Archive for October, 2010

The Best Digital Compact Camera

I have now looked for possible candidates for my shortlist of digital compact cameras. I have used my favorite photo site dpreview in finding promising cameras, and also “doing the bing” and googling!

My requirements are generally that of someone wanting a compact camera to complement their DSLR. In my case it should complement my Canon EOS 550D – when I for some reason do not want to bring it with me but still want to bring a camera. I should probably also point out that I require my photos to come out of the camera looking good – without much need for further processing! I seldom take RAW pictures and whatever adjustments needed to an odd picture now and then must not be further off than it should be possible to do with the JPG! On this type of “point-and-shoot” camera I will use “Auto” most of the time and would like the camera to handle the most common situations well! For example white balance in the shade and cloudy conditions should work well. (I know it is difficult…) The camera should give pictures that resemble the ones from the Canon EOS 550D.
It must of course be much more compact! 😉
For those that are in a hurry – a hint:  Look at the picture just above! 😉

Summarizing my digital compact camera requirements:
(See the full description of my requirements here!)

  • Sensor – not too much over 10 MPix, back lit is a bonus
  • Orientation sensor – so that I can have the computer rotate the pictures automatically
  • Lens – 24-28 mm wide angle, minimum 4-5x zoom, aperture larger than f 1:2.8, min focus 5 cm
  • Flash – being able to use it really close
  • Shutter – long times (> 10 sec manually and >1 sec automatically)
  • ISO – wide range 100-3200, Auto-ISO with setting for highest ISO
  • Panorama support – for full size pictures where all pixels are used
  • Screen – 3″ or bigger – NOT wide screen and > 200 000 pixels
  • Movie Mode – HD 1280×720 minimum – but full HD 1920×1080 with autofocus and zoom during filming is a bonus
  • Image quality! – similar colour saturation, contrast and hue as Canon EOS

I have my eye on a relatively new camera that will use the latest technology to produce pictures of high quality! I know that this is one of the hardest requirements to check! Relying on the manufacturers sample pictures is not an option for me! Their pictures are usually taken under ideal circumstances so they give little indication of how good pictures the camera produces under normal everyday conditions! At the end of the day it is the image quality that matters most to me! (But how you get through the day also matters – especially if the end result is very similar!) I should probably add that I do want the pictures to come out of the camera looking beautiful – I do not want to spend hours in front of the computer tweaking and improving the pictures all the time! (I know this is a slight exaggeration work wise – but I want the wast majority of JPGs to be ready for use at once!)

This second time around I am looking real hard for sample pictures before I decide! Below you can see what I found out by searching the web! If you ever want to compare sample pictures go to the “Comparometer” – it is quite handy and they have lots (but not all cameras I am sorry to say…) of studio sample pictures! It was great help to compare the cameras I was interested in!

The Best Digital Compact Camera – shortlist

Panasonic DMC-FX700
A 14 Mpix sensor is a little on the high side and not back lit. Good fast lens – f 1:2.2 and good close up distance of 3 cm. Let down by its 230 000 pixel screen. Really good long shutter times 60 sec manual and 8 sec automatic! Panorama support for taking adjoining pictures. Mysterious wide angle limit of 29 mm when filming! Good battery life.
Sample photos shows not so good pictures at higher (320) ISO and I am not really impressed with the noise at lower ISOs either. That is enough of proof for me…
So this has to go!

Sony DSC-WX5
12 Mpix backlit sensor. Good fast lens – f 1:2.4 and good close up distance of 5 cm. OK screen 460 000 pixel screen but “only” 2.8″. Limited long shutter times 2 sec manual and only 1 sec automatic! Sweep panorama support. Very tempting 3D support! Unknown battery life. But why 5 hour battery charge!?
Sample photos better than the Panasonic DMC-FX700 but pictures at higher (400) ISO is not that impressive – a little colourless. Noise at lower ISOs is ok but still not overly impressive. Sharpness of lens seems good.
I am sorry – but this has to go!

Sony DSC-HX5V
10 Mpix backlit sensor. Not so fast lens – f 1:3.5 but 10x zoom and good close up distance of 5 cm. Let down by its 230 000 pixel screen. Good long shutter times 30 sec manual but only 1 sec automatic! Sweep panorama support. GPS! Good battery life. But why 5 hour battery charge!?
Sample photos similar to Sony DSC-WX5 – low ISOs looks OK  but pictures at higher (400) ISO is not that impressive – a little colourless. (Is this a common problem with back illuminated sensors?) Noise at lower ISOs is ok but still not overly impressive. Sharpness of lens seems good.
I am sorry – but this has to go!

