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Casio Exilim EX-S770

7.2 megapixel ultra-slim stunner of a camera
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

There are some products that simply stand above all else, and Casio had one of those in the incomparable Exilim EX-S500. It was probably the sexiest and most attention-getting ultra-slim camera of all time. Ours came in an intense reddish orange and it remains an instant conversation piece whenever its owner whips it out to take a picture. To the EX-S770, reviewed here, falls the unenviable task of being perhaps not a replacement as the S500 design remains available in the form of the 6-megapixel EX-S600, but the follow-up to that remarkable achievement.

Truth be told, it has always puzzled us why Casio is not a bigger player in the digital camera market. Casio digicams have always been among our favorites. They combined technological excellence with gorgeous, jewel-like design. And they did not only look terrific, but also always offered innovative features no one had yet thought of. Had anyone else made the above-referenced EX-S500 it might well have been just a pretty face and conversation piece. Not Casio. The S500 was a powerful, competent camera to boot.

However, nothing is ever perfect, and the S500 did have some flaws. A few years ago, its 2.2-inch LCD would have been considered huge, but now it looks a bit small, and it is not very bright. And it was rather low-res, making it difficult to see if a picture was actually in focus. There were also a couple of minor quirks, like a very cumbersome audio clip attachment mode. And 5-megapixel by now is so 2005. The S600 added another megapixel of resolution, but not much more.

A look at the S770: what is different?

Enter the stainless steel-bodied EX-S770. It's very similar to the S500/S600, but it is not the same design. It is nearly as small and slender, though. Its footprint of 3.72 x 2.38 inches is just slightly larger than that of a credit card. And the thickest part, the LCD area, is only 0.68 inches. This makes the S770 small and thin, but every dimensions is a just bit larger than the S500/S600. Not much, but it is noticeable, especially since the similar but not identical design of the S770 doesn't employ all the additional "optical illusion" slenderizing tricks Casio pulled with its little beauty queen. Other design elements remain, and you can get the S770 in silver, blazing red, and graphite blue. The 3X optical zoom lens recesses flush into the body and only motors out when power is turned on. The controls are small and stylish, and nicely integrated into the overall design.

The S500 and S600 names suggested 5 and 6 megapixel, so why the 7.2 megapixel S770 is not called the S720 is anyone's guess. We certainly appreciate the additional resolution that places the camera smack in the middle of today's 6 to 8 megapixel standard.

Terrific hi-res display

While the higher resolution is nice, by far the biggest reason to go for the S770 over the still available S600 is its display. Instead of the smallish and rather low res LCD of the S500/600 you get a terrific and very bright 2.8 inch screen with much higher resolution. Instead of 354 x 240 pixels, it's now 960 x 240, which makes a huge difference. And since more and more TV and computer screens now use a wide format, the S770's screen has a 14:9 aspect ratio, smack between the 12:9 of a standard TV or monitor and the 16:9 ratio of wide format TVs.

The extra width can be used in two ways. First, you can choose between various hi-res aspect ratios: 3072 x 2304, 3072 x 2048 (3:2), and 3072 x 1728 (16:9). Second, you can elect to have a vertical menu along the right side that provides quick access to all the major settings: resolution, flash, auto focus, self-timer, anti-shake, ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation.

Not much room for controls

The cost of having such a large screen on such a small camera is that most real estate is taken up by the screen. That leaves little room for the controls. The way Casio handled that is by using very small buttons. Six are placed along the top of the camera. Two are for replay and recording, one toggles through the various display modes, one puts the camera in a special "data" mode where, via supplied software, documents, email, and web pages are converted to JPEGs and transferred into the camera. The final two are a tiny recessed on/off switch and the shutter.

The rest of the controls are on the backside, to the right of the big LCD. The zoom rocker is vertically oriented, which takes a bit of getting used to. Two buttons provide access to the onscreen menu and scene selection. A navigation ring also handles macro and flash settings. And there is a small round button with a red dot on it. It is not marked at all and it took me a while to figure out you use it to start recording a movie. The red dot is the only dash of color used in labeling the controls. The rest have tiny embossed symbols or text, or equally tiny text and icons white on silver (our review unit came in silver). None of them are easy to read, so it's a good thing Casio did not overload th S770 with hardware controls.

Onscreen menus are clear and simple, using a combination of tabs and walking menus. When you select scenes, each shows a sample image and describes what the setting is for.

Using the S770 is simple. Push the tiny on button and it goes into photo recording mode. Push the review button to see your pictures. Push the red-dot button to start recording a movie. Note that pushing that button starts recording immediately; it doesn't just put the camera into move mode and then waits until you push the shutter. There are no manual modes; for the most part the automatic mode works just fine.

Good audio modes

The S770 is improved in the audio department. You can now record 30 seconds of audio to any picture. You do this by using the "dubbing" menu selection. There is also a voice recording scene mode. On a 512MB card, you can record more than 24 hours' worth of audio! If you do, turn the camera around as the microphone is in the front and recording quality much better that way.

Unique movie modes: record the past!

