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 NB-6L Compatible Battery Capacity

I have previously tested some of the electrical aspects of Canon NB-6L original and compatible batteries for my Canon PowerShot S95. These tests were sprung from a wish to minimise the risk of using a compatible battery. By comparing the electrical aspects I hoped to see if they were similar enough that I dared to use them in my camera! I am glad to say they were! I refer you to my previous post on NB-6L compatible batteries to read about the tests in more detail. (That test has now been updated to include the new Broadbattery battery mentioned below!) Maybe you will dare to try it as well? But remember that the risk is yours!

I was recommended a really low price and high-capacity (1600 mAh!) NB-6L compatible battery by one of my readers – thanks Francois! He found it on eBay at a shop called Broadbattery. Depending on where you live and how lucky you are in the bidding it can cost as little as $ 0.90 including shipping! (Which is a really super price!) I got mine for $2 + $2 shipping. It has just been delivered and I have now started the tests of this new battery – will update this article as soon as I have finished the tests – in a day or two!

As the selling point here was the high capacity I decided that just to measure the batteries under load was not enough – I needed a way to do battery capacity testing. Below you can see the results for all three batteries. Testing was done in a way as to simulate a real world picture taking.

For the technically curious

Arduino Battery Capacity Tester CircuitTo automate the test and to make it repeatable I came up with a small circuit controlled by a Arduino microcontroller  – you can see the UPDATED battery capacity tester circuit on the left. (If anyone is interested I can put up the Arduino program that controls it.)

Someone was! 🙂  (Interested in the Arduino program!) It outputs measurements to the serial monitor.  I just copy it from there to Excel and do the calculations and graphics in Excel.
See a separate post on this!

After some consideration about the measurement process I decided to try to approximate the real world picture-taking – but I also wanted a repeatable and reasonable easy and quick way of comparing different batteries. The circuit I decided on can handle the three most common batteries: 1.2 V NiMh, 3.7  and 7.4 V Li-ion by changing the load resistor. I wanted the load to mimic the actual taking of pictures by applying the load for a number of shorter times – like taking pictures.

For the 3.7 V Li-ion batteries on test here I decided that, as the battery according to Canon should give about 300 pictures, I would apply the load in around 300 short intervals. That ideally translated to a 5.2 ohm resistor giving around 500 mA load for 16 seconds each. Settled for a more standard resistor of 5.6 ohm. I also decided to let the battery “catch its breath”  for 16 seconds between each “picture” – again mimicking (very oversimplified) the real world behaviour while keeping the time down. Initially I wanted to follow a “real” standard like the CIPA one – but it was much to complicated for me and would involve far too much manual work. More to read about battery measurement in the CIPA document – but be warned it is very technical!

PEPs
This 16 second 5.6 ohm load followed by a 16 second rest period just had to have a name so I called it Photoman Equivalent Picture samples (PEPs) – cool eh? 😉 NOTE that this is not real pictures taken but gives a good enough approximation – especially for comparing batteries! . The circuit takes into account the resistance of the MOSFET transistor used – just below 0.4 ohm – but it lowers the load a little bit. Running through the whole test takes about 3 hours per battery. Cut off voltage is 3.0 V for Li-ion batteries so that is where I stopped the tests. (This goes well with my Canon S95 that signals empty battery at that voltage.)

mAh
My testing method also gives the capacity in mAh under the above “simulated real world picture-taking” conditions. Note that under other (“laboratory”) conditions these batteries can give other mAh capacities – but as I do it the same way in all my tests you can compare the results between the batteries that I test.

NOTE: As usual if anything goes wrong or gets broken by using this information I am sorry – but the all decisions are yours!

NOTE! New and improved Battery Tester at my Ar2uino Blog!