Sony DSC-TX9
12 Mpix backlit sensor. Not so fast lens – f 1:3.5 and only 4x but very good close up distance of only 1 cm. Very good 3.5″ screen 921 000 pixel. Limited long shutter times 2 sec manual and only 1 sec automatic! Sweep panorama support. Very tempting 3D support! Medium battery life.
Sample photos shows not so good pictures at higher (400) ISO and I am not really impressed with the noise at lower ISOs either. Very handy size … but it is picture quality that counts …
This has to go!

Fujifilm FinePix F300EXR
12 Mpix backlit sensor. Not so fast lens – f 1:3.5 and a whooping 15x and a good close up distance of  5 cm. Good 3.0″ screen 460 000 pixel. Alright, but not outstanding long shutter times 8 sec manual and only 2 sec automatic! Sweep panorama support. Medium battery life.
This sounded REALLY good on specs – but got a really bad review in the swedish “Foto”-magazine!
Because of that bad review  this has to go!

Canon Powershot S95
10 Mpix backlit sensor. A very fast lens – f 1:2.0 but only 3.8x zoom – good close up distance of 5 cm. Wide angle only 28 mm – I have been spoilt by all the others 24 mm wide angles …! OK screen at 460 000 pixels. Good long shutter times 15 sec manual but only 1 sec automatic! Panorama support for taking adjoining pictures! Battery life – unknown.
Sample photos low ISOs looks really GOOD and pictures at higher (400) ISOs looks better than most other compact cameras I have checked out! Sharpness of lens seems good.
This one stays!!!

Panasonic DMC-LX5
10 Mpix backlit sensor. A very fast lens – f 1:2.0 but only 3.8x zoom – very good close up distance of just 1 cm. OK screen at 460 000 pixels. Very good long shutter times 60 sec manual but only ? sec automatic! Panorama support for taking adjoining pictures! Battery life – unknown.
Sample photos low ISOs looks really GOOD and pictures at higher (400) ISOs looks better than most other compact cameras I have checked out! Sharpness of lens seems good.
This IS quite troublesome! Soo good it competes with the Canon S95 – which should pick? Both the Canon S95 and the Panasonic LX5 produce really beautiful pictures – so this could turn out to be a dilemma! I am not intending to buy two! 😉 The LX5 produce slightly colder skin tones than I would ideally have – so that is at least a small minus… As I am looking for a compact camera to bring with me when I am too lazy to bring the Canon EOS 550D and I have “compact” in my requirements – luckily the choice is not that difficult! The LX5 is alittle too bulky – or to be more correct it is not compact enough! I can not point out enough that having ones requirements clear – helps a lot! But the DMC-LX5 is a tough contender – especially as I would normally carry it in a small camera pouch attatched to my belt … so being a little bulkier does not really matter that much!
This camera is really good – but the lens is sticking out a little too much making it to bulky – so it has to go! (This also throws out a few other cameras that are not compact enough!)
(Probably The S95 and the LX5 should not really be compared – even if they both produce pictures of such very high quality – they seem to have different aims! To my thinking, the Canon G12 seems a more close candidate to the LX5!) 

At last!  I have selected (what I think is) the best digital compact camera for me! The Canon Powershot S95. 🙂 It was not an easy selection since the LX5 also is so good! But a bit bulkier! If I had let “bulkier” (and it is a relative word) cameras be included I would have to have had the Canon G12 included as well… A lot of other compact cameras offer 24 mm wide angle lenses – which I would have liked to have … but none of them had as good image quality as the S95! At least sometimes I can use panorama pics to help get a wider angle! I had to give up an other feature to get as good IQ as the S95 … full HD movies …

The tricky thing for me has been to balance what I think is “high quality images” against compactness – I did not want to end up with something like my Canon EOS 550D – which is compact by DSLR standards but still bulky – and does not fit in a (normal size) pocket! 😉 And also balance compactness against zoom range, wide angle, and other features … and finally not forgetting the price!

