Even by Casio's high standard the impossibly small and jewel-like Exilim EX-S500 was special. It was so slender and so stunningly attractive that it was hard not to fall in love with it, and everyone here at DigitalCameraRoundup.com did. Ours came in an eye-catching metallic orange. Blue and silver were available also, but the bright reddish-orange is perfect for it. The bad news is that Casio replaced the S500. But have no fear: the good news is that it was replaced by the S600 which uses the same exact body and design. You just get more technology for less money!
The Casio S600 looks and feels smaller than even today you'd expect any 6-megapixel digital camera to be. That's in part because it's so thin -- just 0.63 inches at the thickest part where the LCD is mounted and only about half an inch everywhere else. It actually feels even thinner as Casio cleverly used slenderizing design tricks to cut down the visual size even further. So even if there may be a few cameras that are even smaller, the Casio feels thinner and smaller than all of them. It is ultra-elegant in a way that not even those wondrous Sony cameras are. And including its little, but amazingly powerful battery and a SD card, the S600 weighs just 4.7 ounces. You hardly feel it's there.
Since this is a camera you stick into your pocket or purse (no matter how small they may be), Casio made sure that nothing pokes out to mar the S600's sleek profile. The 3X optical zoom lens is not one of those complex and totally internal ones, but the lens barrel retracts completely into the camera's sliver of a body when power is off. Push the (tiny) on/off button, though, and lens motors out by almost an inch. Even Casio cannot perform miracles, though it often seems that way. No big deal.
The S600's controls are as stylish as the overall design of the camera itself -- tiny and kept to an absolute minimum. They are clearly marked and clearly visible, which is a tribute to Casio's designers as tiny controls can be a nightmare in everyday use The S600's menus system, likewise, is simple and you can use the camera without spendig a lot of time with the manual.
Despite their small size, Casio cameras have historically offered among the largest screens in their respective class. With the S500 that was unfortunately not the case, and the screen remains unchanged in the S600. It's not bad, mind you; you get a nice 2.2-inch LCD that would have been considered panoramic just a few years ago. Today it seems small, and its meager 85k pixel resolution certainly doesn't help. This is one area where we'd have liked to see some improvement in the new model. And, of course, like almost all cameras in this class, the S600 doesn't have an optical viewfinder, so if you can't see things on the little LCD, too bad.
Using the camera is simplicity itself. Push the small power button and it goes into photo mode. Push the review button to examine your pics. Movies have a separate button with a red dot on it. Push it and the camera starts recording immediately, so you better be ready. There are some other quirky things where Casio's goal to simplify had the opposite effect. Just like it ws with the S500, you can't just add a sound clip to a picture in playback mode. Instead, sound must be enabled in the setup menu, and then you have to record sound, unless you cancel it by pushing the menu button.
Like many ultra-slims, the S600 comes with a cradle so you can view slide shows with the camera docked--not something you're likely to do a lot on such a small screen. The cradle is necessary, though, since the S600 doens't have an onboard power jack nor any I/O ports other than the docking connector. Unless you buy an optional battery charger, you can only charge the battery while the camera is docked. Likewise, if you want to connect to a PC via cable, you need the cradle.
640x480 movies are recorded at 30 frames per second using MPEG-4, which means excellent quality. You can zoom in and out during recording and also during replay, and if you have a really large SD Card, you can record for hours. The 8.6MB of internal memory won't get you very far.
Other advanced features include an anti-shake DSP (though not true optical image stabilization), over 30 different scene modes, the ability to convert movies into snapshots, live histograms, and there's also an AF assist light for focusing in poor lighting conditions. It even has a metal tripod mount.
When we first got the S600's predecessor we wondered if such a tiny camera can also take good pictures? Initially, we struggled a bit, but quickly got the hang of it and the S500 compensated with good contrast and pleasing images. Staff took the S500 and then S600, everywhere, and we found that the cameras can actually take excellent pictures. The S600, especially, is capable of taking shots with stunning image detail and clarity. So good, in fact, that we often wondered why we should take along a bigger "real" camera (we usually didn't).
We cannot praise the Exilim S600 enough. It is one of those rare designs that just feels right, and it's just soooo sexy. It remains an instant conversation piece whenever and wherever you take it out of your pocket. The larger 6-megapixel imager is much appreciated, as is the ven longer battery life (300 shots per charge!). The screen we'd like to have seen replaced in the new model, but it does okay. Overall, it is a delightful camera that takes great pictures, and it's so small you can take it absolutely anywhere.