Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Canon Powershot A650 IS Review


Submitted by J. Keenan on DigitalCameraReview.com

Canon’s newly-introduced Powershot A650 IS becomes their self-described "new top-of-the line" A-series camera offering, and anyone who follows Canon knows they view the A-series as providing a lot of performance at a value price. For someone who wants/needs to shoot at 12+ MP with a camera by Canon, there are only five choices in the current lineup: 1Ds-Mk. III, 5D, G9, SD950 IS or the A650 IS. Opt for any of the Canons other than the A650 IS and you can expect to pay anywhere from $90 to $7,635 more for the privilege. The value part of the equation is looking pretty good so far.

The A650 IS features Digic III processing, Face Detection focus/exposure technology, a 6X optical zoom with optical image stabilization that provides a 35 to 210mm focal length range (35mm film equivalent), a 2.5 inch variable angle LCD monitor to go along with that 12MP sensor, ISO to 1600 with a 3200 setting on tap as a "special scene" mode (albeit at reduced resolution), and a full set of manual controls to complement the typical point-and-shoot automatic modes. Canon packages this all into a nicely-appointed titanium-colored metal and composite body with bright chrome accents.

CAMERA FEATURES AND LAYOUT

Canon provides 4 AA alkaline batteries, a 32MB memory card, wrist strap, CD-ROM software, AV and USB cables and an owner’s manual with each camera.

Camera dimensions are about 4.41 x 2.67 x 2.21 inches with the lens retracted, and a shooting weight (4 AA batteries and memory card installed) of 13.25 ounces. The camera accepts SD, SDHC, and MMC memory cards.

The A650 IS will capture JPEG still images in seven pixel sizes: 4000 x 3000 (L), 3264 x 2448 (M1), 2592 x 1944 (M2), 1600 x 1200 (M3), 640 x 480 (S), 1600 x 1200 (postcard) and 4000 x 2248 (widescreen).

Movies may be captured in AVI format at 640 x 480 pixels and 30 frames per second (fps) or 30 fps LP (selecting LP results in file sizes of 960KB/second versus 1920KB/second) ; 320 x 240 (30 fps) for up to 4GB or 60 minutes and 160 x 120 for 3 minutes at 15 fps.



Canon A720 IS on left, Canon Powershot A650 IS on right

SHOOTING WITH THE POWERSHOT A 650 IS

With an integral handgrip-style body (like most of the A-series cameras), the 650 IS proved a pleasure to hold and shoot one-handed. With the power on/off, shutter button, zoom control and mode dial all arranged in close proximity on the camera top, it’s an easy task to start up, select a mode, zoom and shoot one-handed if need be.


Auto Mode

The default settings for the A650 IS include the "L" (4000 x 3000) pixel setting at "Fine" quality compression. Except where noted, images produced by the A650 IS to illustrate this review were shot at Large/Superfine quality settings and in "auto" or "P" (programmed auto) mode. As a practical matter, I noticed little apparent difference in image quality between the "superfine" and "fine" settings, particularly with snapshot-sized enlargements.

Specific Scene Modes / Special Scene Modes

Portrait, landscape, night snapshot, kids & pets, stitch assist and "SCN" modes may be selected directly from the camera’s mode dial. A "SCN" selection leads to additional choices of night scene, indoor, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium, underwater, and ISO 3200. The camera automatically adjusts settings for what it considers optimal shooting in any of these conditions, allowing for little more than image size, quality and exposure compensation inputs from the user.

Manual Controls

In addition to the suite of automatic settings, the A650 IS also provides for traditional programmed auto (P), aperture priority (Av), shutter priority (Tv) and manual (M) exposure modes. A "custom" (C) setting is also available that allows the user to save frequently used shooting modes or settings to the "C" setting and return to them by simply selecting "C".

In-Camera Editing Tools

The A650 IS permits manual red eye correction, image resizing and attaching sound memos to images.

Exposure Compensation

Exposure compensation of +/- 2 stops in 1/3 EV increments is available except in auto, movie and manual (M) exposure modes.

Light Metering

Evaluative metering is the default method, with center-weighted and spot metering options available. Spot metering can be further refined to meter the center of the monitor or to correspond to the AF frame. Evaluative metering was used for the images captured by the A650 IS. In general, it did a good job across a broad range of lighting conditions/subjects, but as with most cameras, it would on occasion lose highlights in high contrast shots.

Focus/Macro Focus

Normal focus range extends from 1.6 feet to infinity; macro is .4 inches to 1.6 feet; manual is .4 inches to infinity and kids & pets mode is 3.3 feet to infinity.

Monitor/Viewfinder

The 2.5 inch LCD monitor on the A650 IS boasts a 173,000 dot composition, in the middle of a pack where typical compositions range from 115,000 to 230,000 dots. The monitor is difficult to use for image composition in bright sunlight, particularly with subjects of uniform contrast, but is fine for composition or editing in good light. There is no brightness adjustment possible.

The camera also comes with a viewfinder, but it is quite inaccurate. Canon doesn’t quote a figure, but it seems to offer something in the 70 to 80% range of accuracy – there will be a lot of extra material in any frame composed via viewfinder compared to what is seen through the viewfinder. Still, the viewfinder is much preferable to trying to work with the monitor on bright days.