Capacity Test Results

To not get your (and my) hopes up too high I include an excerpt from a comment I made a few weeks back: After testing a few different batteries I am sorry to say that I strongly doubt that the capacity ratings given on these (and on most other cheap batteries) are much to go by – expect them instead to most often be around or slightly below the original battery. Most manufacturers seem to use the same (probably most cost effective) production – making them very similar in capacity”

That’s enough tech talk … now over to the result of the tests. I charged all batteries before the test and allowed them to rest for 10 min before starting the tests. This is what I got:

Rather typical Li-ion discharge curves – first a slowly sinking voltage and then an abrupt plunge! But the batteries looks quite different! Up to about 180 PEPs the curves keep very well together. A quick look at the discharge curves shows that the best performer is the Canon original battery.

Canon original
The curve shows an unusual stamina after about 280 PEPs working hard att keeping the voltage up. It is quite clear that the Canon original battery gave quite a lot more PEPs on one charge. Canon gave 352 PEPs and a capacity close to its claimed 1000 mAh by reaching 950 mAh(It also says “min 940 mAh” on the battery.)

Broadbattery – Unbranded
The curve starts out high – actually a little higher even than the original but when it reaches its limit then it plunges very quickly! Broadbattery came second with a very small margin (more like shared second place) with 288 PEPs and 780 mAh. This was after all a “small” disappointment as it promised 1600 mAh! Would have been nice with a really high capacity battery for the Canon S95. The battery should really be marked with “800 mAh” or something … (I have been in contact with the pleasant people at Broadbattery to see if it just is my sample – but I would not guess so… if so I will of course update this info!)

Deal Extreme – GodP
The curve is like a standard typical LI-ion curve from a textbook. The Deal Extreme battery gave 284 PEPsvery close to the Broadbattery. The Deal Extreme battery is marked with 850 mAh but did not quite reach that with 770 mAh

Conclusion 

It is definitely a difference between the three batteries – but is it worth the extra price and the risk..? That is something you have to decide for yourself… (Tip: I have bought a few compatibles…) I can still not say that I have a corresponding real world capacity figure – I seem to forget all the time and just change the batteries as they run flat. What seems quite clear is that you get a little less capacity for a lot less price!

An extra comment on the battery from Broadbattery is that apart from that they claim a much too high capacity – the battery seems to be very similar to the Deal Extreme one – so if you live somewhere to where they do free shipping and if you are a bit lucky at bidding  – this might still be a real bargain!

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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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Canon PowerShot S95 – Depth of Field

The distance from the closest to the most distant part of a motif that is sharp is called Depth of field (DOF). DOF affects all pictures – sometimes you want DOF to be shallow to bring out and concentrate the interest on your sharply focused main motif while the background is blurred … other times you want sharpness from close up and all the way to infinity – with a really deep DOF! This post is both a general post on DOF but it also contains specific samples that relates to the Canon PowerShot S95!

All cameras with a small sensor – and a correspondingly short focal length on the zoom lens – has a depth of field (DOF) that is quite deep! This applies also to the Canon S95 with its 6-22.5 mm zoom lens. For a DSLR with a bigger sensor it is a little more varied – but usually the DOF is more shallow.  This can be both good and bad – depending on how you want your picture to turn out!
(The picture above is taken with Canon EOS 550D 18 mm and f 11.0 – to get a deep DOF. Not shown full size.)

The DOF is affected by three things:

  • Focal length
    The shorter focal length (you might like to think of it as wider angle) the deeper DOF and (it follows) the longer focal length the narrower DOF.
  • Aperture
    The smaller the aperture (that is bigger f-value) the deeper DOF and larger the aperture  the narrower DOF. You really need a large aperture to get a nice blur!
    One complication with most zoom lenses is that they vary the aperture as you vary the focal length!
  • Distance to the motif
    The more distant you are to the motif the deeper DOF and the closer you are the narrower DOF

All of the above factors are combined so that:
The deepest DOF you will get when you are using a very short focal length, a small aperture and are very distant to your motif!
The most shallow DOF you will get when you are using a very long focal length, a large aperture and are very close to your motif!

