Casio Exilim EX-S100
At a Glance
If Casio's $350 Exilim EX-S100 were better at its primary function--taking great digital photos--we'd be huge fans. It's extremely compact, beautifully designed, and easy to use. But in our formal image-quality tests, it earned an overall score that ranked among the lowest we've recorded recently. The EX-S100 is fine for quick and simple snapshots, but not the best choice for avid photographers seeking a small, pocketable camera.
For the most part, the EX-S100's color and exposure accuracy were acceptable: Our outdoor scene and our mannequin-model flash shot looked close to real life, though our daylight-balanced, flood-lit still-life shot had a grayish cast. A very noticeable amount of noise marred most of the images, too. A flash shot of our mannequin, for example, showed obvious and detracting speckling in the solid-gray background and in the model's dark purple blouse. Judging from the EXIF data of the shots, the camera's automatic ISO seemed to have picked higher ISO settings in all but the brightest scenes. Locking in an ISO of 50 produced images with significantly less noise. But the camera's image sharpness was also below par, even for a 3.2-megapixel model. All of our test shots, of images both near and far, had an obvious softness to them.
In all other aspects, we like this diminutive model; its beautiful brushed-steel body feels well machined, and it's nicely featured for a superslim point-and-shoot. Press the power button, and the 2.8X optical zoom lens pops out of the body in about a second; you're ready to shoot in less than 2 seconds. You get almost no shutter lag, with or without flash. Following the trend of small cameras with big LCDs, the EX-S100 has a 2-inch screen, but no optical viewfinder. As is often the case with using the LCD as the viewfinder, we found that seeing the scene clearly in bright light was a bit hard. On the other hand, the on-screen control menus were easy to read in any setting.
The EX-S100 gets high marks for its easy operation and intuitive controls. Its four-way selection pad gives you quick access to focus and flash settings. Everything else is in easy-to-read menus. You can program the right and left buttons on the four-way pad for custom settings. For example, instead of going into the menus for setting exposure value (EV), you can set the EX-S100 so that pressing the right or left button increases or decreases your EV. Such customization would also be a quick way to access the camera's 23 scene modes, which are otherwise buried in the menu system.
Nice extras not typically seen on a camera of this size include a functional manual-focus capability and white-balance calibration. This camera comes with a cradle, which you must use for charging its small lithium ion battery or for transferring photos from the camera to your PC. The cradle is kind of a pain during travel, but it is fairly compact. Casio bundles two image editing and management applications with this camera, Photo Loader and PhotoHands; our recommendation, though, is to spend extra money on a better app, such as Adobe Photoshop Elements.
This model offers great design, and it's fun to carry around. If you're careful with your settings, you can get adequate shots--but other small cameras do better without forcing you to adjust settings.
Casio Exilim EX-S100
3.2 megapixels, 2048 by 1536 maximum resolution, 36mm to 102mm focal range (35mm equivalent), f4 to f6.6 maximum aperture range, shutter speeds from 4 seconds to 1/2000 second, LCD viewfinder, USB and video connections, 9.3MB internal memory plus SD Card slot, one rechargeable lithium ion battery, 4.5 ounces with battery, Casio Photo Loader and PhotoHands software. One-year parts and labor warranty, 13-hour weekday toll-call support.