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Olympus XZ-1 Reviews

June 10, 2011

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I was very much looking forward to this XZ-1 for a long time. Seemed to have the BEST of all the similar cameras in this category, put into ONE camera. I have owned the Canon S90, Samsung TL-500, and STILL own the LX5. All of these cameras are rather good and certainly way better than an average point and shoot, especially if you want a lot of control over the camera.

The XZ-1 does have a rather amazing lens..in that it is very fast(bright) throughout it’s entire range..impressive. It is true I found that being able to shoot with the 1.8 aperture in doors..I did not have to use a very high iso, yet the shutter speed was indeed faster than my LX5 with same settings for example.

Faster shutter speed did result in mostly really good indoor pictures without the usual slow shutter blurriness, THOUGH all pics indoors in even rather good light tended to be a bit dark oddly enough until I cranked up exposure compensation.
The image stabilization on the XZ-1 seems really WAY above average as well.

HOWEVER doing a ton of side by side pics vs my LX5 or even JUST looking at the output of the XZ-1, jpeg pictures at default setting look “somewhat” soft, if you use the default Natural setting(With no adjustments as to sharpness, contrast etc.)! I mean even at iso100 my pictures look..too soft, airbrushed looking SLIGHTLY. In camera somewhat aggressive Noise reduction is that one exception I listed in the title.

Living with his camera for a while it is obvious Olympus chose to use too much noise reduction at ALL isos!.But,the overall output in most cases is almost amazing for a camera in this class. There is just a bit of slight softness especially on skin especially now and then it seems. If I shoot raw..then take off, or lower the noise reduction, finally the pictures become MUCH more sharp. As you raise the iso..Olympus uses more and more noise reduction to it’s jpegs as all manufacturers will do. Not uncommon, but now I find I’m almost always shooting in jpeg PLUS raw just to have the option to do away with so much UNNEEDED noise reduction which will cause smudging/smearing as iso rises above 200iso..some even at iso100. One may not notice this as much or AT all if you are shooting general scenery out doors. It’s more noticeable I find on portrait work.

You can check out the Comparometer at Imaging resource. Instead of just my OPINION,

I replaced the . with a DOT so hopefully the link does not get deleted..

[...]

Put the XZ-1 on one side..put an S95/ TL500, LX5 or a G12 etc on the other. Check different ISOS and see if you don’t agree the XZ-1 starts losing too much detail vs the other cameras 200iso and above. You will notice it most easily on the clothing, the threads become blurred vs most of the competition. Even the wall paint becomes much more blurred vs most of the other cameras DUE to noise reduction..

However overall the jpegs from the XZ-1 are generally REALLY good with great looking color and the detail is not that bad, actually GOOD..but COULD be so much better with lower aggressive noise reduction..that’s all I’m saying.

Using raw..there is a ton of GOOD detail and not much noise in fairly good light till you get to about 400/500iso…if you want the VERY best out of this XZ-1

Vs my LX5 the LX5 almost always has more detail AND noise, but most of the LX5’s jpegs look sharper at same iso. HOWEVER OVERALL, the pics from the XZ-1 just LOOK WAY WAY better as to the WHOLE picture, dynamic range, IQ, almost no lens distortion, GREAT corner to corner sharpness, lack of purple fringing…nice rather accurate color overall..it beats the LX5 and my S90 that I owned.

Bokeh (Blurred background) is amazing on this camera if that’s important to you. I never knew a camera with a small sensor (compared to a full sized or micro four’s sensor) could give you so much depth of field with that great blurred background.

The battery life is above average.
Video: I didn’t do much video recording but what I did record looked VERY good.

In summary in my opinion, At default picture JPEG setting vs an LX5, S95, or even the TL-500, I am finding the XZ-1 to be best in class (Except again..stronger overall noise reduction than all the others.)
Each camera though in this category seems to have some strong points, some weaknesses.

Use raw on the XZ-1 this camera looks REALLY really good and on balance, JUST may really be the best of the crop here. Jpegs DO look VERY good too..just you will see night and day sharpness if you chose to shoot raw and take OFF the noise reduction, when you want that extra detail. Noise reduction can not be changed IN camera.

Since owning and using this camera A LOT now..I feel confident in saying it’s probably the best camera in this 10meg smallish pocketable category. I like this camera so much now I bumped it up to 5 stars from it’s initial 4 star rating I gave it. If Olympus can include IN camera noise reduction adjustment, perhaps in a future firmware update this camera has no competition in this category in my opinion!

