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8/10

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Casio Exilim EX-S12 - Casio Exilim EX-S12

Of course the tiny size of the EX-S12 is both a blessing and a curse. While it is small and light enough to take anywhere, and well-made enough to survive being squeezed into a hip pocket, there's no denying the fact that it is a bit fiddly to operate. To make room for the big screen the tiny buttons and scaled-down D-pad are crowded together on 15mm-wide strip that also has to hold the instant video recording button and still leave enough room for your thumb. It is possible to hold the camera without getting your thumb in the way of the screen, but it's not easy. It's not helped by the lovely shiny finish of the body, which is a bit slippery even with dry fingers.

Once you get to grips with it though, the EX-S12 is a very enjoyable camera to use. The controls are quick and responsive, and Casio's usual sidebar menu makes adjusting the many features quick and easy. It does have a wide range of features both fun and useful. Firmly in the first category is the "Make up" function, which uses face-detection techniques to re-touch portrait faces to smooth out skin texture, remove wrinkles and soften shadows. The effect is adjustable, with an on-screen slider providing 12 strength settings. The lower levels are mildly flattering to anyone over the age of 40, but the higher settings do look a bit freakishly plastic.

Another new option is the Lighting feature, which is just Casio's version of the automatic contrast compensation that is rapidly becoming a standard feature on all new cameras. It is useful though, helping to improve shadow detail in high-contrast shots giving the S12 a surprisingly good dynamic range. Other advanced features include the Auto-Shutter, which can be set to detect blur, panning or smile, and of course face detection. The Best Shot mode includes some fun options too, including Silent Movie, Multi-motion Image and of course a YouTube capture mode.

The stand-out feature for this camera though is the HD video recording mode, which is looking like this year's must-have option. The EX-S12 can shoot at 1280 x 720 resolution at 24 frames per second, with mono audio and clip length limited to 10 minutes. The optical zoom cannot be used while recording. The video quality is pretty good, and the audio is at least acceptable, if not really up to the standard of more expensive rivals.

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