EX-S500 Test Review and User Guide
INTRODUCTION back to top of page
News: October, 2005: The EX-S600 replaces this EX-S500. The EX-S600 adds a much brighter screen for use in direct sunlight as well as more pixels. I've used them both and the EX-S600 also seems to have a sharper lens. I love the dark silver of the EX-S500, which is replaced by a silver-blue in the EX-S600.
News: September, 2005: free version 1.02 firmware upgrade here. I've used the old v1.00 for everything below. Just download and expand the files, copy them to the root directory of the camera, and then hold MENU while you turn it on.
The Japanese just can't stop making better, smaller cameras. The top image is bigger than life size! Every time I see the latest from Casio I think they do this just to impress people, since even last year's EX-S100 is still a milestone in my book. This new EX-S500 goes it even better. It sells for about $400.
I find it easier to attach this micro camera to the strap of my Nikon D70 to use for mid-range shots instead of bringing a midrange zoom for the D70! I use the D70 with the long or short lens, and just hold the EX-S500 up when I need a mid range shot. It's that tiny. It's smaller than my cell phone or a light meter.
This camera is just plain fun. It's tiny and works great. It even makes videos with sound, and can record over TWO DAYS of audio only on a 1 gig card.
The EX-S500 was introduced on June 9th, 2005. It's a newer, higher resolution version of the extraordinary Casio EX-S100. The EX-S500 is very, very similar to the EX-S100 in size, overall operation and everything, so read the EX-S100 review here for the gory details that took me a month to write.
The EX-S500 is a 5MP, 3x optical zoom camera that's probably the smallest digital zoom camera in existence along with the EX-S100.
The new EX-S500 comes painted in dark gray silver painted metallic, white or orange. I prefer the gray metallic. I would really prefer black, but that's not an option. The gray paint is an improvement over the slippery stainless steel of the earlier EX-S100.
The camera is smaller than this image!
The EX-S500 is, as of July 2005, is probably the best camera on earth for a normal person who wants snapshots and values small size. Even at 3MP I have magnificent 12 x 18" prints made from the earlier EX-S100, so for someone like my mom the 5MP EX-S500 is the best camera you can get if size is important. The only real gotcha is if you make a lot of flash shots. The EX-S500 takes an annoyingly long time to recycle as many compact cameras do. Your friends and family will have to wait for it and it might drive you nuts.
Forget the anti-shake feature. It's just a gimmick. More later on that.
The EX-S500 isn't the best choice for the serious photographer. I prefer the Casio EX-Z750. The EX-S500, like the EX-S100, lacks the full manual mode and superior lens of the EX-Z750, which most people wouldn't miss. The 7 MP Casio EX-Z750 is very slightly thicker and has a few more buttons and manual controls. The EX-Z750's extra buttons and knob can make many important settings with just one push. I like to adjust resolution, WB etc. from shot to shot. Photographers worry about these settings and will prefer the EX-Z750. Normal people like my mom will prefer the vanishingly small size of the EX-S500.
Those caveats out of the bag, this is a great camera to have with you at all times. It's the tiniest thing out there and still makes great images limited more by your ability than the camera. The battery lasts forever. If you drop it in the cradle every night you'll probably never run it down in a day.
Physical: Tiny 3.5 x 2.4 x 0.7," including protrusions. Mine weighs 4.70 oz. (133 grams) complete with card, battery and strap. By comparison the EX-Z750 is 0.97" thick (same other dimensions) and weighs 5.5 ounces or 160 grams, including memory card and battery. These are my actual measurements, not Casio's. Metal case, metal tripod socket. Made extremely well in China. Exquisite four-section telescoping lens. Casio specs its volume at just 77 cc!
Resolution: 5 megapixels or 2,560 x 1,920 pixels. Also 2,560 x 1,712 3:2 DSLR mode, 2,304 x 1,728, 2,048 x 1,536, 1,600 x 1,200 and 640 x 480 pixel modes.
LCD Screen: 2.2" diagonal.
Lens: 3 x zoom 6.2 - 18.6 mm f/2.7 - 5.2. This is similar to a 38 - 114 mm on a 35mm film camera and is typical for all zoom cameras. 6 elements in 5 groups.
