Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W180

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W180 review

Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-W180 is a largely automatic compact digital camera for people who want something that's simple to use and easy to carry in a pocket. It has a 10.3-megapixel CCD sensor, a 2.7in LCD screen, and a 3x zoom lens (35-105mm, 35mm equivalent).

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W180 is 92mm long, 54mm high and 19mm deep. It has a sparse array of controls on its rear (two buttons, a zoom control and a 5-way menu controller), and this is in keeping with what you can do with the camera. That is to say: not much (you can't change the shutter or aperture values yourself).

It does have a Program Auto mode, though, in which you can change the ISO speed and white balance for yourself. But changing settings isn't the point of this camera. It's designed to be a 'no fuss' camera that's easy for anyone to use. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W180 even has on-screen descriptions for its shooting modes (for example, it will tell you that macro mode is useful for focusing on very close objects).

Camera reviews and digital photography advice

A sliding switch on the rear of the unit, which puts the camera in shooting, playback or video mode, sits just below the zoom buttons. There is plenty of room for your thumb to the left of the switch and this makes the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W180 comfortable to hold in a conventional fashion, and it means you won't be inadvertently pressing any settings buttons.

The menu button sits just below the thumb position. You need to refer to the menu if you want to change the shooting mode. You can select from Auto, Program Auto and from one of seven scene modes.

We used the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W180 in auto mode for most of our tests, as we think this is the way most people will use the camera. In this shooting mode, the camera produced pictures that were vibrant and well detailed.

When scrutinised at the their full resolution, the pictures looked feathered and soft, so you won't want to crop them too close if you decide to edit them on your computer. When viewed at the native resolution of a 22in monitor (1680x1024), for example, the pictures looked very well defined. You'll get well defined prints up to A4 size.

Colours were a little on the rich side, but this isn't an overly bad thing as it made our photos look quite vibrant. The camera struggled a little when taking photos in bright sunlight: it slightly underexposed many of our shots. On a typical day, with some cloud cover, it produced well-balanced colours and brightness.

Blue skies, in particular, came out vibrant and images had plenty of contrast.

For close-ups, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W180's macro mode is very useful. You can't focus closer than 5cm from your subject as, which is a slight drawback; 5cm is still nice and close and you will end up with a narrow depth of field and a nicely blurred background.

Macro mode produced some well rendered shots, with good clarity.

In low-light conditions the camera will use a slow shutter speed, but the built-in image stabilisation helps. We took relatively clear photos even at a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second. The Program Auto mode allows you to bump up the ISO speed, but not by much - it only goes up to ISO 400. Pictures become more feathered at ISO 400. This is very noticeable when you view your photos at their full size.

Shot-to-shot speed isn't a highlight of the Cyber-shot DSC-W180, as it takes a couple of seconds to process each shot before letting you take the next shot. This can be frustrating. It takes approximately three seconds for the camera to be ready to shoot from the moment you switch it on.

The focusing performance of the camera was a little off in dark conditions, but it was fast and accurate when there was plenty of light. More often that not, it focused on the object we intended and not a background object. It also has face detection and a smile shutter. It detects faces with ease, but the sensitivity of its smile shutter often confused frowns for smiles. (You can adjust the smile shutter, however.)

At £120, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W180 is good value if you want a small camera that can take vibrant photos with reasonably good clarity. Just don't buy this camera thinking it will give you super-crisp photos that you can print at A3 size. The main disadvantage of this camera is that it uses Memory Stick Duo storage instead of a more common SD card.


Sensor type: 1/2.3in CCD;
3x optical zoom;
lens aperture range: 3.1-5.6;
105mm zoom (telephoto);
ISO 100, 200, 400;
optical image stabilisation;
Maximum shutter speed: 1/2000;
built-in flash; Auto Flash, Flash Off, Forced Flash, Slow Sync;
Auto, Program mode;
Supported memory media: Memory Stick Pro Duo;
USB 2.0, Video out;


The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W180 digital camera is small and easy to use, and it produces decent quality snaps for printing at up to A4. But it's a little slow, it doesn't always focus properly in low-light conditions, and it uses Memory Stick Pro Duo instead of SD storage.


