A word of warning

4:56pm 3rd December 2007

I have been a huge fan of the Casio Exilim EX-S series of ultra compact digicams ever since the debut model. From the EX-S100 onward I have owned every model since, with the exception of the newest one, the EX-S880, which I intend to buy before I go overseas next.

After being impressed by the excellent performance of the EX-S600, I was highly excited about getting the EX-S770, the next in the line. Among the new features were, according to the review sites I extensively read, a larger LCD, a more intuitive and easy to use interface, higher quality video mode, superior optics and far better image processing firmware. There was also the very interesting feature of a 3 shot burst with flash. I bought 2, one for myself and one for my parents.

I took the camera with me to Brazil, where, to my dismay, I found that it took photos that were only on par with the old EX-S600, and at times, inferior. Furthermore, the autofocus mechanism seemed to perform incredibly poorly in mid to low light conditions, and at times even took out of focus shots in broad daylight. After a while, I managed to get to grips with the eccentricities of the camera and was able, by contriving lighting or angles and by occasionally using manual focus, to get consistently OK shots.

But just OK was not good enough for me. After the excellent performance of the S600 I was not happy. I was ready to abandon the Casio line and investigate Sony products, when someone at a camera shop demonstrated their EX-S770, which took noticeably better shots than mine. Furthermore, the out of focus issue was non existent. There was rarely too grainy a shot and the camera was able to use lower ISO settings for the same picture. I tested both cameras on the same scene a few times to be sure.

It turns out that mine was made in China, and the shop's was made in Japan. Casio must have two manufacturing plants, one in China and one in Japan. The one in China must source its sensors, light meters and other componentry from lower quality suppliers, resulting in a product which is likely inside Casio's engineering specs, but of an overall lower quality. Either that or I have a counterfeit product.

You can tell this by looking at the panel that covers the battery and memory card bays. The Japanese made product says "Made in Japan" on this panel, while the Chinese one says nothing, and has a flimsy "Made in China" sticker next to the tripod mount. This sticker seems intended to easily fall off. Also, the printing on the bay door is far higher resolution on the Japanese product, which also has a valid serial number and a 2D barcode. The Chinese product has no 2D barcode, but has a square with nonsensical dot and stroke marks that are obviously intended to look like a 2D barcode, but is not. It is for this reason that I suspect that the product may be a counterfeit. I will investigate this further.

For anyone looking to buy a Casio Exilim product, ensure that you are getting Japanese made items. The quality difference is subtle, but very, very noticeable. Check with your retailer or eBay seller that it is the made in Japan product before you buy it, or else you will end up with a vastly inferior product.

UPDATE 24 Feb 2008: I have confirmed that Casio has two assembly plants. When buying a Casio camera, ensure that the one you get is made in Japan. The way to tell is with the proper 2D barcode on the battery bay sticker, and the words "Made in Japan" next to it. If either of these are not present, then the unit has come from the Chinese assembly plant.