CCD: Typically small 1/2.5"
Shutter: 1/8 - 1/2,000 in most modes. Up to 4 seconds in night modes.
ISO: 50 , 100, 200 and 400. 800 and 1,600 in trick modes, which look awful.
Video: 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 at 30 or 15 FPS with sound. New MPEG 4 format incompatible with many computers. You can fit either 30 minutes, 1 hour or three hours on 1 gig card depending on the quality setting. An unusual feature is that if you press the shutter while recording a video that it will stop, make the still shot, and then pick up recording video to the same file where it left off.
Casio has a QuickTime component here for Mac.
Audio: also records mono audio without video. Turn off the LCD to save battery power while recording and mine ran for over 11 hours (11:31:09) and made a 219.5 MB file till the battery ran down. Good news is you can just let it run, even though the battery dies at the end the file is recorded just fine. Capacity of a 1 GB card is 51 hours, or over two days.
Battery: microscopic 700 mAh, 3.7V NP-20 Li-ion (same as EX-S100.) Rated 200 shots. I got over 600 as explained later! You can get replacements here for $25. More about the charger here. When run so far down that the camera shuts off mine takes 1:45 to recharge. Of course it usually recharges much more quickly when the battery is only partly discharged.
Memory: 8.3 MB non-removable internal, also take SD cards up to at least one gig.
Like most digital compacts the zoom only stops at seven positions. You can't get anything in between. It has steps at 6.2, 7.6, 9.0, 10.7, 12.8, 15.3 and 18.6 mm. The only way you can read this is in the EXIF data in the files; the camera only shows a bar graph as you zoom.
Like most digital cameras it's sharper than you'll need and your technique probably will limit the quality of your images more than the lens. It gets a little soft at the corners, oddly like the other Casios it seems worse at the left side. Don't worry, I make 12 x 18" prints from this and they look great even if I've made images deliberately to have detail in those corners. Few images even have detail in the corners, so don't worry.
Zoom lenses jiggle around their innards to focus or to zoom. Every shot comes out a little better or worse than the last. That's the reason for my mushy ratings below; this zoom lens isn't always consistent shot to shot. If you're a loser who wastes time looking at resolution charts then get the EX-Z750 instead, which has a much better lens for those few people who would notice the difference.
These values are what I see when printing at 12 x 18" or looking at 100% on my monitor. For prints at only 4 x 6" or 5 x 7" it looks magnificent all the time and you shouldn't worry. I'm a photographer and press these little cameras into doing things that they never were intended to do, so I'm a tough grader.
mm: Sharp most places. Left side may be soft.
People worried about distortion back in the old days of optical printing. Since this is a digital camera and Photoshop CS2 lets you rectify distortion as easily as any other adjustment don't worry about it. All you need to do in Photoshop CS2 is to choose FILTER > DISTORT > LENS CORRECTION and move the top slider until it looks perfect. I'll publish the exact values that work for me as I measure them. Here's what the lens does uncorrected:
mm: typically strong barrel
It's simple: either the lens shoots wide open, or stops down 1 - 1/3 stops by way of what looks like a Waterhouse stop. Here's what you get. The camera sets these. The only way you can try to control them is by way of the ISO and other settings. If you really want to tweak this get the EX-Z750 which has manual modes.
Macro Mode: The Casio EX-S750 and EX-S100 both have macro modes which never actually changed the function of the camera. This EX-S500 did what I suggested and simply removed the macro mode setting entirely, since the camera focuses close without needing it. The EX-S500 focuses as close as 4" at wide and 12" at tele. This is different than the specs or the camera's own on-screen indicators suggest. As you can see ultimate magnification remains about the same. Most digital cameras are better at this if you need close ups of spider eyes or microchips. The EX-S500 is swell for all normal uses.
Color is pretty normal. It's not the overly saturated, warm look of the EX-Z750 I prefer. With this EX-S500 and most other cameras including my Nikon D70 I deliberately crank up the saturation.
Automatic white balance works great.
Unlike the EX-Z750, the shade position gives full correction in shade.
