casio S10's multitude of interesting features, you need to dig out a PDF file from the software CD and open it up on your computer. This "electronic manual" is more complete, but still leaves something to be desired from a readability standpoint. My biggest objection to electronic-only manuals though, is that you're left with nothing to drop in your camera bag so you'll be able to refer to it while shooting. That, of course, is when you'd most need a manual.
A 3x zoom may not sound impressive (and, frankly, the restriction is something I find just too confining these days), but considering it's packed into this thin a camera without resorting to a folding design, it bears some consideration. We should see better optical performance than a folding design or a longer zoom, but we found a variety of issues with the Casio S10's optics.
There is no optical image stabilization on the S10 lens, which sets it apart from its competitors, too. It isn't a long zoom at 3x, but image stabilization comes in handy for natural light shots at slow shutter speeds that otherwise would be subject to camera blur. So I missed it. Especially considering that the S10's flash is one of the weaker examples of the species. (An unfortunate consequence of subcompact camera designs, there just isn't room for a very big flash capacitor.)
Interface & Modes. It took me a while to grasp how to actually use the S10. There's no Mode dial. Most cameras have a Mode dial that offers an obvious Auto mode, maybe a Programmed Auto mode of some kind, a Movie mode and finally all those Scene modes no one ever uses.
But Casio apparently figures that every mode is a Scene mode (with one possible exception for Movies, which has its own button). And that actually makes a lot of sense.
The Scene modes, which are extensive, include: Auto, Portrait, Scenery, Portrait with Scenery, Self-Portrait (one person), Self-Portrait (two people), Children, Sports, Candlelight Portrait, Party, Pet, Flower, Natural Green, Autumn Leaves, Soft Flowing Water, Splashing Water, Sundown, Night Scene, Night Scene Portrait, Fireworks, Food, Text, Collections, For eBay, Backlight, Antishake, High Sensitivity, Underwater, Monochrome, Retro, Business cards & documents, Whiteboard (etc.), Silent, Prerecord Movie, For YouTube, Voice Recording, Recall User Scene, and Register User Scene.
Otherwise (Program AE, I mean), the S10 behaves pretty traditionally, with a shooting menu available at the touch of the OK button and less immediate options located in the LCD menu system accessible via the Menu button.
Cheers for providing a Movie mode that dares go beyond the 640x480 broadcast quality of most digicams to actually reflect the HD experience. And, as noted, you can get there with nothing more than a simple Movie button. No need to dabble in the BS palette.
There's also a YouTube movie mode aimed to make YouTube uploads more painless. It does this by increasing the compression on movie files, perhaps figuring that YouTube is going to so crunch the movies anyway, that more detail lost to compression probably won't be all that noticeable. That may be so, but the loss of detail is pretty severe, and the savings in file size is only about 50%.
Special Features.Auto Shutter is a scary concept (to me anyway) but not if it's used to capture a still life when the camera has stopped shaking.
Auto Shutter options include Detect Blur, Detect Panning, Detect Smile or Off. Normally I avoid letting the camera make decisions like this. Who's the photographer here anyway? But at least in the case of Detect Blur, it turned out to be a blessing that nearly compensates for the S10's lack of image stabilization.
You can select the Auto Shutter mode of your preference right from the onscreen menu. To activate it, you press the Shutter button. When conditions are favorable, the camera snaps the shot.
I enabled Detect Blur to shoot with available light in a dim room. When my hands had stopped shaking, the camera took the shot. And it was indeed sharp, with no blur. That's pretty good. We all used to rave about Nikon's Best Shot Selector mode that took several shots and picked the largest JPEG (more detail and therefore the sharpest) as the least blurred image. But Casio has done it better, actually evaluating movement before snapping the shutter.
Face Recognition options include Family First, Normal, Off, Priority, Record Family and Edit Family. That's quite a few more than most cameras with this feature offer. When you select the option to record your family, the screen prompts you to aim and press the Shutter with a big orange target to overlay on their face. That mug is stored in the camera for reference should you decide to shoot Family First. Then the camera will concentrate on the faces is knows, waiting for them to smile rather than the strangers surrounding them.
I would have liked to test that, but everyone except me is away on vacation right now.
There is an Anti-Shake option. What it does only Casio knows, as the manual is pretty non-disclosing about it. (My guess is that it raises the ISO when it detects subject movement. It isn't optical image stabilization, however.)
