October 9th, 2010, 10:13 PM
Canon Powershot S95 and Some Thoughts About Camera Size
Before reading this post, have a look at Edward Taylor's Canon S95 review at The Online Photographer.
That review pretty much sums up the reason so many serious photographers are looking at the S95 right now (and the S90 before it): very good image quality, responsiveness, and control in a form which can be carried everywhere without inconvenience.
Consider that we now have APS-C cameras which are very close in size to our small (2/3" and less) sensor cameras as shown below:
Why are the small sensor cameras pictured above (LX3 and EX1) nearly as large as the APS-C camera (NEX-5)? The obvious answer is that the small sensor cameras have zoom lenses, while the APS-C camera has a fixed focal length lens.
Now consider this:
Both of these cameras have 1/1.7" sensors. The Canon S95 has a 3.8x (28-105mm equivalent) zoom while the Samsung EX1 has a 3x (24-72mm equivalent) zoom. What gives?
In fact, both of these cameras take advantage of in-camera software correction of barrel distortion at wide angle, which helps keep the lens compact (perhaps this is one reason why the S95 is significantly smaller than the Ricoh GRD III). Part of the size disparity between the S95 and EX1 has to do with the beautiful, fully articulated AMOLED screen on the EX1. That said, the major reason for the difference in size has to do with the difference in lens speed at telephoto.
The Canon has a 6-22.5mm f/2-4.9 lens, whereas the Samsung has a 5.2-15.6mm f/1.8-2.4 lens. When comparing both cameras at ~15.6mm (72mm equivalent), the Canon is an f/4 lens, while the Samsung is about one and a half stops faster at f/2.4.
I realize that this point - that the Samsung is larger because it is faster at telephoto - is an obvious one, especially for readers of this blog. However, it is a point which somehow often seems to get overlooked. Consider the TOP review linked above, where nothing is made of the slowness of the Canon zoom at tele. I was recently asked which camera I would personally choose between the S95, EX1, and LX5, and for me the S95 is in another class altogether than the other two with the distinct advantage of incredibly convenient size and distinct disadvantage of slowness at tele.
Does speed at telephoto really matter? The answer depends on one's personal needs and preferences. If one doesn't shoot telephoto at all, the answer is clearly "No", and it may be worth taking a long look at the Leica X1, Sigma DP1/2, and Sony NEX5 with 16mm lens. For my personal needs, which often involve handheld photography in limited light, the slowness of the S95 at telephoto is almost like not having a zoom at all. I rarely find myself using the telephoto range. The same was true of my Ricoh GX100, which I tended to use almost exclusively as a wide angle camera.
In contrast, I find myself zooming fairly often with the EX1. Today I was at Borders with the family and happened to have both the S95 and EX1 with me. What follows is about as far from rigorous testing as one can get, but I think it makes the point. I happened to have the EX1 at full tele (15.6mm) and f/2.6 (1/3 stop from wide open) in aperture priority mode and took this snap of my wife:
Auto ISO was on, and the camera chose ISO 200 and a shutter speed of 1/30s. Seizing the opportunity for an informal test, I pulled out the S95, set it to Progam mode, zoomed to 15mm, and took another snap. The Canon chose f/4 (wide open), ISO 800 and 1/50s. At any rate, this is what the Canon produced (in-camera JPEG, slight WB tweak afterwards):
The EX1 was shot RAW and converted in Lightroom 3.2, while the Canon shot is an in-camera JPEG with slight WB tweak afterwards.
Again, this was not meant to be a rigorous test, otherwise I would have set the EX1 to f/2.4 (fully wide open), put both cameras to 1/50s, and remembered to use RAW with the Canon. Nevertheless, the point is clear: the faster lens allows one to use a lower ISO and a more shallow DOF, both factors which had major effects (noticeable in a web-sized image without any pixel peeping) on the outcome of this image.
Here's another example of the fast Samsung lens at work, a shot taken of my younger son this morning:
That was a handheld 1/20s exposure at full tele (15.6mm, 72mm equivalent), wide open (f/2.4) at ISO 400. To make the same image with an S95, I would have been at ISO 1600 and would have lost: 1) the background separation; 2) overall detail relative to noise; 3) dynamic range (due to high ISO). Given my son's dark hair and the highlights on his sweatshirt and plastic bag, I know for sure that no small sensor camera (S95 or otherwise) would have pulled that shot off at ISO 1600.