Canon SX210 IS Review

June 5, 2011

Update 5/31/2011 You may want to consider the new SX230. It has a FASTER CMOS chip which will give you better low light picture quality. This was my biggest complaint with the SX210is.

Update: 7-19-2010 The video that I posted today is to answer questions about the camera’s CYCLE rate. It is not an overall camera review but a demonstration of how long it takes the shutter to fire and a demonstration of the “wicked fast” continuous mode. I posted the continuous mode photos on my Google Picasa account which can be viewed by going to my Amazon profile page.

I am a professional MOTION picture camera assistant and an advanced hobby photographer. I own a Nikon D90 and several other compact cameras. There are times that I wanted to bring a decent camera but didn’t want to haul my SLR kit around with me. I have always felt like I had to make a big compromise until now. This camera captures amazing images for such a compact device. If wanted it also allows for full control of all aspects of your shots including ASA, shutter time and aperture. The HD video it captures is fantastic and it does this without the need to hand focus like my D90.

The first thing that you will notice when you get the camera is that it is very SMALL. It is the size camera you can put in a belt case and forget you have it with you.

Controls – I am use to more direct access to the controls but anyone who is familiar with SLR photography can easily navigate the controls without a manual. Amateurs or those unfamiliar with SLR CONTROLS have two great options, Auto or EZ mode. You can put this camera into the hands of an inexperienced photographer and if they can compose a shot, and have fundamental consideration of lighting, they can get technically great pictures.

Colors are ACCURATE with excellent black detail for this price range camera. This camera achieves a level of image quality that was available only from professional SLR cameras a few years ago.

Once you turn on the camera, you are going to be IMPRESSED with the wide end of this cameras lens. For vista shots, it does not show wide lens distortion. For close wide shots, it does show an acceptable amount distortion that is fun to shoot with. When I took this camera on a family trip, I was easily able to hold the camera myself and get all 4 of us in the shot. The only issue that I have with this wide mode is that it will not fully translate in a standard 4X6 print. You will loose the sides of the pictures when you print. I hope that the 16X9 HD ratio will become a standard for future photo prints. Of course you can set the camera to shoot a standard 4X6 print

The long end of the zoom is equally amazing. The image STABILIZATION seems as good as Nikon’s VR system.

The SX210is focuses almost as quickly as my SLR Nikon D90 in still mode.

Contunuous Mode- The camera can record 2 FPS in continuous mode. It is a lot of fun to record action sequences or take a series of photos if you have the need to grab a lot of shots in a short time. I posted a few series of shots on my Google Picasa site that can be viewed through my profile page, or paste:

[...]

Movie Mode – The camera really SHINES in video mode, it focuses quickly and tracks action well. This Canon camera can continuously focus the image rather than having to press the button halfway to activate focus.

In video mode, the exposure shifts in steps rather than gradual transitions. In other words, the exposure could be good for a particular scene and as it transitions to a different lighting scenario the exposure clicks to the proper exposure. Dedicated video cameras transition more SMOOTHLY between different lighting conditions than still camera shooting in video mode.

It shoots 720p movies that rival a dedicated video camera. The optical 14X zoom is amazing. This camera could take the place of a stand-alone video camera for many people. The audio quality is good but NOT fantastic. You can notice the steady shot while shooting videos. It works well until you get to long end of the lens where you will notice that the image jumps around when you try to hold a steady frame. In reality, you would never want to shoot zoomed in all the way.

Con’s- I’m getting picky here but you should know…

I would have liked a VIEWFINDER. Shooting in bright sunlight can be difficult with the LCD screen. I also find that resting the camera against your head helps steady shots.

I wasn’t really crazy about the exposed LCD screen. The screen is made of GLASS rather than plastic, which is nice. If placed LCD side down it does not rest flat on the screen. It instead rests on the mode rotary dial and the opposite corner of the camera. I wish manufactures would engineer a slightly raised screen bezel to prevent scratches to the screen.

I think it could have been better if the microphones were in front of, rather than on top of the camera. There isn’t enough separation between microphones to realize stereo sound capabilities. The microphone is very SUSCEPTIBLE to wind noise.

Low light mode is still slightly noisy compared to the D90. Don’t expect a miracle low light camera and you won’t be disappointed. Still it is a lot BETTER than other compact cameras. Please see the low light photo I posted.

