I Love my New Camera

Old S20 behind, new SD500 in front

I've taken about 12,000 digital photos in the last few years, mostly of my son, and mostly with a 3.2 megapixel Canon PowerShot S20. The S20 is a fine camera – good picture quality, small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, has good battery life, and its 2,048 x 1,536 images are large enough to easily make 8x10 enlargements.

But the S20, and indeed all small point-n-shoot cameras I checked a few years back, has one exceptionally annoying problem: it made my baby look dopey. This is because just moments prior to the flash firing, the flash would fire a less-bright pulse to help the camera judge the exposure (similar to the red-eye pre-flashes, but this is just one, and perhaps only a quarter second before the real flash where the picture is captured). The timing was such that my son was still blinking (due to the pre-flash) when the picture was taken. Compare this picture where he looks half asleep with this one taken just 14 seconds earlier, with his grandpa. In the former, he's not sleepy, just blinking. At least the effect this time is that he looks sleepy, not retarded.

This is a problem that no one but a new parent would notice, as no one but a little baby would blink at the pre-flash. But if you're that parent and you want non-retarded pictures of your baby, it's a huge deal.

So, it is with great happiness that I now have a Canon IXY DIGITAL 600 (which is called the Canon PowerShot SD500 in America). This camera rocks. (It's the smaller of the two cameras in the pic at the top of this post; the pic was taken with my wife's Panasonic D-snap AS30 combo camera/video/ipod, which is super convenient at less than half an inch thick, but not so great for close-up work.)

Here are a sample shot or two from the IXY600 / SD500 (which have been post-processed a bit with Photoshop, so I guess it's not fair to use these as examples, but I like the pics and it's my blog, so shoot me).

Some features I like:

  • It doesn't have the annoying pre-flash – now, I'm the only one that looks retarded (and I can't blame the camera for that).

  • Seven megapixels – each side of its 3,072 x 2,304 image is 50% longer than the old camera, so it's like having a lot of extra zoom w/o losing any detail.

  • It's fast - there's no annoying delay between turning it on and being able to take a picture, or between pressing the shutter-release and the picture actually being taken. It all feels instantaneous.

  • It's fast - it can take two full-sized full-quality pictures per second. I pointed it at a stopwatch and held down the shutter-release button for more than a minute, until my 500MB (20 mb/sec) SD card was filled. It averaged 1.99 pics/second (0.5018 sec/pic) for 124 pics. (Note: in order to go that fast, you must have it in highest-quality mode so that it doesn't have to spend much time compressing the pic, and I would guess that you need a fast memory card as well.)

    One great upshot of this rapid-capture feature is that I can just hold down the shutter for a few seconds and take a dozen pictures, and get just that perfect moment when the baby is doing something cute, or get the posed pic during that one moment where everyone is actually smiling. You no longer need the luck of precision timing when you can just “carpet bomb”, so to speak. This doesn't work in situations where the flash is needed (the flash can't recycle that quickly), but in the many situations where I've tried it, I've gotten some wonderful shots that I wouldn't have been able to get w/o being really lucky.

  • It's small – about the size and weight of a deck of cards.

  • Has easy-to-use, intuitive controls. Canon has a reputation for well-thought-out UI, but frankly, I didn't use the S20's white-balance adjustment as much as I wanted because of the UI. This new one, though, is very nice and easy, and I find myself adjusting the ISO level, white balance, etc. all the time, to suit the situation.

  • It automatically rotates images to orient them properly, so up is always up.

It has other features such as the ability to add voice memos, and take 60 fps videos, etc., but I've not played with them yet.

As much as I like it, it's not perfect. For reasons that completely escape me, Canon does not provide direct control over the shutter-speed, or even aperture- or shutter- priority. You can adjust the effective ISO rating (from 50 to 400), so I use that, but most times that I care about it, I'd much prefer to be able to set a specific shutter speed directly.

Also, like all(?) small Canon cameras, it suffers from the “purple fringe” problem. My S20 suffered from it pretty badly, although I went for years w/o noticing it until someone pointed it out to me. Look at this example taken by the S20. If you don't know what you're looking for (and probably even if you do), you probably won't notice it until you look at the original (huge) version. Look at the lower edge of the branches in the upper-left corner of the picture. The Canon marks some such high-contrast borders with a purple fringe. It's hard to notice unless you zoom up, and even then, it's easy to remove with Photoshop (their new red-eye tool is perfect for the job). In the end, I wish it wouldn't do it, but this wouldn't stop me from buying a Canon again, as they are otherwise such great cameras.

[UPDATE: The very fantastic web site “Digital Photo Review” now has a full review of this camera.]

One comment so far...

On your recommendation (and a few others) I got this camera just before heading to Wave Camp and am really liking it. It’s the perfect replacement for my 2.5 year old S400. I just wish my old S400 batteries worked in it. 🙁

— comment by Jeremy Zawodny on April 19th, 2005 at 2:34am JST (18 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink
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