In addition to the standard movie mode, there are three more you can select from scenes. "Past movie" starts recording a few seconds before the red-dot movie button is pressed. "Short movie" captures a short video clip also starting a few seconds before the movie button is pressed. And "Silent" records in black & white at faster speed. That creates a silent movie look. The two "past movie" modes are very interesting. What it means is that the camera actually records and keeps about seven seconds in memory at all time. So if you follow, say, a hockey game and a goal is scored, all you have to do is start recording. Depending on which "past movie" mode you selected, it then keeps recording until you push the button again, or just records another three second. Either way, you now have captured what happened seven seconds BEFORE you pushed the record button. This is perfect for when you want to capture an event, but don't want to fill up a card with meaningless footage.

640x480 movies are recorded at 30 frames per second using the state-of-the-art MPEG-4 spec, which means best possible quality. You can zoom in and out during recording and also during replay. There are five different movie modes. You can record 640 x 480 in normal and high quality, record in 704 x 384 "wide" mode in both qualities, or switch to "long play" basic 320 x 240 mode. Long play lets you record about an hour and a half on a 512MB SD card. Internal memory is practically non-existent. The 6MB of internal memory won't get you very far and we're a bit surprised that Casio didn't spring for something more reasonable.

Cradle needed

Like some of its competition, the Casio S770 comes with a cradle so you can enjoy slide shows with the camera docked. This can come in handy, especially since the camera has such a nice, large screen. You can even set up slideshows with different effects between pictures. The camera needs the cradle as the S770 doesn't have an onboard power jack or any I/O ports. 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. So do not lose that cradle

More features

Other advanced features include an anti-shake DSP (which also works with movies), no fewer than 34 different scene settings, the ability to convert movies into snapshots (either a single one or nine at a time), live histograms, and there's also an AF assist light for focusing in poor lighting conditions. It even has a metal tripod mount, which we appreciate a lot.

Same battery

One thing that hasn't changed compared to the S500/600 is the battery. It still is a very small 3.7V, 700mAH Li-Ion pack. Amazingly, it's rated at almost the same number of pictures as the S500 with its much smaller screen: 200 versus 210 pictures. For movie recording it lasts about an hour and a half, for voice recording an amazing 6-1/2 hours, and for playback of still images almost five hours.

Does it take good pictures?

If you peruse the web and read reviews of Casio's ultra-thin "Card" cameras, you see some complaints about only average picture quality. We did not find that to be true. The little Casio has the capacity of shooting superb images with amazing sharpness and quality. Not every shot comes out great, of course, and you need to practice a bit with the 34 scene modes to figure out if it's worth using one for a particular setting or not. But by and large, this camera excels, and especially so considering its diminutive size. You can take it absolutely anywhere and it is never in the way. And the ability to take "past" movies is absolutely invaluable at times. Realize that this is a point & shooter, though. There is no manual control other than a few settings, and sensitivity is usually limited to ISO 400, though it can go to ISO 800 in anti-shake mode.

Bottom line

We'll never understand why Casio doesn't have more market share. The Exilim S770 continues a tradition of elegant excellence that is found hardly anywhere else. The much larger 2.8-inch screen is a huge improvement over the 2.2 inch screens of the earlier S500/600 models. True, the camera is a bit larger and not quite as visually stunning, but it still is a looker, especially if you pick the red one. This is definitely an Editor's Choice.

We like:

  • Terrific 2.8-inch high-res wide screen
  • Gorgeous design and execution
  • Very small, light and handy
  • Simple operation and menus
  • A full 34 scene modes
  • Unlimited audio recording
  • Anti-blur mode
  • "Past movie" mode invaluable
Not so much:
  • No manual control
  • Tiny controls and hard-to-read labels
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Only 6MB internal memory
Specifications CASIO EX-S770
Status Added 11/2006
Camera Type Ultra-thin
Size 3.72 x 2.38 x 0.68
Weight (oz.) 4.5 (w/o battery)
Effective Pixels 7.2 mp
CCD Type 1/2.5
Max pixel size 3072 x 2304
File formats JPEG, AVI, WAV, MPEG4
Compression fine, normal, economy
Movie recording (best) til full, with audio
Max movie pixels 640 x 480 (zoom)
Voice recording 30 sec sound memos; audio til full
Lens 6 lenses, 5 groups
Focal length 6.2-18.6mm (38-114mm)
Zoom (optical/digital) 3X/4X
Aperture f/2.7 - f/5.2
Focus modes Auto Focus, Macro, Pan Focus, Infinity Mode, Manual
Focus minimum/macro 2.4 inches, 1.2 feet
Shutter speed 1/2000 to 4 sec
Sensitivity (ISO) auto/50/100/200/400/800
Autofocus system Spot or Multi; with AF assist lamp
Metering Multi-pattern, center weighted, spot by CCD
White-balance modes Auto, fixed (6 modes), manual
Shooting modes auto, 34 scenes
Exposure compensation +/-2EV in 1/3 steps
Viewfinder Type none
LCD size 2.8" LCD (230k, 960 x 240)
LCD type outdoor viewable
LCD construction fixed
Flash type built-in
Flash range up to 12.8 feet
Flash modes Auto, On, Off, Soft Flash, Red Eye Reduction
Camera internal memory 6MB
Storage Medium SD Card
I/O USB "B" + AV via cradle
Battery type NP20 Li-Ion (3.7V, 700mAH)
CIPA Battery life (LCD/off) 200 images
List Price US$379.99

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