Thursday, April 29, 2010

A look at the SX210 Quality

Well we compared the SX210 to some more lofty type competition and found it is not really a replacement for a DSLR.  We also looked at the usability of the SX210 and found that it can be carried and used fairly easily.  There were a few issues pointed out, but none that really affected me (but it is up to the individual).  Now we might as well look at the quality.  Below is my test picture.

This is a good image.  Light quality in the corner is challenging.  Also there are alot of textures and colors.  You can see that overall quality is good.  Overall there is no complaints with this image. Alot of colors, and they all came out good.  The texture in the luggage showed up well as well as that on the couch.  Sharpness was good as well (wording on the books and the fish food).  However, this is small for the file size, and if printed you would get to see much more pixel depth.

So lets look at this a bit closer.  All the pictures below are at 100% magnification (so you see the individual pixels).  I will start with the picture as taken (with flash) so the lighting was at its best.  There will be three pictures.  The first will be from the SD1100 (as a comparison - remember I have always been happy with the quality of this camera) the middle one will be the SX210 at a reduced resolution (9MP mode) and the bottom one will be the full resolution (14MP).  I will get to why I chose to do this.

You can see that the SD1100 does a good job.  It is well saturated and the colors are good.  You can see a little noise in the cushion on the couch, but it is not bad.  This will be our baseline. 

The SX210 at 9MP above looks good as well.  The saturation is not as full as the SD1100.  However, if you like the deeper saturation, that can be set in the options on the SX210 (in the "manual" modes).  Noise is not bad, it is about the same as the SD1100.

The SX210 at 14MP above looks similar in color and saturation to the 9MP picture.  However, more noise is noticed in both the cushion and the blue book.  This is why I wanted to show three different pictures.  One being the SD1100 (8MP), one being the SX210 at 9MP and one the SX210 at the full 14MP. 

What is not determined by this test is the cause of the noise.  Does Canon average pixels, does higher resolutions just show the noise more (more detail means more noise).  And the real question is why do I seem so concerned about noise.  Well, I have found that a large percentage of my pictures are taken in low light situations (kids concerts, plays, ceremonies etc).  As such, noise has always been sort of a focus for me (and I have multiple ways to reduce it) (and I am not that concerned, but I like to understand the limitations of my hardware as with this knowledge, I can get the better pictures).  

Above we have the SX210 at 9MP on the left and 14MP on the right (I left the SD1100 out in the dark test it was slightly less noisy and less sharp than the 9MP image).  Note, if your screen is not wide enough, the 9MP might show above the 14MP.  Both of these were shot in reduced light, no flash (ISO 400).  At higher ISOs the noise starts to really stand out.  In fact one might argue that the noise in the higher resolution picture reduces the effective resolution (the 9MP image looks a bit sharper). 

My complaint here is that 14MP looks really good on a spec sheet.  However, a printed enlargement from a 14MP is not that much larger than a 10MP, but the more pixels on the small sensor make noise a bigger issue.  This might make one of the competing cameras (with slightly less resolution) a little more attractive to some.  If this is a concern of yours, take a memory card into the store, and shoot some pictures and compare the cameras.

Well enough looking at noise.  With a good processing work flow, noise can be cleaned up (with little quality degradation).  The next picture shows the real reason that I picked up the SX210, and the reason that I really like it (and I keep it in my pocket).

Yes, there is a little actually quite a bit more noise in this picture than I would have with the Digital Rebel, but you really need to look at the pixels to seem them.   This is a picture I could never have gotten withoutt Rebel and a long zoom lense (so the SD1100 was not even an option).  Being able to pull a small camera out of my pocket and get a picture of the little guy on second base is what this camera is really about.  Granted, I will still carry the Rebel at times, but now as long as I have the SX210, I can get the picture (and it is still a good quality picture). 

Conclusion -

So what is the point.  If you look closely for noise you will find it (in any image).  However, Canon really tried to stretch the numbers on this camera.  It has the highest zoom with the highest pixel count of any camera in its class.  This camera takes good pictures (look at the entire image on top - and at the pictures I will be posting to this blog in the future).  However, if you are looking at getting one of the extended zooms, I do not know if I would put alot of emphasis on a few MP.  Even a 10MP image can be blown up larger than most people print (and might have less noise). 

At some point, stuffing more pixels on the same size sensor will start to degrade performance (point of diminishing returns).  Looking at the pictures I have above (and others, but I did not want to make this too long), I believe that Canon has crossed into this region of diminishing returns.  Not sure a 10 or 12 MP camera would not return just as nice pictures.

To Canon's credit, they seem not to try and reduce the noise very much (I have seen examples from the site I mentioned in an earlier post of other cameras that apply too much noise reduction, and remove data from the picture).  This is good, as it maitains more data (so we can pull the data out in post processing).   