Canon PowerShot S90

Canon PowerShot S90 Review

The Canon PowerShot S90 is the latest of the "S" series point and shoot cameras that Canon created in 1999 when they released the PowerShot S10. The S10 had more features, better construction and better image quality than Canon's other small digital cameras. The "S" series continued for several years, gathering a reputation for sophistication, through the S80 in 2005. Then Canon stopped releasing them; it appeared that the "S" series was at an end. However, over the past year there were rumors that Canon was bringing back the "S" with an innovative small camera optimized for low light performance. The result was the PowerShot S90.

As it turns out, the S90 is good in low light, for a non-DSLR camera, and packs in plenty of other interesting innovations. It has the same 10 megapixel 1/1.7 inch sensor as the PowerShot G11, which DCR's reviewer, Jim Keenan, recently stated produced the best image quality of any compact digital camera he'd ever reviewed. Hopefully this is an additional sign that camera manufacturers have decided that it's time to end the megapixel race, at least as far as Point and Shoot cameras are concerned.

The PowerShot S90 is also equipped with a very fast f/2.0 lens - fast than the f/2.8 maximum aperture of most high quality Point and Shoot cameras, including the G11. Theoretically, this means the S90 can shoot at lower ISOs in dim conditions. It has Canon's latest DIGIC IV processor. It also has an interesting control ring around its 3.8x zoom lens, can shoot in RAW, and has manual exposure controls including aperture and shutter priority. While the S90 is fairly expensive for a Point and Shoot camera, it's priced less than the G11. Let's take a closer look at this interesting and innovative little camera.


The Canon PowerShot S90 is a fairly small camera with a smooth finish that makes it easy to slide in and out of a pocket or a purse. It has a combination metal/plastic exterior that feels pretty solid. It measures 3.9x2.3x1.2 inches and it weighs 6.17 ounces - not an ultracompact, but comfortable to carry.

The bottom of the camera contains a metal tripod mount and a sliding plastic door to the memory card/battery compartment. Separate compartments for the HDMI and A/V ports are located on one side and covered by sturdy plastic latches. I get the impression the S90 would survive a few drops (though you really don't want to drop a fine, expensive camera like this now, do you?). The camera comes in black only.

Ergonomics and Controls

The S90 is fairly heavy for its size. While its 1.2 inch width and thumb rest at the rear makes it possible to get a good grip, its surface is slippery, so it's not a camera you'd want to shoot with one hand.

At first glance the S90 looks very simple. Its front is smooth and uncluttered, without a visible flash. Around the lens is a control ring that users can assign one of many different shooting functions. Next to the lens is the auto focus assist lamp and a pinhole for the microphone. The top of the camera contains a pop-up flash, which, when set to auto, will pop up when the camera's processor believes it to be required. The flash can also be set to always off or always on. The top also contains the on/off button, the shutter button with wraparound zoom control, a circular selector dial and a button called "ring function" which enables you to assign functions to the lens control ring.

The rear of the S90 is largely taken up by its 3.0 inch LCD. To the right of the screen is a four-way circular control panel that also has a control ring around it. Pressing up accesses exposure compensation, right the flash controls, down the self-timer and delete (in photo review mode) and left the camera's macro mode. The function/set button in the center of the panel accepts menu selections and brings up the function shortcut menu. Around the panel there are buttons for displaying information on the LCD, activating the menu, printing images and reviewing photos and movies. The rear of the camera also contains the speaker and thumb rest.

Canon provides a comprehensive 179 page user guide. While I don't mind looking at a user guide on the computer, it's comforting to have a paper copy with you while out taking pictures, especially when you're just getting to know your camera.

Menus and Modes

The S90 uses Canon's two menu system - a main menu accessed by the menu button and a shortcut menu accessed by the function/set button. The main menu contains of three columns - one for shooting settings, one for camera settings, and one for any individual menu settings you choose to register. The function shortcut menu contains numerous options. You can opt to have the menu choices accompanied by a brief explanation.

