Casio Exilim EX-S500 Review

by Loren Crannell

The Casio Exilim EX-S500 has a 5.25-megapixel CCD for superior high-resolution photo imaging, a 2.2-inch LCD screen in a stainless steel thin-body digital camera. It's a stylish and extremely small camera that can easily fit in a shirt pocket. The Casio Exilim EX-S500 is available in three different colors for a suggested retail price of $399.

Price: $399 US

  • Lightweight and compact.
  • Metal design.
  • Best Shot mode.
  • Anti-Shake technology.
  • No ISO information in EXIF data.
  • Must pack along camera cradle if you travel.
  • Spare battery is not readily available.
  • No optical viewfinder.
  • Image quality suspect.
Casio Exilim EX-S500 Studio Test Images
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Casio Exilim EX-S500 - front and back

I've been a die-hard SLR user for a very long time, but recently I have been having "photographer's block." Using a very light point-and-shoot camera is bringing a new sense of fun and spontaneity to my photography. So I took this camera with me in my everyday life to see how well I could take photographs without the hassle of a larger SLR camera. The S500 is extremely compact, so it fit in my pants pocket with ease. Still, a camera's performance is tied to the final images, and being light and cool will not make up for poor images. I was curious to see how such a slim camera would perform and live up to the expectations one would have of 5 megapixels.

Casio Exilim EX-S500 Design
When I picked up the camera for the first time, I didn't read the manual. At the start, I wanted to see how I could navigate a camera's functions and menus. Very quickly I found that the Casio S500 was an extremely easy camera to navigate and that the menu functions were easy to adjust. Although the camera is driven primarily through menus, the layout is well thought out, and with a couple of keystrokes change white balance or ISO settings very quickly. The controls for taking a picture and using the zoom lens are perfectly positioned for most users. My first impression of the camera's design was that it felt well built in my hands. The metal body gave it a good solid feel, and while adding to the weight of the camera, it was just "cool." Since this is a pretty hip-looking camera, having three different colors to match different personalities is another nice design feature.

The only drawback was the docking station, and without it you would be unable to download images from the camera directly and, most important, you wouldn't be able to charge the battery. One of the items that I usually require in a camera is a readily available power source. The Casio has its own battery, and unless you buy an extra battery, you will have to plug in the docking station to charge the camera. It's good for up to 250 shots so you may be able to get away with only one battery for a day of shooting. Overall, I was very impressed with the entire design of the Casio EX-S500, the minor exception being that it necessitates relying on a docking station.

Casio Exilim EX-S500 capture display
Casio Exilim EX-S500 capture display, with histogram on

Casio Exilim EX-S500 playback display
Casio Exilim EX-S500 playback display with histogram and info on
Casio Exilim EX-S500 menu display
Casio Exilim EX-S500 menu

Casio Exilim EX-S500 Performance
When you turn on the camera it will take a little over a second to power up, extend the lens, and be ready to take a picture. Once you are ready, you can easily compose a shot with the lens control button on the upper right. I found that I needed to use both hands to compose and to use the zoom button without dropping the camera. This is also true of the camera's other controls, such as the Best Shot (BS) button, the Delete/Flash button, or the main menu button.

The screen will show when you are using optical zoom and when you go into digital zoom. Digital zoom does break down the image, so a user should have this information. The screen will also show histogram, exposure detail, white balance, and focus points. One of the best features of this camera is the auto white balance, where it was extremely accurate. You carry a point-and-shoot camera for ease, and this makes it easy. While there are white balance settings to adjust for specific conditions, it's nice to have an auto mode that will handle most conditions on the fly.

One of the best features of this camera is the Best Shot mode. With more than 33 different settings, you can pick the scenario that fits your particular photo opportunity, and it will set the camera to the best settings to fit that scene. Even a setting to have moving water blurred is included. How many times have you asked yourself, "How did they do that?" Among the other settings are portrait, portrait with scenery, twilight, scenery, candlelight, macro, movie modes, and indoor-party modes. Another great feature is the Anti-Shake DSP technology (editor note: Casio-specific wording) that allows users to take photos in low light. This feature along with a tripod mount will save many pictures that would have been overly blurry.

Image QualityCasio Exilim EX-S500 noise sample
Once you get comfortable with the usability and the design on the camera, you get creditable results. I was disappointed with the noise of the images taken at every ISO. Even sample images from the Casio website showed enough noise to warrant concern. Images are acceptable at ISO 50 and 100, and even though noise is detectable, it will not affect your prints up to 8x10. I've seen images from the Sony DSC T5, and they showed much less noise. Unfortunately, the images from the Casio do not compare, which was extremely disappointing. I would recommend noise reduction software such as Noise Ninja for anyone who buys this camera.

Casio Exilim EX-S500 outdoor sampleCasio Exilim EX-S500 shadow detail sampleCasio Exilim EX-S500 black and white sample
Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.

On a more positive note, shadow detail is acceptable, and even with a brightly lit background with heavy darkness in the foreground, the Casio was able to pick up adequate detail. The Casio's good multipoint metering system was a great help to get the detail. Detail is very good, especially when you choose the correct Best Shot mode. Casio did a great job in picking good contrast/saturation levels for each setting, and for best results, I would use this feature. If you don't use the Best Shot mode, I would add contrast and saturation in the setup menu to match your taste.

Casio Exilim EX-S500 city landscapeCasio Exilim EX-S500 street sceneCasio Exilim EX-S500 baseball park
Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.

Images shot using the S500's default settings lack enough dynamic range for post-capture optimization. I found that there is almost no room to adjust curves or use any other Photoshop methods after the images from the camera are downloaded.

The Casio S500 is an extremely well-built camera that provides incredible features. When you are out and about, this camera can go with you without slowing you down. It fit in my shirt pocket or in my pants pocket, and I was almost tempted to fit it into my wallet for the heck of it. The best part of the camera was the ease of using it, and the Best Shot programming. It is awesome to have a camera that does the thinking for me when there is no quick access to controls as there is with an SLR. Many people are using camera phones as a way to capture spur-of-the-moment shots, but this camera will blow away phone shots and provide great enlargements to 8x10.

The main problem for me was the image noise at every ISO. Although it would provide decent enlargements, I would like to see less digital noise straight from the camera. This camera is too well built to provide images that do not compare to those of the competition or live up to its pedigree. While the camera was fun to use, I wouldn't buy one myself or recommend it to somebody who really cared about the final image quality. The Casio EX-750 that was reviewed by Photo-John might be a better alternative, or the comparable Sony DSC T-5 might be preferable.

Who Should Buy The Casio Exilim EX-S500
If you want a convenient and light camera that you can bring everywhere then this is your camera. It's a better fit for those who want great web images to document daily life without relying on poor cell phone images. Additionally, if you rarely make prints larger than 8x10, this would be an option. If you want a camera to learn how to photograph or wish for SLR type features, then you are looking at the wrong review. Most important, as a consumer, look at your options and compare other similar cameras before you buy.


Casio Exilim EX-S500 box contents
  Contents of the Casio Exilim EX-S500 box.

  • Casio Exilim EX-S500 Digital Camera
  • NP-40 rechargeable battery
  • 16 MB xD-Picture Card
  • USB PictureCradle
  • FinePix CX software CD ROM
  • USB cable
  • AV cable
  • AC power adapter
  • Camera strap
  • Owner's manual, warranty card, etc.
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