Compact Cameras

Canon PowerShot G11 Review

Text and Photos by Allison Gibson

Canon’s latest G-series flagship compact—the PowerShot G11—features some marked improvements from its predecessor, the G10. Image quality is sharper, thanks to the cutback in megapixels to better suit the 1/1.7-inch image sensor, and low-light performance is improved, with less noise at higher ISO ranges. The lure of the G11, and its predecessors, is that it looks and feels more professional than a standard point-and-shoot (and of course, offers full manual shooting control), while at the same time offering a much more compact alternative to an interchangeable lens D-SLR or Micro Four-Thirds standard camera. This place in the market—often referred to as “prosumer”—attracts both professional photographers who want a compact second camera, and advanced amateurs looking to move into more serious gear but who aren’t yet ready for the heft, price and responsibility of a D-SLR.

What’s Different from the G10

The MSRP for the G11 is $499.99, and it remains the same also for the G10. With this new generation G series camera, Canon recognized the need to cut back on the megapixel count—going from the G10’s 14.7 down to 10MP with the G11— despite the industry’s penchant for using these ever-increasing numbers as a selling point. Though comparing the number of effective pixels may be an easy spec for consumers to swallow, jamming more and more megapixels into a sensor the size of the G10’s wasn’t doing image quality and noise control any favors.

The G11’s CCD sensor is the same as its predecessor’s, as is Canon’s DIGIC 4 Image Processor, but the G11 features a newly developed High Sensitivity System for improvements in low-light shooting. The improvements are noticeable—even in conventional settings—with higher ISOs. I tested the G10 last year at ISO 800 in a dark jazz club in Boston, only to find the captured image (unsurprisingly) teeming with noise. The G11 does much better at ISO 800, and even ISO 1600, yielding usable results with greater detail preserved. The G11 has essentially the same wide-angle 28-140mm f/2.8-4.5 lens as the G10, bumping it up slightly to offer 5x optical zoom.

Let’s Get This Out of the Way—the Viewfinder is Awful

An optical (or electronic, even) viewfinder is expected by most photographers on a camera of this level, and it’s nice that the G11 includes one. However, it’s virtually useless for framing shots because the lens is in the way and the coverage is a paltry 77%. The good news is that the 2.8-inch, wide Vari-angle LCD is diverse in all of the various angles you can position it in. It’s extremely bright, making it functional even in direct sunlight, though it’s smaller than the G10’s 3-inch fixed screen. Having been basically forced to use the G11’s Vari-angle LCD exclusively, because of how bad the coverage of the viewfinder was, I found myself contorting it all kinds of ways—even holding it at 90 degrees to block people nearby from seeing exactly what I was shooting. (Which is admittedly neurotic, but comes in handy when you’re trying different settings and don’t need nosey folks next to you looking on.)

Handling the Camera

The G11, as I’ve said, feels more professional than other compact cameras. It’s heavier, larger and much sturdier with its magnesium alloy shell. You feel confident hanging it from a strap around your neck or shoulder—like you know what you’re doing. The controls on the body include: a shooting modes dial on top, which sits atop a very convenient dedicated ISO control dial; an on/off button; a zoom control; and the shutter release. To the left of those on top are the hotshoe mount for an external flash and a dial control for exposure compensation. On the back of the camera, to the right of the LCD, are: a four-way control pad for MF on/off, flash, self-timer and Macro, with a set button in the middle and a scrolling ring around the outside.

Shooting Modes

The G11 has the ability to shoot in RAW (CR2) and JPEG, and offers full Manual shooting, Aperture and Shutter Priorities and Auto mode. There are also 17 Scene modes, including: Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene and Stitch Assist. It also shoots video (640×480 at 30fps). Capture is to SD/SDHC Memory Card, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus card or HC MMCplus card. It offers no internal memory.