The top circular selector dial interacts with the menu system, with different menu options becoming available depending on the mode selected by the dial. Here are the shooting modes available to users of the PowerShot S90:

Auto: The camera chooses from 22 variables including scene modes, "i Contrast" (contrast compensation), servo AF (which keeps focus adjusted on moving objects), face detection and continuous optical image stabilization.
Program: Once you are in program mode, pressing the function/set button will allow you to access a menu containing many shooting functions such as light metering, white balance, ISO, drive modes (such as continuous shooting), image recording size (including RAW mode), exposure and focus bracketing and Canon's "my colors" mode, which lets you make numerous adjustments to the color.
Tv (Shutter Priority): This allows the user to set the shutter speed (from 15 seconds to 1/1600 second) while the camera selects what it considers to be the appropriate aperture value. When in this mode the shutter speed is adjusted by the lens control ring.
Av (Aperture Priority): This allows the user to set the aperture value (from f/2.0 to f/8.0) while the camera selects what it considers to be the appropriate shutter speed. In this mode, the aperture value is adjusted by the lens control ring.
M (Manual): This allows the user control over all the camera's functions including shutter speed and aperture value.
C (Custom): This allows use of your registered menu settings.
Movie: When in this mode, you can choose to record at 640x480 and 320x200, both at 30 frames per second. You can incorporate color accent and color swap features into your movies as well. Maximum movie length is an hour with a maximum recording size of 4GB. Canon recommends a class 4 SDHC memory card.
Scene: This allows 18 scene modes, including stitch assist for making panoramas, "color accent," "color swap," and "nostalgia" in which colors are faded.
Low Light: Canon recommends using this for candlelit or similarly lit scenes, with the camera automatically setting a low shutter speed and high ISO, up to 12,800 (lowering the resolution to 1824x1368 pixels, about 3 megapixels).


The S90 has a 3.0 inch LCD with very high resolution (461,000 dots) that can be adjusted to five brightness levels. The screen is bright, colorful, sharp, and fluid. In case you couldn't tell - I really enjoyed using it. The S90 does not provide a viewfinder.


The PowerShot S90 is a fine camera in every respect, with quick and responsive performance, excellent image quality outdoors and very good image quality indoors as well. It's a very appealing camera to those who want close to DSLR image quality in a small, pocketable package.

My only qualm about the S90 is that its optical zoom is very limited. With many very good compact ultrazoom cameras available, from Canon and others, equipped with 10x and 12x optical zooms, why should a consumer settle for a compact camera with only 3.8x optical zoom that's considerably more expensive? A shorter zoom range could mean better control over lens distortions, so keep reading to see if the trade for a smaller zoom pays off.

Shooting Performance

The S90 starts up and shuts down in only a second or two. There's about a three second delay between pictures, but after 15 consecutive shots the camera did not stop to write to the memory card. As shown in the table below, the S90's shutter lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused) was 0.02 seconds, or virtually non-existent.

Its auto focus acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus) was 0.53 seconds, about average for a Point and Shoot camera. The S90 is slow in continuous shooting mode, managing only 1 frame per second, but the number of pictures it can take in that mode is limited only by the memory card capacity.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR 0.01
Canon PowerShot S90 0.02
Kodak EasyShare Z915 0.05
Nikon Coolpix S620 0.07

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix S620 0.28
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR 0.42
Canon PowerShot S90 0.53
Kodak EasyShare Z915 0.94
Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR 3 2.6 fps
Nikon Coolpix S620 3 1.7 fps
Kodak EasyShare Z915 3 1.6 fps
Canon PowerShot S90 ∞ 1.0 fps

The S90 has a fairly powerful flash. Canon specifies a range of 1.6-21 ft. (50cm-6.5m) at wide angle and I found this to be the case. The flash can be set to auto, flash on, flash off and slow synchro, which slows shutter speed to brighten the background. The menu also has a setting for red eye reduction, which uses the auto focus assist lamp. I found flash recharge time to be short, not more than five seconds.

The S90 uses the NB-6LD rechargeable lithium-ion battery which Canon says should last for 220 shots. After shooting 154 photos and four videos the battery still had plenty of life.

Lens Performance

The S90 uses a Canon lens with a focal length of 6.0-22.5mm , f/2.0-4.9 (35mm equivalent: 28-105mm). The lens can focus as close as 2.0 inches (5cm) in macro mode. Lens sharpness is very good, with only minor softness in the corners. I noticed a small amount of chromatic aberration.