As far as quality goes, the camera is still a Canon.  As such (as with most of there camera) you get very good pictures.  Though this is listed as an advanced camera, the quality is on par with there PowerShot line.  Though this is not a bad thing, you will have to decide if the camera is worth the extra money.  For less money, you can get similar quality (without the zoom).

For me, getting the long zoom was what I really needed.  On the Rebel, I use the long zoom (at 300mm) most of the time.  Helps me capture the kids on field or stage (even rides at the fair etc).  Having something I can pocket that does this makes it very useful.  You will have to decide if it is worth it to you, or is a less expensive camera (with less zoom) that takes as good of pictures good enough.

As an Appendix, two extra features of the camera (one I love, one I hate).

Continuous mode pictures.  I use this alot to capture our little leagure (or whatever sport).  However though the SX210 has this mode, they might as well have left it off.  It takes more than a second between pictures (so not a couple pictures a second, but a second and a half a picture).  This means the action is moving.  Making matters worse is the fact that the screen goes blank in this mode (so you sort of have to hope your still pointed at it).  Not a mode I will be using (so when I want this, I will have to bring the Rebel).

Movie mode.  I am very happy with this mode.  I normally do not use my camera for movies.  I never really liked the quality (thats what a camcorder is for).  However, the quality of these movies is really good.  Having the zoom work during recording is great (previous Canon camera did not do this).  Some complain they can hear the zoom motor in the recording, I have not really noticed this.  I will say that if in the wind, putting a rag or something on the microphones will help (picks up alot of wind noise without it).  The quailty is great.  I have recorded the little guy batting, so we can check his swing together.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Canon SX219 IS review - general usage

This is the second section of my review, and it deals with general usage.  I will go over things like portability, feature use etc.  The third update will be a more detailed look at performance.  I do not plan on doing a complete performance comparison (my look is more as I use the camera) as those reviews can be found elsewhere (like is a good review - note they did see the same noise issue I brought up in the comparison). 

So as this is my daily camera to catch those unexpected pictures, and allow one to always have the ability to capture the picture.  My previous camera that fit this requirement was the Canon SD1100IS and it made me very happy (the only reason to upgrade was for a longer zoom so I could get some shots that I was not getting with the SD1100IS).   Since the SD1100 made me very happy (except for the zoom), there will be alot of comparisons to that camera here.  In order for this camera to be usable everyday, it has to be something that is easy to carry so that I would carry it every day.

The SD1100 did fit this bill very nicely, and I normally carried it in my left pocket (sometimes in one of my cargo pocets, but I always had it with me).  So lets look at the two side by side:

You can see the SX210 is a bit longer than the SD1100 (it is actually slightly higher and deeper as well, but those differences are much more subtle).  It is also a bit heavier.  Probably the biggest difference is the lense dial sticking out a bit (to get caught on stuff).  However, I could still easily slip this into my shirt pocket (between shots), or carry in my palm (like I often do at a park or other fun spot).  So from that perspective, the SX210 gives up some heft to get the 14X zoom, but still usable.

The next problem is that I do not just put the camera in my pocket.  I like to put it into a case to protect it (scratches or bumps if something hits my pocket).  In addition to just the camera, I always carry a spare battery and memory card (sometimes people accuse me of excessive complusive tendencies)).  I also like a case that fits well enough that the zipper does not rub the camera (don't want to scratch it up).  The first case I tried was too big (it was a Swiss Army case).  Though everything fit well, it would be difficult to carry that load everyday.  Then in Staples, I found a small Case Logic case.  This fit just right.  So lets compare the SX210 inside the case with the SD1100 inside the best case I had found for that.

Now, the differences are not as large.  The SD1100 case I was using is still a little shorter, but also a bit deeper (because the larger outer compartment to hold the battery/memory card).  The nice thing about the Case Logic case is that the outer pocket is flush (and so the camera still slides in and out of the pocket very well). 

I have added one other picture of the camera (who wants to see the camera, we want to see pictures from the camera) inside the case to give you an idea how it all fits.

You can see the memory card and battery are in the front compartment.  When zipped up the zipper actually slides under the flap, so the front is competely flat.  I put the camera in upside down (so the lense is towards us in the picture).  This keeps the lense away from the battery, and keeps the entire case flat.  Note I did add a piece of plastic to the back of the front pocked (to protect the camera).  If you look closely at the camera  pictures you will see a little ding on the front of the lense (this happened before I added the plastic, it seems very secure now). 

So, one problem is solved.  I can carry the SX210 almost as easily as the SD1100.  So I will have it with me when I want to take pictures.  So how about usabiliy once I decide I want to take a picture (not discussing quality, that will be in the final update, just how usable it is). 

