Friday, May 20, 2011

BestBuy is the Best

They let me do it (even though it was extra work for them).  They had to pull the SX230 off the display, so I could put my own memory card in it.  They did this, let me take a few pictures (while I took duplicate pictures with the SX210).  This allowed me to get some reasonable comparison (no outdoor photos, but what I got was enough for me as low light was really my focus). 

Now keep in mind that the resolution on the new camera is actually a little less than the older one (12MP vs 14MP).  When I originally wrote up the SX210, I thought 10MP would be on the high end (the Canon PowerShot G series has both a bigger sensor, and 10MP, and it gets really nice pictures, squeezing more pixels onto a smaller sensor seemed like a chore and likely to increase noise). 

The 230 uses the standard Canon Digic sensor, where the 210 was a break away for Canon and used a CCD (actually I was not aware of that initally).  Canon really spec'd out the 230 to be better in low light than the 210 (and needed the processing of the Digic sensor to do that).  All these pictures were taken with similar settings (and either mostly auto, or for the last one, I specified ISO 800).  Click the pictures to get a bigger view.

Lets start off by looking at a full zoom.  This picture is 14x across the store (over the TV section).  Not terribly dark, but dark enough to make photo's challenging.



Now since I used auto, both took different approaches.  The SX210 used ISO 800 and a 1/13 exposure.  The SX230 went to ISO 1600 and had a 1/20 exposure.  Funny thing is, based on the ISO, I would have thought the SX230 would have more noise (it had the higher ISO), but as you can plainly see, it is cleaner.  So far, the SX230 is meeting its claim as the less noisy picture.

Lets keep with text for a minute, but remove the zoom. Honestly the zoom performance should be the same as it is the same lense (really the sensor is the only quality difference, there is GPS, but I am not reviewing that as I do not see the need, I always name my pictures based on where they were taken).


SX 230

This was taken off a sign right in front of me in the camera department.  Again, on auto settings, the SX230 had the tendency to double the ISO.  In this case the SX210 used an ISO-500 and 1/50 exposure (F/4 for apeture, in the zoom shot above, the apetures were identical at f/5.4).  The SX230 bumped the ISO to ISO-1000 and the exposure to 1/80 (apeture was f/3.5 not much different, there are not alot of choices on these cameras). 

There was a bit of noise in both of these, but the SX230 definitely outdoes the SX210 even with the ISO setting doubled.  This is looking pretty good for the SX230 (and I am trying to justify an upgrade).

However, text is sort of easy, lets do a portrait.  This will be a zoomed in section (just above the left eye).  Keeps my model happy (as she does not make the blog, she was not ready for her picture) and allows us to again look for the noise.

SX 210


Now things start to get interesting.  First, there is a little difference in size.  Part of it might have been not being zoomed exactly (or leaning etc), but part is also the number of MP (14 vs 12).  However, trust me, either would print out more than spectacular even at 8X10, and both could even go larger (I have done 6MP on 13x17 and it looks good).  However, that is not the issue. 

The SX230 is begining to look softer.  Now this is not totally fair as the mode was portrait, and softness is often desired in a portrait, but the SX210 is definitely sharper (the fear is the SX230 is softer due to noise reduction being done post processing).  Note the SX210 was ISO 200 1/60 f/3.1 and the SX230 was ISO-320 1/60 and f3/1.  The fact that everything but the ISO is the same does mean that the processors interpreted this differently (might be light around her, zoom etc). 

So the portrait brings up a possible problem (but it could be a one off picture issue as well).  Finally need to look at something to verify that.  In order to remove the ISO issue the last two pictures were taken at ISO 800 (so we are comparing apples to apples, not just marveling that the SX230 has less noise with a higher ISO).  Note the exposure was identical as well in the following pictures.

The first image is a highlyt zoomed in image of a camera and its sign on an end cap (the end cap had the point of focus, so it should be fairly sharp). 



Both pictures are noisy (it is not bright in the store, even if it looks it to the eye).  However, the SX230 both looks less noisy and a little sharper.  However, here the difference does not seem as pronounced as it did in the text above (though still more than obvious).  Lets grab one more section from this photo.  We had a small gamer playing an xbox, who was nice enough to stay in the frame for both shots.  Note that these snips are not taken from the focus point, so they are expected to be a little out of focus.



Ok, so no face, but we have his pants, and that verizon guy asking if you can hear him.  The SX230 is definitely sharper and less noisy at the same ISO as the SX210.  So Canon did hear the complaints and made the improvements.  I have not decided if it is enough better that I want to spend the $300+ to upgrade (they are not cheap cameras), but you can make your own decision.

It would be interesting to take many portraits and compare to see if it was just a single picture, or if there is some noise reduction algorithm involved (I would not be surprised if it were the later as that is listed as one of the improvements in the new camera).  However, changing modes seems to change the noise reduction (as it should), so you should have plenty of control to get the picture the way you want (and with less noise than on the SX210).