I have just placed an order with Amazon UK – with free delivery to Sweden! Now I just have to wait … In roughly 10 days I should have it in my hands! I will write one of my reviews of it and let you know how well I think it handles and of course put up some sample pictures – comparing it to my gold standard – the Canon EOS 550D! Hopefully helping some of you make your choice!


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Review Wide Angle 0.45x Add-On

Zeikos BoxFront

Several times over the past few years I have seen wide angle add-on lenses and wondered how well they actually worked. So, recently I saw a really low-cost wide-angle add-on that I could not resist – Zeikos ZE-WA58B for just $13.19 from Amazon! Setting my hopes and my expectations as low as the price I ordered it … looking forward to find out how good or bad it was. As I was having a reasonable wide angle zoom already – Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM for $480 – I thought it would be fun 😉 comparing them to each other! Putting up some sample pictures! But I can – even without testing – say that the Zeikos will be worse and the Sigma will be better!  That said, can I bring this little add-on with me as a replacement to my Sigma lens when I am lazy?  At this low price is the Zeikos usable for anything?

I should point out that at no place does Amazon actually say that this is suitable to the Canon 18-55 mm kit lens. There are other similar looking add-ons that states this but I picked this because the picture showed a slightly more wide front lens. This was, I am sorry to say, not the case with the delivered product – it looks very similar to most of the other low-cost wide-angle add-ons!
The assumption that it would be suitable to my Canon kit lens is made by me! Well … the threads should work at least… 
😉

 

Also see my other reviews for Wide Angle Add-Ons!

 Power Pak 0.45x Add-On in part 2!

EMOLUX 0.45x PRO HD Add-OnNEW Review!

  $2 Wide Angle clip-on for mobile phones!

 

Now on to the Zeikos ZE-WA58B 0.45x Wide Angle review:

Fair comparison to the Sigma lens? Pricewise – NO! Claimwise – ABSOLUTELY! Just for fun – listen to this from the box of the Zeikos ZE-WA58B:

  • Professional High Definition Wide Angle Lens – this is very hard to understand what it really means – but is sure sounds as if it is supposed to be something really GOOD!
  • Titanium Optics – well your guess is as good as mine where the Titanium is used – I guess it is supposed to impress – and it IS impressive as it IS in fact rocket science (Check this at NASA)
  • Digital multi-coated – this is something the big brand guys use – not that I know what the “Digital” is in this context …
  • Heavy Duty Construction – not that difficult to grasp
  • 0.45x – what does this mean? Guess: 0.45x the focal length? My kit lens 18-55 mm would turn into 8-25 mm which is quite impressive! It would beat my Sigma 10-20 mm in both “ends”!
  • 58 mm – this is just the lens filter diameter – it fits my 18-55 mm kit-lens

The Box
As you can see in the picture at the left, the box contains a (rather flimsy) pouch and the wide-angle lens itself.  The lens is covered by a press-on lens cap at the front and a screw-on cap at the back. There is also a one-page “manual” that says what one-page “manual” usually says! That is not much – but it states that you should not use lens-paper but microfiber cloth. This could indicate that the lens is very sensitive to rubbing – making me wonder about the multi-coating … but you can not expect everything for $13!

The Outside
Starting with the outside it is actually surprisingly well-built. Heavy Duty Construction? Maybe..!  Let me be clear: It is NOT the product that is show on either the Amazon site or the box! It is not at all widening as much towards the front lens.Still, the finish is a good velvety black. It is very difficult to see any of the usual telltale of multicoating – the lens (at least now when it is all new) is extremely clean – not a single little speck of dirt on the lens surfaces! So I once again ask myself is there any multi-coating or for that matter any coating at all? But it is actually stating it right there on the box!

The Test
I tested it on the Canon EOS 550D (Canon Digital Rebel T2i) with kit lens 18-55 mm 3.5-5.6 IS
one late afternoon when I hurried to catch the last sun rays of the day. “P“- mode. Most settings in normal or standard except contrast +1, saturation +1, sharpness +1. The sample pictures below has not been edited in any way except the name change! (I might try to test it during daytime to see if that matters in any way.)

Usage
You actually screw this wide-angle adaptor/lens onto your ordinary lens!

The model that I bought fits only 58 mm filter threads. It fits quite snuggly on the camera lens. Weighing in at 120 gr it is not directly heavy … It has 62 mm filter threads so you can screw on a filter or a lens hood if you want to.