The pop-up flash for the camera is positioned where your left index finger would typically grip the camera. I keep forgetting to relocate my fingers when I turn on the camera. It works well for ILLUMINATING snapshots. I have found that it is a bit inconsistent. Sometimes it gracefully lights shots and other times it performs as a typical compact camera flash.

Conclusion:
I really love the camera and would purchase it again if I manage to destroy it or loose it. The zoom range is AMAZING and very useful. The color this camera captures is realistic and detailed. It is compact, easy to use and fun to shoot. It is not equal to a quality SLR camera but is clearly better than all of the compact camera’s I have used. My impression is it’s in-between quality in a compact body. It definitely sets a new standard.

If you have any questions or want other information that will help improve this REVIEW, please leave a comment. I’d be happy to repost any improvements.

My review is intended to give a overall consumer IMPRESSION of this amazing little camera. I could have gone on for pages and there are plenty of professional reviews on the internet if you want to find out very specific information.

Don’t forget to order a CASE or SD card when you order this camera as it comes with neither.

SD CARDS
I tried SD cards that ranged from a class 2 Panasonic to a class 10 SanDisk 30MB/s. It didn’t make a lot of difference in the cycle rate the camera was able to shoot at.

I have 4 Transcend 8 Gig Class 10 cards that I primarily use with this camera. 10 Mbs write 16Mbs read. I would recommend them because they are a good value and download at a reasonably fast pace. If you decide to the card in the future for another application (like a video camera) you won’t be stuck with a slow card that is obsolete.

BATTERIES
If you get a spare battery get the OEM Canon Battery. I was tempted to save and bought the Lenmar replacement battery. I would suggest you save your money. After the first few cycles it would read full on the camera’s battery indicator but not be able to power the camera.

CASES
The Canon PSC-3100 PowerShot Case for Canon SX200IS Digital Cameras is really too large for this camera. See the posted pictures on Amazon’s consumer photos. I went to an electronics store and tried all of the cases. I liked the Lowepro D-Pods 20 best. Amazon sells it for $9.23 and it’s Amazon Prime too. This case is snug fitting and offers spare battery and card storage. I posted some snapshots and a video.

Avoid the temptation to put a compact camera unprotected in a jacket pocket. The dust and dirt contained within can work itself into the camera and optics. There is no easy way to address this.

I posted a video review there also.

Lowepro D-Pods 20 Camera Case (Black)

Lowepro D-Pods 20 Camera Case (Black)

Some sample photos are at my Picasa account that can be found in my profile page.

Nikon D3100 Review

June 3, 2011

For the COST of this camera, I don’t think you can get anything better. The low light performance is off the charts. As a wedding photographer I regularly shoot with Nikon’s high end professional equipment and I was amazed how close this camera is to a pro camera. Now let me get specific. In order to compare I took a look at 100% files out of each camera I own.

Which camera excels NIKON D3100($Cheap) VS. D300($1600) VS. D700 ($2,700):
* Lens = The D3100 is the only camera that comes with a lens at it’s normal price
* ISO Performance = Tie between D3100 and D700! (It could be Nikon’s new processing but the JPEG looks fantastic I was shooting D3100 on 6400iso with very little noise at all)
* Low Light Focusing = D700
* Focus Speed = D700
* External Buttons & Controls for Pros = D700
* Menu Navigation = D3100
* Ease of Use = D3100
* Megapixel = D3100 (14.2)
* Sensor size = D700 (Much more important than megapixels but I won’t get into this)
* Can use older lenses with functionality = D700 & D300
* Video = D3100 of course! 1080P video looks amazing.
* Frame Rate = D300 at 6 photos a second
* Weight = D3100 (light as a feather)
* Ergonomics = D700 (big enough for all my finger)

Lens:
The lens is a kit lens, it will work OUTSIDE but not so great in low light. The Vibration Reduction will help indoors but Vibration Reduction can’t stop a child or pet in motion indoors. Consider buying a 35mm 1.8dx AFS for around $200 and you will be super happy with this camera.