As an aside, the 14-45mm zoom on my GH1 is even slower than the lens on the S95. With its larger sensor, the GH1 kit would have handled the above shot fine but comes in at a considerably larger size than the EX1. In many respects, the lens speed of the EX1 allows it to produce limited light, handheld image results which are not far off from what one would get with a typical Micro 4/3 or APS-C camera and standard kit zoom.
I don't mean to take anything away from the Canon S95. It deserves all the praise, packing a top quality sensor (same as the Canon G12) plus a bright and sharp wide angle zoom in a body the size of a common digital ELPH. It's a camera which photographers of all stripes will find easy to toss in a pocket or a purse without concern for lack of convenience or image quality. That said, there's still something to be said for a camera which sports a lens which maintains a degree of speed throughout the zoom range. I could be content with a camera like the EX1 or LX5 for 90% if my photography. Not so for the little S95.
October 10th, 2010, 12:48 AM
The other reason why I would never consider a S90/S95 is also lens related - the 28mm equivalent starting point. It's far too much to give up compared to most of the competition that is offering 24mm.
October 10th, 2010, 08:01 AM
So you're basically saying that "serious" and "compact" still aren't entirely the same thing and entail compromise.
Fully agree. I have the S90 - can't imagine a better camera for a bike ride where size is paramount, lighting conditions are almost always more than adequate, and I'm shooting mostly landscapes so limited DOF is a non-issue. I find it quite lacking for low light and for any kind of action - even just basic street shooting where you might want to get the shot off quickly.
I'm half thinking about either the LX5 or the TL-500 for street shooting. Sounds like the LX 5 is better for that (in terms of speed and responsiveness) but the TL-500 is better for low light and I'm REALLY attracted to at least the idea of the articulating OLED screen. But it sounds like its a bit slow for street also. Three cameras, three sets of tradeoffs. I'll probably stick with the S90 for ultra compact and just stay with the ep2 for not quite as compact but that can do street AND low light very well. If only they'd stick an articulating screen on it, I wouldn't be having ANY of these thoughts!
October 10th, 2010, 09:22 AM
I firmly believe that the S95 is serious (capable for serious work). Just trying to illustrate the nature of the compromise .
Originally Posted by Ray
For street shooting, I think the LX5 is a better choice than the TL500. It AFs faster, is more flexible for zone focusing, has a better buffer, and the lens isn't that much slower. The articulating AMOLED screen on the Samsung is a beauty though.
October 10th, 2010, 10:54 AM
Amin, thanks so much for this. I've just finished reading the article over at TOP and every single comment, as well - including Ed Taylor's addendum, posted on October 6th, all the way to the end.
Small is beautiful. Depending upon one's needs, wants, bank balance and personal likes and dislikes - there are so many choices, it can be mind boggling!
October 10th, 2010, 04:17 PM
Thanks for the comparo. One of the biggest gripes about the s90 was that the control wheel moved freely and most people had issues with the thumb bumping it. Jeff over at DCresource said that the thumbwheel is tighter with clicks on the s95, but the thumb rest is still an issue. What do you think about it?
October 10th, 2010, 04:40 PM
Dj, the thumbwheel is definitely a bit tighter with clicks. Not sure what is meant be an issue with the thumb rest?
October 11th, 2010, 02:23 PM
Sorry, I said dcresource and I menat imaging-resource.
Canon PowerShot S95 Digital Camera - Review - The Imaging Resource!
If you look at the section about "Whats fixed". They seem pretty happy with the S95.
October 11th, 2010, 02:50 PM
Thanks Jason. Just read it. I've been trying out the Panasonic LX5 at home for a few days. It's a beautifully made camera with lots of great options.
The only thing that keeps nagging at me for what I think I'm after in a small camera is that it is not quite small enough. Don must have bigger pockets than I do. I also realize that I've been spoiled by the light weight of the Leica X1, so that the LX5 actually feels too heavy to me. I know that probably sounds crazy for me to say.
October 11th, 2010, 03:32 PM
Thanks for that - it was an interesting read, and confirmed my decision on what camera to buy, roll on payday
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