Patience ran out. I picked up a Canon PowerShot S50, and the SataniCamera of yore will be taking its well-deserved place on the trash-heap of history, an extended hangover from a big night out in Tokyo. Herewith initial impressions, a couple of tech notes, and one surprising picture.

It’s bad all right; at this point in history, about the baddest mofo in the digicam ’hood. Technically, it’s essentially a G3, except for it runs five MP rather than four (this is good), it’s quite a bit smaller (this is good, but it’s still a kind of klunky pocketload), and it only has 3x optical zoom (this is not so good), aaaaand... it’s not yer generic silver, but rather a silky jet-black (this is super-bad).

Holy cow, are there ever a lot of controls; I see nine silver buttons on the back face, one of which is a four-way multifunction doohickey. Having said that, it seems well-thought-out; the things that you use all the time (flash adjustments, macro, menu nav) get their own buttons, one of them gets you into a painfully-obvious shoot-options menu.

You can run fully-auto or fully-manual or aperture-priority or shutter-priority, plus you can do bracketing shots and twiddle the white balance and so on to your heart’s content. Plus there’s a mode-wheel that tells the camera to have its best shot at a portrait or landscape or night-scene or high-motion or what-have-you. I really value these since most of my favorite photos have been shot entirely without time for fine-tuning, but just maybe time to twirl one knob once.

I had like twenty minutes after it was home and charged before I had to head out, so I went into the back-yard and and snapped hastily at some roses.

very large JPEG of a Royal Sunset rose blossom

Royal Sunset · Above is an early blossom of a “Royal Sunset” rose; this 963K 2592x1944 JPEG is just the way it came out of the camera, so don't click on it unless you’ve got a reasonably fast modem and a reasonably big screen and are ready to soak up 5,038,848 pixels. On the other hand, if you want to put your good laser printer through its paces, or give your mega Cinema Display something to work with, you could do worse.

I“m not sure about those hints of green in the folds of the blossoms, the light was a little low and I turned off the flash. But it’s a young flower, maybe there was really some green there; further study is required.

A Practical Use for All Those Pixels · Of course the real reason for having a 5MP camera even if, like me, you view almost entirely on screens with less than 2MP, is so that you can crop heavily and still get something decent; see below.

Trellis with three rosebushes

We have a trellis across three sections of the back fence with a climbing rose on each section; here you can see the Royal Sunset on the left, a white Madame Alred Carriere in the middle and a red Dublin Bay on the right. Note that the focus is good in the centre and shaky on both sides, particularly the right. As I noted, it was dim so the aperture was way up there, but attention is going to be required to these depth-of-field issues. The point about all the pixels is that to get the whole width, I had to back way up and the trellis filled only a small part of the frame vertically, so heavy cropping was required, but the result is still more than big enough to be usable. I shrunk it so you can click it without fear of modem-bombing.

There are some colour issues too; in the photo above, the red Dublin Bay roses are pretty well just smudges. This is related to the focus issue, but also, this rose’s blooms are about the most intense red I've ever seen anywhere, to the point that in sunlight you get colour saturation overload in your eyes, let alone in a camera. And indeed, the snaps I tried totally sent the S50 into red-pixel flameout, so I won't reproduce them.

To close, here is a smaller but prettier shot of another Royal Sunset, and a couple of Mme. Alfreds peeking through the foliage. Their scent is enchanting; I shall have to write up our climbing-rose adventures here later, and I think also that they will be a useful photolab to put this badass camera through its paces.

Pretty Royal Sunset rose bloom
· · ·
Mme Alfred Carriere blooms, in foliage

Tech Notes · Some trailing first-impression geek notes; of course you can get all the poop over at the very useful Digital Photography Review or Steve’s Digicams sites, so above and beyond that:

  • For some reason Perl‘s version of the GD package can't read the JPEGs that come out of the camera, it’s fine with them after they’ve been through Photoshop.

  • When I plug the camera into the USB, it doesn’t show up as a new disk, unlike every other camera I’ve plugged into a Windows or Mac box. However, iPhoto pops up and imports the shots just fine; since I have no use for iPhoto, I export them again and shut it down, only mildly irritating.

  • These big JPGs are really making this poor little old 500MHz Powerbook breathe hard. It“s a race to see whether my urge for more power makes me upgrade before the trashy case and flaky screen just give out and force me. It crosses my mind how insanely fast that rugged, plastic-cased XP Thinkpad I was doing typography experiments on was, and how slick its anti-aliasing. The Dark Side beckons...

  • I’m going to have to try working with RAW-format files, it’ll be interesting to see if I can recover from, for example, a rose so red it drove the CCD insane.


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June 01, 2003
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