Casio Exilim Card EX-S880

Our newest Best4Reviews writer, Becci Russell, gets to grips with the Casio Exilim Card EX-S880, a slender digital compact camera, offering 8.1-megapixels and a host of useful features. But how does it fair in its Best4Reviews test?

With its slim ‘credit card’ body, and smooth and balanced features the Casio Exilim Card EX-S880 is an elegant digital compact. The camera’s face is simple yet stylish while the back of the camera is taken up by a large 2.8-inch (widescreen) colour display; the down side here is it means the buttons are small and difficult to use – larger fingers beware – as those small buttons become very frustrating, particularly when you want to quickly access certain functions on the camera.

The directional (four way-style) buttons are particularly annoying; it’s difficult to press them in the right direction, unless you have matchstick-thin fingers or long fingernails. What is even worse, the on/off button is the smallest of them all and left me fighting to switch the camera on when the perfect photo opportunity came along… and swiftly passed me by!

I guess the compromise here is it is deliberately small so you don’t accidentally turn the camera on, but I’m not sure if it is entirely successful compromise. Another slight problem is the camera is so sleek and smooth, it lacks any form of grip, so is slippery and easily DROPpable.

Wearing gloves on a cold day (as I often was for some of this test) made it nearly impossible to take pictures without it slipping through my fingers. And another infuriating aspect of the camera – while writing about fingers– is the colour screen can be easily marked with fingerprints. Overall, it seems those compromises are being made to provide great looks, so perhaps it’s an element of style over substance?

Nevertheless, it is possible to work with these flaws of course and it’s easy to see the positives of the technical side of the camera, however it is not just the look and practicality that are flawed…

The “Techy” Stuff
Charging the camera is quick and easy, with a handy docking station, which allows you to charge the camera without taking the battery out, a benefit here is you can go through pictures on the camera or through your TV via the supplied cable.

The down side of charging through a dock is there are messy wires involved and that charging needs a power point, something not very accessible if your out and about taking photographs. It also means that if travelling aboard, valuable packing space is taken up by a power adaptor and all the wires, worth bearing in mind if packing space is at a premium.

Battery life isn’t all that wonderful either – about two and a half hours of continual photo taking drained the battery and, of course, because it needs a docking station and a power point to charge, I just had to stop taking pictures; I couldn’t just pop some more AA’s into the camera for example.

Uploading your photos to a computer is easy though, even the most basic computer minded person could pull it off and the YouTube feature, built into the S880, is another rather nifty tool. Here, as you’ve probably guessed, the size, quality and format of the videos you shoot are compatible with those that you need for uploading onto YouTube.
This simple process takes two seconds and two simple clicks, using the special software that is supplied with the camera (and is unique to Casio), to upload video straight from the camera to YouTube – pretty darn cool. And, equally cool, are the neat camera menus, they’re easy to navigate and set out in a logical manner.

The movie mode also provides a high quality (“TV Quality” says Casio) setting using the next generation H.264 compression technology providing 848 x 480-pixel (UHQ Wide/HQ Wide) movies and you get a seemingly impressive ISO range from ISO64 to ISO1600, but more on this shortly.

Taking Photos
The 8.1-megapixel resolution means photographs are detailed; the Casio can take a beautiful picture and while not possessing the high-resolution sensor of some 10 and 12-megapixel models on the market, 8.1-megapixels still allows your photographs to be blown up to A3 and maintain quality.

In terms of speediness, the camera takes about two seconds to start up, then takes around 4 seconds to take a picture, which then takes another second to be previewed on the LCD. This preview takes about another two seconds (incidentally, the preview can be turned off, however, the amount of time it stays on the LCD cannot be changed). Although, it does have a Quick Snap mode that allows faster reactions to fleeting subjects.

When actually snapping either in the Quick Snap mode or the camera's other four “speed” settings: Normal, High Speed, Flash continuous and Zoom continuous, which are all rather snazzy and allow for some hilarious action photos to be taken, the cameras ability to capture fast moving subjects is rather good.

