Monday 19 August 2002

The James Bond spy camera

Frustrated with my current digital camera (a Sony DSC-S70), I followed a link from Scripting News to Ray Ozzie’s weblog, where he sings the praises of the Casio Exilim EX-S1, “the best camera [Ray] ever owned.” As Ray puts it:

Casio EX-S1 digital cameraThe resolution is perfectly fine for on-screen viewing, it has a great flash, it has ample capacity when used with a 128mb memory card, it beats out even the Blackberry in terms of its battery life (weeks), and best of all, it boots and is ready to snap a picture in sub-one-second. Just works, just right. Strongly recommended.

The EX-S1 is a 1-megapixel camera in a stainless steel body that’s about the same dimensions as a credit card and only half an inch thick. It has a fixed focus 5.6mm/F2.5 lens (equivalent to 37mm on 35mm camera).

The size impressed me immediately—one disadvantage of the Sony is that it’s just too big to take with me everywhere. A greater negative, however, is the Sony’s shutter lag, an unfortunate “feature” of most digital cameras. It’s impossible to shoot fluidly with anything but a digital SLR (where the image is deflected by the mirror through the reflex prism to the viewfinder). With a digital camera, the image coming through the lens appears on the LCD screen. When you press the shutter release, the camera finds focus and the shutter closes (the image then freezes on the LCD screen), then the shutter is released. This can take up to a second and a half (less if you prefocus, but if the subject then moves you can’t be sure that you’ve focused accurately).

The fixed focus design of the EX-S1 virtually eliminates shutter lag since there’s no focusing to be done: everything is always in focus from 1 meter to infinity.

I had my doubts about 1-megapixel (the DSC-S70 is a 3-megapixel camera with a tack-sharp Zeiss lens) but I was interested enough to track down some detailed appraisals of the Casio camera—Ray’s weblog post is merely a recommendation from a satisfied owner, not a review that balances the camera’s strong points with its shortcomings.

There are two comprehensive reviews, at Steve’s Digicams and the Digital Camera Resource Page. Both are generally enthusiastic: about the camera’s tiny size, its acceptable (not great) image quality, and range of manual functions. But, taken together, they reveal a number of problems:

  • there is no easy way to turn the LCD screen on and off
  • the 4-way selector switch on the back is too small to be operated easily with a finger tip
  • the power button and the shutter release are so close together that it’s easy to turn the camera off when you try to take a picture.

This could be a perfect example of the old adage: Don’t buy the first model of anything, wait until they get it right the second time around.

Nevertheless, I remain interested: the tiny size and no shutter lag make it an ideal point-and-shoot camera while the 1-megapixel (960x1280) image is more than sufficient for web display, as Jeff’s image gallery proves (Steve, inexplicably, took most of his gallery pictures at the interpolated 1200x1600 resolution, so that most of them look soft). I’ll check one out the next time I’m near a camera store. Despite my misgivings, I may succumb to its obvious appeal.

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How about you stop talking about the camera & just use it to take a picture of the new cat.
What has happened to your priorities?
L x

Posted by linda on 20 August 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Well, I don't own the (Casio) camera yet. And when I try to take pictures of the new cat with the old Sony camera, the shutter lag means I never get to take the picture I wanted (because she invariably moves).

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 20 August 2002 (Comment Permalink)

She must sleep sometime, surely?

Posted by Dorothea Salo on 21 August 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Yes, she sleeps a lot. But when she's sleeping you can't see her pretty eyes and face.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 21 August 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I've got the Exilim EX-S1 and I have been very happy with it. You can turn it on and start taking pictures immediately, and there's NO shutter lag.

I disagree with one of the criticisms mentioned above, though. The LCD screen can be turned off pretty easily through the menus, but I don't know why you'd want to turn it off in the first place. The battery lasts a long time and it's a lot easier to frame shots with the LCD. In addition, using the LCD is the only way you can review your pics. The 4-way switch IS too small, but Iíve gotten used to it. The layout of the buttons on top is confusing at first, but now Iíve got it down (I only accidentally turned it off once or twice, not every other shot like a couple of the reviews said). Iíve figured out why the buttons are arranged so awkwardly: the camera is designed to be used with one hand and to have your middle finger rest in the groove of that little plastic strip on the front; if you hold it that way your index finger is lined up with the shutter.

I've actually found that I get the best resolution at 1600 x 1200, especially if I then compress it down a little on my computer. It takes great pictures outside, but struggles in very dim or very bright conditions. If you want some more info / sample photos before you buy, I would be willing to e-mail you some.

Posted by bdb55 on 27 August 2002 (Comment Permalink)

bdb55, thank you for taking the time to comment at length. I had a look at the Exilim in a camera store last week and was pleasantly surprised that it handled *much* better than I'd expected. I was particularly interested in the information that the camera "struggles" in very dim light, since I'd want to use it at least half the time for taking interior pictures. I'll email you and ask you to send me a few interior shots if you don't mind.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 27 August 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour