Casio EX-S500 Review & Sample Images
All are unretouched 5MP images at default settings. Image quality set to FINE.
Grocery Store 732K (taken in Farmington, MI)
The grocery store image looks a little flat, but the colors are quite accurate. The awnings are a little faded and the sun was harsh that day.
Car 2MB (taken in Farmington Hills, MI)
The fountain comp shows 4 different sharpness and saturation settings. After messing around with the settings, Sharpness +1 and Saturation +1 will likely be my favorite setup. Update. Not true. I use the default, almost exclusively.
Brick Detail 1MB (Univ. of Mich. Hill Auditorium)
League closeup 97K (Univ. of Mich. Women's League)
Girls Walk Small 161K
Night Photo 246K
I have had many emails from readers of my review ask about evening photos. I put together 4 pictures into one. This will give you a good idea of what the camera is capable of. The flash seems pretty strong. The images look pretty good to me. 2 were taken in near total darkness. They resolved quite well. The other two images show the difference between a flash and non-flash. Non-flash image is bright and good looking, but look closer and you'll see it's rather noisy. Still, I think it does an admirable job overall. I'm sure there are better night shooters, but this one does enough for me.
Mac users note: You will have to install the Casio AVI QuickTime Component found here to view these videos. You can also download the videos and play them using the excellent open source VLC player available here.
These are best played side by side. You will see what a great job the S500 does with video and what a difference the quality settings make. The sound quality is very different as well.
10 second Movie from tripod of fountain. Note the enhanced detail of the ivy on the building behind the fountain. The water droplets are much clearer too. Also the sound quality is markedly better at 44.1 kHz. (The foam in the fountain is due to a student prank. Someone poured a bottle of shampoo in.)
I'm impressed with the quality in normal as well. Motion looks great. But the details aren't there. When viewed on a television, this setting looks really good. Even the audio isn't awful, just a little hollow sounding.
I had my girls walk infront of flowers. I wanted to demonstrate that the anti-shake feature does not apply to video. Also I wanted to capture lots of color in motion. The S500 does very well with the color detail.
Really profoundly different. Look at the pink skirt on my youngest daughter. Missing a lot of contrast. The trees in the background and the stalks of the flowers begin to blur. Here is the price of an hour of video on a 1MB card. Still, nice to have a "VHS like" option if you have a lot to record.
Dusk Movie 1.7MB
This was shot 15mins before the night still photo above. The lightness of the movie would suggest late afternoon, but it is 8:30pm. Near sunset. Saturation and Sharpness are both +1. You'll see very faint multicolored noise begin to appear. I think it does a good job even with the minor noise.
My review of this camera in a word, Wow!
Incredibly slim. I thought the EX-Z3 I had was a small as physically possible for a camera. It's nearly twice as thick as the EX-S500. The controls are well placed. Each button feels very good. The overall quality of the body, switches, fit and finish are excellent. The postioning of the controls is very good as well. Everything is easy to get to. As far as pocketability goes, this camera is a winner. Its certainly thin. But unlike the ultra-thin Sony DSC-T7, this camera doesn't have anything hanging off of it to catch in your pocket. It slips in a out without worry of snagging the lens cover. It also has a pleasing heft to it. The S500 doesn't feel like it will break if you sit down with the camera in the wrong spot in your pocket. Tough may not be the word I'd use, but it would be close. High quality overall.
I owned a EX-Z750 for about a month. I had trouble with the auto focus and had frequent lens errors. I liked the camera, I think the mode wheel is a great. The camera has great manual control features. I would have kept it if it weren't for the lens error problems. In hind site, it was overkill for me. 7MP is far more than I need. I usually capture at 3.2MP with this camera. I just want to take good pictures. The more possible settings, the more possible menus, the more possible hassle. The S500 is better suited to my needs.
I like the menus on Casio's. They are clear and use full english words. They don't use little confusing picture icons that look like a sheep or a tree or pickaxe. (What do those things mean anyway?) I can't look at an icon of a mountain or a tulip and have any idea what they mean. I don't have mountains in my neighborhood and tulips are out of season. All the icons in the Casio menus are supported by a popup description using full english words. The total number of menus can be daunting. There is something on the order of 8 screens of menus in various modes, plus the 'best shot' menus 33 modes. The best shot menu is very easy to use with a large picture demonstrating what the mode does.