Video:
I purchased the 3100 specifically to SHOOT video, so I put on Nikon’s brand new 85mm 1.4g Nano lens and shot video with it. The lens costs more than double the camera but I wanted to see how the 1080P video looked. It has the look of a cinematic movie. After the 85mm, I put on Nikon’s 50 1.2 manual focus lens and was able to take very cinematic video in manual mode. In order to make it brighter or darker you either need to use a really old lens like the 50mm 1.2 and hit the AE-L (auto exposure lock) and twist the aperture to change exposure. Or you can hit the AE-L button when you get the exposure you like. Its not a perfect system but it works well for me. Inside the menu options you can change the AE-L button to hold the setting until you reset which is helpful.

Jello Cam (What’s not so great):
This camera still suffers from the “Jello Cam” look in video if it is not on a tripod and you are SHAKY. The video can look like jello if moved too quickly. Use a monopod or tripod when shooting to avoid this. I’m not sure if a faster video frame rate 60fps would help – but at 24 and 30 it can suffer badly.

Conclusion:
This is an amazing DEAL! Unless you make most of your income from photography or have a stockpile of old lenses (this camera can only autofocus with AFS lenses) then this camera is the must have camera of the year. If you have good composition skills and an eye for light you can take photos worthy of a magazine with this. Seriously, you won’t regret buying this camera. When you do, do yourself a favor and buy an additional Nikon AFS lens that has a maximum aperture of 2.8, 1.8 or 1.4. These lenses will take better portraits and deal better in low light than the kit lens.

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Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX5V Review

June 2, 2011

I’m COMPARING this camera to my most recent camera: Canon SD1000 and Sony TX1. I’m just a casual photographer. The most surprising thing about this camera is the weight. If you’ve owned some high end Sony or Canon PowerShot cameras then holding this camera doesn’t “feel” normal, it’s way too light for it’s size…but that’s a good thing….sort of. They achieve this weight reduction by using plastic for many of the body parts (the SD1000 and TX1 are mostly, if not all metal). The back is definitely plastic, I’m not quite sure about the front. The mode dial (although very welcome) feels cheap.

That’s about it for the bad news. The good news is the GPS LOCKS FAST out of the box and the picture quality is very good, on par with 10-12 mega-pixel cameras. The Sony “extra” features such as panorama and 1080 HD video work as advertised and add value to the Sony versus the only current competitor (with GPS and a mega-zoom) the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 which has not been released yet. You can compare images between the two cameras on the Imaging Resource site as well as some others.

I’m was going to PURCHASE both this camera and the Panasonic to see which one I liked better, however I’m going to be keeping the Sony. I’m very happy with the ease of use, picture quality and the Sony extra features (such as panorama).

For a case, I’m using the Case Logic TBC302. It fits the camera perfectly with barely enough room in the front pocket to hold a spare battery. The Case Logic TBC303 is much LARGER but not too useful, for example you can’t put the battery charger with the camera. It could hold some credit cards or papers, though.

Update: Software
I usually NEVER install the included software because it’s so bloated or just not very good to use. However, the Sony PMB (which is on a CDROM or on the internal camera memory when plugged into your computer) is VERY good. Good in that it’s not bloated and it just works. You can do everything you expect such as organize and edit your photos or even update/assign GPS data. Also you can download updated GPS data (which helps the camera lock to GPS faster). I would dare say the software is nicer than Picasa or iPhoto due to the speed and built in GPS features. Some other things you can do but I have not tried yet: you can burn a video DVD (either a normal DVD or a AVCHD DVD with 1080i quality, but you need a PS3 or compatible player to watch those).

Update: GPS
I’m happy to report the GPS function works very well. I took a drive while snapping pictures as a test and then examined the recorded LOCATIONS. The location was being actively updated because it was able to differentiate my position between shots taken seconds apart going about 40 MPH. Very pleased.

Update: Picture Quality
On closer inspection, the picture quality is a bit soft..I wish I could have the camera automatically adjust the SHARPENING inside the camera (make it more sharp) but this is not a big deal as the PMB software has easy edit controls. You can also manually unsharp after you take the photograph. The low light performance is remarkable, especially the low-light modes that actively combine multiple images (hand-held twilight and back-light HDR modes do this). As long as you’re steady and you’re not shooting a moving subject you can get some pretty remarkable, low-noise images at night.

Other final comment: when you turn the camera off, there is a slight delay (fraction of a second) before the lens retracts. Not really an issue but just something I’m not used to with my previous cameras and something I just noticed as I’m usually taking quick impromptu photos, on..photo…off. The interface, although totally functional, is not as “refined” as on my Sony TX1 (with touch screen), the LCD resolution is noticeably LOWERbut, again, totally functional.