From a speed perspective, the SX210 is a little slower than the SD1100.  When turned on, it is ready to take a picture within 3 seconds (closer to 2, but just over).  The SD1100 takes about half a second less.  For most pictures this is not a huge deal (half a second does not mean much to me, normally I have it on already getting ready for the picture).  Both the SX210 and the SD1100 have similar delay after pushing the shutter to snap the picture.  The SD1100 shows the picture taken preview a little quicker than the SX210. 

That is it for the speed advantage for the SD1100.  In setting up the picture, the SX210 far outshines the SD1100 (more than making up for the slight slower responses noted above).  Having a dial on the back to change mode means I can quickly change to a portrait or a landscape shot (night shot etc).  Also the auto mode on the SX210 really works (it does a nice job picking out the scene type it should be using and getting a good photo).  The auto on the SD1100 is more like the easy mode on the SX210 (no settings, it does it all).  I do not particularly like this mode on either camera (and do not seem to get consistent good results with this mode). 

So the SD1100 takes more time to configure than the SX210 (if needed, but more likely if you set it to auto, you will not need to configure anything).  The SX210 also has full manual modes (something I like as I am used to using the Digital Rebel).  So if you want to use a slow shutter (to blur moving water etc), you just set it that way.  The SD1100 (like many compact cameras) does not have this capability (as compacts are supposed to be point and shoots, and this capability is deemed not necessary). 

There are two quirks on the SX210 that you will have to get around (as far as usability).  First is the LCD screen is wide screen, but pictures are not (except for in movie mode).  So the screen is fully used in movie mode, but only the middle of the screen is used when taking pictures (there are some indicators in the black bars on the sides).  This seems to bother some people, but honestly I did not even notice it (until I read it in another review).

The second quirk is the flash pops up everytime you turn on the camera.  You can push it down, but it pops up at startup even if not needed.  Actually the weird location of the flash causes me to have my finger on it (not tight) when I turn it on.  I feel it push a little, then it closes (my finger pushes it down).  Then if I want the flash, I have to manually pull it up.  Its a bit weird, and this bothered me at first, but now I barely notice it now.  Both of these issues might turn you off (and affect actually usability), so its something to consider.

The final usability issue is the strap that came with the camera.  I do not like it (it is too big, and there is no slide to get it tight around the wrist).  If I am carrying the camera in my palm (as brought up above), I feel that if I drop it, the strap will just slide off and offer no protection.  My work around was to take the strap off of the SD1100 (nice smaller strap, and it had a little pry tool (to open the side) which could be slid up to make it tight on the wrist (excessive compulsive again? not sure).

Next update will be some pictures and a discussion on quality.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Some Pictures from Virginia

While I am working on the review of the SX210, I figured I would put up some pictures I took while in Virginia (using the SD1100).  The first is just a covered bridge which is not far from our station in Mt. Jackson.  It is interesting in that it only has one lane (so you have to stop and look through it).  There is a little parking area off to one side (the bridge probably generates enough interest - hey we stopped).

I found this bridge interesting as it is a bridge in more than 2 aspects.  First it is a bridge over a small stream for traffic to flow.  The second is it is almost a bridge back to what this area is about.  There is alot of old farm land there.  However, on one side of the bridge, there is also 3 larger satellite uplink sites, an industrial park etc.  The bridge is not really all that practical (the road is 2 lanes, the bridge 1, and there are no stop signs etc), but it does add a bit of the past to it.

We also stopped at my parents house.  They just moved into the place, and one item of interest is a fountain in the back yard.  Not sure how long for the world it is, but it made an intersesting picture.  I find the fountain interesting as it was really created as the central piece to the backyard.  If you look at the rest of the picture (and trust me, the area outside of the picture matches the rest), it really seems out of place.  However, that out of placeness also makes it interesting.  It would probably be nice to see it running once before it is torn down.

It looks like it has seen better days (could use a coat of paint etc).  However, upon doing this, I figured I would give my infrared setup a try.  Note the picture below looks a little different as I am processing it differently, but I think this shows some more promise.  The light swatch in the middle that was seen in the SD1100 messes it up a bit (so I can not get it as I want easily (see a previous post going through infrared -  as a note initial testing shows that the SX210 does not have this issue, so those pictures should work out better). 

The light spot (which actually has a little blue in it) sort of makes it impossible to get the image right, though I think this method (not converting to BW, but changing the value of the sliders) does have more possibilities (I like the potential false color) in the future.  I needed to leave an overall blue tone in order for the spot in the middle not to show up (I could have converted to BW at this point, but we will see where the SX210 takes this).  The picture below is processed the old way (convert to BW, use sliders to remove the spot in the middle.