The picture quality is very good. The pictures of the fountain are excellent in my opinion. The water droplets are clear and sharp. With the sharpness, saturation and contrast controls you can dial in just about anything you want. There is some barrel distortion but there is with all cameras. Overall this camera creates very nice useable images. The flash seems adequately powerful. I took a picture of a room in total darkness with the flash and it came out in focus and good detail overall. What I'm happiest about is that this camera is so easy to carry, I'm much more likely to have it with me to TAKE the picture. In that case, even a not so good picture is far better than no picture at all. So if I have a beef with picture quality, it quickly gets vetoed by all the other wonderful things this camera does.
I'm always amazed how friends or even strangers you run into wouldn't dare say how bad your shirt looks on you or what a bad haircut you have, but they have no problem telling you how your camera sucks. These are same people who say how "Mac's suck" or "PC's suck". That said, I have friends with high end digital Nikons and Canon SLRs tell me they wouldn't waste their time with a little camera like a Casio. They don't take a picture that's worth keeping. These same people almost never have their camera on them when they make these observations about my tiny cameras.
I left my Casio EX-Z3 because I wanted the video capture feature of this camera. I was originally going to buy the smallest MiniDV camera I could afford. But when I saw what these could do, I put aside all thought of a tape based device. A real MiniDV camera would surpass what this camera can do. But not by much. Look at the examples. Even the Normal mode looks really good when displayed on a TV. The audio is monophonic. A very big feature of this camera versus any other Casio I've looked at is the position of microphone. On the Z750 and the new Z500, look at the top of those cameras for 4 small dots arranged in a square pattern. One of those dots is the microphone. I loved the video of the Z750, but not the audio. The microphone on top of the camera recorded every breath sound I made. The mic is very sensitive. Almost all of my videos sounded like Darth Vader took them. I had to remember to keep the camera far from my face when recording. Also there was a lot of ambient noise in the recording because of the position of the mic. On the S500 the mic is on the face of the camera, down low. It stays clear of fingers. Sound is much better. Could use a little foam on it to cut the wind noise.
The two best features of the video portion of the camera are Past Movie Mode and memory based recording. Past movie is great for catching the moment that may never come. Instead of recording while waiting for your kid to jump into the pool, you push the button when they jump and record the 5 second buffer along with the new video. Writing video to memory card means you never accidentally record over something on tape. You can't forget to re-cue. It's also great to be able to delete clips that didn't turn out. To have a full feature video camera in a package this small is incredible. James Bond would beg for this camera.
Battery life is excellent. I set the camera to record video until the battery ran out. Now the battery had only been cycled 2 times at this point. But I recorded video for about 87 mins. I filled my 1GB card, deleted the file and recorded again. I've found batteries for about $13 online. I expect battery performance will get a little better as the battery breaks in.
Is there anything I don't like? Sure.
I don't like the auto white balance.
It is pretty good outside, but once you get inside it just doesn't get it. No longer true. The white balance works very well now. Software update 1.01 improved it greatly. Fortunately you can program the left and right directional pad to cycle through
the white balance settings, among other settings. What I don't understand is when I use its manual
white balance setting, it does a good job inside and out. Why doesn't the
auto mode use the same method of determining white balance? Also, I don't like
having to cycle through so many menus to do everything. Things are much better now. I don't need the menus nearly as much as I did with the white balance problem. And as far as menus go, Casio's are the nicest I've seen on any camera. I've looked at a lot and nothing is a good. When you can do 50 things I guess you need 50
menu options to control it all. If you leave it at default settings you will
take good pictures. If you tweak a bit, you can take much better pictures.
I've had several people ask about the lack of a viewfinder. It doesn't bother me. With my old Olympus, I would never use the LCD. With my old Casio I almost never used the viewfinder. The LCD is visible in all light. Taking the fountain pictures, I had the sun at my back. Detail was harder to see using the LCD, but I could tell what I was shooting, and work the menus. Not a disadvantage for me.
Reviewing pictures taken on the camera's LCD is a pleasure. You can zoom in on a picture up to 8x. And you can scan through your pictures very quickly. Up to 10 per second fly by. Speedy. You can also view a month calendar and see what pictures you took which day. Other questions I've received from readers are about memory, shutter lag and flash performance.
As for memory, I didn't buy anything special. I bought a PQI Hi-Speed 45 1GB card from NewEgg.com. There is nothing in the owners manual about the speed of the memory card. I've also used my old SanDisk 128MB card without any problem. By using MPEG4 to record the video, the camera isn't writing a tremendous amount of data to the card. So I don't think speed is much of an issue.