The mode dial is still BUGGING me, I feel it’s the first thing on this camera that will go…But only time will tell.

MORE SPEC DETAIL

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Flip Ultra HD Review

June 2, 2011

This review is very similar to the review that I gave for the Flip Slid HD when it first came out. (Please see that review also…)

I have been a Flip camera user since they released the first gen. Flip Mino HD (not the new metallic model). I LOVED the camera. For what I needed it for it was everything I wanted. I soon became addicted to the FLIP CAMERAS and needed to purchase the NEWEST one every time they came out.

I currently own the Flip Mino HD (1st gen) FLIP ULTRA HD (2nd Gen) Flip Slide HD, and now the Flip Ultra HD (3rd Gen with Flip Port). I also OWN a Canon GL2 and Vixia 30 video cameras and a Canon Xi digital SLR.

I got home from school on Tuesday and found my brand new Flip Ultra HD WAITING for me. I had about 20 minutes to open the package, look and set up the features (time, date, etc.) before I had to leave for marching band rehearsal. During rehearsal I did some TEST shooting and I was very impressed with the quality of this camera, but I was WORRIED about a few features.

I was reluctant at first to purchase this camera because of the 60fps feature. I did own a Kodak Zi8 and the 720p 60fps setting didn’t not import into Final Cut Pro. I had to take it into compressor or some other software and change the file extension in order for Final Cut Pro to import it. Of course this causes a DECREASE in quality.

I was also reluctant because of the image STABILIZATION feature. When image stabilization is added to a camera (of this size) video quality usually suffers. I know flips can be very shaky if you do not have a well trained hand. After a few hours a playing you will figure out the right movements that the camera can incorporate so your video will not come out shaky.

I don’t use my Flip Slide HD because of the omni directional microphone. I can not record loud situations because the microphone distorts. This is my BIGGEST fault with the Slide HD. I was a little concerned with the new Flip Ultra HD that it would have the same problem even though it uses a different microphone, but what really sold me on this new Flip was the accessories and the FLIP PORT.

Right off the bat I noticed all of the new accessories that they are pushing for the Flips, the aquapacks, the igo chargers, and my favorite is the magnetic Bower Wide Angel Lens. Flip and Cisco have finally started listening to its customers, but what put it over the top for me was BLUE Microphones. Blue Microphones makes vintage and out of this world recording, studio, usb microphones. I own one of their USB Microphones called the Snow Ball and the quality of that microphone is amazing. When I found out that Blue Microphones was making a microphone (mikey) for the new Flip to be used with the new Flip Port, I purchased mine right away.

So the Review…

The Ultra HD has always been my FAVORITE because of its size. I think the bigger it is the better control you will have and the less shaky video you will produce. The new Ultra HD is smaller, but not that much. It feels good in your hands. The controls and the screen are in the same place. It is a nice fit in your hand.

I was very shocked at how well the image stabilization worked. If you have used a flip before this one you know that the SLIGHTEST movement will create shaky video. You can tell that this one has image stabilization. It still can produce shaky video but it might take a big jolt to do it.

The 60 fps was GREAT. It was much clearer video and with the image stabilization it made everything much smoother and clearer in the view finder, even in low light situations. I did check when I got home and the 60fps does import right into Final Cut Pro for editing without any compression. (Probably cause the videos are in MP4 format)

Overall I think this is the BEST Flip Camera out on the market. I like this one better than the Mino because of the touch screen controls. Sometimes pressing the touch screen controls on the Mino will cause the camera to shake.

I hope this review was helpful. Please feel FREE to leave comments or questions.

See my COMPARISON of my Flip Cameras below.

Flip Mino HD – Good Microphone (2nd out of all of them), doesn’t have as WIDE as a shooting angle as the Ultra’s. Very small in the hand, at times hard to control.

Flip Ultra HD (2nd Gen) – Good Microphone (3rd out of all of them) Wide Angle for shooting, Feels good in the hand, sturdy, wont break if dropped. DOUBLE A batteries only last a few hours, rechargeable battery pack has short life span. Unit can get hot when charging – may even shut down.

Flip Slide HD – Poor Microphone (in LOUD situations) – its omni directional so it picks up all around the Flip not just in the front like the others. (4th out of all of them) Touch controls are better than the Flip Mino, however this has no hard buttons. The Slide does have the largest storage capacity and is second in video quality only to the new Flip Ultra HD.