(Here I have to comment on the fact that (to my knowledge) all over the world we talk about focal length and filter threads in millimeters! Even in non-metric counties! 🙂 )

Impression
This “lens” consists of two screwed together parts: first the wide-angle lens itself that is the top part – a little bulging outwards –  as you can see in the picture. Then there is a close-up “macro” lens – the narrow part in the picture – with the red text “MACRO“. They can either be used together as the wide-angle add-on or you can use just the close-up macro lens.

 

 

 

 

Autofocus works well, both with the ordinary phase detecting and the live view contrast detecting. There is a soft “thump” when using the ordinary focusing. This is probably due to the extra 120 gr that has to be moved when focusing and the ordinary focusing is much faster than the live focusing therefore starting and stopping more abruptly.

Vignetting (dark corners) is VERY pronounced at the 18mm setting of the kit zoom. In the picture to the left it is extra pronounced because I have stopped down to f 16. It is softer at bigger apertures – as you can see in the samples below. The vignetting can be either very disturbing … or just a cool effect – you decide! I myself would prefer to add it afterwards – if I ever wanted to. Zooming out to 22 mm it goes away completely – but it is a little dependent on the aperture value … I expected the vignetting – therefore I tried to get an add-on that had extra-large opening diameter hoping that it would help – but as you saw above it missed! I have to point out that there exists other wide-angle add-ons that has larger opening diameter – but at a much higher price and I wanted to go cheap!

 

 

How about the 0.45x ?
Before I get into the image quality I want to address the 0.45x – what does it really mean! It is NOT 0.45 times the focal length! Even if that is a reasonable assumption as normally when you talk about a lens you talk about the focal length.

The 0.45x actually refers to the area coverage increase! It would be better to say that it will add 45% more to your picture – but then it would not be so easy to misinterpret it … 😉 I will use % below when I refer to the area coverage. You can see it in the picture – I have marked the original 18 mm coverage with a red rectangle. In this picture the red rectangle represents 55% of the area and the surrounding area is the 45% area increase. (Note that the 18 mm covers the house – so you can see in the other pictures how much extra coverage you will get.)

It IS an increase – even if it is not that much – I am sure that it can come in handy sometimes …! For stationary motifs I would take a panorama picture instead. If you want to get 45% area coverage increase it also means that you have to accept the pronounced vignetting! In the widest setting this translates  roughly to a 11.8 mm lens – giving a focal factor of 0.65x. (This is what should have been put on the box!) If you can’t accept the vignetting you will only get what corresponds to a  14.5 mm lens which translates to focal factor of 0.80x – which is not very much to write home about! You only get 3.5 mm added extra zoom – from 14.5 to 18 mm! But still it might be handy in some situations!

Sample Photos

I took a number of sample photos with Canon EOS 550D + Canon kit lens 18-55 mm 3.5-5.6 IS with and without Zeikos wide-angle add-on and Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM. I will not bother to put up all of them but will try to put up the most significant ones and also some 100% crops. (Should you feel different, please let me know!) I will concentrate on the wide-angle aspects as this is a wide-angle add-on! But the add-on works in tele as well.  Just click on the pictures to see them in full size 18 Mpix!

Sigma 10 mm is where it starts for me. This is the widest angle I have access to. This lens is not the sharpest of lenses even if you select a small aperture – but it is quite wide! Vignetting can be sensed in the far corners but it is not very noticeable. The EOS 550D can correct this automatically in camera but I have not bothered (yet 😉 ) to register the information for the Sigma lens. (Corrections is already included for most Canon lenses.)  Calculating the area coverage increase (compared to 18mm) makes it  66% – which actually is much better than 45% – you want the area coverage increase as BIG as possible! I am focusing just below the top centre window in all of the pictures.

 

 

The Sigma at 12 mm. Here I tried to get a coverage that was close to the widest coverage with the Zeikos add-on.

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A_Zeikos 18 mm 7.1The Zeikos at 18 mm. It is close in coverage to the Sigma 12 mm above.  This is the widest coverage you can get with the Zeikos – but you pay for it with a lot of vignetting and some barrel distortion – making straight lines bend.

