The latest addition to Casio's expanding range of digital cameras is the Exilim Pro EX-P505. As a hybrid digicam it combines a 5-megapixel digital still camera with a video camera which is capable of shooting extended video scenes with high image quality. The camera features a 5x optical zoom lens (38-190mm eq.), a large 2inch swivelling TFT screen plus a whole host of automatic and manual functions. Thanks to the incorporation of MPEG4 technology, it also has the ability to capture full size - 640x480 - full motion video with stereo audio at 30 fps in VGA size, at three resolution sizes. Engineered for high image quality, high speed operation and low power consumption in an extremely compact body, this Casio EX-P505 looks certain to become a big success in today's busy digital market.
Using the camera
When we first laid eyes on a life-size Casio EX-P505 we were struck by how small it actually is. Because of its shape with that large protruding lens barrel, we had expected a camera the size of one of the larger Olympus or Canon cameras. In fact the camera body itself is only the size of a small mobile phone. Add to this a lens barrel the size of an empty toilet roll cut in half, and our Blue Peter fans in the UK will know exactly what we are talking about here.
The camera body and all controls are made of polycarbonate. Build quality seems to be OK but the plastic finish makes it look more like a toy than a serious camera and the tiny size doesn't help here. Although the lens barrel does have a rubber band where you would place your left hand to support the camera, the large handgrip on the right is a bit too smooth and slippery to provide a serious grip. The small plastic flap - which covers DC and USB connectors - does not look like it will stand frequent usage. The tripod bush is made of plastic just like the zoom control and jog dial. Especially the latter shows some free play which may or may not say anything about its durability. Fact remains that other Casio cameras appear much more solid than the new EX-P505. Only time will tell how the camera will fare in this respect.
The number of controls is kept to a minimum with some frequently used functions directly at your disposal. On the back - next to the large 2" TFT screen with 85000 pixels - we find the familiar jog-dial with a set-button in the centre, together with controls for menu and display. A large mode dial, to choose between different movie and still functions, has found its place on the top plate as well as the flash mode button and on/off switch. On the left of the lens barrel we find a Macro button, which also sets other focusing options such as Infinity or Manual Focus, and a control marked EX, to access functions such as metering, ISO, WB or AF area. Especially the latter button will be appreciated by enthusiastic photographers as many frequently used options are stored here. All other functions, such as control over sharpness, saturation and contrast; image size and quality and the self timer have found their way into the menu system.
Opening the LCD screen automatically gets the Exilim Pro ready for action. Within two seconds you can start taking photos. There are no moving lens parts on the outside of the camera and zooming is smooth and silent. The outer ring of the lens has a 43mm thread to attach UV or other filters. For special effects the Casio has several built-in filters, which might be useful for monochrome images or to enhance a sunset or landscape. You can choose from red, green, blue, yellow, pink, purple or sepia. There is no optical viewfinder but you can position the swivelling LCD screen to suit the best viewpoint for your subject. Even self portraits are easy. Just turn the screen facing towards the front of the camera, take position and hey presto - that's you in the picture.
For normal use you would set the mode dial to Snapshot position and let the camera take control. You can dial in EV compensation over +/- 2 stops in 1/3 steps or set flash or focusing mode, but in Snapshot mode you have no control over aperture or shutter speeds used. Both light up in green when half pressing the shutter and they will turn amber if the image is over-exposed or under-exposed. In Snapshot and AV mode maximum shutter speeds are 1/8s, whereas in Manual or SV you can choose speeds from 1/2000 to 60s. A Neutral Density filter - to reduce the amount of light entering the lens by 2 stops - can be dialled in front of the lens to allow for longer shutter speeds or larger apertures to keep the background out of focus. The left/right key on the jog dial is used to set exposure compensation but users can customise it to control white balance, ISO setting, metering mode or to activate the self timer. There is no quick review button to view photos.
After pressing the shutter, they will appear on the LCD for a few moments but if you want to see them again you need to turn the dial to Playback mode.
For those who would like some extra assistance relevant to the subject, there are 22 Best Shot settings, which really are very useful as they cover a lot of situations where beginners might struggle to find the ideal camera settings. Subjects range from the usual choices like portrait, scenery and night scene, to more exotic subjects like food, flowers or pets. For spies or business people the text setting might come in useful, but even subjects like splashing or soft flowing water are accounted for. Up to three lines of text with each scene will inform you what the camera does and provide handy tips such as "keep the camera still!"
The LCD display can show as much or as little information as you like. In its cleanest form it only shows ISO setting plus aperture and shutter speed used. If you need more info you can opt for a live histogram, image size and quality or date and time. Still not satisfied then call up the display mode that shows literally all the information you can imagine with lots of tiny red dials representing every camera setting. Sadly the only items lacking here are wind speed, temperature and GPS co-ordinates for every image captured. After each photo taken, the number of images remaining is shown briefly in the top right hand corner of the screen.