I also observed minor barrel distortion at wide angle and pincushion distortion at maximum zoom.

Video Quality

The S90 records movies at two resolutions, 640x480 and 320x200, both at 30 frames per second. The movies are smooth with good color. While optical zoom isn't available in movie mode, I found that digital zoom did a good job. It's kind of surprising that Canon did not include HD capability, considering the relatively high cost and overall quality of the camera. Quality of the lower-res video capture, however, is very good.

Image Quality

The S90 produced some very good images - sharp with strong colors. Contrast was good with infrequent overexposure in strong light, which is a problem with most Point and Shoot cameras. Even indoors the camera performed well and I enjoyed being able to take pictures in low light situations without having to use the flash.

The PowerShot S90 has white balance settings for auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash, underwater and a user-defined custom. I mostly used auto white balance though occasionally I found that auto was a bit yellow under incandescent light and used the tungsten setting.

Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

Exposure bracketing is available if the lighting is tricky and you're not sure whether the camera is exposing the photo correctly.

Image quality is very good through 400 ISO, with some softness present at 800 ISO and more at 1600 ISO, though I found pictures at 1600 ISO to be very usable. There's a slight flattening of color up through ISO 1600, but not so much that small prints at the higher ISO settings can't be used.

It's important to emphasize that since the S90 has a maximum aperture of f/2.0 it will be able to take photos at lower ISOs than other Point and Shoot cameras.


I enjoyed taking pictures with the PowerShot S90. It takes excellent photos outdoors and very good pictures indoors as well. It has a high quality lens with minimal distortion. Leaving the flash off in most low light shooting situations was another bonus. It features excellent build quality and is quick and responsive.

Canon's smart auto mode works well, but the S90 has so many options it won't be long before most users migrate to its program and manual modes. The lens control ring may seem like a gimmick but it does make it easier to fine tune your shots once you take the camera out of auto mode.

I would have liked more optical zoom, and I'm surprised that Canon did not include HD movie capability. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that the S90 is an excellent point and shoot camera - one of the best around.


Compact size
Excellent build quality
Very good images
Fast lens


Not much optical zoom
No HD movie mode


Nikon Coolpix S70

Nikon Coolpix S70 Review

The feature set also includes 720p (1280x720) HD video capture at 30 fps, an effective 12.1 megapixel CCD image sensor, NIKKOR optics with a 5x optical zoom, Touch Shutter and Autofocus, Vibration Reduction image stabilization (a combination of optical and electronic methods), macro shooting, and active D-Lighting to improve detail in high-contrast and dark areas of an image.

The real headline-grabber, though, is still that OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) monitor for playback, framing, and control of the camera. According to Nikon, it "offers the benefits of vivid color reproduction, sharp contrast and the absence of afterimages."

An OLED draws much less power than an LCD, especially because it doesn't need to be backlit, and is designed to offer more dynamic range, deeper blacks, and weigh less than a traditional LCD. This adds up to a display that is smaller, brighter, and holds a better tonal range. All in all, it is supposed to give you a better image on screen and save you some battery life in the process.


A lot of comparisons can be drawn to the Nikon Coolpix S60, the S70's predecessor, because of its slim profile, touch panel LCD, 5x optical zoom, and touch auto focus. Much has been retained from the first generation, but the S70 differs in resolution from the S60's 10 megapixel sensor to the S70's 12.1 megapixels, Touch Shutter, OLED monitor and a sliding lens cover that starts the camera up.

Both the S60 and S70 have an internal lens that does not extend. They share almost the exact same dimensions (S70 has a 0.8 inch depth, and the S60 has a depth of 0.9 inches), but weighs less (S70 weighs 4.9 oz., while the S60 is 5.1 oz.).

The Coolpix S70 sports your classic boxy point-and-shoot look and feel, and features a rubberized front panel for your hand's grip. A chrome-like finish wraps around the edges of the aluminum alloy camera body. With only a few changes that can be made to exposure like ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation, the S70 is almost entirely automatic.

Ergonomics and Controls

Nikon left only a shutter button and the sliding cover over the lens to make all other controls digital. With the lack of buttons, the S70 relies entirely on the touch screen OLED for menus and control over shooting options.

