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Canon S95 Best Settings – Set and Forget

”To set and forget” – almost! 😉

Thanks Allan for setting me up to write this posting on the best way to set up the S95 to handle most situations – for beginners! One is pretty easy and the other is a little more involved.

First of all I was going to write a very short answer to Allan saying that he should go with the green “AUTO” setting and then forget it – like in “set and forget” but thinking more about it I thought that he deserved a proper answer – even if it has taken some time … This posting will be kind of like a reasoning about advantages and disadvantages with picking certain settings – and telling my favorite setting that handles everything …well  almost! Some of the settings are particular to the S95 but the general reasoning applies to most compact cameras!

 Setting

Green “Auto” is the obvious and first candidate – after all the camera maker has put some effort into making this setting for people who want to “set and forget”. This is one type of setting that every (well almost every) camera has. Sometimes on extremely simple cameras this is the only setting – even if it isn’t green!

Picking this setting will let the camera handle almost all settings – actually stopping you from changing some settings! The idea being that you should not be allowed to mess things up! This setting has a lot going for it! The camera evaluates the photo motif in front of it and tries to set up the camera to best handle that motif; it selects the photo mode: landscape, portrait etc – and thereby changing a lot of different parameters like shutter time, f-stop, saturation, color balance; it also selects focus setting normal or macro or face recognition. On the S95 you are allowed some freedom with the flash setting: to select flash auto or flash off – good if you don’t want to spoil the nice lighting on the restaurant with the cold flash light. Generally – the more you help the camera to “understand” what kind of picture you want to take the better pictures you will get! Without going through all the good this setting does we will instead see if there is any real drawbacks with this “green” setting?

Well the first drawback that I see is that the camera will select focus point(s) itself.  So is this something to be worried about? Usually it will select the nearest object for focus – this works reasonably well and as the selected focus points are shown (as green rectangles) you can always try to trick the camera (by moving it around) to focus on the objects that you would prefer! In the wide-angle setting the large depth of field will make the focus point less of an issue – most of the picture will be sharp anyhow. Even if the works most of the time, as a keen photographer (with some slight ambitions)  this is not what I would like to have. I want to tell the camera what I want to use as the focal point! This is especially important when you use the tele setting where some parts of the picture actually will be out of focus.

The next drawback is the you can not change the white balance – the camera will select what it thinks is the best white balance setting! It might be argued that this is not a setting for a “set and forget” type of photographer to bother about anyhow… Still it is something a lot of cameras will not do very well – especially in shadow situations. Look at the two sample pictures where the left one was taken with Automatic White Balance (AWB) and it would on its own look OK – especially if you were not the photographer so you had not seen it with your own eyes. I was there (Nice in France) and when I saw the cold “blueish” first picture I changed white balance to “Shade” and took the second picture – on the right – and that was much more like it actually looked! This is by far – according to what I think – the most severe drawback with the green setting!

Tip: Set up the “P” mode to have “shade” white balance – the camera will remember this. Then use the normal “green” setting for most pictures but switch over to “P” mode when you have a shaded scene that you want to photograph. This way you get the benefit of all the “artificial intelligence” built into the “green” setting but still get beautiful pictures in the shade – without going chasing into the menus. Only two simple settings to use: Green for everything except shade scenes! … and maybe flash on if you want a clear well lit picture in the restaurant or flash off if you want to capture the restaurant atmosphere.

If you don’t mind the “blueish” pictures in the shade then you need only to use the “green” setting and you can really practically “set and forget”!

 Setting

The second contender – the “P” setting for the “set and forget” is requiring the photographer to do more than in the “green” setting above – but also gives a better control over the pictures. Here you will have to do more – thereby distancing you from the typical “set and forget” and this might therefore be a good second step when you have outgrown the above “green auto” setting.

First of all you should go into the menu and set AF Frame to “center” and AF Frame Size to “small” . These are the two first settings that you will see after you have pressed the menu button. This will require you to be more active when you take your pictures: You will have to set the small white focus rectangle (in the middle of the screen) to where you want the focus to be on the motif and then (while holding the shutter button halfway down) recompose the picture to your (artistic) liking and then pressing the shutter button full down – taking the picture. I used the word “require” but I actually see this as I get the ability to set focus where I want it! A little more involved – but very good I think! This will definitely develop you as a photographer – especially that you recompose the picture after focusing!