 

 

 

 

 

The Zeikos at 21 mm. This is very close to the coverage you would get if you do not want vignetting! There is a very small vignetting in the upper left hand corner that I did not see in the viewfinder when I took the picture. I have not marked the 18 mm coverage but as it covers almost exactly the house (see above) you can see that the extra coverage you get is quite small – a little extra sky and a little along the other edges. This is not much – at least if you have a 18 mm lens to start with! Having a lens starting from 22 mm you would get the advertised 0.45x (or a more common 45%) extra coverage area – without the vignetting. This Zeikos add-on is much better suited for a lens starting at 22 mm! But lenses starting at 22 mm are quite scarce!

 

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Image quality

I took one picture each with the three different “lenses”. I have created two 100% crops, center and edge. The have been saved in PNG-format so that the picture quality should not be affected. I tried to get a similar coverage on all of them but  I did not manage to get the exact same coverage … I had to pick the only focal length that was common – around 18-20 mm. Zeikos add-on was zoomed to 27 mm on the kit lens. Just click on the “tripple-crops” to see them in full size!

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 The center crop is alright on all three “lenses” I think. Thinking of the price difference they are all amazingly sharp and clear! There are small quality differences but not that much to complain about. Remember that this is a 100% crop from a 18 MPixel camera – meaning that the full picture would be over 1.5 meters (5 feet) in width on a normal screen – like you are probably looking at now! You make your own decission about sharpness at the center – but to my eye differences exists but are small enough to be ignored – if you have a good day!  😉

The edge crop is something different altogether! Here we can see really big differences on all three pictures! The Canon kit lens is by far the sharpest! Canon and Zeikos was stopped down to f 8.0 and the Sigma to f 11.0. This should be the “easiest” focal length for the expensive Sigma lens but it is not even near the Canon kit lens in sharpness – even though it is using f 11.0! But it is still way better than the Zeikos that is really blurry and is showing a lot of chromatic aberration (splitting up colours).

How does this translate to a picture of a normal size? Amazingly enough, scaled to fit on a 19″ screen with an IPS panel all three pictures are actually looking OK! Note though that there are differences! Both the Canon and the Sigma pictures are looking tack sharp! The Zeikos has just about acceptable sharpness around the edges, the blurriness is not so visible scaled down (as expected) but the chromatic aberration is more noticeable – in the light-dark transitions!

The close-up “macro” lens

Unscrewing the rear part of the Zeikos Wide Angle “combo” gives you a rather powerful close-up or “macro” lens. You screw this single element lens onto your favorite lens and will be rewarded with the ability to focus much closer – how much depends on the focal length of the lens used. I used my trusty old 18-55 mm kit lens once again. I could have used my 55-250 mm also – because that also has a 58 mm filter fitting.

I wanted to compare the Zeikos with a proper close-up lens so I brought out my B+W Macro +10 lens. Both lenses have rather wide brims making them less than ideal for use with wide angle lenses. I wanted to see how different they were considering the price difference. The Zeikos – for “free” with the Wide Angle Add-on and the B+W  for 380 SEK/40 EUR/$53. The question to answer is if the “free” close-up lens is anything to have?

 

I started by going as close as I could focus in wide-angle (18mm) to find out if there was any difference between the two close-up lenses. They were both very similar. This also pins the Zeikos in the area of -10 to -13 diopter – a little more powerful than the B+W lens. Both images look reasonably similar – both with powerful vignetting in the corners. The Zeikos has a little more barrel distortion along the edges. Middle sharpness (the only place where you will get sharpness with wide-angle) looks similar with both lenses.

 

With the kit zoom at 55 mm there is no longer any noticeable vignetting with either of the lenses. Centre sharpness is also quite similar even if  the little darker exposure of the Zeikos makes that seem a little sharper when looking at it full-screen. Looking at the pictures pixel-by-pixel reveals that centre sharpness is as good with both lenses but that edge sharpness – though not very good – is slightly better with th B+W lens.

Coming back to the question: Is the “free” Zeikos close-up lens is anything to have? In the real world – where you are not only photographing flat objects – I would have to answer a clear “Yes!”. You could actually buy the Zeikos wide-angle add-on just for the close-up lens! It is close to as good as the many times more expensive B+W lens! Does it give supersharp and crisp images?It does not affect the sharpness very much in the center of the picture but along the edges it certainly gives a definate blurriness! With as powerful close-up lens as this the field of depth is very shallow – which can be both good and bad – but being aware of it certainly helps – use it to your advantage!