The camera is small, measuring 2.4x3.8x0.8 inches, but has a weighty feel to it because of its metal construction. Although there is a rubberized (faux-leather like) right front panel for handholding the S70, it will go mostly unused because of the large OLED on the back is mainly designed for four finger holding, instead of a hand rest for your trigger finger.

Menus and Modes
The OLED monitor seems expansive, as it is larger than most LCD screens, with the exception of other touch screen digital cameras. Everything is controlled via the back monitor, including all settings, playback, shooting mode, etc. There are four shooting mode options that can all be selected by clicking on the green camera icon on the top left of the screen, or via the Home button in the bottom right:

Easy auto: A completely automatic shooting mode that selects the optimum settings for shooting and exposure. All you need to do is press the shutter.
Auto mode: The most manual of the shooting modes, allowing you to control things like white balance, exposure compensation, ISO, continuous shooting, flash, etc.
Scene mode: There are 17 different scene modes that range from sports to a panorama assist.
Movie mode: Shoots 720p (1280x720) HD video at 30 fps, with sound.
The menu system of the S70 is attractive and easy to navigate, though you're not likely to use them heavily since this is such an automatic digital camera. The easiest way to change the camera settings is in the Auto mode, where there are several boxes surrounding the monitor that help you change different settings. For example, there is the Green Button in the corner to change the shooting modes with a Playback button under it to review your images. There is also a mock zoom lever icon that operates zoom function which to be honest, is extremely sluggish and unresponsive.

One unique feature of the Coolpix S70 allows the user to adjust image brightness by use of slider bars in different Scene modes such as Portrait and Night Landscape.

Overall, the menus are laid out logically and are easy to understand, even for a first-time user, although it may take a few minutes with the camera to get used to the Touch Shutter.

At the beginning of this review I mentioned the benefits of the OLED technology utilized by the S70, such as power saving and better image playback. For the most part, the S70's monitor somewhat achieves this.

It is 3.5 inches in a wide 16:9 aspect ratio, but still plays back images in the standard 4:3 aspect ratio. After using the camera and checking out the images I captured, I could not, at all, tell the difference between it and your standard LCD screen. This may be because the 288k dot resolution is a little low. I ran into a few instances when an image appeared to be in focus on review, then later when I uploaded it to a computer screen, was obviously blurry. A boost in resolution may have helped me distinguish whether or not my images were properly focused.

I also found the functionality of the touch display to be unreliable. I say this because I had trouble occasionally enacting certain functions, such as changing the shooting mode, and I found myself pressing more than a few times on the same spot before it would work. It left me wanting the haptic feedback of the Samsung TL225's touch monitor that I reviewed last month.

As far as framing and playback of the images are concerned, it's easy to frame them up, but playback is a little stilted as well. When you are using the swiping action, used for when you want to peruse through your different images, it didn't work every time I swiped. This might be a result of oils left by the human hand. My overall impression of the display is that Nikon should be commended for adding this new technology, but should have offered more in terms of resolution and touch control.

The Nikon S70 is a snapshot camera, with nothing much in terms of control. It is a camera that relies heavily on the use of the touch screen for all operations, big or small, and shouldn't be looked at to push the limits of speed or fast processing

While the OLED display does work well in various lighting conditions, including overcast and sunny days, the low resolution of the monitor makes it only comparable to higher resolution LCDs. It's important to bring up the touch screen in terms of performance, because you have to rely heavily on it to get anything done, and that is what really bogs it down. With the mere lack of buttons, there is no way of getting around using the touch screen, which can make the S70 frustrating when you are using it out in the field.

Conversely, when we are talking pure numbers, especially when it comes to performance, the S70 is a middle-of-the-road performer. Probably the fastest thing about the S70 is its start up time. The camera is powered up by slipping down the lens cover. It takes something like a half to one second to fire up the OLED monitor.