Focusing is reasonably fast.
If you mash the shutter button before it finishes focusing it defaults automatically to hyperfocal distance and just makes the picture.
You need to pay attention, like other cameras it can miss occasionally and give a defocused final image.
Unlike the EX-S100 it includes a bright orange AF-assist beam for use in even total darkness.
ISO and Image Quality
This is based on the sensors used, and most digital cameras buy the same sensors from the same sources. Each camera processes the images a little differently, which is where differences arise.
ISO 50 and ISO 100 look fine. These are the only ISOs you get in any mode a normal person will use.
The funny business starts at ISO 200 which you only get when you start fiddling around and turn off the flash. The camera deliberately blurs the image to hide the noise. This is worse at ISO 400 where it blurs the image a lot. It looks bad; just use the flash. By comparison the EX-Z750 has a larger, more sensitive sensor and gives results just as sharp at any ISO. This is why the EX-S500 is great for a non-photographer, since it will never get to ISO 200 or 400 unless you know how to get it there, but bad for a serious photographer. The EX-S100 stayed sharp (and noisy) at the higher ISOs, which I preferred. Neither the EX-S100 nor the EX-S500, like most compact digitals, gives decent images at ISO 200 or 400. If this is important get the EX-Z750 which is unusually good at high ISOs.
This is just an auto ISO feature. It be helpful in a very small number of conditions, but it's not very useful. It is not a true, active vibration reduction or stabilization feature as it's prominent listing on ads for the product imply.
All it does is alter the exposure program to favor higher ISOs, boosts the ISO as far as 800 if needed and then blur the image to reduce the noise from the high ISO. The blur is what sucks, and if it weren't for the blur the high noise levels would be prohibitive. I'd use this for low-light hand-held photography, except the results are too soft for me.
My hat's off to Casio for trying, and you certainly may just ignore this extra feature which the other cameras lack, however it's not innovative and it's not real motion compensation, image stabilization or vibration reduction. Promoting it as if it's a real, useful feature is wrong.
Advanced users can do this with any camera the hard way; just underexpose, lighten the image in Photoshop, then apply some blur. Better still, instead of blur use one of the better noise reduction programs or even CS2's new "Reduce Noise" filter, any of which will do a better job of covering noise but and will do it without the blur of the EX-S500. I tried it, and I can get better results from the EX-S500 with more work in Photoshop than by using the built-in feature.
Clever DSP worthy of the "DSP" moniker would be using MPG motion vectors to calculate and apply an inverse convolutional filter to deblur the image just as the CIA has been doing since the 1970s to bad images, but Casio hasn't done this yet.
Likewise, there is a "high sensitivity" BS mode. (More about BS modes in my other Casio reviews, and yes, Casio calls these "BS" modes, not me.) This allows the camera to go to ISO 1,600 as it needs to, with even more softening. Use the "BS" button (I'm not kidding) to get there.
Don't fret, you don't have to use this if you don't want.
They vary little from image to image at the same setting. They don't vary much with image complexity.
Full size 2560 x 1920 images are 2MB, JPG Normal. Economy is 1MB, Fine is 3MB.
The LCD is excellent. I can see it even in direct sunlight. No, I can't gauge precise color when it's in direct sunlight, but I certainly can see to compose. I never have the urge to shade it with my hand.
Colors look great, too.
The LCD is behind a thick piece of protective plastic. Poke it with something and you may scratch the plastic, but not likely crack the actual LCD as with other cameras.
It seems to do fine in my pocket without any protection. One can use ordinary stick-on screen protectors, too.
It's easy to hold and use. The painted finish isn't slippery as the stainless steel S100 is.
The record and play buttons can be programmed to wake up or turn off the camera without needing the power switch. This is great! These are even better than in the EX-Z750, since I have no problem with these buttons being accidentally pressed while the camera is in my pocket. I do have that problem with my EX-Z750, so I disable that feature when that camera is going in my pocket for a long time.
I often switch shooting modes and settings, so I prefer the added mode dial and EX button of the EX-Z750.