Depth of Field diagrams

To keep things reasonably simple I will look only at the extreme values: widest angle and most tele – with biggest and smallest aperture. Moreover I have limited it to two focus points at 1 and 6 meters.These 8 cases I have plotted in a DOF Diagram for the Canon S95 – and as a comparison I have included a DOF Diagram for the Canon EOS 550D 18-55 mm  . The two top rows are showing the tele results and the three bottom rows showing wide angle. The small black marker on top of each bar is the focus point (1 or 6 m) and you can see how the DOF spreads out around it (the green/violet bars). Note that as you goes towards smaller apertures the DOF behind the focus point increases a lot!

Canon S95 DOF diagram. Looking only at the two most extreme combinations – for deepest and most shallow DOF:
Using wide-angle, f8.0 and focusing at a close object at 1 meter we get a DOF of  0.43 m – infinity. That is close to the deepest DOF you can get with the S95! Handy for landscape pictures or whenever you want everything to be sharp! Notice also that it does not matter that much if you focus on something 6 m away instead – you will still get almost as deep DOF of 0.7 m – infinity!

If you use the largest aperture (f2.0) you will still get a relatively deep DOF at a distance but it will get more shallow at 1 m.

Using the largest aperture with tele, f4.9 and focusing at a close object at 1 meter we get a DOF of  only 0.95 – 1.06 m. That is a reasonably shallow DOF! Handy for a portrait (face only) or where you want only the main motif to be sharp! Here it does matter a lot if you focus 6 m away instead – you will get a DOF of 4.5 m – 9 m! At around 6 m this works well for a full picture of a person and a few meters more will handle a whole group of people – who does not have to stand on a line either! You will get a blurred background – but (I am sorry to say) only slightly blurred.

If you use the smallest aperture (f8.0) you will still get almost as shallow DOF at 1 m but at 6 m distance the DOF will increase a few meters! Note that the only way to accomplish a really blurry background is when you take pictures really close up … Also note that due to the fact that the aperture in the tele setting is f4.9 you will not get an extremely blurry background if your motif is a few meters distant!

Canon EOS 550D 18-55 mm DOF diagram. Also with its biggest and smallest aperture – BUT note that this lens has very different extreme values for its aperture!

Looking only at the two most extreme combinations – for deepest and most shallow DOF:
Using wide-angle, f22 and focusing at a close object at 1 meter we get a DOF of  0.43 m – infinity. (Same DOF as the S95 but with a very different aperture!)  Again that is close to the deepest DOF you can get with the wide-angle!

If you use the largest aperture (f3.5) you will still get a relatively deep DOF at a distance but it will get more shallow at 1 m.

Using the largest aperture with tele, f5.6 and focusing at a close object at 1 meter we get a DOF of  only 0.97 – 1.03 m. That is a very shallow DOF! To be used where you want only the (small)  main motif to be sharp! If you focus 6 m away instead – you will get a DOF of 5 m – 8 m!

Here it is a little easier to accomplish a really blurry background when you take pictures really close up … But note that 55 mm is not long enough to give a really blurry background at a distance! You will need 100-200 mm lens to accomplish this on a half-size sensor camera like the Canon EOS 550/Canon Digital Rebel T2i!

I have already said this (in the 3 points above) but want to stress that – for all lenses – as you move away from your motif the DOF increases (can be seen very clearly in the diagrams) giving you less and less blurry background. If you focus at 18 m you will with the S95 at the longest focal length and largest aperture (f4.9) have a DOF stretching from 9 m to infinity – not much hope for a blurry background there – but on the other hand you will get a picture where most of it is in focus – could also be handy sometimes…

Want to dive deeper into the shallow depth of DOF? 😉 Then go to Wikipedia for a much longer and much more detailed take on the subject with formulas, diagrams etc…

Three examples

Blurry background – Portrait or flower
You probably want a nice blurred background to make your motif stand out. Ask your motif to move away from the background (flowers – I am sorry to say – only moves when you want them to be still! 😉 ) – the further away from trees, houses etc the better! Then use your zoom at its maximum tele setting (if you have one of those super-zooms you don’t need to overdo it 🙂 ) and you step back from your motif – but only as far as is absolutely needed to get enough coverage of your motif! Make shure that the camera (or you) select as large aperture as possible!
(The picture on the left is taken with Canon EOS 550D 55 mm and f 5.6 (full open) – to get a shallow DOF. Cropped and shown half scale.)