My Conclusion

Is it worth the $13?
First of all I would say that a cheap add-on like this can be used just for some fun effects – and then you probably will not think too much of the disadvantages or might even consider them to be artistic advantages! Into Lomography perhaps …?   🙂
Secondly, using this on a zoom lens starting on 18 mm is a bit of a waste as you will have to zoom to around 22 mm before the vignetting disappears and that will only give you a corresponding 14.5 mm lens – and to get that very small wide-angle effect you have to put up with rather poor edge performance!

This lens  is NOT something to use for serious photography!

Definitely not with the Canon 18-55 mm kit lens – it gives too little wide-angle increase while sacrificing a lot of quality along the edges!

If you have a lens starting at 22 mm or longer then you would not have to accept the vignetting! Also if you have a camera with a non-changeable lens it could definitely have its use – or a with a video camera!

Finally answering my own question: Is it worth the $13? (Note that the price matters much in this answer!)
I would say: Yes – for a 22 mm or longer lens! But be aware of its blurriness along the edges!

Counting also the close-up part of this Zeikos add-on makes this an even clearer “Yes”!

BUT this is ONLY as long as you do not expect a high quality lens for almost nothing…!
This is NOT a high quality lens – but it might be OK for you if you have low expectations!

 

  Power Pak 0.45x Add-On in part 2! Be sure to read part 2 – where you can see how to improve the result!

EMOLUX 0.45x PRO HD Add-OnNEW Review of a higher quality wide-angle add-on!

 

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Sample Photos White Balance Samsung WB2000

I have been asked if I have more sample pictures from my Samsung WB2000. I have put up two more that shows how the WB2000 white balance for “Cloudy Weather” . Now, technically speaking these two pictures I took in the shade – not in cloudy weather – but there is no special white balance setting for “Shade” so “Cloudy Weather” had to do!

Both of these samples are full 10MPix and have not been edited in any way – except changing the filenames. Just click the picture to see the full size! The Exif info should give you all info on the picture. Both pictures have used the Program mode – P mode – with everything else set to automatic – but flash off. (Well – I changed the white balance in the second picture.)

Afternoon light. Standing in the shade of a house with the plants getting a mix of mostly light from the blue sky above with a little sunlight reflecting from sunlit trees.

Settings: Multi segment exposure metering. Auto white balance. Contrast normal. Sharpness normal. Saturation normal. Wide angle 24 mm used. P mode used. Set for auto ISO – which selected ISO 160. Shutter time 1/30 and f-stop 2.8.

Result: Exposure is a little overexposed, saturation is a little low and white balance is a little blueish! Contrast is a little low. Sharpness is quite good! Very little noise.

Settings: Multi segment exposure metering. Cloudy weather white balance. Contrast normal. Sharpness normal. Saturation normal. Wide angle 24 mm used. P mode used. Set for auto ISO – which selected ISO 120. Shutter time 1/30 and f-stop 2.8.

Result: Exposure is a little better, saturation is a little low and white balance is better but maybe a little too yellow! WB halfway in between would have been ideal. Sharpness is quite good! Very little noise.

There is a very slight difference in exposure between these two pictures – the camera chose to lower the ISO-value used from 160 to 120! This lowered the number of overexposed pixels from just over 74 000 to less than half. These pixels are mostly localized to the white on the window.

My feeling is that both of these pictures are too “light” – that is slightly overexposed, or at least they feel a bit unsaturated or maybe it is the contrast that is too low. Increasing contrast and saturation certainly makes these pictures more pleasing – to my eye. There is two other ways to change the white balance: measure white balance or set it manually! What I wanted to find out was this cameras ability to handle most settings automatically so I settled only for the simplest alternative: to select a preset white balance. I also do not want to have to process every picture after it is taken – therefore I want the pictures to look as great as possible out of the camera!