The “P” setting gives you the ability to change the white balance – but to simplify this you should go into the menu and program the shortcut button to give access to the white balance settings. Then you will have direct access to the white balance by just pressing the shortcut button – much simpler and quicker than through the menu! You will have access to many different settings for white balance but AWB and Shade are the two I use most!

With the “P” setting you get a lot more settings that are available to you – settings that you initially can skip over untill (if ever) you feel ready to use them!

This “P” setting is very popular with many photographers because it gives a lot och set up options – but you should not be intimidated by this – you will not have to use them all!  😉

Summary

The most “set and forget” like setting is by far the “green auto” setting which will handle most situation in a reasonable way. Combine this with the “P” setting for pictures in the shade and you will get beautiful pictures in most situations!

If you want more of a challenge – go for the “P” setting!

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Canon PowerShot S95 – Update #2

After a few more months of usage of the Canon PowerShot S95 I have one more slightly curious thing that I have noticed. Even though I think that flash pictures often turn out rather flat and often lose much of the natural atmosphere I – at times – find that natural light is not enough and switch on the built-in flash. I have now finally gotten used to the fact that the flash pops up exactly where I usually hold my left hand fingers! 😉  Using the “P” setting and auto-ISO I have noticed that the S95 quite often ramp up the ISO value to 500 or 640 resulting in rather unnecessary noise in the picture. This happens even when the motif is quite close (about 1 meter or 3 feet)  – both to the camera and the background! It is quite possible to manually select ISO 80 and take the picture – which will turn out much better! This is puzzling me as the built-in flash can produce such a strong flash!  I can take virtually noise free and well-lit pictures with ISO 80 at 5 meters (15 feet) – if I set the ISO value manually! The disadvantage is this will load the battery more as the flash will have to be much stronger.

Remember to set your ISO value manually to ISO 80 if you want your flash pictures to look their best!

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Canon IXUS 210 IS – Sample Photos

Having a camera like the Canon IXUS 210 IS (also called PowerShot SD3500 IS) should – I think – place you in the category where you want good pictures without too much hassle! At least that is the assumption I have made during my testing for this review. Here I should add that this is what many many photographers want! To be able to concentrate on the motif and forget as much as possible about the technical side! Still it would go too much against my grain to use “Full auto” so I have set the camera to “Program auto” when comparing it to the Canon PowerShot S95.

Under a few common lighting conditions the two cameras will battle it out to see what kind of sample photos they will produce – on their own – with the setting “Program auto”. There are a number of differences between the cameras – and we will see how that affects the pictures! As I have pointed out earlier on these pages the differences between most cameras on low ISO-settings when lighting conditions are good (sunshine or very light clouds) are very small – even between DSLR’s and compact cameras! Ok, Ok – when pixel peeping you will see differences … But the differences are not much to write home about – not when the full picture is shown on the screen – not even when viewed on my  24″ 1920×1200 pixel screen! (As you probably know that translates only to just over 2Mpix – roughly like a FullHD television screen! On (large) printed pictures is where the differences might show – if you are very close (sort of pixel peeping again… 😉 ) BUT as the light gets weaker – even just a day with proper clouds – the differences start to show very clearly!

Note that what I will be testing is each cameras ability to produce good pictures – under similar conditions! Not what pictures you will get using the same exposure time, the same f-stop, etc..

Indoor Sample
First out will be indoors sample photos. The one not so common circumstance was to use a table for support on these pictures. Most people tends to take handheld pictures but they would have been very blurry …! Low light is not be the easiest – but quite common – task for these cameras!

As always the pictures are unchanged and unedited – this is how they came out of the cameras – only filename has been changed!

   Canon IXUS 210 on the left, S95 on the right.