In common with most Casio compacts, the S880 offers (in this case) 39 Best Shot modes that automatically allow you to shoot a wide variety of situations, for example, night scenes, landscapes or portraits. Of the 39, 34 modes are for taking stills there are four video modes – including the ‘YouTube’ mode – and a voice-recording mode.
Whatever the subject, you simply choose the Best Shot mode that best suits the subject of the picture you want to take and the camera automatically sets itself up, optimised to make the best of the subject at hand. These modes are particularly great for the less experienced photographer.

However, the Macro mode is difficult to use and difficult to find on the camera; it is hidden within the menus. When you do eventually activate it, the camera has to be the exact distance away from the subject in order for the picture to be properly focused, which I found so exasperating; I nearly threw the camera on the ground and stamped on it. Macro here cries out for a tripod.

One of my favourite tools on the S880 however, both in terms of the menu control and for actually shooting images, must be the (flexible) flash set up; here the auto flash works well with three different modes of soft flash (for portraits for example), red eye reduction (self explanatory) or full power, the latter ideal for illuminating larger areas. But crucially, it can be turned off.

The benefit? It allows you to choose the camera setting with or without flash, letting you get more involved in the photography if needs be and it also means you can stop the flash from firing and, say, bleaching out portrait shots, for example.

Another nice feature is Face Recognition AF that can recognise any face and focus upon it anywhere in the frame, be it in the centre or the far right hand corner for example. The S880’s Face AF set up works brilliantly and more impressively allows for well focus people pictures (almost) every time and without having to spend an age setting the camera up.

But even better is the Face Recognition and storage system, which allows you to save individual faces on the camera, family or friends for example, then, when you’re taking group photos, the camera can home in on those faces it has stored in its memory, automatically focusing on them.

The “normal” Auto Focus offers a few settings that provide even more control, you can have the AF set to use either a central AF zone, or multiple focus zones, but the cherry on the top is its ‘tracking focus’ system. This allows you to focus in on a subject, but then as it moves the AF will follow it and keep the camera focused on it right across the frame! Now that’s rather cool.

But – and yes, I’m afraid this is a big, bad, “but”… The Auto Focus although theoretically “cool” is also very frustrating because it is not consistent. In some photographs, the focus can be spot-on, but at other times, it can be completely off and for no apparent reason. It is just not consistent enough across similar (or the same!) subjects, which is just such a shame, because otherwise the camera could have done much better on this test. Casio!

And so, in terms of overall picture quality, we find ourselves back at the ISO comment from earlier. In low light photography, image quality is not brilliant as adjusting the ISO to higher settings just makes the images noisy. The camera uses an ISO range of ISO64 to ISO800 with a boosted ISO 1600 Hi Sensitivity Best Shot mode in there for good measure.

Using ISO 400, noise is just about bearable, but at ISO 800 and above the noise is such that it just isn’t worth the bother of upping the setting. Colour, white balance and metering are all pretty okay, however, and worked reliably well. The colours are natural, however in some cases, especially portraits in natural sunlight, they get a rather blue hue, which is rather odd and must be an auto white balance issue.

Overall, providing you stay within the lower ISO settings (ISO64 to ISO200 for example), image quality is okay, but as the pesky ISO creeps up, expect noise to start marring your images, and watch out for the auto ISO setting, which will set the ISO for you and it might just push it too high. Despite this, and particularly for those novice snappers among you, at least you have the auto modes and plenty of Best Shot settings to fall back on, if taking control is not your bag.

However, be warned, the S880 can be more infuriating than Terry Wogan on BBC Radio 2 at 8 o’ clock in the morning – when you have a hangover! Theoretically, on paper so to speak, this camera is a very good compact, but in the flesh, it just does not live up to its stylish promise. As good as it looks – all those flash little features and settings seem just too much for this little compact to handle – and the poor little S880 struggles to pull them all off, and in the end it certainly shows in your photos.

Verdict: 
Overall, the Casio Exilim Card EX-S880 is a slim, stylish snapper – it looks good, it takes lovely pictures at lower ISO settings (and when the focus is right!) and it has great auto shooting features too. It’s just a shame there are so many niggles. On final analysis, Casio has ‘pimped’ the S880 to overload and I have to ask is it all worth it? The bits that the S880 pulls off are good, and yes, the picture quality is nice when everything falls into place. And not to forget, some features are incredibly cool which means, despite the negatives, I liked the S880, I just have to overcome the irritating urge to stamp on it now again, that’s all.