I have a really mysterious piece of software that I once got on a magazine cover: Ashampoo Photo Optimizer. This software has no settings whatsoever – you just click the “Optimize” button and it does its thing. It is really hit and miss – some pictures gets an impressively good “kick”, others turn out worse and others does not change at all! Note that it is NOT just changing the contrast, saturation, hue on the whole picture – it analyzes the picture and then applies its “magic” differently across the picture. I tried this out on the AWB picture and got this result! An improvement I think – slightly more saturated and slightly more contrast. I could have done something similar i IrfanView or Photoshop but this was soo simple. (It also cut the size in half …)

/Photoman

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Compact Camera Requirements – Revisited

Well, now I have restarted my quest for a new digital compact camera. Just eight weeks have passed and features that I considered very exclusive to the Samsung WB2000 that I bought (and, I am sorry to say, returned) have now appeared in many other cameras as well. But still I think that the WB2000 – for some time at least – will be one of the most “value-for-money” cameras – if you can accept its shortcomings! I “fear” that the new camera will be more expensive…

Selecting a camera is really very much down to identifying your requirements – and finding a camera that is an acceptable compromise to you! I have my requirements and you will have to find out what yours are … If you do not know that much about cameras my requirements could be a starting point  – but better still would be buying one of the less expensive cameras without thinking too much about it (they are all quite decent) – taking a lot of pictures – and getting to know what your requirements actually are! And THEN buy a camera that corresponds to your requirements! If you are not very picky you might actually find that your first camera is good enough… 😉

I invite you to follow me on my journey towards a new digital compact camera. I will try to explain my choices and I will definitely tell you what I think is important and what I think is not! Trying to see beyond marketing ploys and stressing things that are really useful and important to me (and maybe you) as a photographer!

My requirements are generally that of someone wanting a compact camera to complement their DSLR. In my case it should complement my Canon EOS 550D – when I for some reason do not want to bring it with me but still want to bring a camera. It should give pictures that resemble the ones from the Canon EOS 550D. It should of course be much more compact!

My requirements have not changed that much since I wrote them last. But more features are “standard” on the new cameras. There is now a few more cameras to choose from – it will be exiting to see if any of those will make it into my shortlist. 

My slightly updated list of requirements for my new digital compact camera looks as follows:

The sensor
It would have to have a sensible pixel count. Preferably not much over 10 Mpix. This because I do like to use available light if at all possible. The latest new feature, back illuminated sensors is said to be a bonus for available light photography – but not really knowing how much of a difference it would have I do not put such a heavy weight on that feature. Having tested the Samsung WB2000 I would say that this is not such an important feature – the way a certain manufacturer processes the image (noise reduction, contrast adjustments, white balance, saturation, etc…) seems to matter even more… but having said that I have to add that it is very hard to isolate exactly what improvements stem from the back illuminated sensor…

Orientation sensor
I do want this feature! A built-in sensor in the camera registers what direction is “up” and embeds this information into the Exif-tags of the picture. This information can then be used both by the camera in rotating the picture correctly for viewing (handy but not critical) and by the software in the computer for permanently rotating the picture. This saves a lot of tedious work for me.

The Lens
I like wide-angle shots so it would have to be at least 28 mm on the wide side – preferably 24 mm.
I also like the lens to be reasonably fast having a wide-angle f-stop of at around 2.8 – but better the more light it lets through!
I decided that the zoom range was not that important so I settled for a moderate minimum of around 4-5 x zoom.
As I like to get really close to things and takes lots of pictures of flowers and other small things the “macro” distance had to be in the order of a few (5?) centimeters (an inch or two).

The Flash
Having said that I prefer available light my requirements of the flash is not so high. I take quite a lot of macro photos so one thing that matters is being able to use the flash close to the motive. I did find out that not many cameras can use the flash at their closest focusing distance – a pity I think but I see the problems – one that I have to accept. Not that easy to find out about this fact for the cameras – it is not always written in their technical specs.

The Shutter
Here I must point out that I think the term “shutter speed” is not so good – you are not interested in the speed of the shutter itself (which probably stays the same all the time) – you are more interested in the time which it is open … so I will be using “shutter time”.
The shortest shutter time I decided was almost uninteresting due to the fact that all cameras have 1/1500 – 1/2000 sec. Again my interest in available light affects the requirement. Night photography requires looong shutter times so being at all able to set long times (at least 10-15 sec) was important – and that the camera automatically could handle times of at least 1 second – preferably longer – for convenience.

The ISO
Here I want to have automatic ISO-setting (which almost all cameras feature) and a wide range –  from ISO 100 to around ISO 3200. Preferably also some indication what ISO-value the camera is choosing when in “Auto-ISO” – and being able to set maximum ISO would be a plus. Yes I know that ISO over 400 starts to show noise and 3200 has LOTS of noise – especially with a small sensor. Still it is nice to be able to actually take a picture – even if it is very noisy!