Shooting Performance
The raw numbers from the S70's lab test still reflect it to be a moderate performer, both in the field and a controlled environment. Shutter lag good, in fact, only second to its competition, rifling in at .02 seconds. It handily beats the Samsung TL225. AF acquisition was as sluggish in the field as it was in the lab, with lab results at about 0.67 seconds, reflecting for me in the field less than a second to a few seconds to get a sharp image in low-light conditions. Continuous shooting mode, which gives you two images at the speed of 1.5 fps, is also moderate.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8 0.01
Nikon Coolpix S70 0.02
Canon PowerShot SD940 IS 0.03
Samsung TL225 0.04
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8 0.27
Canon PowerShot SD940 IS 0.34
Samsung TL225 0.41
Nikon Coolpix S70 0.67
Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8 3 2.2 fps
Nikon Coolpix S70 2
1.5 fps
Samsung TL225 7 1.0 fps
Canon PowerShot SD940 IS ∞
0.9 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

There are three auto focus options: Touch Shutter, Touch AF/AE, and Subject Tracking. Touch Shutter is an automatic shooting option that lets you touch any part of the screen to lock focus and capture an image without having to do a half shutter press like most cameras to get pre-focused. This can be bad or good - good in the sense that it cuts down on shooting time, but bad since the image sometimes came out blurry, especially in macro mode.

Touch AF/AE was pretty cool, and offered the most control over shooting. With Touch AF/AE you touch the OLED on your subject anywhere in the frame and the S70 will focus on that element. Once focused, you have to press the shutter. Tracking does its job, too. You can select a moving element, such as flying flag or a boat steaming in the background to keep an eye on its focus, and then press the shutter.

I also used the different versions of flash control: Auto, Auto with red-eye control, fill flash, off, and slow sync, and they were effective for the most part. At the wide-angle of the focal range you can fire flash up to 11 feet, and extended to telephoto, the flash is effective up to 8 feet.

The battery life of the Nikon S70, according to CIPA standards, is 200 shots before you need to recharge the Li-ion EN-EL12 battery. With one day of field shooting taking probably less than 200 shots, I didn't run the battery down very much. It seems that the OLED does in fact improve battery life compared to a regular LCD.

Lens Performance
The Coolpix S70 gets a 5x optical zoom, which is 28-140mm with a maximum aperture range of f/3.9-5.8. When shooting at wide angle you can see a noticeably prevalent barrel distortion in the center of the frame, which appears circular.

When I shot at the telephoto 140mm, I didn't find a problem with pincushion distortion, which can sometimes happen at an extended focal length. Also, I couldn't find any evidence of chromatic aberration like purple fringing at wide-angle or in contrasty images.

Video Quality

The Nikon S70 has an okay movie mode, recording at resolutions up to 720p HD. Video at the highest setting is pretty good compared with other compacts and pocket camcorders I have used.

The S70 has different resolutions for video capture, including 640x480 at both 30 or 15 fps, and 320x240 at 30 or 15 fps.

Image Quality
The images right out of the box are somewhat saturated, especially reds, blues, and yellows. Unlike other point-and-shoots, the S70 has no real control over different color options, leaving you with a default setting for all shooting. This would be all well and good if the saturation issue wasn't there.

Since you can't control metering at all, you have to rely on the S70 to properly expose every frame, which can often lead to over-exposed images in contrasty scenes. Although we found that the camera didn't always reproduce colors faithfully, images out of the camera are sharply focused.

The camera's white balance can be changed manually in auto mode, giving you options of preset manual, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, and flash. The daylight and incandescent worked well, especially daylight for outside work, and Incandescent for indoor shots.

Auto white balance under our studio incandescent lights was predictably poor. As you can see in the image from our lab test, the image is very warm. The same is true for fieldwork, especially in poorly lit scenarios, where auto white balance would sometimes overexpose sky details and foreground elements.

Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

ISO performance was relatively good from ISO 80 to about ISO 400. Once I hit 800, it image quality declined as a lot of grain was introduced to my images. This isn't unusual of a small sensor with high pixel density.


There are plenty of features we liked about the Nikon S70, including the Touch Shutter, 720p HD video capture, great image sharpness, compact and sleek design, and power conserving OLED with great functionality any lighting condition. But these positives just don't outweigh some of its issues, like lack of manual control, price tag, over-exposed images, and a somewhat unreliable touch screen that isn't supplemented with physical buttons.

It is a great idea, in theory, to throw in an OLED instead of a common LCD as a touch viewfinder/display. It certainly out-performs a standard LCD in bright sunlight, but it doesn't really shine against the competition because its resolution is only average.