Comparing Options

The G11 is fun to use, with impressive image quality, as was the case with the G10 before it. The major improvements are the better quality results at higher ISOs and the Vari-angle LCD, which provides a lot of freedom for getting creative angles. The most exciting thing, though, about shooting with the G11 is actually fantasizing about what the next generation of the G series will hold. Better viewfinder? Please! Full HD video? The lens control ring found in the Canon S90? Thank you! Of course, at $500, it has been argued that one might as well jump into the entry-level D-SLR market and reap the benefits of that level of image quality, lens options and overall control. One generation back, there are several such D-SLRs at a comparable price—lens kit included—such as the Nikon D40 or Canon EOS Rebel Xs. However, as I previously mentioned, an advantage of the G11 is its stealth size, and that’s something you won’t find with interchangeable lens cameras.

Canon PowerShot G11

  • MSRP:
  • $499.99
  • Size/Weight:
  • 4.41”W x 3.00”H x 1.90”D; 12.5 oz.
  • Image Sensor:
  • 10-megapixels, CCD
  • Still Recording Format:
  • RAW, JPG
  • Memory:
  • SD/SDHC Memory Card, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus card, HC MMCplus card
  • Display:
  • 2.8-inch LCD (461,000 pixels); Real-image optical zoom viewfinder
  • Video Recording Mode:
  • 640×480 (30fps)
  • Exposure Metering:
  • Evaluative, Center Weighted, Spot
  • ISO Equivalent:
  • Auto/80/100/200/400/800/1600/3200
  • Power Source:
  • Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery NB-7L; AC Adapter Kit ACK-DC50
  • Contact:
  • www.usa.canon.com/us
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Samsung DualView TL225 Review

SamsungTL225_sm

Text and Photos by Allison Gibson

I’ve been known to cut my husband’s head off. In pictures, that is. He’s several inches taller than me, and when we travel we tend to forgo asking strangers to take our photo for us, opting instead to go for the stretched-out-arm-double-self-portrait. Inevitably, he only makes it into the shot from the neck down, or in other cases, our faces crowd the frame so much that the picture might as well have been taken in our front yard rather than in front of the Eiffel Tower. Sure, there’s the Quick Pod, Arm Extending Self Portrait Device, which would allow for further extension beyond my limited arm’s length, but then I still couldn’t see a preview of the shot to frame it. And, let’s face it; I probably wouldn’t go through the trouble of hooking it up. I’ve seen hacks online where people have glued small mirrors to the front of their cameras to resolve this issue, but it hasn’t been until recently that a camera has existed to remedy this problem professionally. It’s been a long time coming.

The Samsung DualView TL225 boasts two LCD screens—a 3.5-inch touch screen on the back and a 1.5-inch front LCD, which allows you to see a live view of what the lens sees, in order to get a perfect shot. Ingenious, really. Though I don’t know what took so long for this feature to make its way to consumers, I give major credit to Samsung for being the first.

Specs

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The TL225 has a 12.2-megapixel CCD image sensor and 4.6x optical zoom. The 4.9-22.5mm (35mm film equivalent: 27-124.2mm) f/3.5-5.9 wide angle Schneider-KREUZNACH lens allows for shooting wide landscape vistas and large groups of people. There is an expanded list of flash modes, beyond what is often seen in pocket cams, including: Auto, Auto & Red-eye reduction, Fill-in flash, Slow sync, Flash off and Red eye fix. The TL225 records High Definition video (1280x720p at 30fps) in H.264 format, and has a mini HDMI connector.

Interface

If you’re a fan of the touch screen interface, you’ll be a fan of the TL225. The camera body is virtually void of any protruding buttons, save for a small power button, an almost flat shutter release, a zoom toggle and a slim and flat playback button—all on top. The wide 3.5-inch LCD screen fills up the entire back of the camera, and its touch menu is about as good as I’ve seen before for navigating the menu layers and scrolling through shots in playback. A simple tap of obviously marked tabs and symbols takes you where you need to be, and the circular shooting mode menu scrolls smoothly. The touch screen uses “haptic” technology, which causes a little buzz to occur when you tap so that you get the reassuring sensation of having pressed a button and made a selection. Also, the Gesture UI allows for the camera to respond to your hand gesture in order to access certain features.