Flip Ultra HD (3rd Gen Flip Port) – Widest Angle for shooting, feels the best in the hand, has the Best Microphone and currently I believe has the best video QUALITY. This also is the only unit that has the new Flip Port.

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Canon Powershot a3000is Review

May 30, 2011

For serious photography, I prefer a big, heavy digital SLR. But where my goal is not photography but I want a camera along for snapshots, I use this.

I expected to buy a Lumix LX-series or Canon S95 – both attempts to match the capabilities of a SLR as much as possible in an easily-pocketable camera. But as I kept reading the reviews I got more confused, until I remembered the basic laws of physics haven’t been repealed.

To roughly summarize the camera review sites, all major-brand subcompacts do a good job in bright light. The differentiators are low light, flash, performance, and manual control. And when you read carefully, you realize there’s not a lot of practical difference here either. But there’s no way to compare them without exaggerating the differences, which makes them sound more significant than they really are.

LOW LIGHT
In low light, digital cameras increase the ISO, which means the weak signal coming from the sensor is amplified. This also amplifies noise, which causes an overall grainy look and, in dark areas, colored confetti. I don’t expect any camera to work well in low light; this goes for pro-level DSLRs and film cameras as well. So paying extra for a camera that’s really bad in low light rather than terrible doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s a lot like choosing sunglasses based on their performance in dim light, or a screwdriver for its ability to drive a nail.

FLASH
For flash, a commercial photographer typically uses a power pack that may draw 15 amps AC and power multiple heads which range in size from 4″ diameter to over 36″. Subcompact cameras have ridiculously small batteries and tiny flash tubes (typically under 0.2 sq inches) located at the worst possible place: near the lens. It amazes me that any of them work as well as they do. Do I really care that one extends to 13 feet and another only 11.75? There have been times where I’d wished for a more powerful flash, but I’m thinking an extra 30 feet; I wouldn’t notice an extra 2 or 3.

The A3000 flash will synch any ordinary slave flash if you turn off the red-eye feature in the camera. It won’t meter it, however, so it’s easy to wash out the picture. I believe this is true for all Canon subcompacts.

PERFORMANCE
When prefocused, picture-to-picture processing time is barely noticeable — less than half a second. When you include focusing time, less than 2.5 seconds. It’s faster with the continuous shot option, which does not refocus between exposures. This is respectable, and more than enough for my needs. To keep up with a very active child or pet, you might want faster performance. Tested with 4 GB Lexar Platinum II 9MB/sec SDHC.

MANUAL CONTROL
I use manual control on my SLR most of the time. I had it on my last two subcompacts, and seldom used it. The A3000 doesn’t have it. The only time I missed it was using slave flash. If I’m out with the family, I don’t want to be thinking like a photographer, so the camera will probably make better decisions. And manual control is less convenient on a subcompact because of the ergonomic compromises necessary for such a small camera. Nice to have, but as processors get smarter, less important.

MEGAPIXELS
The best professional color printers print 90,000 dots per square inch. That means it takes 4 x 6 x 90,000 = 2.2 megapixels for a 4 x 6 print. 5 x 7 = 3.2 megapixels. 8 x 10 = 7.2 megapixels. Higher megapixels increase image file size and shot-to-shot delay (while the camera compresses the image and writes it out to the card). The only advantage to “higher resolution” than that required for your final print: you can crop the picture a bit without losing any picture quality. The A3000 is 10 meg; if they had a 6 meg version, it would be a better camera. Canon knows this; they also know megapixels are a lot easier to sell.

SENSOR SIZE
Bigger is better, but more important than sensor size is pixel size – the larger the pixels the higher the dynamic range, which means more detail in very bright and very dark areas. It usually means better low-light performance and less noise because of other engineering choices available because of the larger pixels.

The difference in sensor size between this and some of the more expensive small cameras (S95) seems significant until you put it into perspective. The pixel size of a Canon S95 is 6% that of a 12-meg professional DSLR (FX format). A3000 is 4%. Given the dynamic range and low-light performance of a pro DSLR isn’t that great, I don’t see any reason to pay a premium for 6% vs 4%.

CONCLUSION
My ideal small camera – pocketable, usably large viewfinder (I can accept a smaller LCD), 5-6 megapixels, manual control, image stabilization (small cameras are hard to hold steady), not cluttered with silly features – is no longer made. If a camera manufacturer wants me to spend more, they’re going to have to come closer to that; more megapixels won’t do it.

