Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Review: Canon S3 IS Digital Camera

Hey guys. This is my first review of a product on this blog- the Canon S3 IS. I will quickly cover the very basics of this camera, as repeating what can be found on other review sites is not my purpose, rather I want to share my long term impressions of this camera that most review sites overlook.

The Canon S3 IS is a 6.0 megapixel digital camera, with a 12x image stabilized optical zoom, ISO 80-800, 2.7 aperature, and a 2" rotatable LCD. The camera is feature rich, such as having a button-controlled manual focus, several useful and quickly selectable photo modes, including manual aperature and exposure settings.

A couple of the more interesting features this camera has that you may not see on a compact camera are the exposure and focus bracketting modes that allow the camera to take multiple photos at different exposures/foci with a single press of the trigger button. Doing so not only gives you the ability to select afterwards the photo that best is exposed from the group without missing the shot trying to manual change exposure modes, but also allows for a really neat merging effect of all the exposures in Photoshop to produce an HDR image. Cool stuff.

The flash on the camera works well. In the auto mode, the flash is operated by the camera pretty intelligently. In manual mode you can control the intensity of the flash; off, low, medium, and high. The highest flash setting is quite bright, but regardless charges up from picture to picture really fast. Since the flash is also raised far up above the lens, red eye is reduced in comparison to most compact cameras.

All the buttons on the camera are intelligently placed, and the menu system is quite standard for a Canon camera. I'm pleased with it, although it might not be for everyone. It takes most induviduals a few minutes just to figure out how to turn it on. Luckily, the lens cap pops off without a problem when the lens extends on power up -- it's very easily forgettable to take off first.

At first the camera seemed like it might actually be a bit too small for me to comfortable use, but it turned out to be quite fine. The camera is smaller than any SLR I have seen and is definitly lighter. I've dropped the camera quite a bit so far and it has held up so far fine. It feels like a solid camera and looks really rather professional and attractive. I do get compliments about it quite a bit.

Video modes and zooming work great, even in conjunction. Just really great. :) The file sizes though are massive, so make sure you have a large memory card!

The battery life is awesome. I never worry about the battery dying on me as it can last me for weeks of regular shooting. Definitly good battery life.

The LCD folds out and rotates around. It was one of my main reasons for choosing this camera in the first place for my own use and I remain glad i had. There are often shots that would simply be too hard to get without being able to rotate the LCD upwards or downwards to me. When shooting videos with this camera, it's nice to be able to hold the camera more like a camcorder, away and below my face, which is only possible with the LCD flipped out. When the camera is not in use, or when using the electronic viewfinder instead ( which works great and is very usable ) , you can flip the LCD inwards to the camera to protect the screen. I feel much more comfortable carrying this camera around with me knowing that I would accidently scratch or crush the screen. I have killed the LCD screen of two compact cameras in the past and I was wishing to avoid that with this camera. The only downside I see with the LCD is it isn't very bright. In direct sunlight it's nearly unusable, forcing me to use the EVF instead. It's fine, but it can be annoying I guess. It might also be nicer to have the screen size a bit bigger, but in the newest version of this model, the Canon S5 IS, they fix that issue.

Other downsides to this camera is that the ISO only goes to 800. It is better than most compact cameras, which only go to 400, but it feels a bit disappointing still. In usability, the ISO 400 and 800 modes on this camera are so noisey that I try to avoid using them nearly in every situation. They do turn out fine when printed at 4"x6" though, so they are usable I guess. The Canon S5 IS fixes this issue a bit and increases the max ISO to 1600. Not bad.

The camera can't take photos in RAW format. It really isn't a big deal to most people, but if you plan on doing a lot of heavy photoshopping to your images, you will find that using images saved in RAW format retains more detail in the end. Not critical, but it would of been a simple feature to add that would of pleased the few out there that use it.

The sound recording is in stereo and works great. I took the camera to a rock concert though, but unfortunately the loud bass of the music caused some major sound distortion. The video mode was also not able to pick up enough light to give the scene much detail. The photos came out great though, especially thanks to the strong flash, zoom, and rotatable LCD.

The auto focusing worked well overall, but it had a LOT of trouble focusing properly in dark lighting, and especially when using the zoom in that case too. Using the manual focus you can get around that issue, but it's frustrating when it occurs. Setting the aperature to ~8.0 seemed to help the auto focus out a bit for some reason though?

I noticed that when looking close at my images, there are times you can see a purple fringe at edges defined by a lot of contrast. An example would be around the edges of a branch against the sky. This is definitly a reason this camera is not a good idea for professional use; with large prints this defect in the image is noticable. Overall though, it doesn't occur in most my photos, and when resized to smaller sizes you can't notice it at all.

The image stabilization works fine. It is not a miracle worker, but you can notice that ever so slight movements and vibrations are pretty much completely killed off. If you have a steady hand you can get an extra Fstop or two when taking a photo in comparison. After the first week of using the camera, it becomes a feature I completely forget having on, except maybe when I'm really zoomed in on something, I wonder why the image seems so stable. 'oh ya! duh!'

I don't really think 6.0 pixels is enough for professional use of nearly any kind, but for standard sheet sized prints and smaller it does the job quite well. I do feel a bit contrained by it when doing Photoshop work, but I manage still somehow. The Canon S5 IS ups the megapixels to 8.0, which is definitly in the right direction.

As for a conclusion, I find this camera to be EXCELLENT in quality and features. I would definitly recommend this camera to an enthusiast photographer on a tight budget, such as an ambitious college student. Those with an SLR camera already might find this camera to be an excellent secondary camera. It is smaller and lighter than SLRs, yet still remains quite a jack of all traits. A professional photographer would probably be happy to carry this with them when not worried about the optimal quality of their shots. Less serious induviduals who want a good camera with a good zoom would find this camera a great option I would say; maybe a soccer mom? It ain't ultra compact though, so don't expect it to be a full replacement to every camera you own. I wouldn't want to take this to the bar with me... that's what my camera phone is for.

Thanks for reading my little review of this camera. I hope it was useful for you. Bye!

1 comment:

Robin said...

Thanks for informative review from user's (non-technical) point of view.
You sold me this camera.