Trigger Sensitivity can be adjusted in three steps (sluggish, normal and skittish, one might hypothesize). This sounds more impressive than it actually turns out to be. It's meant to affect how easily the Auto Shutter is triggered, but I was barely able to detect a difference between the three settings.
Continuous mode can be set in Normal, High Speed, With Flash or Off. Normal is not too fast (seemed to keep pace with my pulse on a slow day around here, the lab guys measured it at only 0.51 frames/second) but at least it's high resolution. High Speed is quite fast at a bit over three frames a second (the lab says 3.13 fps) but image size drops down to a measly two megapixels. Two megapixels is arguably enough to make an 8x10 inch print, but that's stretching it a little, particularly by today's standards: Plan on 5x7 inches as the largest practical print size from your High Speed Continuous shots.
In the Quality settings there is a Dynamic Range option that can be set to Expand +2, Expand +1 and Off. These settings attempt to control both over exposure and under exposure. The shots from the lab showed that it did a good job opening up shadows, but didn't do a lot for blown highlights. If you're faced with a really contrasty scene (sunlight on a white shirt, with dark shadows elsewhere), try using Expand +2 and drop the exposure a little, it should help at least some.
The Portrait Refiner option in Quality can be set to Noise Filter +2, Noise Filter +1 and Off. This smooths out skin tones.
A Color Filter option previews the effect in a small window as you scroll through the two screens of color filter effects. You can usually accomplish this by changing white balance settings (infinitely if you have a Custom white balance setting) but it's convenient to have the filter names. Those include B/W, Sepia, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Pink, and Purple.
Flash Intensity can also be adjusted in whole stops from +2 to -2, an uncommon feature in a small digicam. Unfortunately, the flash is pretty underpowered to begin with.
The S10 does distinguish itself in its Movie mode by recording in iTunes-compatible H.264 with AAC audio recording. And it can exceed the usual 640x480 standard, capturing 848x480 pixels. 480 may not be your idea of HD, though, which is more of a DVD standard than HD. Why not 720?
It also has a YouTube capture mode that stores 640x480 video in a 102YOUTB folder (not quite DCF compatible). While audio playback sounds pretty weak on the camera itself, it's actually quite well captured (as you'll discover during playback on your computer).
Dave shot a couple of movies of Charlotte chasing a Frisbee to show the difference between normal and YouTube movie modes. The YouTube mode uses much more compression for faster upload times. The loss in quality isn't too bad with relatively static subjects, but things get pretty fuzzy when you're panning quickly, or any time there's a lot of change from one frame to the next. See the examples below, click on either crop to see the full movie launch in a new window.
The eBay mode enables macro and creates a 1,600x1,200 image, a more manageable size for online work than the full 10 megapixel resolution. No auto upload or anything glamorous like that. Unfortunately the S10 stores these is a separate folder (101_EBAY) on the SD card (again not quite DCF compatible).
Storage and Battery. The S10 uses SD memory cards with support for SDHC, SD, MMC and MMC+ formats. A 1 GB card should hold approximately 151 10-Mp shots or record as much as 18 minutes 59 seconds of video. The card sits in a slot next to the very slim battery, accessed through a cover on the bottom of the camera.
Casio reports battery life is sufficient for 280 still images using CIPA Standards or continuous playback of 3 hours 10 minutes. I rarely use flash (unlike the CIPA test routine), so I enjoyed very good battery performance from the unusually small proprietary lithium ion cell. I did find that lots of viewing on the LCD display tended to run the battery down over time though.
Performance. Startup time for the S10 was an above average 1.5 seconds, pretty good for an extruding lens. Shutdown time, which is less important as things go, was an average 1.5 seconds. I never had a problem with startup or shutdown time as I shot with the camera. Which means I didn't miss a shot or skip shots just because the camera was off.
Combined autofocus lag was an above average 0.35 seconds with prefocus lag an excellent 0.008 second (that would be above average, too, if you're keeping score). The S10 was pretty responsive, no question.
But cycle time was just average. It seems it takes a while to write to the card, one of those little economies you pay for between every shot. That may explain why the High Speed Continuous mode only captures 2-Mp images.
Flash cycle time was a brief 3.1 seconds, well above average. But that always makes us suspicious about the flash's power. And rightly so in this case. Even at just five feet away in wide angle mode, Casio has to kick the ISO up to 200 to get barely sufficient light. Our test shots at ISO 100 are all dark.