What the Coolpix S70 offers is minimal user input and a touch-only interface. There's a certain audience for that kind of camera, and the S70 isn't necessarily a bad choice for that demographic. An expansive touch display and faux-leather grip scream style, and the technology has a lot of potential. But for your $250-300, you'd be much better served by a camera that's more focused on practical usability.


Small, lightweight and attractive
HD video capture
OLED viewfinder/display is a good idea
OLED provides power saving functionality
Touch Shutter


Image quality is inconsistent
Touch screen can be difficult to use
Over-exposed images
Little manual control options
OLED has too small of a resolution


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EOS 7D

With the recent introduction of the 18 megapixel Canon EOS 7D, the EOS DSLR family boasts a fairly linear progression of resolutions in a product lineup that formerly had a gap between the 15.1 and 16.1 megapixel offerings and the 21.1 megapixel models. Now Canon DSLRs can be had with 10.1, 12.2, 15.1, 16.1, 18 and 21.1 megapixel sensors. Nobody else comes close to offering such a range. And while the 7D bears some family resemblance to the 50D in terms of size and the 5D Mark II in weight, don't get the idea it's just another model with different resolution. New is the operative word for the 7D - as in a number of new features never before seen on any Canon EOS DSLR.

There's a new 19 point autofocus system with all cross-points; a new iFCL (intelligent focus, color and luminance) metering system with 63 zones; a new intelligent viewfinder and a continuous shooting rate of up to 8 frames per second (fps). There's a new electronic level and the new sensor retains the Canon APS-C sizing of 22.3x14.9mm, resulting in a 1.6X crop factor. Dual Digic 4 image processors help handle the large files and continuous shooting rate. The camera is the third EOS to shoot full HD (1080p) video and accepts type I and II CF cards and UDMA-compliant CF card media.

Available as a body-only, the camera will also be offered in a kit with Canon's EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM zoom lens per a Canon U.S.A. press release. Canon includes an eyecup, neck strap, stereo AV and USB interface cables, a battery pack and charger, CD-ROM software and printed instruction manual with each camera.

That same press release calls the 7D "... the most functional and innovative DSLR Canon has released to-date." Sounds good on paper - let's see how it does in the field.


The 7D features a magnesium alloy body with dust and moisture resistance, as well as a shutter tested to 150,000 actuations. Build quality of even entry level DSLRs has always been good in the units from various manufacturers I've tested, and the 7D looks to be well constructed and robust. The materials, particularly the rubber-like patches applied to gripping surfaces seem to be a cut above the entry level units, as befits a body carrying a $1700 price tag.

While the camera will be largely familiar to Canon DSLR users, there are some differences in control placement from other current models in the Canon lineup. I suspect folks moving into a 7D from another Canon body will be coming mostly from the 50D/40D/entry level user's group, rather than the 5D/5DII or 1D crowd, so we'll discuss the differences relative to the 50D in the next section.

Ergonomics and Controls

The 7D has a deeply sculpted handgrip and prominent thumb rest on the right front and rear of the camera body, respectively. There is ample room for finger clearance from the lens mount/lens barrel in the front, and the shooting finger falls naturally across the shutter button. The thumb rest at the rear supports the thumb nicely as well.

While I don't shoot Canon DSLRs, I have held and played with most of the current lineup in camera stores - not the most intensive study to be sure - and I like the feel of the 7D in my hand the best. This a purely subjective judgment and might well be influenced by having the 7D to use for about a month, but the other Canon bodies just didn't feel quite as good.

Camera back control layout differs from the 50D in both number of controls and location in some cases. The AF-ON, AE Lock and AF point selection/magnify buttons occupy similar locations on both cameras, as do the quick control dial and multi-controller. The 7D adds a live view shooting/movie shooting switch and start/stop button above the multi controller, and moves the erase, playback, info, and picture style selection buttons from the horizontal configuration below the monitor to a vertical alignment below the menu button to the left of the monitor.

The electronic level (pitch and roll) can be displayed on the LCD monitor or in the viewfinder. Here's the level on the monitor - you can display it with the camera set for normal shooting (Level photo) and also with the camera set to shoot in Live View (Level 2 photo) - in the viewfinder focus points illuminated in red indicate the camera attitude.