Let’s start by looking a little at what settings these two cameras chose – and try to guess why the camera chose those settings!  The IXUS 210 chose 1/20 sec and S95 1/15 sec, both picked f3.5, but chose very different ISO values 800 and 80(!). It is not very easy to guess why the cameras picked so different settings for this albeit lowly lit but evenly lit subject.  Also why S95 picked f3.5 instead of f2.0 – that would have been the logical selection when light is sparse. If I would have picked settings I would have chosen to go with the full opening f2.0, 1/30 sec and let the ISO sort itself out. ISO would probably stop at around 80 – so I would probably have gotten away with slightly shorter shutter time or slightly higher f-stop. Considering the image stabilization my picking 1/30 sec is probably very conservative – for a stationary subject… But the great MYSTERY is how the cameras could have picked so very different ISO values – 800 against 80 – and that the lightness of the pictures still do not look soo much different! Agreed the IXUS 210 picture looks a little on the light side – but 800 to 80 – that is over three steps!

As can be seen the difference in chosen ISO-values makes a lot of difference when it comes to sharpness and noise in the picture. The S95 picture is clearly the winner here – even if I do not understand why the cameras picked so different ISO-values!  The IXUS has clearly overexposed this motif a bit and also the white balance is a little on the cold blue side. The differences are so big that any deeper analysis of the two pictures qualities would not contribute to anything! Of course any (at least from a compact camera) ISO 80 picture will be better than any ISO 800 picture!  Click on the pictures and see for yourself!

Even if my idea for this test aims to show the above – how the pictures from a camera will look during different but common lighting conditions – I am a little baffled by the above … so for those of you that – like me – wonder how much the IXUS and S95 differ at the same ISO-value I will include another indoor sample – this time forced to the same 800 ISO-value!

   Canon IXUS 210 on the left, S95 on the right.

Now the differences are not that big – but first let’s look at the settings the cameras picked when forced to use ISO 800. The IXUS and S95 chose 1/15 sec and 1/50 sec,  f3.5 and f2.0. Again this baffles me – a little at least! The IXUS could not do much but pick the largest aperture f3.5 and then got 1/15 sec as a result. But why did the S95 pick such a “short” shutter time 1/50 sec this time? And used the widest aperture to achieve this – when it not did so in the umbrella picture above?

Looking first at the noise levels they are somewhat similar but still it is quite clear that the S95 has much lower noise levels generally – both in dark corners and in “well-lit” areas! The saturation and contrast are slightly higher on the S95 picture – also affected by the lower noise levels. Sharpness in a ISO 800 picture is always very much affected by the rather high levels of noise but also here the S95 trumps over the IXUS.

The above is while pixel peeping (Click on the pictures and do it yourself to see what you think!) but most of it is not visible on my 24″ 1920×1200 pixel display. That is not to say that there are no differences – flipping between full size images I can both “sense” and actually see a little better saturation and slightly better sharpness in the S95 picture.

Conclusion – Indoor Pictures
The S95 has a clear edge over the IXUS 210 with sharper pictures that has better saturation and better contrast. The S95 also has lower noise with higher ISO-values.

Outdoor sample
Time for an outdoor picture taken in good light.

   
Canon IXUS 210 on the left, S95 in the middle and EOS 550D on the right – or below (depending on your screen width)

Here a slight tonal difference is clearly visible – with the IXUS going for a slightly colder colour and the S95 for a slightly warmer look. I brought along my trusty old EOS 550D for the comparison as the “gold” reference. Based on the EOS colour I would have to lean to that the S95 probably is the most correct one.  My memory of the sky colour at the time is not so exact so I could not say which is the most correct. These three pictures are similar enough that except for the tonal differences I can see no other differences when viewing full screen. This was expected – as the lighting conditions were so favorable! The settings for the pictures were – in the above order – 1/1250, 1/1000, 1/320 and f3.5, f4.5, f11 and ISO 80, 80, 100. Both compacts going for shorter shutter times – probably both because of there being fewer* F-stops to choose from and because of their intended target users … (The last is just a guess!)
(* Compacts very often has just a few f-stop settings. Some cameras go as low as two settings! Full open and something around f5.6-f8.0)

Conclusion – Outdoor Pictures
As expected – in good lighting conditions – all three cameras produce good results! Both the IXUS and the S95 faring very well when comparing them with the EOS 550D.