As other reviews have published the shutter speed times, I haven't really bothered with timing the actual shutter actuation. It's quick. If you prefocus your image by holding the shutter button half way down, you can snap a picture instantly when it happens. If you just push the shutter down full and it needs to flash, then you can expect to wait about 1/2 a second. It's responsive enough for me. Some people have concerns about flash recycle times. I tried shooting 5 pictures in dimly lit room as quickly as the camera could shoot. The camera tells you the flash is ready by the status light by the viewfinder. When it's rapidly flashing red, the flash is charging. It appears to take about 5 seconds for the flash to charge once prefocus is complete. When it's ready the light is a solid green. I started the timer with the camera on, but not prefocused and the flash uncharged. It took 28 seconds to shoot 5 flash pictures. Just under 6 seconds per shot. Plenty fast for me. But to grab that first shot, you definately want to prefocus and precharge the flash, otherwise you have a 5 second wait before the flash is ready.
I use a Mac. (Oh and by they way, they don't suck.) This camera was a pain to use with a Mac until the M4S2 component became available. Now the videos work with QuickTime and all iApps. Now it's as integrated as any other camera is with Apple's iPhoto and iMovie. Casio has released their QuickTime component for Mac. You'll find it here. For S500 owners, also note there is a new version of firmware available for this camera. Version 1.02. You can see what version of firmware you have on your camera by holding the MENU button while pressing the ON/OFF button when the camera is in the OFF state. The biggest fix I've noticed is that the white point calibrates much more accurately. A huge improvement for me, now I rarely need to specify the lighting condition.
Any teenager with a cell phone is completely underwhelmed by most electronics today. Not me. This is startling technology. So are cell phones for that matter. This is the future I read about 20 years ago. Videos and still pictures all in a package you can hide in your hand. The EX-S500 is a great camera in an even greater package.
In summary. It's a really neat camera. I'm glad I bought it. I'm also glad I can stop searching reviews. My creating this review page may be the biggest testament to this camera. It's a great choice, so stop searching and start buying!
Followup- I've gotten a few emails from people asking what camera I recommend. Well that seems like a silly question considering I bought and reviewed the s500 with great enthusiasm. But in-fact it's a fair question. I struggled to choose between several. I was attracted to the Canon SD500, Kodak v550, Sony DSC-W7, a Panasonic Lumix and Fuji FinePix Z1. After considering all the choices, only the Kodak was interesting to me. The Canon didn't use mpeg4 for the video. You could only put about 10mins of video on a 1GB card. The Sony uses Memory Stick. I don't care to buy into Sony's proprietary formats. But, I liked the folded optics of the Sony's. The zoom lens on the s500 looks a bit vulnerable in comparison. The others fell from favor for various reasons. I think they are all admirable cameras, just not right for me. I'm a big Casio fan. I have many of their watches. I had a great experience with the EX-Z3. I like their menu system very much.
The Kodak v550 would be my recommendation for anyone who isn't as savvy with cameras or electronic devices in general. It's an easier camera to use than just about anything out there. I've used Kodak digital cameras and I think they have a magical ability to make every picture a great shot. Color is always right on. Their menus are better suited to a novice, and the Easyshare software works well. I would argue the v550 surpasses my Casio s500 in picture quality. I've read many reviews and I usually liked what the Kodak did a little better. It's the prettiest camera Kodak has ever made, IMHO. A real winner and an extremely close second. In fact I had the v550 on order before s500 was available. But it was so hard to get that I cancelled the order. The only downside to this camera is its battery life. Several review sites have placed the Kodak last or near last in battery life. 120 pics per charge is its rating. The s500 is rated at 200.
Regrets? None. Good to have so many good choices. Update- 3-28-2006- In the near year I've had the S500, I've done more with this cameras movie mode than I ever did with my DV camera. I love this thing.
-Posted 8-11-2005 - last edited 3-28-2006
If you have comments, you can email me. I have received many emails of encouragement. Thanks again to everyone who emailed me. I have tried to respond to many people with limited success. Some of my emails are bouncing due to over agressive spam filtering. I am sending email from within the Comcast ip address block. Some spam blacklists block Comcast emails across the board. I understand their position, but it's equivolent to putting an entire school in detention because one or two kids are shooting spitwads. So if you don't receive a response from me, it doesn't mean I didn't try.
I think Ken Rockwell's review the EX-S500 will be helpful to you, as well.
You should also read this article on Ken's site. Very good read.