Download speed was well above average at 5,114 KB/s. You don't have to take the card out of the camera if you don't want to. A cable connection to your USB 2.0 Hi-Speed port will make very quick transfers.
The 2.7 inch LCD ranks as an average size (only because it isn't 3.0 inches). And optical zoom, at just 3x, is only average, too. But the four ounce weight of this slim little camera does rank above average.
Shooting. For most of my gallery shots with the S10, it was pretty miserable outside with particulates in the air from a series of summer fires up and down the state. Even just three miles from the ocean, where the fog washed the air if the wind didn't clear it, the light remained slightly amber.
So I took some indoor shots at the San Francisco Museum of Art, which lends itself to some enjoyable abstract compositions. And I took it with me on a business trip to San Jose a week later when the air was a bit clearer.
I was generally disappointed in the images when I pulled them up on the computer. Composing and shooting in the field was fun (after I figured out how to get into Macro mode using the BS button). But the full resolution images just weren't as nicely captured as I expected.
That goes for outdoor as well as indoor shots, unfortunately. Let's look into this a bit more closely.
Image Quality. The real test of any camera is the quality of images it captures, which is really why the many bells ring and the many whistles squeal. Features are fun but the quality of the optics, the resolution of the sensor and the intelligence in the image processor determine whether or not you sit back with a smug, contented smile as you review the shot.
Let's look first at the ISO 100 Still Life test shot in full resolution. The scene suffers from a lack of subject matter in the corners, but you can still notice significant softness in the outlying objects, particularly the folded cloths on the wicker basket. The yarns furthest to the edge are also much softer than those closer to the center of the image. And the white yarn is a good example of how poorly the S10 holds onto highlight detail. You can confirm this with the salt grinder. There are actually salt crystals in there, not grains of salt.
There's good detail in the Hellas label even if the darker mosaic pattern is just barely visible. The white Samuel Smith label does not bleed into the dark bottle, either.
There's a mottled character to the color chart that I find disturbing at ISO 100. It's peculiar because all the type in the image (even on the white proportional scale) is sharp. But the colors seem indistinct, particularly the crayons. It's almost as if everything 3D was moving and everything 2D still.
Still, the overall exposure looks well balanced with reasonably good color. (The yellow hank of embroidery thread has a bit of a greenish tinge to it, though.)
Next, take a look at the high resolution Multi Target. The corners show some chromatic aberration, not as bright as many small lenses, but there nonetheless on this merely 3x zoom.
Now look in the center of the image at the resolution targets. Very nice. We're beyond 1,500 lines before they start to diminish.
Out in the street, I expected to have trouble with highlights but get some sharp, high resolution images. I shot mostly with multi-segment metering without EV compensation in Program AE mode, what any carefree tourist might do.
So let's look at the hydrant shot. While you can see some mild purple fringing at the top of the hydrant (click on the image at left to a larger version, click again on the larger image to see the full resolution image), the highlights held up pretty well, actually. The S10 was smart enough to use a small f/9.7 aperture at ISO 50 and 1/125 second to hold highlights in a high-key subject.
It wasn't as smart with the Eucalyptus Grove where the sunlit ground is just burned out and the shadowed cathedral is overexposed. There's quite a bit of purple fringing in the upper part of the image, as well, showing just how bad the S10's image quality can get.
Even more disturbing, however, is the museum interior shot looking upward at the catwalk. It shows the S10 had trouble focusing properly. We're not sure what it was focusing on, in fact, because there's nothing in the shot that is in focus. Usually this indicates an impatient photographer, but it wasn't an action shot. And the f/2.8 aperture was surely miscalculated for this image (a brighter subject than the hydrant).
I rarely see a digicam blow a shot quite that badly these days.
Digital zoom is hard to avoid in a 3x optical zoom camera. You'll often want to get closer than the 3x zoom gets. And when you do, you'll slip into digital zoom.
Again, the results looked good on the high resolution LCD while we were shooting but looking at the full resolution image later quickly changed my mind. Look at the ghostly clock numbers on the Campanile at the University of California at Berkeley that almost blend into the stone. And scroll down just a bit to see the almost watercolor effect of the tree branch against the tower.
A similar f/5.3 image, the San Jose Theater for the Performing Arts had better resolution because digital zoom wasn't needed. But the image has the blurring and fringing and overblown highlights we've already seen in other S10 captures.