Flash

Canon quotes a flash range of 1.6 feet to 11 feet at wide angle, and 1.6 feet to 6.6 feet at telephoto, both with auto ISO. These ranges seemed accurate in my use. The flash did a good job with color rendition and exposure.

Color

Default color with the A650 IS seemed typical based on recent Canon P&Ss I’ve reviewed, which is to say pleasing and accurate. Color may be adjusted to "Vivid" via the "my colors" mode in the P, Tv, Av, M, movie and stitch-assist modes.

ISO

Auto ISO is the default setting for the A650 IS, but high ISO auto may also be selected; auto ISO ranges up to 200, high auto ISO to 800. Manual settings of 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 may be selected, and ISO 3200 may be accessed via the "SCN" mode. ISO 3200 shots are limited in size to M3 (1600 x 1200 pixels).

ISO performance was typical for recent Canon P&Ss I’ve reviewed – 80, 100 and 200 were quite good and relatively hard to differentiate in the blue sky shots. 400 and up got progressively noisier, with the biggest jump appearing to be between 800 and 1600.

White Balance

Auto white balance is the default setting, and works well for most situations. Daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, underwater and custom settings are also available in the C, Av, Tv, P and M modes.

Battery Performance

Canon reports a 300 shot capability with AA alkaline batteries, and my experience mirrored this result.

Shutter Performance

The A650 IS powers up in about a second, acquires focus quickly in good light and fires the shutter with minimal lag. Shutter performance with flash is also good – the camera uses the red eye reduction lamp rather than pre-flashes in red eye reduction mode. Shutter speeds may vary from 15 seconds to 1/2000th second. With the AF assist beam on, focus acquisition times were quite good in low light conditions.

There is a continuous shooting mode available in most auto and manual modes that can "shoot continuously……until the memory card is full". I got 5 shots in 4 seconds and 10 shots in 8.5 seconds – there was a slow down after five shots, but the A650 IS will shoot a bunch if you need it to. The monitor is not the way to go about shooting sequences, since it blanks out for a short period after the first shot, then lags about a shot behind if you’re panning. The viewfinder maintains a constant picture and makes it much easier to track moving subjects.

Lens Performance

The 6X Canon zoom lens was quite uniformly sharp across the frame at both wide and telephoto ends, with some slight softness in the corners. There was some barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from center of image) at the wide end which could impact images with prominent straight lines for sharp-eyed viewers. Some purple fringing was present in high contrast boundary areas, but only when greatly enlarged. Overall, very good lens performance.

A 4X digital zoom capability also exists, as well as a "safety zoom" feature that provides some additional zoom factor above the 6X optical capability when shooting at reduced resolutions without the image deterioration generally associated with digital zooms.

MISCELLANEOUS

The A650 IS PictBridge compliant, and there are wide and tele converters available that allow the camera to shoot as wide as 26mm or as long as 420mm.

CONCLUSION

The Canon A650 IS packs a lot of features into a reasonably priced, relatively compact digital point and shoot that Canon hails as the leader of its value-intensive A-series line. But that reasonable price has to be matched by performance, and the A650 IS delivers the goods. Good image quality and color; good shutter and flash performance; optical image stabilization; a lens focal range that goes from modestly wide to modest telephoto and the ability to add options to the camera that broaden the focal range are only a few of the nice details in Canon’s latest offering. The camera features auto functions that can have a novice taking great shots right out of the box, but also provides a full complement of manual controls for folks who wish to get more involved. It’s the lowest-priced 12MP camera in Canon’s current fleet.

When I reviewed my last A-series camera, the A570 IS, my gripes with it were that Canon had basic and advanced camera guides instead of a single guide, and the battery cover was difficult to close and felt a little flimsy. The A650 IS has a single guide, and while the battery cover is still a little difficult to close, it feels more substantial. There’s not much to dislike with the A650 IS.

PROS

Good image quality and color
Optical image stabilization
Good shutter response
CONS

Battery cover awkward to close

Friday, October 12, 2007

Review: ViewSonic VP930b LCD Monitor

Size (inches): 19 • Resolution (pixels): 1280 by 1024 • Adjustments: Multiple adjustments • Contrast Ratio: 1000:1 • Interfaces: Analog and digital • Weight (pounds): 15 • Price When Reviewed: $329









The VP930b looks like much like a standard two-footed ViewSonic model--but wearing different shoes. Two new, small projections extend backwards from the original feet, giving the entire stand an uneven X shape. You feel the added stability when you give the physical adjustments--tilt, height, swivel, and pivot--a whirl. This thin-bezeled model adjusts easily, and changes stay put nicely.



At default screen settings, the VP930b threw a pinkish or orangey cast onto most screens. This, and the slightly spidery text, led to respectable but average image quality ratings from our jury. In a subsequent hands-on evaluation, I discovered several color presets in the on-screen display; simply choosing a cooler screen mode solved the problems.