Shooting Modes

The Harbor shot in Auto Mode
Harbor shot in Auto Mode

The Harbor shot in "Sunset" Scene Mode
Harbor shot in “Sunset” Scene Mode

There is an assortment of shooting modes in the TL225, including: Auto, Program, Smart Auto (which automatically recognizes the scene and adjusts settings), and thirteen dedicated Scene Modes (including: Beauty Shot, Frame Guide, Night, Portrait, Children, Dawn, Sunset, Text, Close up, Landscape, Backlight, Fireworks and Beach & Snow). There is also Dual Image Stabilization (IS) mode, which uses both Optical (OIS)—for combating hand-shake—and Digital (DIS)—as a backup—to help you capture sharp, blur-free shots. In Program Mode you can select from an ISO range of 80-3200, or ISO Auto. You can also choose to shoot in Auto Focus Mode, Macro (for a focusing distance closer than 80cm) or Super Macro (for less than 3-8cm) in order to control depth of field as specifically as the point-and-shoot will allow.

DualView

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The nice thing about the 1.5-inch front LCD on the TL225 is that it turns off and basically disappears if it’s not in use, so that you don’t go around promoting your shots to the world if you use the rear LCD to frame. Also, it lies underneath the glossy, black semiopaque casing of the camera, so it’s much more scratch resistant than the rear screen.

There are additional uses for the front LCD beyond giving you a live view of what the lens sees for self portrait taking. In Child Mode, built-in animations, such as a winking clown, keep the attention of squirming toddlers and crying babies. The Samsung website offers additional Child Mode Animations for free download as well. The Countdown Timer animation is another option to be viewed through the front LCD, so that you know when to smile and when not to blink as you wait for the self timer to release the shutter.

Inconveniences

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My biggest complaint about the TL225 would be the memory issue. Samsung insists on using a Micro SD/SDHC to keep the camera slim and compact, but it ends up being a hassle for most of us whose card readers and arsenal of memory cards are of the SD/SDHC variation. At most, however, this is no more than an inconvenience; not really a flaw. The camera does come with about 55MB of internal memory as well.

Conclusion

All said, I’m a fan. Yes, mostly because of the DualView aspect, but also because I found the overall design and functionality of what could be a “gimmicky” camera to be very good. The $349.99 (MSRP) price tag is a response to the Schneider-KREUZNACH optics, the near flawless UI and the dual LCDs—not the comparable specs and image quality of point-and-shoots that can be found for well under $300. So, those are your options to weigh. Some people assume that the DualView TL225 is marketed only to those interested in vanity, but I think it’s worth considering how often you take self portrait shots, especially if you travel a lot. This is an innovation that goes far beyond vanity or gimmick in my opinion.

Samsung DualView TL225

  • MSRP:
  • $349.99
  • Size/Weight:
  • 3.93”W x 2.35”H x 0.73”D; .365 lbs.
  • Image Sensor:
  • 12.2-megapixels, CCD
  • Still Recording Format:
  • JPG
  • Memory:
  • Mini SD/SDHC, 55MB internal
  • Display:
  • 3.5-inch touch rear LCD; 1.5-inch front LCD
  • Video Recording Mode:
  • 1280×720 (30/15fps) High Quality; 1280×720 (30/15fps) Standard Quality;
    640×480 (30/15fps); 320×240 (60/30/15 fps) in H.264 format
  • Exposure Metering:
  • Multi, Spot, Center Weighted, Face Detection AE
  • ISO Equivalent:
  • Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
  • Power Source:
  • SLB-07ARechargeable Battery
  • Contact:
  • www.samsung.com/us
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Nikon COOLPIX S1000pj Review

S1000pj_BK_front_lo

Text and Photos by Allison Gibson

The Nikon COOLPIX S1000pj’s built-in projector seemed like a gimmick at first, but after using it, I found that the feature quickly moved beyond the realm of “party trick” into that of functionality. Boasting a 12.1-megapixel CCD sensor, a 5x optical zoom 5-25mm f/1:3.9-5.8 Nikkor lens, and an ISO range from 80-6400, the COOLPIX S1000pj fares well against competitors in its category specs-wise. The compact Nikon camera feels sturdier in-hand than many other point-and-shoots, and looks more professional with its gunmetal black finish and bright 2.7-inch LCD.