Until then, I’m OK with the A3000. Pictures are excellent for a subcompact. Flash even in a big room is more than acceptable for on-camera flash, focus is quick and remarkably adept at identifying the right subject, image stabilization works as well as I’d hoped. Controls are well laid out and intuitive. LCD is bright and clear, even outdoors. The shutter release could be more prominent, and I may attach a thin rubber disk to make it easier to find by feel.

The A3000 doesn’t looking expensive, so subjects tend to ignore it. And I’m more likely to take it along because it if gets damaged or lost, or encounters the uneconomical-to-repair “lens error” that seems to afflict all brands, it’s not a big deal. Manual is pdf file on disk, also available on-line. Camera made in Malaysia. 1-year limited warranty.

For serious photography, I prefer a big, heavy digital SLR. But where my goal is not photography but I want a camera along for snapshots, I use this.

I expected to buy a Lumix LX-series or Canon S95 – both attempts to match the capabilities of a SLR as much as possible in an easily-pocketable camera. But as I kept reading the reviews I got more confused, until I remembered the basic laws of physics haven’t been repealed.

To roughly summarize the camera review sites, all major-brand subcompacts do a good job in bright light. The differentiators are low light, flash, performance, and manual control. And when you read carefully, you realize there’s not a lot of practical difference here either. But there’s no way to compare them without exaggerating the differences, which makes them sound more significant than they really are.

LOW LIGHT
In low light, digital cameras increase the ISO, which means the weak signal coming from the sensor is amplified. This also amplifies noise, which causes an overall grainy look and, in dark areas, colored confetti. I don’t expect any camera to work well in low light; this goes for pro-level DSLRs and film cameras as well. So paying extra for a camera that’s really bad in low light rather than terrible doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s a lot like choosing sunglasses based on their performance in dim light, or a screwdriver for its ability to drive a nail.

FLASH
For flash, a commercial photographer typically uses a power pack that may draw 15 amps AC and power multiple heads which range in size from 4″ diameter to over 36″. Subcompact cameras have ridiculously small batteries and tiny flash tubes (typically under 0.2 sq inches) located at the worst possible place: near the lens. It amazes me that any of them work as well as they do. Do I really care that one extends to 13 feet and another only 11.75? There have been times where I’d wished for a more powerful flash, but I’m thinking an extra 30 feet; I wouldn’t notice an extra 2 or 3.

The A3000 flash will synch any ordinary slave flash if you turn off the red-eye feature in the camera. It won’t meter it, however, so it’s easy to wash out the picture. I believe this is true for all Canon subcompacts.

PERFORMANCE
When prefocused, picture-to-picture processing time is barely noticeable — less than half a second. When you include focusing time, less than 2.5 seconds. It’s faster with the continuous shot option, which does not refocus between exposures. This is respectable, and more than enough for my needs. To keep up with a very active child or pet, you might want faster performance. Tested with 4 GB Lexar Platinum II 9MB/sec SDHC.

MANUAL CONTROL
I use manual control on my SLR most of the time. I had it on my last two subcompacts, and seldom used it. The A3000 doesn’t have it. The only time I missed it was using slave flash. If I’m out with the family, I don’t want to be thinking like a photographer, so the camera will probably make better decisions. And manual control is less convenient on a subcompact because of the ergonomic compromises necessary for such a small camera. Nice to have, but as processors get smarter, less important.

MEGAPIXELS
The best professional color printers print 90,000 dots per square inch. That means it takes 4 x 6 x 90,000 = 2.2 megapixels for a 4 x 6 print. 5 x 7 = 3.2 megapixels. 8 x 10 = 7.2 megapixels. Higher megapixels increase image file size and shot-to-shot delay (while the camera compresses the image and writes it out to the card). The only advantage to “higher resolution” than that required for your final print: you can crop the picture a bit without losing any picture quality. The A3000 is 10 meg; if they had a 6 meg version, it would be a better camera. Canon knows this; they also know megapixels are a lot easier to sell.

SENSOR SIZE
Bigger is better, but more important than sensor size is pixel size – the larger the pixels the higher the dynamic range, which means more detail in very bright and very dark areas. It usually means better low-light performance and less noise because of other engineering choices available because of the larger pixels.

