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.

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