Saturday, December 26, 2009

Walking around with a small camera

One of the presents I opened yesterday afternoon was a new camera, a Canon S90.
This is a small camera, a point and shoot that still costs about $500 in Canada or $400 in the US.
I had wanted a pocketable camera, something that could be on my person without announcing its prescence to all the world and also produce pictures of reasonable quality.
The S90 shares its sensor with the Canon G11 which I also considered but decided that it was simply too big or at least too big to be handy.
I spent some time on Christmas reading the S90's manual. Endless options and complications of the sort that delight people who want to be able to adjust lots of things.
And, some nice features including a decent sensor, the ability to shoot RAW pictures, an interesting arrangement of controls including a control ring around the lens with variable functionallity, an f2.0 lens and the claimed ability to take pictures in low light (ISO 12800). On top of that, endless special modes for all conceivable kinds of photographic situations from fireworks to fish in aquaria.
I played around with it at home. Trying to get the hang of a few of the features could be frustrating at times but was helped by the explanations that showed up on screen when using menus.
I head out for a walk on a very mild Boxing Day; so mild that I even saw people playing road hockey in shorts. The biggest surprise was seeing a Sea Gull which should have been long gone. Trying to get a good shot of that bird reminded me that  the S90 has lens that is the equivalent of a 28-105mm lens on a 35mm camera. Nice for wide shots but not much good for small or distant things.
Boxing Day may be a day for big sales elsewhere but all but corner stores were closed up tight in Moosonee. People take their holidays seriously. Nobody was out shopping but lots of people were fishing.
What did I notice about the camera?
Well a couple of things frustrated right away. The camera has a built in flash. To call it up you need to head to the menu. To make it retract into the camera you need to go to the menu and turn off flash. You cannot just push it down or call it up with a finger.
Normally, I shoot in aperture priority mode. So I set the S90 to f5.6 figuring that that would be just as good as f8 on a DSLR and probably give a wider depth of field. There is a control on the back of the camera with multiple functions. It can rotate, can depress in any of four directions and has the Set/Function button in its middle. It is not stiff like the dials on DSLR's so it easily turns and I found that my chosen aperture had to be watched closely.
The day was not cold, just around freezing so not wearing gloves all the time was not a big hardship. But I soon realized that the S90 could not be operated with gloved hands at all, so it is not likely a cold weather camera for me.
I choose exposure compensation as the function for the control ring around the lens. It can also handle ISO, focal length (set of fixed lengths), etc. That was fairly handy, there was snow covering most of the ground and I needed to allow for that.
I shot in RAW and JPG. the files are good sized, this is a ten megapixel camera after all. I took about three dozen shots and came home with more than half a gigabyte of images.
I took a look at the RAWs and JPGs. One interesting point was that the JPGs were much darker, much more conservatively "exposed" or processed. In Adobe Camera Raw when I used specific camera settings (e.g. Camera Standard) the images closely matched the JPG's. Since it was a cloudy and dull day I did not really have a great range of exposures, not much at all in the way of highlights that might have been recovered in RAW. In fact I am not sure if any of the pictures really benefited from the extra file size of RAW. However, I did increase exposure in ACR so perhaps there was some point. Sometimes I did not care for the Camera Standard, a couple of times I thought its colour rendition was off and found that Camera Neutral a better choice.
Not surprisingly the camera has significant chromatic aberration and fringing. All lenses have this, to some extent, but this one took a fair amount of compensation. It showed up in the both the JPGs and the RAWs. I wonder why the camera does not try to fit it when it turns out JPGs.
I posted some shots from the camera. While it is obvious that they are not as good (not as much resolution, more noise) as those from a DSLR with a good lens, I wonder if they are good enough for typical purposes, e.g. posting on websites or small prints.
The S90 has a lot of features that I have barely begun to explore. In some ways I want two, perhaps contradictory, things from it. I want a point and shoot that takes no effort to use while producing good pictures and secondly I want a small camera that has the ability to let me control it completely both in how it takes the shot and how that shot is processed. The camera seems to satisfy the second, time will tell how well it satisfies the first.
If you are used to a DSLR then controlling a small camera is frustrating. Instead of things being done with convenient and sturdy controls you end up dealing with tiny buttons, tiny dials and the need to resort to menus for what might wish were easily accessible functions. The S90 is no exception. It does try hard to be easy to use and even has a programmable S button and the ability to set up user menus. Most of its menus and functions were easy to use although a few required a bit of manual reading.
This is not intended to be a review of what is a very complicated and powerful little camera. There are lots of those reviews out there. I have just written about my first walk around with the camera; if I get another decently warm day I may give it another try.

No comments:

Post a Comment