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Casio Exilim EX-S10
10.1MP | 36-108mm (3X) ZOOM | $200

The Casio EX-S10 was, at the time of launch in January '08, the world's slimmest digital camera, following a tradition the company has established with its EX-S range of making the smallest and slimmest cameras on the market. Into its tiny body, the S10 manages to fit a variety of the latest consumer-friendly features including a series of automatic shutter modes - smile shutter, panning detection and blur minimization. Essentially these are this year's face detection (novel modes that look good on the specification sheer and are all very clever but don't add a lot to the photographic process). It also includes the YouTube movie capture mode that Casio pioneered in its recent compacts. Unlike most ultra slim models the S10 doesn't use folded optics to achieve its remarkable 'out of nowhere' zoom lens, instead opting for a collapsible/sliding zoom design (invented by Pentax and long used on Casio compacts).

  • 10.1 effective Megapixels
  • 36-108mm equiv lens with 3x Optical zoom and up to 4x Digital Zoom
  • 2.7 inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 1600
  • 848x480 movies at up to 30fps
  • Face Recognition, Auto Shutter and YouTube Capture modes
  • Multi-Point Autofocus and Manual focus
  • 36 scene modes including Best Shot Scene
  • Movie mode: 848 x 480 @ 30fps, H.264 MPEG
  • Available in Silver, Black, Red and Blue
  • Optional Accessories available

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Overview

At launch the S10 was announced as the thinnest camera on the market and we've not yet seen anything that makes us think that it's been usurped. In fact it's hard to imagine (without a totally new technology being developed), how a camera could get much more slim. This is an astonishingly pocketable camera - not just coat or jacket pocketable but fob-watch or breast pocketable. The all-metal body has a real quality feel to it and the camera has an undeniable tactile appeal that makes it kind of difficult to put down once you've started to play with it.

The diminutive dimensions of the compact Casio allow for accommodation of only a little LCD. There's only room for a 2.7" display though it is a good, high-resolution 230,000 dot example. Beyond that are a selection of small buttons, including a dedicated movie recording button. The user interface uses a well designed sub-menu to give easy access to the most commonly changed shooting parameters and a 'camera' button that always takes you back to shooting mode.

Although I'm sure most users will spend 99% of their time in the fully automatic default mode the S10 has a huge range of options and features, from the photographically useful (manual white balance, image parameter controls, color modes, dynamic range enhancement) to the truly unique (you can, for example, record the faces of family members so the camera will always look for them in the frame and prioritize its face detection for your VIPs). There's an awful lot to play with here, including, of course, 36 scene modes. In a twist on the 'anti blur' modes on many cameras the S10 will even wait until the camera and subject is still before taking a picture, if you activate the 'Detect Blur' shutter mode. This, like the Smile Detect Mode, decides when to take the picture for you.

These auto shutter modes, while adjustable for sensitivity, aren't always terribly effective. The blur minimizing mode doesn't work at all well if combined with flash, because you're likely to have started shaking the camera by the time the flash has fired (though it's useful for static subjects such as closeups or low light landscapes). We're also not completely sure that many people need a camera to tell them when their subject is smiling.

Key Features

Small wonder: the size of the S10 defies all reasonable expectations - turn it on and 20mm of lens extends from within its 15mm thick body. And if that isn't enough to impress you, it's worth remembering that the lcd panel extends behind the lens, making it still more incredible that it fits back into that space.
Despite being so slim, the S10 manages to find room for a zoom ring around the shutter button. The slight cut-out in the front of the body allows the zoom lever to be operated easily, despite its dinky design.
The back of the camera manages to find room for the usual play and menu buttons, along with a rather minimalist four-way controller. This controls the self timer, display options and accesses the camera's handy sub-menu. There's also direct access to the scene modes using the entertainingly/aptly engraved 'BS' button. There's also a movie record button just out of shot.
That really rather handy sub-menu. Most of the options you'll want to change on a regular basis (once or twice per shoot), are in here.
The main menu is full of options, though many of them repeat the ones that feature in the sub-menu. The 230,000 dot screen means that the text can be rendered clearly and precisely and the menus don't spill onto too many pages. For what is essentially a point and shoot camera the S10 has an exhaustive list of options and features.

Image quality and performance

From a performance point of view the S10 is generally as snappy in use as it is sleek in design; focus is fast, shutter lag short and overall responsiveness impressive. The only fly in the ointment is the flash recycling, which is longer than it should be on a camera like this (3.0 to 3.5 seconds). The flash is also very weedy, and if you want to shoot anything farther away than across a table you'll need a high ISO setting to avoid underexposed results.

Many of the S10's more novel features fail to live up their billing, and even the plain old face detection isn't that reliable (we had a lot of focus errors in our flash portrait test). One feature that works well if you use it right is the Detect Blur mode. We tried it for a low light closeup and, sure enough, it didn't take the picture until my hands had stopped shaking, resulting in a relatively sharp shot.

More importantly we had several concerns about the image quality. As we've seen with previous Casio cameras the default settings have saturation and contrast turned up to a level that can give the output a harsh, cartoonish quality. In dull conditions this works well, pulling color out of even the most overcast day. But when the sun comes out the 'everything turned up to 11' approach, combined with a tendency to over expose in bright conditions means lots of highlight clipping and some rather alarming color shifts. The good news is that you can turn saturation and contrast down if you want a more natural result, so if you do decide on an S10 it's worth experimenting with the settings.

Crucially for a camera of this type the story isn't a lot better indoors at night, with the S10 sitting near the bottom of the group for low light focus, flash exposures and noise performance. Add to this a less than perfect hit rate for the focus and white balance systems, and the ever-present threat of camera shake caused by the physical design, and you've got a camera that cannot be relied on to deliver the promise of 'point and shoot' ease of use.

On the positive side the results, when they are good, are actually very good indeed, with plenty of resolution and excellent sharpness, and no noticeable variation throughout the zoom range. Our concern wasn't with the S10's potential to take great pictures, but with the higher than average rate at which the automatic systems fail to get everything right.

At a pixel level there's the usual smearing of low contrast detail, some chromatic aberration and purple fringing and a visible drop in sharpness at the edges. The S10 also seemed more prone to flare than the other cameras in this test. But when the exposure and white balance systems do their job you get bright, vivid results that make for consumer friendly prints without any work.
We were slightly concerned by the rather harsh output produced by the default settings, with highlight clipping fairly common.

Summary

The EX-S10 is a classic case of style triumphing over utility; it's a beautifully styled, solidly built and astonishingly slim camera that is perfectly designed for carrying with you at all times 'just in case' a photo opportunity arises, or for slipping into your pocket before setting out for a night on the the town. But it's also a camera that produces frustratingly hit and miss results, with focus and exposure problems and rather disappointing flash performance, meaning you can't simply point and shoot.

It's got lots of clever - and some unique - features, it's very quick and it has a great screen, but you can't help feeling that in order to win the 'slimmer of the year' award Casio accepted one too many compromises in the single most important area the EX-S10 really needs to do its job; taking pictures.

  • We like: Styling, build, screen, extensive feature set, movie mode
  • We don't like: Unreliable focus and exposure, flash performance, shape is prone to camera shake
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