One thing to note.  I keep my SX210 in auto mode, but have the P program mode set for ISO 200 and flash on (I can turn off the flash by pushing it down).  I probably use both of these modes as often (the ISO 200 allowed me to keep the noise to a reasonable level).  I think the same would have to be done on the SX230.  It seemed to want to increase the ISO.  Though there is less noise than with the SX210, still a lower ISO could make even a cleaner picture.  It would take some playing with to figure out.

After this, I am back to comparing the SX210 to my HTC Inspire (I wanted to take a break after the below comparison to see how the SX210 stacked against its newest update - as the HTC Inspire performed fairly well so far against the SX210).  So come back (I might even be able to compare some infrared pictures from both).

Friday, May 6, 2011

Well, so far - I am surprised

Now that everything is fixed, I took some time to start comparing my SX210 to my HTC Inspire.  I figured my first test would be were both should perform well - outside in a nice bright day.  Note the previous review of the SX210 did show some noise at higher ISO with less light.  I expected both to perform well, but the SX210 to show its stuff.  However, this is why we run the tests.

There have been no modifications (except size or cropping on the close ups) to the photos.  So you are seeing them as they come out of the camera or the phone (and as always click to get a larger version but it will be large as I left them as the original 14mp (for the SX210) and 8mp (for the HTC Inspire).  All pictures were taken in full auto mode.

The upper picture is from the SX210, and the lower one is from the Inspire.  This was a good picture to take as it seemed to stretch the contrast in the Inspire (not it seems to lack a little).  However, the colors are beter in the inpire (look to the sky and the tracks (the rust color comes through a bit better).  Performing some adjustments in the SX210 prior to taking the picture could probably improve the colors, but as it stands it would be easier to work the Inspire picture in photo shop.  So in this picture not really an edge.

Once again the SX210 is the upper image.  The bird house was the focus point in the picture.  The Inspire just got a sharper image than the SX210.  Also the lighting and coloring looked better with the Inspire.  This is not looking as good as above, as in this picture there is a definite winner, and it is the phone (if you do not see it in the images above, click on them and bring up the full size - you will see the softness in the SX210 which I commented about in my original review.

For the next 2 pictures I put the SX210 into widescreen mode.  This reduces the pixel count a bit (but cutting off the top and bottom), but duplicates the camera for dimensions (still has more pixels, but the shape is the same).  I did this to rule out liking wide format images better.

Again, the SX210 is on the top, but the better picture comes from the Inspire.  The colors are more correct from the inspire, and it captured more of the blue sky.  Additionally, the sharpness is better on the inspire (the bag on the fence was the focus point).  There is just a blue hue to the SX210 that needs to be removed, and the saturation needs to be improved (and again the softness overcome).  The Inspire also has more of the picture in focus (but there is a reason for that, and I will get to that after the next set).

Once again, the SX210 is above, and again, the better picture came out of the inspire.  Better color, better sharpness and just better tone.  However, a comment about sharpness when comparing different camera types.

If you look closely at the larger images (click on them), the lower image looks sharper both in the foreground and the background..  There is a good reason for this, and that is that the depth of field of the two imaging devices is different. 

To illustrate, on a DSLR, the sensor is further from the rear lense element.  This forces focus to a narrower range of distances (in fact the rule of thumb is that a portable camera has 4 stops more depth of field than a DSLR - as apetrure is the largest factor in depth of field).  The science behind this is a bit complicated, and I will leave that for another day (I have done a study of multiple subjects in the past varying apeture to change the overall feel, maybe this will come up again).

This means that more of the picture is in focus in a pocket camera than a DSLR.  The same effect happens here.  The HTC Inspire will have a larger depth of field than the pocket camera due to the distance between the lense and the sensor. 

So what have we learned.  So far, for certain pictures, the Inspire will not just be able to replace the SX210, but will be able to out perform (I am assuming standard size prints which are very possible with the 8mp from the Inspire, and do not need the 14mp from the SX210).  Now, there could be some things that I could do to make the SX210 perform better (and I will look into them - like changing the color balance etc).  However, the increased depth of field that the phone provides, actually makes it more suited for some types of landscape photography. 

There are some things the Inspire just does not do.  There is no optical zoom on the phone (so getting close to a distant object is not happening).  The SX210 has 14X zoom, and can get close to alot of subjects.  However, some of the softness seen here with the SX210 were also noted in my original review.  Canon just came out with the SX230 which is the next version.  Instead of a CCD it has a back lighted CMOS sensor which is supposed to solve some of the noise issues (and if noise can be solved at the source, then less noise reduction would be needed, so the pictures should be less soft).  Guess I am off to BestBuy to see if I can take a few pictures with my camera and an SX230 there and see how they compare (but I will also compare the SX210 to the Inspire in less than optimal situations).