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Canon IXUS 210 – The Screen

Well, the main reason for me wanting to test the Canon IXUS 210 is really that it is a camera that is equipped with a touch screen! I have always been keen to find out how well such a camera would work during ordinary every day usage – and now I got the chance to do that – without having to buy the camera myself! 😉 I should admit that I am a little doubtful about how well a touch screen will work on a camera – it will be exciting to see if I will have to revise that opinion!

First of all: the screen is just huge! Its 3.5″ covers the absolute major part of the cameras rear side! The only area not covered by the screen is a small, slightly rounded area on the right – that is adorned with a slightly raised edge – to improve the grip.No buttons of any kind can be found on the rear! It is of the nowadays quite common 16:9 widescreen format. The screen has a reasonable resolution of 460 kpixels – that being quite necessary for that big screen to keep the resolution up! It is a good screen but not as good as the S95 screen that has the same number of pixels but on a smaller 3″ screen giving it better resolution – a slightly crispier image. The difference can easily be seen! This is no great issue though – the IXUS 210 screen is good enough!

I have to say that I did not find it easy to figure out a good way to hold the camera while gripping it front and back – the area on the right is not big enough to give a good grip. Top and bottom is the way to hold this camera – because it is otherwise very easy to accidentally press the touch screen and achieving some surprise settings!

The wide-screen screen (is that really how to write this?) is really super when you shoot movies in 16:9 (the 210 manages 1280×720 HD-movies in .MOV format) when the whole of that BIG screen is used! It is less super when you shoot 4:3 pictures when only the middle portion of the screen is used – adding a few “touch-buttons” on the sides of the screen – so the sides are still not a complete waste!

How is it to use a touch screen camera? The short answer is (as you probably guessed) both good and … less good! As I have written above – knowing how to hold the camera is not so easy. It is handy that buttons can be displayed – or not – depending on the mode and situation. Using the touch screen is not bad at all – but it requires harder presses than an Apple iPhone and the response when dragging is not as good. Still it works – but not perfectly! The implementation of settings and using the camera on this IXUS 210 model is very similar to most other button centric cameras – like the S95 for example. This makes it quite easy to change between cameras but should that really be the goal? The touch screen is at its best when you on the screen can see the button (or setting) you want to use without scrolling! I find it a little sad that the user interface is using this advantage so little – it is mostly implementing the ordinary button interface – but on the touch screen – with too much scrolling required! With such a large screen no scrolling – to show available settings – should be necessary at all! One area where the touch screen is used to its advantage is that you can touch the screen where you want it to focus! Very handy, very quick and much more intuitive than on most other (button centric) cameras. Enlarging a picture while viewing is easy by just touching it – and you move around by dragging it (but not with perfect tracking). Cool is that you view the next picture by tapping the camera slightly on either side!

Conclusion – The Screen
As the touch screen is used by the IXUS 210 today and as the user interface implemented on it – I would prefer the ordinary non touch screen cameras. Not because the touch screen is a catastrophe – it is quite adequate as it is – but it could (and probably will in the future) be used more to its advantage! At the moment it is just an implementation av an ordinary button centric camera with the buttons appearing on the screen – and as such I would actually prefer ordinary buttons! (I put in a small note here: I have just used the camera for three days and it might be so that some aspects of the touch screen takes longer than that to appreciate!)

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Canon IXUS 210 – Fast Impressions

A friend of mine got a new camera and I jumped at the chance to try out his camera over the weekend! Thank you Hasse! The camera is a Canon IXUS 210 IS (also called PowerShot SD3500 IS). It has a much more oblong form to it than for instance the Canon S95. This particular camera was “gold” coloured – rather classy I think. The metallic finish sorts of gives it an air of “dress camera” – something you would bring to a posh party – wearing smoking or a long dress. I must confess I was a little taken in by this little beauty of a camera… so well-shaped, so sleek…  I will of course be comparing it to the Canon S95 and using the Canon EOS 550D as a reference. As usual I will not cover every small detail and every feature of the camera so I will refer you to Bing&Google to find more info, But I will have samples to compare(!) and I will give my view on some of the (to me) most important features. As I will have it just for a few days my review will concern what I see with my “new user” eyes – and I will take all the sample pictures and try to find out what I like and do not like about the camera. I am starting it off today and will probably write this blog post over a few days time.