Possible problems:
If you want blurry background when photographing a flower: On many compacts you can only use the “macro” setting with the wide-angle! Accept it (you might like it) – or try to go as close as possible with maximum tele setting – this is by far the best way to get a nice blurry background!
The whole picture turns out blurry? Then you have shaken the camera – hold it more still – get some support! Tree, rock, table or … maybe even a tripod! You can also get a totaly blurry picture if you have missed the focus completely!

Blurry background – Group of people
Assuming you want the whole group to be sharp – first of all you have to have them all at roughly the same distance! For blurry background you do the same as with the portrait or flower above: Position your group far away (at least 10-20 m) from the background! Use your largest aperture and as much tele as you can and then you walk away – but only as far away from your group as needed – until you get them all to fit in the picture (with the tele setting). The only special handling with a group is if they are not standing at exactly the same distance: focus on one of the nearest persons in the group. Assuming that the nearest and most distant person are not more than a meter or two apart you will get a sharp picture of the whole group and a somewhat blurry background. The longer tele lens you have the nearer on a “line” the group must stand – but the “blurrier” background you will have!

Sharp background – Person or group in front of Eiffel Tower
Or any other picture where you want the surroundings to be seen clearly. Here you probably want a deep DOF so that as much as possible can be seen clearly. First of all you move away from your foreground motif and use your wide-angle. To get maximum DOF you should also use the smallest possible aperture. But also take one picture with what f-value the camera suggests – it might be good enough.

Canon S95 DOF Samples

First of all I must disappoint all of you who is hoping to get a very blurry background in your portraits with the S95 – or any other small sensor short focal length lens cameras! It will not happen – even with a large aperture lens as the f 2.0 one on the S95! But as largest aperture at tele is just f4.9 you will only get a really blurry background when you use max tele in a very close up picture – that will not cover a view big enough for a proper portrait – but might work for a close-up of a flower for example. If you have a super-zoom you are luckier but will need to use the tele setting and hold the camera very very steady!

I have taken two series of pictures samples. You will see a variation of the DOF but it is so small it hardly is worth mentioning.

The first series in which I vary the focal length from 28 mm to 105 mm (equiv – in reality 6-22.5 mm ) and use the lowest possible f-value. This affects the perspective – more than it affects the DOF. The difficulty here is that the Canon lens is only f2.0  at the wide-angle end – and f4.9 at the tele end. So as I zoom to tele I also increase the f-value and thereby keep the DOF almost constant.

The second series I kept the focal length at a mid position and varied the f-value. Also very little variation of DOF!

As the DOF variation is so small I have just put up the extreme samples – but trust me – the intermediate pictures looks much the same! All pictures are taken with AWB – which handles the flourescent energy-saving lamps quite well! The hat sits 50 cm in front of the wall.

           

Looking at the above pictures you can easily see that for the Canon S95 the first picture has the most blurry background. This is due to two factors: I am closer to the motif and can use f 2.0  – this together affects the background most thus giving the most shallow DOF – even if I use the wide-angle! And a hat – contrary to a person – usually does not complain about certain features (like the brim) looking a bit wide! 😉

I will add a few extra samples with the motif further away from the background to illustrate how blurry you can get the background – as soon as the weather improves! (We have had the coldest winter for at least 150 years!)

If you want to have really seriously blurry background with an ordinary zoom compact – you have to fire up your favorite image software and get to work! Or get a super-zoom… If you on the other hand want to have a deeper DOF than you can get with your camera and lens combination – then you can combine several pictures with different focus into one picture with a lot of work in Photoshop or similar – or you cold just use CombineZP that automates the process.

Hope this throws some light on DOF for us photo amateurs!

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