The Casio Exilim Pro EX-P505 can be seen as one of the first generation of hybrid cameras that can record still photographs at 2560x1920 resolution (or 2560x1712 if you prefer the 3:2 format) and (longer) video clips with stereo sound. To this aim Casio have implemented 4 video modes each with their own characteristics. Although here at DCViews, it is not our aim to discuss camcorders in great detail, this dual-function Casio could be a sign of how digital photography is going to develop with more varied and versatile functions being included in cameras, and therefore we will discuss the 4 video modes at some length here.
Movie mode is used for normal recording of videos at 30fps or 15 fps in three resolution sizes. The only limit to its length is the free space on the memory card. A 512Mb SD card can record about 15 minutes of video at its highest quality setting. The unique Past Movie mode, which uses a continually updated 5s buffer, starts recording from 5 sec prior to pressing the shutter button. Handy if you don't want to miss any action sequences. Best Shot movie selects one of the pre-programmed scene modes for the best camera setting during recording. You can select portrait, scenery, night scene and fireworks or you could record a silent monochrome movie at a slightly faster speed to do a remake of Buster Keaton's heroic actions. In Short Movie mode a video clip of 2 to 8 seconds is recorded each time you press the shutter. The length of the past part and the future part can be set independently. A Motion Print feature lets you capture still images from a short movie as you store it.
When recording a video, focus is adjusted continuously and the zoom can be used to zoom in on the action. Here you can watch a short movie clip. In normal still photography an audio clip of 30 secs can be recorded with each image.
In the box
The Casio Exilim Pro EX-P505 comes with all the standard goodies such as USB and AV cables, lens hood, lens cap, wrist strap and a rapid charger (BC-30L) which charges the lithium-ion battery in about 2 hours. According to CIPA standards 220 images can be captured per charge, although we only managed about 180 photos before the battery needed a recharge. This could be due to our frequent use of the LCD screen to view and frame images as there is no optical viewfinder.
A memory card is not included with the camera as the EX-P505 has 7.5Mb of internal memory, which is of course not enough to seriously use the camera. Buy a large 1Gb SD/MMCcard and you will have enough space to experiment with the video functions, as well as take as many still photographs as you please. A basic printed manual of 23 pages per language is included with sections in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian but Dutch and Swedish users are catered for as well. The full manual (230 pages) can be read on Cdrom. Bundled Software consists of PhotoLoader and PhotoHands, the familiar Casio programmes for basic editing, downloading and arranging your images on your computer. For movie editing Ulead Movie Wizard SE VCD is included. Installing the programmes is self explanatory although for Windows 98 you would need to install USB drivers first. The camera's high speed USB 2.0 connection will ensure speedy transfer of images to your PC.
ISO settings range from 50 to 400 and Auto and it is clear that the lowest setting delivers the best quality. At 400 ISO noise is clearly visible in shadow areas. Although sharpness is not in the same class as the more expensive Canon or Nikon cameras, image quality is good enough for making large prints of up to A3 size. You do need good camera technique to avoid camera shake however, as its light weight and tiny size means keeping the camera still is not a easy as with a substantially heavier DSLR. We found contrast in the standard setting to be rather moderate and colours are natural without being overly saturated. If you prefer more punchy images, saturation sharpness and contrast can be adjusted in five steps through the menu, so it shouldn't be too difficult to find your favourite settings.
The f3.3-3.6/6.3-31.5mm lens (38-190mm eq) which can focus as close as 1cm, shows a fair amount of barrel distortion at wide-angle, which disappears when zooming in to be replaced by visible pincushioning at the tele setting. This lens is clearly not meant for architectural photography although in snapshots the distortion will only be visible if there are straight lines near the edges of the image. We noticed a very tiny amount of vignetting in the corners at wide angle but chromatic aberration is not an issue. All images were well exposed and automatic white balance seemed to cope well with most lighting situations. In movie mode automatic white balance sometimes took quite some time to readjust to changing lighting situations, but it did get it right eventually. There are seven white balance pre-sets plus a custom setting.
All images taken with flash were correctly exposed. Should there be a situation where the built-in flash cannot fully cover the subject and a subject appears too dark, the Flash Assist function can help by compensating for the underexposed part by slightly lightening it and balancing it with its surroundings. This is what is known as dodging and burning in traditional photography where a darker part of the image will be given less exposure to lighten it, relevant to its surroundings. Flash intensity can be set over 2 EV in 1 stop steps.
Casio have succeeded in producing a truly hybrid camera that is capable of taking high quality still images as well as excellent video clips with zoom function during filming. Its compact size coupled to a 5-megapixel CCD and a 5x optical zoom lens makes it ideal for holidays or family snaps. Some might argue that there is no RAW or TIFF option, but the quality of JPG images at ISO 50 is easily good enough for the kind of photography most users will need the camera for.
Although we would have preferred a metal outer casing instead of plastic, the Casio EX-P505 is an excellent digital camera with so many versatile functions that even enthusiastic photographers will find ample options to be creative. With its built in neutral density filter, the option to use screw-in filters and several internal filters, many creative solutions can be applied to your images. The swivelling LCD screen with optional grid makes for easy framing, while shortcuts to frequently used functions make this camera a pleasure to work with. Its light weight and compact size means there is now no more excuse for leaving your camera at home.