Sunday, July 29, 2007

New Canon DigiCam

I got sick of my 7.2MP Casio EX Z750 point and shoot, because the lens kept giving me errors when turning on and the damn thing didn't autofocus correctly. I lost too many good shots, because of the autofocus and decided enough was enough. Yes, I installed new firmware on the Casio, but no dice.

So, I started looking into what kind of comparable cameras there were out there. The Casio was 2 years old, so I wanted something with better resolution, anti-shake tech, and an underwater housing option. I also wanted something small and easy for my wife to use. One of the challenges in Japan is coming up with English reviews on the models available here, as often different names are used for the same gear elsewhere or sometimes completely different camera lines. Fortunately, all the major companies' cameras can be switched to English menus. I also found great reviews and information on digital cameras at the Digital Camera Resource Page

After my initial foray to Yodobashi, and coming home with a pile of brochures - I settled on a set of cameras: Fujifilm F40fd, Canon IXY 810 IS, Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3, and Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX33. 

I shied away from Casio cameras - I couldn't bear to get another lemon, and I wasn't thrilled by the options for UW housings. I also shied away from Olympus. Their µ (Stylus) series cameras look awful, and the controls felt awkward. Plus the options for housings limited, as most of their point and shoots are waterproof to 3 meters. Oh, and Sony was no-go. Too expensive and I'm not doing the MagicStick thing again.

My decision wasn't easy. I favored the Fuji F40fd's controls and handling the most. Unfortunately, it lacks any image stabilization. [Its new replacement, the F50fd, apparently does have it... oh well.] The Panasonic TZ-3 has an awesome zoom (10X) but only 7MP resolution and too big for the point/shoot category. The Panasonic FX33 looked very nice, and came in several colors. Panasonic's image stabilization tech is rated very high too. However, they don't come with any Mac software AFAIK and the options on the menus left something to be desired. Furthermore, both cameras have USB 1.0 NOT 2.0! Unbelievable. That was the killer for me. Furthermore, you had to use a hard switch to access macro-mode - limiting your options (auto vs. manual).

So, I decided to go with the Canon. Considering I have a digivideo camcorder and a new multifunction printer from them - I felt fairly confident.

The IXY 810 is also known as the IXUS 950 IS and the PowerShot SD850 IS Digital Elph; I believe the latter is the model name in the US. It was announced in May of this year, and is an 8.0MP camera with 4X optical zoom. From the moment I popped in the battery after charging it - I was fairly impressed. 

Some points to ponder:
  • I had thought the controls were a bit awkward - but after a bit I found I was incorrect. Basic controls can be accessed by slightly flexing a ring in the direction of the icon you want, and these expand a bit on the LCD screen. Nice touch! 
  • You change shooting modes (play, auto, manual, scene, & movie) by using a partly exposed knurled dial. This seems a bit flimsy, compared to other models I saw. There also doesn't seem to be an audio recording mode (though I never used this on my Casio). The 810 IS also has an optical viewfinder, which I thought was important on the Casio - but I never used it.
  • Taking photos is easy and quick (get a fast SD card), and the camera makes a satisfying clunk sound when you take the shot. This audio feedback is really useful, for those of us who used film cameras in the past. Probably other cameras have this, but I don't recall it on my two previous digital cameras. 
  • The face recognition is fantastic. I was aiming my camera at my daughter today, and she kept moving around bouncing her head up and down. The white face square followed her head across the screen. 
  • Image stabilization works well too, though without a flash it has a tough time in low light levels. I played with the manual setting and cranked up the ISO to the max - 1600. It took photos in very limited light, but the image was quite grainy. I think this is to be expected, though. I'll have to play with manual mode more to see its limits.
  • Movie mode is nice (640x480) and allows me to zoom while shooting. (Many cameras don't let you zoom movies...). Also, images stayed relatively in focus upon zooming. This wasn't true for my Casio. However, I'm not sure I prefer the .avi format over the .mp4 format in my Casio.
  • The IXY 810 IS uses a rechargeable battery, but it doesn't seem to be chargeable in the camera itself. You have to pull it out and pop it into the included battery charger. This means that when your camera runs out of battery, you can't plug it in to keep power in it.
  • Another issue I had was with the 2Gb Panasonic Class 6 SD card I used for storage. This SD card won't mount on my Macs via a card reader after formatting on teh IXY 810 IS. In fact, you can't even reformat it via Disk Utility. So, the only way I can move content to my computers is via the USB connector and the Canon Camera Transfer software. This means you have to have a working battery to transfer photos. This is annoying, but I wonder if it is truly an issue for the Canon or for the card. I don't recall having these issues with the same card on my Casio - but my memory's a bit hazy.
  • The third problem I have is with the macro and flash. If you use macro mode, the lens barrel actually blocks part of the flash! So you get this shadow over one corner of the image. Maybe I shouldn't be using flash anyway with macro mode. However, I imagine flash will be useful for underwater macro shots. Lets hope the flash diffuser helps with this.

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