Casio Exilim Card EX-S10 digital camera review

The Exilim EX-S10 is billed as the World’s slimmest digital compact and it is certainly very thin indeed. The S10 sits perched at the top of the Casio Exilim Card range above the S880 and comes in a variety of striking colours including red, white, blue, and black. The camera’s small size only becomes apparent once you lift it from the amazing small box it arrived at my desk in, underlining the "card" ethos Casio have propounded for this range: a camera range designed to slip into a small pocket but provide fast performance and high quality images.

So, what kit do we find on board a camera that is just 15mm thin by 94.2mm wide and 54.6mm high? Of course, there’s a 10.1-megapixel sensor; a resolution that now seems the standard for higher end compacts on the market today and the not so new YouTube movie mode that allows you to quickly record and post video on that movie networking site with two button presses.

In terms of optics, the camera has a neat 3x optical zoom with a 36mm to108mm focal range and F/2.8 to F/5.3 maximum aperture range, again about average for camera at this level but the inclusion of digital anti-shake helps get round some of the issues at full zoom or in low light (or both) associated with camera shake, because it ramps up the ISO on the fly to keep things sharp. On the downside – and unlike optical anti-shake systems – this method also bumps up the noise problems.

Face Detection AF is built-in of course but Casio has a pretty unique take on the mode since it allows you to record family faces and prioritise them in a shot, even with multiple persons in the picture and it works remarkably well. To use it you must delve into the Casio’s menu system where you have a record menu option that allows you to capture family faces and store them.

You can use the Face Detection AF where it will measure all faces equally and you can even prioritise the system either for speed or for quantity of faces, where it will focus first for the latter case; but even cleverer, a new Auto Shutter mechanism. This system uses the camera’s tracking AF and Face Detection technology to monitor a scene so that, when activated via menus, the camera will automatically fire the shutter if the camera detects a smile or when subject or motion or camera shake has stopped. It also can be used to shoot self portraits firing the shutter as soon as your face fills the frame when pointing the camera back at yourself.

All very clever and it works rather well too, but I found it a bit hit and miss on Face Detection and the smile detection suffered as a result too. Nevertheless, other kit such as the new Super Bright LCD is great to use except in the most direct sunlight, where the lack of an optical viewfinder shows what a bonus one would be, the screen does allow plenty of space for control assessment.

A vertical menu is quickly accessed via the circular four-way jog dial to the right of the screen. Each option has a pop out menu of further settings through which you scroll to get at settings such as flash, drive mode, resolution, exposure compensation, and the focus mode in use. A shutter sensitivity setting is a nice touch and allows you to fine tune the pressure you need to active the release and you can also fire up a grid composition aid and live RGB histogram.

One of the first niggles I found with the S10 is the small button size for back plate controls, it’s very easy to accidentally press an adjacent button and the four-way jog control is small and easy to tilt in the wrong direction so an issue for the larger fingered among you.

The second niggle is with the menu system where you can access a mode, select an option and "okay" it via press of the button sat centrally within the four-way jogger. However, this then shuts the menu system down, which is both slower and quite frustrating to use. You can however select an option and go back to a previous screen using the four-way jog button and once you’ve got used to that, things are a bit more streamlined.

The 3x optical zoom lens does have a slightly wider end to the zoom than many such compacts, but by no means exceptional, and is useful for general snapping. While the lens is undoubtedly crisp as fresh frost on a January dawn, there is distinct barrel distortion at the wide end.

Image storage is a combination of 11.8MB of internal storage (just enough for one high quality image) or SD/SDHC, MMC or MMC+Plus external media. The external cards slot into a flap on the base alongside the sliver-like lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack and a full charge is enough for around 280-shots according to Casio’s blurb, but I shot over 160 shots and the battery indicator shows it was still full, so not bad here then.

The thinness of the camera makes it a touch tricky to control overall, but the neat flip round zoom lever surrounding the shutter release is quite good to use and the lens zooms quickly from the wide to the full zoom end.

However, performance is very speedy with an almost instant start-up of around 1-second to making the first shot, and a claimed 0.008 shutter release time lag. In practice, however I found the shutter lag was still distinct and could affect composition on fast moving subjects.

A host of Best Shot modes that preset the camera for specific subject are nice to have available but override all your own settings, say ISO for example. If you set the ISO to, say, 100 and use the helpful memory feature (again within the neat menus) to ensure it is always that particular setting at start-up then be warned your preferred setting will get wiped away depending on the Best Shot setting you pick. A way to customise certain Best Shot modes would be handy and allow you to keep improved creative control over some of the more artistic Best Shot options available. Incidentally, these include everything from portrait and landscape modes to a text and food mode.

The YouTube movie feature as you’d imagine, has all the relevant movie shooting settings optimised for use with video clips on YouTube and with the supplied YouTube Uploader software, it makes it a simple process to move video shot in that mode onto the website.

The YouTube movie mode is, predictably, rather poor quality when compared with the two UHQ (ultra high quality) movie settings of 640 x 480 and 848 x 480-pixel widescreen video clips (both with sound at 30fps) at your disposal. However, as with other Casio’s the YouTube (and other movie functions) are deep within the Best Shot subject scene functions, the YouTube mode is 35th out of 36 scene modes on offer. An external YouTube button would be nice and make more of the feature that will undoubtedly be a key reason to buy for some consumers. Interestingly, the use of the high capacity memory cards is essential with a 4GB SDHC memory card providing 1 hour 20 minutes of video.

In terms of image quality, the camera performs well enough and two expanded dynamic range modes also help get a little more from highlights, but that’s about it. Either off, +1 or +2 settings seem to make little difference though noise increases very slightly, even at low ISOs.

Talking of which, you get a range of ISO 50 to ISO 1600 and as you might expect, ISO 800 and 1600 are poor in terms of noise and colour skew. However ISO 400 is not that bad, and although noise is evident at all ISOs it’s well controlled below ISO 400 and noise suppression software is not overly aggressive on the detail. The two highest setting are a different matter where colour, exposure, noise, and detail are a blotchy mess and so probably not much good in all but small enprints.

The focusing and metering working well overall and the tracking AF is actually rather impressive if a little slow. The standard Face Detection AF works well enough on faces head-on to the lens, profiles are bit more challenging, but as detailed earlier, the various face detection modes are comprehensive and can save time and help get things sharp in group shots or snaps of family members, where the camera can pick a loved one out from the crowd.

White balance is good for general scenes and the auto WB processing is rather good too as are the usual presets but I did get some odd hues when snapping on a cloudy day with the cloudy setting, which seemed odd and I can only put it down to the fact it was overcast but still quite bright.

One last issue I had on some pictures with brighter subjects sat within the frame is some odd blooming or faint ghosting around the bright object. Whether this is a lens issue or a processing problem is hard to say but it takes the polish away slightly from this otherwise extremely attractive and shiny little camera.

Verdict

The Casio Exilim Card EX-S10 is a very nice little camera; it looks good, is well made, and can produce good low ISO shots. The barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens is a lack in terms of the lens performance as, worryingly, is the odd blooming on brighter subjects. However, the many high quality movie options plus the YouTube mode ensure it will get a lot of attention.