Better yet, the VP930b includes a CD with PerfectSuite, ViewSonic's branded version of Portrait Displays's Display Tune screen adjustment software. With PerfectSuite's tests and wizard, you painlessly calibrate the monitor to your tastes and environment. PerfectSuite includes some of the more unusual Display Tune settings, such as automatic screen pivot, which saves time and fuss for anyone who frequently pivots a monitor from landscape to portrait.



The theft deterrence plug-in, which arrives on CD, renders the monitor nonfunctional if someone disconnects it from the original PC and fails to enter the user-selected password. This may be better for preventing migration of LCDs between offices than for deterring burglars. (And it's odd that the software starts this process when you check a box labeled "enable theft.") If this function interests you, but the VP930b's $500 price tag seems high for your office, look for it on recent Hyundai ImageQuest models as well, such as the $390 Q90U.



Upshot: With a full range of physical adjustments and excellent screen adjustment software, it's a simple matter to get the ViewSonic VP 930b exactly the way you need it.-- Laura Blackwell

Review: Kodak EasyShare 5300 All-in-one Price: $299



Kodak's Brownie camera, introduced early last century, helped to put photography into the hands of the masses. A hundred years later, the imaging company is hoping to transform the market once again.

Considering its unique standing in the history of photography, Kodak has been slow to enter the inkjet printer market. The Kodak EasyShare 5300 all-in-one printer is its first inkjet and a belated acknowledgement from the company that photographic development is indeed moving out of the lab.

The EasyShare 5300 is not the cheapest printer in a market littered with sub $100 machines. But because low cost printers are often subsidised by exorbitantly priced replacement ink, buyers are now being urged by the likes of Choice magazine to seriously consider the full life-time costs of a printer.

The first thing you notice with the EasyShare 5300 is the ink pricing information stuck on the lid of the machine where it can't possibly be overlooked. Black ink costs $14.99 and colour costs $24.99, bringing a refreshing level of transparency to a market littered with costly replacements that you only encounter once you run out of ink.

Kodak's 5300 uses a two cartridge ink system - one colour and one black and white, a bonus for those tired of having to dash out for individual cartridges of magenta and cyan, but a loss for those who prefer to replace colours as they run out.

The jury is still out on which ink cartridge model works out as most cost effective and comparative price-per-page data for the full range of printers on the market is hard to come by. However Kodak says tests conducted by an independent company reveal it has managed to lop about 50 per cent off the cost of printing documents and photos from its closest competitors (based on its ink and paper costs), without compromising crucial print quality.

The EasyShare 5300 itself has a large, rectangular footprint and a quick once over with the tape measure reveals it to have dimensions of roughly 48cm wide x 30cm deep x 22 cm tall.

Perhaps accounting for its size is the fact that it is a printer, scanner and copier all in one box - but it is the manufacturer's promise of cost-effective and lab quality photo printing that is likely to turn the most heads.

The printer is designed to be very easy to use, and it comes with a single set-up sheet which you can ignore at your own peril. Following the reasonably simple instructions, we had the hardware and software all up and running in just over an hour.

The features that most impressed us were the ability to print pictures straight from the camera's memory card - which proved a fairly straightforward process using the large, clear LCD screen attached to the unit which let us scroll through the images we wanted to print. However we were unable to crop our images or remove red-eye in this mode.

Printing pictures from the computer proved more rewarding, with a range of editing and cropping functions and some special effects such as sepia tones and spotlights thrown in.

A USB drive and a separate PictBridge port for connecting a compatible digital camera extend the range of connectivity options for getting the printer hooked up to different devices, and the dedicated photo tray for 4x6 paper also saved a lot of messing about and failed attempts at matching up paper sizes.

The printer can also cleverly detect the type of paper being used (from a choice of regular and premium gloss and matte finishes) and will adapt photo print modes accordingly, again good for those of us who like to point, click and print with a minimum of fuss.

In terms of print speed, Kodak says 4x6 prints can take as little as 28 seconds to print, but our experience was more like a minute for a portrait type photo.

But features aside, in light of Kodak's claim that the printer can produce long-lasting lab quality prints, what we really wanted to see were some beautiful photographs.

Most of our snaps currently languish away on our computer hard drive with only a special chosen few ever being printed off for our albums. After a disappointing encounter with a dedicated photo printer bought at great expense some six years ago, we usually print out our snaps at a local Kmart photo kiosk for 29 cents apiece.

To put the EasyShare 5300 through its paces, we printed off fifteen of our very best digital photographs in 4x6 size on premium gloss paper using a variety of subject matter (babies, cats, boats, sunsets etc) in both indoor and outdoor settings.

Although some of our indoor shots displayed a slight graininess on the skin tones, our outdoor photos were full of rich colour and sharp detail - and all that we printed was certainly comparable to the print quality of the picture kiosk we frequent.

So is the Kodak EasyShare 5300 likely to transform the printer market in the manner of the Brownie camera in the 1900s?

Given that many of the product features do not stand out substantially from those of competitors, success will rest on ink price, picture quality, and historical goodwill attached to the Kodak brand. But while its ink does seem cheaper than that of its peers, and it does produce lovely, vibrant pictures, this model does not seem likely to become the disruptive force that Kodak was hoping for.

Monday, October 8, 2007

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

From PC Connection

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