One interesting thing about the S10, though, is how it handles auto ISO. Our outdoor shots were invariably taken at ISO 50 while most of our indoor shots were at ISO 800. You'll find a few at ISO 200 and 400 but they're the exception. Casio doesn't like to fiddle much with ISO.
One great trick. While we weren't terribly impressed with some aspects of the Casio S10's image quality, there was one feature we really wished we'd had back in our college days, namely the "Whiteboard" scene mode. In this mode, the camera switches to 2 megapixel resolution, auto ISO, and boosts the EV adjustment to +1.0. These settings are what you'd want for grabbing shots of a whiteboard, as typically used in lecture rooms these days: Two megapixels is plenty of resolution to see what's written on the board, and the +1 EV exposure boost is what you'll need for a mostly-white board to come out looking white rather than grey. The clever part is that, after each shot, the camera picks out the boundaries of the whiteboard and outlines them in orange. If it got it right, hit the "OK" button, and the camera will warp and crop the image to give you a nice rectangular image, as if you'd shot the whiteboard head-on. What a great tool for students, this could have saved hours of finger cramps from my frantic scribbling during my college engineering and math lectures!
Appraisal. It's stylish, trim enough to take anywhere, with enough special features to trigger an IRS audit. But the S10 just didn't take great pictures. And with 10 megapixels at its disposal, that was a puzzle. I usually found myself wishing I'd brought along a more capable camera, but then I'm much more photo- than style-oriented. For some people, the appeal of the ultra-thin, sleekly styled case will weigh more heavily than less-than-perfect image quality.
Casio EX-S10 Basic Features
- 10.10 megapixel, 1/2.3-inch CCD
- 3x optical zoom (36-108mm eq.) with six lenses in five groups
- 4x digital zoom
- Maximum aperture: f/2.8 at wide angle and f/5.3 at telephoto
- Shutter speeds from 4 to 1/2,000 seconds
- ISO sensitivity from 50 to 1,600
- 2.7 inch Super Clear LCD
- 10- and 2-second self-timer
- Support for SDHC/SD and MMC/MMC+ memory cards
- Custom 3.7V, 720mAh lithium ion battery
Casio EX-S10 Special Features
- Slim 14.9mm design
- Face detection technology that recognizes certain people
- Auto Shutter technology
- Dedicated Movie button
- Prerecord Video mode
- Drag and drop H.264 videos into iTunes
- Uses AAC audio codec used by iPod
- YouTube Capture mode
- 11.8MB built-in memory
- 848x480 HQ wide movie capture
- BGM slide show
- Key customization
In the Box
The S10 ships with the following items in the box:
- Rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery (NP-60)
- Lithium Ion Battery Charger (BC-60L) with AC Power Cord
- USB Cable
- AV Cable
- Software CD
- Reference Manual
- Quick Start Guide
- Large capacity SD/SDHC memory card. These days, memory cards are so cheap that there's no reason to skimp, especially if you plan on shooting many videos: Go ahead and get a 2 or 4 GB card, you'll be glad you did.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection like the $24 EXCASE10 that looks onto your belt and includes slots for extra memory cards.
- $199 Underwater housing (EWC-120) can protect camera to a depth of 40 meters.
Casio EX-S10 Conclusion
The Casio S10 is a mixed bag. A thin mixed bag, but a mixed bag. As with other Casio cameras I've reviewed, a few features were not just unusual but impressive. Detect Blur, for example, is a winner. And a telescoping lens in that thin shell, rather than folded optics. Not to mention a Movie mode that can do more than 640x480 if not quite HD. The YouTube movie mode might be useful to people wanting to minimize upload times for their movies, but the loss in quality can be considerable. (But, then, YouTube crunches the videos a lot, so maybe there's not that much difference by the time it gets done.) Finally, there's the "Whiteboard" scene mode that might be enough justification all by itself for the average college student.
But there were other features that just weren't up to snuff, like Face Detection. And that 3x zoom. And the poor auto focus performance in low light. Then there were features that were, well, unconvincing. Like trigger sensitivity (nearly undetectable) and High Speed Continuous shooting that only captures 2-Mp images.
Bottom line, this is a very appealing little camera, with a nice heft and very stylish looks. It has a few nifty features, but we felt that its limitations were too great to be overcome by its good looks. There are other cameras on the market that will give you better-looking photos, if you can tolerate an even slightly thicker body.
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.