The difference in sensor size between this and some of the more expensive small cameras (S95) seems significant until you put it into perspective. The pixel size of a Canon S95 is 6% that of a 12-meg professional DSLR (FX format). A3000 is 4%. Given the dynamic range and low-light performance of a pro DSLR isn’t that great, I don’t see any reason to pay a premium for 6% vs 4%.

CONCLUSION
My ideal small camera – pocketable, usably large viewfinder (I can accept a smaller LCD), 5-6 megapixels, manual control, image stabilization (small cameras are hard to hold steady), not cluttered with silly features – is no longer made. If a camera manufacturer wants me to spend more, they’re going to have to come closer to that; more megapixels won’t do it.

Until then, I’m OK with the A3000. Pictures are excellent for a subcompact. Flash even in a big room is more than acceptable for on-camera flash, focus is quick and remarkably adept at identifying the right subject, image stabilization works as well as I’d hoped. Controls are well laid out and intuitive. LCD is bright and clear, even outdoors. The shutter release could be more prominent, and I may attach a thin rubber disk to make it easier to find by feel.

The A3000 doesn’t looking expensive, so subjects tend to ignore it. And I’m more likely to take it along because it if gets damaged or lost, or encounters the uneconomical-to-repair “lens error” that seems to afflict all brands, it’s not a big deal. Manual is pdf file on disk, also available on-line. Camera made in Malaysia. 1-year limited warranty.

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Canon S 95 Review

May 27, 2011

If you’re looking for a pocketable camera that has reasonably high quality images, lets you control aperture, speed and focus and shoot in RAW format, this is it. I bought mine as an upgrade from a previous small but versatile camera, a Canon Powershot S70.

The Powershot S95 was introduced in August 2010 as a slight upgrade to the S90, which was widely praised for its image quality and excellent interface but criticized for being hard to hold (“like a bar of soap in the shower”) and for having a control dial that turned too easily. The S95 fixes both problems and adds a couple of other features in a package that fits in the pocket of your jeans (if they’re not super tight). The case is metal, and although there are no finger grips on the body, it’s not slippery at all. It feels like it’s covered with super-fine sandpaper (like 1000 or 1500 grit, for those you who know what that feels like).

The second major complaint about the S-90 was that the function selection ring on the rear moved too easily. The ring on the S-95 has a slight click when you move it, and it doesn’t move unless you want it to.

There are a couple of other cameras of this type, including the Panasonic LX-3 and LX-5 and the Samsung TL500. They all have let you control camera functions, and like the S95 they have 10 MP sensors that are almost twice as large as a typical pocket camera, so the pixels on the sensor are larger. That lets them gather light more efficiently, which reduces digital “noise” when you shoot in dim light. Image quality is noticeably better than photos from typical pocket cameras. You can make an 8 x 10 or perhaps 11×14 enlargement, although a digital SLR will be significantly better for larger prints. They also have f/2.0 lenses at their widest angle, although the aperture closes down as you zoom in.

The Canon has two advantages over the Panasonic LX-3 & LX-5. First, you really can put it in your pocket or in a belt case no bigger than the one you use for a mobile phone. Second, the interface is a brilliant re-thinking of how a very small camera with a full set of controls should work. There’s not much room for buttons on the small surface, but you don’t have to get into a multi-level menu on the LCD, and yet changing settings is fast and intuitive.
For example, there’s a ring around the lens that you can grip easily to control zoom, or, shutter speed, or aperture, change ISO, or manually focus. You select what you want it to do by pressing a button on the top, and when you look at the LCD screen you can see what it’s programmed for. There’s a selection wheel on the back for other functions, and when you move it, a clear set of choices appears on the screen. The selections are context-appropriate, so they change depending on whether you’ve set the camera for aperture control, “Program” control, etc.

The two Panasonics have the same sensor as their Canon equivalents, but they offer a slightly wider lens (24mm vs. 28 for the S95). The LX-3 has a much shorter telephoto – only 60 mm. The LX-5, which was introduced a couple of weeks before the S95, has a 90mm telephoto, and you can buy an add-on optical viewfinder. It also has a flash shoe in addition to the pop-up flash, although you can buy a dedicated add-on flash for the S-95 to supplement its pop-up flash The LX-5 is about 25% more expensive than the Canon S95 (and 60% more with the optional viewfinder) and while it would fit in a coat pocket, you can’t stuff it into a trouser pocket.

If you want a truly pocketable camera that gives you good image quality and full control over your photography, the S95 is an excellent choice.

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