Starting from the top the is where the camera has all of its buttons and switches. From the left and moving right we first have the button for camera mode: movie, program auto and full auto. This is a slide switch and it is very easy to “overshoot” when you move it to the right or to the left – making it very easy to either use movie mode or full auto mode – but slightly more difficult to set my favorite mode the programmed auto mode – that is situated in the middle. Not the best of solutions but it is no catastrophe either! This might very well be intended for the group this camera is designed for! Easy to select full auto and movie but more difficult to select program auto! Then is the button to view the pictures (the standard blue/green triangle) followed close by by the power on/off. All of these buttons are rather oddly shaped triangles. They work as they should and I just see them as having had their fair share of “design” applied to them.

The IXUS 210 is a fast starter – in under one second it has extended its lens and you can start taking pictures. Finishing of the buttons is the big metal shutter release button and the ring around it with its small bump serves as the zoom lever. The shutter release button is very smooth and has a proper pressure point so you will know exactly when the camera will focus and when it will take a picture. The zoom is also a fast worker – zooming from wide to tele in around just two seconds. The lens actually has its minimum size halfway between the wide and the tele setting. That was it! ALL of the buttons on this camera! This is also the reason why I was so excited to try the camera out – it has a touch screen! With touch screens being everywhere; Apple iPods, iPhones and iPads I wanted to see how well such a user interface would work on a camera. Cameras often having another more important (?!) mission than just being a “viewing device” – you should be able to take pictures with a minimum of fuzz!

I will now jump to the bottom of the camera and keep the screen till last. It has a metal (good!) tripod screw thread slightly off-center from the lens. Ideally you would like to have it in the centre of the lens so that – if you mount the camera on a tripod – you would rotate the camera around its optical axis. That would have been an advantage if you take panoramic shots for instance. I do not think any camera maker would place it anywhere but in the centre if they could. So I must assume that tight space does not allow it to be placed in the centre – maybe the lens mechanism takes up all available space.

 The usual door that hides the SD memory card and the Li-ion battery (Canon NB-6L)  is situated on the same side as she shutter release button. It is a slide-to-open and slide-to-lock type of door. THe SD card has the common push to lock and push to release type of mechanism. The battery is held in place by an orange plastic “knob”. Very standard – but no need for anything else as it works very well. The tripod thread (can not be seen here) is situated just behind the hinge of open battery door. (See my test of compatible Li-ion batteries here and my test of SD cards here!)

This will have to do for today – I will hopefully resume my writing tomorrow – with the screen!

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Canon PowerShot S95 – Update

Here is an update on the Canon PowerShot S95 Review – with things I have noticed after a few months of usage. I will have to add over time to this post – but I will be finished in a few weeks.

I wrote the original review when I had had the camera just a few weeks – I then could see things with fresh “new” eyes. Now I can comment on handling and image quality with “older” eyes.

The first thing that I want to comment on is the “Mode dial” – that has actually improved over time – it is not quite as hard to rotate any more! 🙂 (Or my finger is getting stronger!) It is also handy that the “Scene” mode remembers the last setting – that way I can have quick access to my beloved panorama mode – or one other of the scene modes!

The “Control Dial” ring on the back is said to have been improved from the S90 and so may be the case – but it still rotates a little too easy – changing settings – and giving surprise results! This is NOT a huge problem – but it exists all the same – I have had about 5 changed settings in the last 500 pictures…