The Panorama Support
This is a favorite of mine – panorama pictures. How this is implemented is important to me. A lot of the cameras has what is called “sweep panorama” in which you just sweep your camera slowly across the scene and the camera will create the wide (or high) picture automatically. What is bothering me a little is the fact that this does not seem (according to the descriptions I have found) to use the full resolution of the cameras. That would mean that it would be of little use to me. At least now, beforehand, I would say that I prefer to stitch together the full size pictures with Microsoft’s eminent FREE panorama stitch software ”ICE” – try it – you will like it! Easy to use and produces really GREAT results! Evens out exposure and tries really hard to make the seams invisible. The only drawback I have seen is that if it can not automatically figure out how the pictures should be stitched together you can not help it by selecting similar points in both pictures. (I have used it a lot and only had a handful of properly taken panorama series that it could not stitch.) It handles hundreds of pictures and Gigapixels! Having used the “Sweep Panorama” feature on the Samsung WB2000 I now know that this is not good enough for my requirements! Far too few pixels and too many flaws in the created pictures to hit it with me! The “Sweep Panorama” is a really cool thing – but know its limits! I do wish that it worked in FULL resolution! As it is implemented now it will impress people when you look at the picture on the camera display – but  when you watch them on a bigger screen you wish that you had taken proper high-resolution pictures and stitched them together in the computer!

The Screen
My previous compact camera (and my current DSLR Canon EOS 550D – which has an absolutely gorgeous display) both had/has 3″ displays. I do NOT want a widescreen display that normally would show pictures with space at the sides – wasting a lot of the screen pixels. This requirement might change in the future – I guess – but for now it is still valid for me so the screen will have to be at least 3″ – and filling out the screen with the pictures! Having being spoilt by the Canon EOS 550D display – and actually seeing that it helps in getting better pictures by showing me a lot better the “final” image – I would like to have a screen with quite a bit more than the standard just over 200 000 pixels – but this I can sacrifice if I value other features high enough! I have not yet seen the advantage in touchscreen – I want to be able to adjust the settings with just the fingers on buttons that I have learnt to find and use. But this might also change in the future…!

The Movie Mode
Again having being spoilt by the Canon EOS 550D – and its superior full HD 1920×1080 movie mode I don´t really want to go with anything but full HD! I do realize that I can not demand the same low light quality as the HD movies from the 550D with its big sensor! If all else is super with a camera I might lessen my requirements to HD 720 …
Beeing able to zoom and autofocus during filming makes the compact camera double as a (half)decent movie camera so that would be handy – but not absolutely required! Thinking about it I feel that focusing is the more important! Stereo sound would also be a bonus.

Image quality
In the end – this is what counts! This is a very tricky one to find out on the web for new cameras – not easily gathered from the fact sheets – the manufacturers “sample pictures” are usually taken under so ideal circumstances that they give little info on how the camera behaves in everyday life! For new cameras the owners sample pictures (that I really value!) are not a plenty – for the simple fact that the cameras are so new..! Difficult as it may be, my wish is that the pictures should have a similar appearance to the pictures I get from may Canon EOS 550D – in hue, saturation, contrast and exposure. I know that I am talking about a compact vs a DSLR – so I have to be tolerant here…

Summarizing my compact camera requirements:

  • Sensor – not too much over 10 MPix, back lit is a bonus
  • Orientation sensor – so that I can have the computer rotate the pictures automatically
  • Lens – 24-28 mm wide angle, minimum 4-5x zoom, aperture larger than f 1:2.8, min focus 5 cm
  • Flash – being able to use it really close
  • Shutter – long times (> 10 sec manually and >1 sec automatically)
  • ISO – wide range 100-3200, Auto-ISO with setting for highest ISO
  • Panorama support – for full size pictures where all pixels are used
  • Screen – 3″ or bigger – NOT wide screen and > 200 000 pixels
  • Movie Mode – HD 1280×720 minimum – but full HD 1920×1080 with autofocus and zoom during filming is a bonus
  • Image quality – similar colour saturation, contrast and hue as Canon EOS

Compared to my earlier list – I have added the above two green requirements and lessened the requirements on full HD movie and length of the zoom.

/Photoman

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