Obviously this is not the best subject (grass comes up white, but prefer to get trees with big leaves as they come up better than pine trees).  Also, had the fountain been running, the water would have given a good response.  Figured I would just throw it out there.  The fountain is an interesting subject, and as we get more into spring, I am more ready to play with the infrared some more.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Canon SX210 Review and DSLR Comparison

Well I picked up a new Canon SX210.  I have put sometime into taking some pictures and getting used to it, and have some comments.  I am not going to go through specs and numbers (those are available in a myriad of other locations), but provide my feedback on the usage and quality.

This review will be split into a few different sections.  As 2 posts ago, I questioned whether as someone who tries to be a hobby photographer, I should look for a 1 camera solution, or maintain 2 cameras (a small one to carry around and a DSLR for getting special pictures).  Though I felt I should stay with the 2 camera solution, seems the voting public was leaning towards the single camera solution).  So to close out on this topic, my first section of the review will be a comparison.  I will compare output quality of the SX210 with my Digital Reble XTi and my SD1100 (my previous daily camera).  

For quality, I took some pictures our youngest baseball player with the three cameras.  All pictures were taken using the portrait settings on the camera with the flash on as a fill flash.  There were no adjustments performed in photoshop (no sharpening etc, these are as they came out of the camera).  I really wanted to use the camera in there most auto mode, so the pictures would come if anyone else had taken them.  Here they are below. 

This picture is from the Digital Reble XTi.  Notice the nicer "boca" (blurring of the background - it is more prevelant in a full size photo or the blow up below).

This is the new SX210.  It is a bit brighter.  The background is sharper, and the colors not quite as good (the hat is more muted and some contrast lost).

This is from the SD1100.  You can see that the flash was not as powerful (all pictures used fill flash to cut the shadows).

Granted the above pictures are small (blow ups are below), but all three cameras seem quite capable.  As expected, the Rebel provides the boca (background blurring) that you would look for in a portrait like this (who wants to draw attention to the trees).  However, this is expected.  The bigger sensor means that for a given apeture, the focus depth (the distance of the photo that is in focus) is smaller.  Obviously, if you are looking for sharpness thoroughout a larger portion of the frame, the smaller sensor is for you.

There is also a difference in overall tone for the images.  The Rebel is more muted.  The colors are full, but not as punchy.  To see this, look at the background, the hat and the shirt. The next set of pictures are blow ups of the face from the pictures above.

The above is from the Digital Rebel XTi.

The above is from the SX210

The above is from the SD1100

The blow ups of the face start showing some more of the differences.  First the boca in the Rebel starts to stand out (as stated above).    Secondly, the contrast and colors look a bit better in the Rebel.  This is mostly evident in the hat and the shirt. 

Finally, you can see a bit of a noise difference between the Rebel and the other two.  He might look a little more pasty in the picture from the Rebel, but that is more realistic (hey its spring, he has not been out much yet).  In the other two, a little noise shows up.  In order to demonstrate this a little better, one more set of images is in order.  These are blown up to 100% so the size of the image below is as it is out of the camera.  This is the area under his right eye along the same mark on all the pictures.  Note, as the size of the files is different (10MP for the Rebel, 14MP for the SX and 8MP for the SD), the size of the skin taken is different.

The image on the left is from the Rebel, the one in the middle from the SX, the one on the right from the SD.  As these are all 100% blow ups, we are seeing each picture pixel for pixel.  Here you can see that the SX has more noise than the Rebel (though maybe not as much as the SD). 

Obviously 14MP is alot and will allow for printouts as large as 10X14 at 300dpi (without any editing).  Obviously, this could be even larger if the resolution were lowered (many people print at 200dpi with no noticable loss in quality) or the size enlarged.  However, this leads one to ask when enough is enough.  A smaller sensor would probably still have given the sizes that we need (note, that I print large often, and 10MP from the Rebel has been fine for me).  Had canon reduced the number of pixels they could have probably also reduced the noise a bit.  If this is important to you, you might want to consider a slightly lower pixel count in future purchases (I do not have others for comparison, but as of today, the Canon is the highest pixel count of the pocketable super zooms).

So what is the point of this review.  Of course the Rebel takes better pictures than the SX210.  It is quite a bit more money, larger to carry etc.  I do not think I needed to write this to convince people of that.  However, what I did want to show is that the SX210 is closer to the SD1100 in quality than it is to the Digital Rebel.  Though the SX takes better (and bigger) pictures (with more zoom that allow you to stand further away) than the SD, in the end, it has alot more in common with the SD than the Rebel.  For me, this answers the original question as I suspected.  Even with a higher end pocketable camera like the SX210, for the real special pictures, stepping up to a DSLR (if possible) is appropriate. 

This does not mean that I am unhappy with the SX210.  I still think it is important to have a good quality camera that can be carried around daily.  The SX210 does fit this bill.  In the next posting, I will go over some of these details (ease of carrying, and a bit more on the funcionality and quality).