The “Ring Function” (the ring around the lens barrel) is handy sometimes for setting up – in that you have one more dial that you can use to adjust some setting. BUT this ring I have not yet grown to like very much! I use it every now and then – but find it a little cumbersome to use. The ring still is (to my liking) a little too narrow and the click-stops are too stiff! It is not that the clicks are THAT stiff – and they give off a very quality sounding click – but the ring is too narrow in combination with the stiff clicks! I would not want Canon to make it bigger either because I do not want the barrel to stand out any more than it does. The ring is not as user-friendly and as easy to turn as it should have been! Some of you might still think it is ok …  I much prefer the “Control Dial”  that is so easy to use – with just one finger – and is silent as well! It would have been super if that had been used for more settings! As good as it is the “Control Dial” has a drawback in that it can easily be moved by mistake and by default affects the brightness of the picture – this has happened a number of times already and continues to do so! I will have to take more notice…! And Canon will need to improve this! The problem with improving it is that the feel and function is very good as it is just now! The small clicks are just right – except for that it moves too easily when you don´t want it to! Let’s hope Canon will not go overboard when they firm up the clicks…!

The “On/Off” button is not easy to find without looking as it is flush with the top panel. Cool design wise – but not as user-friendly as it should have been! This is the first time ever with a camera that I after several weeks of use still find myself pressing the panel beside the button! Should really have been some kind of groove, raised bump or anything to make it easier to find for the finger! I am tempted to label this with my feared 😉 blue “Canon – please rework this” but I will let them off the hook this time! (When the warranty expires I will probably put a little bead of glue on it…)

The Flash has not made me drop the camera – not even once – but it is not because of not trying! 😉 I still do not like that jumps up like it does! I was hoping that it was designed like this to reduce the risk of red eyes. BUT my old IXUS gives less red eyes than the S95. BUT (second one) this flash is really powerful so I guess I will live with the push ups…!

Finally I want to point out that the above mentioned shortcomings does NOT rob the Canon PowerShot S95 of its abundance of good qualities! It is still a really super good compact camera that produces really nice pictures!

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Tamrac Camera Case

Having used an old camera case for some time for my Canon PowerShot S95 I decided to get a more suitable one. My requirements were: would allow easy access, would fit the camera snuggly, would have room for a spare battery and would attach to my belt securely. After googling and binging the web I settled for the Tamrac 5686 Ultra-Compact Digital Camera Pouch from Amazon for the reasonable price of  85 SEK/9 €. This is a review of it and what I thought.

First thing to notice was that it did not look as the illustration at either Amazon or at Tamrac. I actually liked the design I got better! Lucky me! 🙂

Yes, the camera fits snuggly – so snuggly it actually sticks out about 5-8 mm on top which I think is quite ok. I certainly prefer that to a bigger case! Width and depth is perfect for the S95. The shape of the case – ever so slightly arc-shaped in the front – fits the slightly protruding barrel of the S95 like it was constructed for it! It just slides into the case without a hinge! The “lid” closes perfectly over the top and the velcro is wide enough to grip very tightly.I do prefer the velcro type of lid to the zip when it comes to easy access! On the positive – or negative – side it does make a noise when you lift the lid!

There is a pocket in the front – about 5 x 7 cm – with an internal velcro about 1 cm down to keep things from sliding out – making the pocket about 5 x 5 cm – if you use the velcro. As you can see in the picture (above right) you might even let a flat object stick out of the pocket if you want to – making the usable size about 5 x 9 cm. The lid closes over the pocket. This pocket is ideal for the camera battery or an extra memory card or any other relatively flat object!

At the back of the case there is a sturdy strap to attach the camera case to your belt.  It is equipped with double velcro!  Both on the inside – like most camera cases I have had – but the Tamrac has an extra velcro on the outside of the strap with a security flap the you fold bach up over it – making the risk of losing the camera seem highly unlikely! This is something I appreciate a lot – having in the past thought of extra security solutions with sewn on carbide hooks and other complications to minimize the risk of dropping/losing the case – and my camera!

The velcro used in the case seems to be of good very sturdy and tightly gripping quality! Time will tell how well it lasts from repeated openings… The fabric also seems well-chosen for its use. Both soft and a little silky and sturdy at the same time. The case is also padded slightly to protect the camera.

The only hang up I have is the very thick plastic badge sewn onto the lid …

Conclusion

The Tamrac 5686 is a really good case that breathes quality and good thinking! I do recommend it for the Canon S95 or similarly sized cameras! (Like Canon S90, Ixus 750, Ixus 860IS, Samsung WB2000…)

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