Image Quality

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The compact COOLPIX S1000pj is an impressive image taker for its class. This point-and-shoot camera doesn’t offer Manual shooting mode—or even Aperture or Shutter Priorities—but its Auto and Scene selections do tend to make the right setting choices for capturing crisp, vivid shots. The shooting modes offered are: Auto, Smart Portrait and Subject Tracking, as well as a solid lineup of Scene modes, including: Scene auto selector, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night portrait, Party/indoor, Beach/snow, Sunset, Dusk/dawn, Night landscape, Close-up, Food, Museum, Fireworks show, Copy, Backlight and Panorama assist. It also shoots movies with sound (640 x 480 at 30fps). Capture is to 36MB internal memory or an SD/SDHC card.

Low-Light

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The COOLPIX S1000pj also boasts a generous ISO range, though the numbers may impress more than the results. I was prepared for the worst when I set out to shoot at ISO 6400, but was actually impressed with the results once I did. Not surprisingly, there is a good amount of noise, but much less than I expected, and the images retained better detail than I expected as well. Still though, you probably don’t want to venture above ISO 800 to be safe. But being as this is a point-and-shoot camera, it is really meant to make taking pictures as simple as possible, and the Scene mode options listed above do the work for you quite well—even the modes meant for low-light shooting.

One seemingly insignificant feature of this camera that made me happy was the fact that whatever flash mode you set it to stays set even after you turn the camera off. Too often with point-and-shoot cameras, you turn the Auto flash mode off and then next time you go to take a shot, the flash is back on again by default, forcing you to take the step to turn it off again before each shot.

Projecting Your Pictures

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The stand-out feature of the Nikon COOLPIX S1000pj—and most definitely the reason for the $430.00 price tag—is the built-in projector, which allows you to display your photos and videos directly from the camera (via internal memory or SD/SDHC card) onto a blank wall or projector screen. The camera comes bundled with two small, plastic projector stands, but I found them to be unnecessary, as setting the camera on any flat surface works. I even projected images stably onto a brick wall in downtown Los Angeles while holding the camera in my hand. There is a sliding focus adjustor on top of the camera to make sure the projections are sharp. You can set the camera to project a slideshow of all of your images, or just share one, and there is a remote control so that you can step away and control the projector from elsewhere.

NikonS1000pj_projected

The projector has up to 10 lumens of brightness, and its throw distance is 10-inches to 6-feet 6-inches. According to Nikon the battery endurance when running the projector is approximately one hour (on a fully charged battery).

Handling The Camera

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The COOLPIX S1000pj is compact and thin enough to fit in a pocket, but it feels sturdy compared to the plasticky lightness—okay, cheapness—of many small point-and-shoot cameras. At 5.5 ounces, it is actually heavier than most others, and the brushed metal surface of the face-plate adds a stylish sophistication to the look of it. I supposed if you’re going to have Ashton Kutcher hold one in ads, it had better look good.

As is almost always the case with point-and-shoots, the S1000pj lacks an optical viewfinder, but the 2.7-inch LCD with anti-reflection coating is bright and clear. The small selection of buttons to the right of the LCD are what you’d expect: the camera button for switching between shooting modes, playback, menu, delete and the four-way control for flash, exposure compensation, macro mode and self-timer. The projector button is conveniently located on top of the camera, right next to the focus slider, on/off button and shutter release. The digital menu is easily navigable and zooming in and out with the toggle on top of the camera is smooth.

It’s Really All About That Projector

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Though the COOLPIX S1000pj does have many of the features one would want in a stylish and slightly more advanced point-and-shoot camera, the feature that really sets it apart is the built-in mini projector. This feature is admittedly impressive, and useful, and I imagine we will see it become more common in the near future (Sony is reported to be working on it, according to Photo Rumors). However, you would have to decide whether it’s worth the approximately $150.00 more you’ll likely be paying for it since cameras with similar specs and no projector can be found for well under $300.00, even by Nikon.