The flash works well, as most little cameras do. It takes a long to to recharge, so the only thing annoying about the EX-S500 is that you may find yourself having to wait while the light blinks and the flash recharges, both for your first flash shot and subsequent ones.
Green means go!
Blinking orange means that the flash is still charging. The camera won't do much if you press the shutter while the flash is charging.
It uses a cradle similar to, but different from, other Casio cameras. It uses the same AD-C51J AC adaptor as the EX-Z750 but a different cradle. The good news is if you have both cameras that each cradle can be run from the same AC adaptor and USB cable. If you're a real thrill seeker you can jam the smaller EX-S500 camera into the larger EX-Z750 cradle and it seems to work, just don't blame me if something blows up.
This is the handiest way to charge your battery and download from the card at home. For travel you may of course use an external card reader, and get a travel battery charger here. I'd pass on the non-Casio brand batteries and chargers since lithium cell phone batteries really have blown up and caused real injuries when the wrong or counterfeit parts were used.
The bad news is that you need the AC adapter to charge the battery. It won't charge from your computer's power via the USB cable alone. The good news is the computer's power alone is sufficient to use the cradle to download images without needing the AC adapter.
Excellent! It's hard to run it down in a day. I was able to get 668 shots before it died, far better than the Casio's CIPA (half with flash) spec of 200 shots and Casio's no-flash spec of 410 shots. I got 668 shots using some flash, and also using some series of continuous shooting as well as plenty of playback. I did this all in a day. Bravo Casio!
The gauge shows a cyan (bluish-green) cell when full, which is all you're ever likely to see if you put it in the stand each night. At about 1/3 remaining it changes to orange and shows a partially full cell. At close to the end it goes red and shows just a little bar graph inside the cell. When you're down to the last couple of shots it stays red, and shows a completely empty red cell.
The gauge reads lower in playback than it does during shooting. The indications will bounce back a little if you let the camera rest. Therefore you'll first see an orange indication on playback, but it may be green on record. Go back to playback and wait and it may go back to green. As it gets lower it will stay on the lower indications.
I got 202 shots when it went orange on playback. It was still green during taking.
I got 445 shots when it went orange on taking and red on playback.
I got 550 shots when it started to go red on taking as well as playback.
At 597 shots it was red all the time.
At 668 shots the camera turned off.
This is great! Not only does it run forever, the gauge actually lets you know how much life you've got left. Most other brand gauges read full all the time and then the camera dies about the same time the gauge says low. With the Casio EX-S500 you have about 50 shots left even after the gauge goes red, and about 5 shots after it goes red and shows completely empty. Don't get scared when it first changed to orange, since you still may have hundreds of shots left.
The on-screen gauge, presuming you've chose an appropriate DISPlay mode, always pops on in a moment after turning on the camera. It confuses some people who are used to seeing a battery symbol on screen only to signal low battery. The Casios, in the appropriate DISPlay mode, always show a battery status indicator.
I turned off the LCD while recording and got 11 hours and 21 minutes of continuous recording time on one battery charge! The only think you see on the camera is one blinking green light on the back to let you know it's running.
A 1 GB card is good for over 48 hours of recording, and a 256MB card good for over 12 hours. I can almost fill up a 256 GB card on a charge.
Audio is mono and of course a compressed WAV file. It sounds great for notes.
You get to sound recording by pressing the BS button and clicking left until you see the audio or microphone icon. The BS stands for "Best Shot," Casio's name for their scene and mode presets.
For a tiny camera giving full size results the EX-S500 is the winner today for most normal people. My only reservation for normal people is the long time the flash takes to charge, which could annoy you and your friends if you take flash photos indoors often.
If you're a serious, critical photographer then get the EX-Z750 instead. It's a quarter of an inch thicker, 3/4 of an ounce heavier and sells for about the same price. Poor baby: it's bigger but still so small I forget when I have it in my pocket. It has better optics and it's easier to use if you're one of us who actually understands all the features you can get to with the extra buttons. Non-photographers would prefer the simpler and smaller EX-S500.
If you're a normal person and a bargain hunter look for the earlier EX-S100 and look for a discount. It may have been discontinued and is likewise a superb camera. I last saw it in June 2005 going for about $250.
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