By Burt Helm
The Good Stylish, slim, great for outdoors and party photos
The Bad Struggled with some indoor shots. LCD can be dim in low light
The Bottom Line If you want a super portable camera, it's very nearly perfect
Of all the cameras I tested, none drew more looks and comments than the Casio Exilim EX-S500, which retails for $400 and hits store shelves in early August. It's the last camera I checked out in my search for a super-slim five-megapixel camera that can take killer shots and travel anywhere. How did it turn out? For me, this camera is nearly perfect: It's sleek, small, and it takes great-looking photos under most conditions and settings.
As far as looks go, the Exilim beats out the bunch. The body is constructed out of two pieces of reddish-orange stainless steel, a silver steel lens housing, and gun-metal buttons (it also comes in all silver). Just over a half-inch thick, it's a hair wider and taller than a credit card. The rounded-off sides make it feel even slimmer, and help it slip easily into a pocket.
MIGHTY MENU. The 2.2 inch LCD screen is bright and sharp for the most part, though it suffers a bit in low-light conditions. When you power it on, a 3x optical zoom telescopically springs out of the slim body. It feels like flipping on a James Bond gadget.
The button layout is simple, sleek, and very easy to understand. Casio took a different approach with the on-screen menus: scene presets, color settings like black & white, and features like antishake are all arranged in one menu grid called Best Shot, where each control has its own thumbnail photo icon and caption. While the features in Best Shot don't all fall into the same categories, I preferred this everything-in-one-place approach to the series of menu trees that most cameras have.
There are far more scene presets than you would ever want -- I counted about 24 in all -- including four different portrait settings, one for Soft-Flowing Water, another for Splashing Water, a setting for photographing business cards, one for photographing food, and one just for fireworks.
Really, all these presets border on the ridiculous. I wish I could give a full report as to whether Soft Flowing Water actually took a better photo of a babbling brook than Splashing Water" or, for that matter, Food. Sadly, I didn't have the time to go through every permutation.
TEMPTING TWEAKS. I am happy to report that the basic presets work well, however. Night Scene Portrait did a good job illuminating the background in a dim bar without overexposing the faces of people posing, and it worked well at parties, too.
"Backlight" also performed well to overcome a bright window in the background of some indoors shots.
Outside of the sprawling Best Shot menu, you can manually tweak the exposure, white balance, and shutter speed by hitting the menu button.
Another nice feature of the Exilim is the ability to save manually adjusted settings as a custom icon in the Best Shot menu, letting you recall it at any time.
BLUR FACTOR. Photos taken on the Exilim looked excellent under some conditions, but so-so in others. With the flash on outdoors, portraits came out looking sharp, with a striking level of detail and good color balance. Night shots were also excellent with the flash, and with the camera set to auto, it gave the subject just the right amount of exposure.
Indoors with the lights on, the camera struggled. Auto mode often came on too strong with the flash -- some shots I took in the office were overexposed in close-range portrait mode, though the images improved if I shot them from around nine feet from the subject.
Without the flash, photos sometimes blurred, though not as often as with other cameras in the category. It was still enough, however, to be annoying -- with even a few indoor shots that shouldn't have needed a flash coming out with shaky, blurred edges.
TINY TITAN. But who takes photos in the office anyway? For shooting pictures out on the town or outdoors on vacation, the Exilim does a fantastic job. It also looks great, is incredibly easy-to-use, and comes with enough extra features to keep you experimenting with more advanced photography.
All-told, it's a near-perfect little model for the amateur who wants a high-performance digital camera in a tiny package.
The Exilim EX-S500 looks great, is easy to use, and comes with enough extra features to make experimenting well worth the effort