Nikon COOLPIX S1000pj

  • MSRP:
  • $429.95
  • Size/Weight:
  • 4”W x 2.5”H x 0.9”D; 5.5 oz.
  • Image Sensor:
  • 12.1-megapixels
  • Still Recording Format:
  • JPG
  • Memory:
  • SD/SDHC, 36MB internal
  • Display:
  • 2.7-inch LCD (230,000 pixels)
  • Video Recording Mode:
  • 640×480 (30fps) in .AVI format
  • Projector Image Size:
  • 50 to 40-inches
  • Projector Throw Distance:
  • Approximately 10-inches to 6-feet 6-inches
  • Power Source:
  • Nikon EN-EL12 Lithium-ion Rechargeable Battery
  • Contact:
  • www.nikonusa.com
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Olympus FE-5020 Review

fe5020_WineRed_Front

Text and Photos by Allison Gibson

A Super Wide-Angle Point-and-Shoot

When shopping for a compact point-and-shoot camera, there are a slew of features to consider, and they vary based on what is most important to you as a photographer. If you have kids who play sports, you probably want to look for a camera that has a fast shutter speed or maybe a scene mode meant for precisely that type of shooting. If you like to have a camera handy for parties, you want to make sure the image quality is good in low-light. Other things to look for are: zoom, flash, shooting modes, video, battery life, display and ergonomics. The slim, 12-megapixel CCD image sensor Olympus FE-5020 is a slick and stylish point-and-shoot that, for only $159.99 (MSRP), boasts high marks in many of the above categories.

Super Wide-Angle

The 4.3-21.5mm f/3.3-5.8 Olympus lens lives up to the hype of the FE-5020 being a “super wide-angle” camera, as it’s being billed by the manufacturer. To get closer to specific parts of the action, the FE-5020 offers 5x optical zoom, controlled by a quickly responsive thumb toggle to the right of the LCD. It is an unpleasant but not surprising detail to many photographers who prefer to compose shots with a viewfinder that this low-priced point-and-shoot lacks one. However, the large, bright 2.7-inch LCD offers expansive coverage of the wide shots.

Shooting Modes

Magic Filters: The FE-5020's Fisheye filter
The FE-5020 offers Intelligent Auto (iAuto) shooting mode, Program Auto mode and Digital Image Stabilization Plus mode, as well as a large assortment of specialty Scene Modes, including: Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Night + Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Documents, Beach + Snow and Pet. Additionally, there are “Magic Filters,” which include: Pop Art, Pinhole and Fisheye—if you can get to them in the LCD menu, that is. You can only access the Magic Filters option from the Menu button if you are in the Program Auto shooting mode, and once you get to them in the digital menu, they are untitled and offer only a dark thumbnail shot of what the filter will look like when applied. But however difficult Olympus makes it to get to the Magic Filters, they do deliver good results once they are in use. The Fisheye filter offers a much truer rendition of the effect that a real Fisheye lens gives, as compared to the Fisheye Art Filter in the recently reviewed Pentax K-x D-SLR.

The FE-5020 also shoots video (640×480, 30/15fps)—though not High Definition—with sound, which does well to capture sharp footage if the available light is sufficient.

Highs & Lows

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With its sophisticated looks, compact size, super wide-angle lens and 5x optical zoom, the Olympus FE-5020 is a well-priced point-and-shoot camera, however not without a few issues. The shutter release button has a wobbly, unstable feel to it, making it difficult to focus and take quick, precise shots instantly. The shot-to-shot lag time also leaves much to be desired. The built-in flash is much too bright, washing out shots with its overly harsh light in most ambient lighting situations.

The image quality is good, however, in low-light if you punch up the ISO. From ISO 64-400 it does great, and at 800 only a little noise starts to show up. At ISO 1600 you begin to see heavy noise.

The FE-5020’s AF (auto focus) Tracking, which Olympus bills as “automatically tracking moving subjects and continuously adjusting the focus and brightness to capture them sharply with ease,” didn’t always meet that standard for me in capturing a busy, low-lit Los Angeles outdoor night scene.

A great thing about this camera, though, is the outstanding battery life. It uses a Li-ion Rechargeable Battery (LI-42B), which lasts 150 shots according to the manufacturer, and seemed to last even longer than that for me—which was impressive considering that the LCD is always on due to the lack of a viewfinder.

The FE-5020 has 48MB of internal memory, and is xD-Picture Card and microSD (with optional adapter) compatible, which was admittedly inconvenient for me, as my card reader didn’t read the Olympus xD-Picture Card that I tested the camera with. A more accessible SD or SDHC would be a better choice for Olympus to go with. Of course, the camera comes bundled with a USB cable to retrieve images.

Overall, the thin and lightweight Olympus FE-5020—which comes in an assortment of jewel-toned finishes, including wine red, royal blue and dark gray—is a well-priced point-and-shoot with many of the features you may be looking for, plus more. It has a large, bright LCD, a large assortment of auto shooting modes and filters, advanced Face Detection (up to 16 faces), and the TruPic III Image Processor delivers sharp results that you can blow up to poster sized prints.

Olympus FE-5020

  • MSRP:
  • $159.99
  • Size/Weight:
  • 3.65”W x 2.2”H x 0.97”D; 3.8 oz., without battery
  • Image Sensor:
  • 12-megapixels
  • Still Recording Format:
  • JPG
  • Memory:
  • xD-Picture Card (1GB, 2GB); microSD (MASD-1 is required)
  • Display:
  • 2.7-inch LCD (230,000 pixels)
  • Exposure Metering:
  • Digital ESP Metering, Face Detection AE (when Face Detection AF is selected)
  • Special Features:
  • Magic Filters, 14 Scene Modes, Panorama (Up to 10 frames automatically stitchable with OLYMPUS Master software), Perfect Shot Preview, Frame Assist, Voice Recording, Playback Edit Effects (Still Image: Red-Eye Fix, Shadow Adjustment Edit, Beauty Fix, Resize, Cropping)
  • Video Recording Mode:
  • 640×480 (30/15fps) in .AVI format
  • Power Source:
  • Li-ion Rechargeable Battery (LI-42B)
  • Contact:
  • www.olympusamerica.com
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CANON SX110IS Review

canon_leadtemp

by Ron Eggers

Published Summer ’09

Serious Capabilities In A Small Package

Each new generation of consumer digital cameras includes significant advancements over previous models. Higher resolutions, less electronic noise in captured images, larger and more viewable screens, faster response times and broader zoom ranges are making it increasingly attractive to use relatively inexpensive consumer cameras for serious photography.

One of Canon’s newest consumer digital cameras, the PowerShot SX110 IS, is a compact 9-Megapixel camera with a 10X optical zoom lens. While, at $249.99,it’s priced closer to entry-level consumer models, it’s closer in resolution, capabilities, responsiveness and image quality to the company’s high-end G-series cameras that have become very popular with professional photographers as a take-along camera for those quick shots when professional gear isn’t available.

Compact & Full-Featured

The SX110 IS has a lot going for it. The 10X optical zoom extends from 6mm wide angle to 60mm telephoto, which is the equivalent of 36mm to 360mm on a 35mm camera. That telephoto range is extended through a 4X digital zoom. There are consumer cameras on the market with longer telephoto capabilities. Several companies are marketing so called “ultra-zoom” digital cameras with 18X -20X zoom lenses, but they’re considerably larger, heavier and bulkier than the SX110 IS. The SX is extremely compact for its capabilities. It weighs less than 8.7 oz., and extends only 1-3/4-inches when the lens is closed. It easily fits into a shirt pocket, and most ultra-zooms can’t do this. Even with the lens extended, the camera is still only 3-inches deep. It’s possible to take the Canon along just about anywhere when you want to capture high-quality images with a lightweight camera.

Having a 10X optical zoom is great because it enables you to capture close-up images of subjects that may be too far away to shoot with a zoom-challenged conventional pocket camera. And, unlike some ultra-zoom cameras, where images taken at the high end of the optical zoom range are marginal because they’re a little too soft or not focused quite correctly, the quality of the images taken with the SX100 IS is excellent throughout the entire zoom range, including the maximum optical zoom focal length.

The 4X digital zoom makes it possible to move in considerably closer to your subject. But the image quality is degraded when the optical and digital zooms are extended to the maximum, so I tend to shoot with the digital zoom set to “off.” It is possible to limit the digital zoom to 1.3X or 2.2X to reduce the degradation of image quality and still go slightly beyond the 10X range. Like all digicams that have a variable aperture rating depending on their zoom setting, the f/2.8-f/4.3 lens is relatively fast for a consumer model. This is especially true at f/2.8, when shooting wide angle images. With normal focusing, it’s possible to focus down to 1.6 feet. There’s also a macro focusing mode that allows you to focus from about a half of an inch to the normal focusing range.

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