The 7D also adds a quick control button (the first EOS to do so) above the menu button and morphs the live view shooting/print share button into a RAW-JPEG/direct print button. Pushing this button brings up a screen allowing access to a number of camera shooting settings without having to resort to internal menus.

Quick menu

The RAW/JPEG button provides a quick transition to the simultaneous RAW/ JPEG shooting mode from whatever image quality setting was previously selected: it will capture a RAW file in addition to a JPEG setting or a large JPEG file in addition to a RAW setting.

The function button of the 50D is gone from the 7D, and the power switch moves from adjacent to the quick control dial to beneath the mode dial on the top left of the body - making turning the camera on a two-handed proposition. The former power switch of the 50D becomes a quick control dial lock on the 7D.

The 7D also adds a multi-function button near the main dial on upper right of the camera body; the rest of the control buttons atop the body remain largely unchanged as to location.

Menus and Modes

Canon must be trying to cast a wide net in attracting potential customers to the 7D - in addition to the usual DSLR manual and semi-automatic shooting modes, the 7D tosses in a couple of fully automatic modes that offer few user inputs - the kind of modes typically found on point and shoots and entry level DSLRs.

Full Auto: the camera handles pretty much everything, the user can select image quality and single shots or self-timer.
Creative Auto: the camera handles pretty much everything, but the user has expanded input options including image quality, single or continuous low speed shooting, self timer, some color options, exposure compensation and blurred or sharper background.
Program Auto: camera sets aperture and shutter speed and user has wide variety of inputs.
Aperture Priority: user sets aperture, camera sets shutter and user has wide variety of inputs.
Shutter Priority: user sets shutter speed, camera sets aperture and user has wide variety of inputs.
Manual: user sets aperture and shutter speed, has wide variety of inputs.
Bulb: shutter stays open while shutter button is held down, user has wide variety of inputs.
Camera User Settings: three custom modes that allow the user to register preferred camera settings and functions for quick recall.
Movie: can capture 1920x1080p at 30, 25 or 24 fps; 1280x720p at 60 or 50 fps and 640x480p at 60 or 50 fps.


The 3.0 inch LCD monitor is of approximately 920,000 dot composition and adjustable for seven levels of brightness. The monitor is usable for image composition and capture in all but the harshest conditions of bright outdoor light, though there are times when it becomes inadequate for the task; coverage is 100%.

The eye-level pentaprism viewfinder features a diopter adjustment to accommodate varying degrees of eyesight and offers 100% coverage.


Aside from smoothing the pixel gap in the Canon sensor lineup, the 7D gives Canon a good performing camera at a price range that just happens to also fit into a gulf between the $1100 MSRP of the 50D and the $2700 ticket to ride with a 5DII. Price or pixels - take your pick and
Canon has you covered either way.

Shooting Performance

The 7D, like any higher performance DSLR, starts and shoots virtually instantly. Sensor cleaning when the 7D power switch is set to ON or OFF is the default, and on startup takes a little over 3 seconds. You can abort the sensor cleaning by going to a half push on the shutter button to begin shooting immediately, or the cleaning can be disabled via internal menu.

Shutter lag is basically non-existent and AF acquisition time is excellent as well, with the figures coming in at 0.02 and 0.17 seconds, respectively. Single shot-to shot times (shoot, write, reacquire focus and shoot) are practically as fast as you can get off the first shot, lift off the shutter and take the next shot - something in the order of 0.8 seconds.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Canon EOS 7D 0.02
Nikon D300S 0.02
Pentax K20 0.04
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 0.06
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon D300S 0.15
Canon EOS 7D 0.17
Pentax K20 0.28
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 0.37
Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate
Canon EOS 7D 160
8.0 fps
Nikon D300S 14 6.9 fps
Pentax K20 38 3.0 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 5 2.8 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

Continuous shooting speed can be as fast as 8fps - faster than anything from Sony, Pentax, Olympus and Fuji; matched by the Nikon D300/300S with the optional MB-D10 battery pack and surpassed only by the Nikon D3 and Canon EOS 1D/III and IV. Using Lexar UDMA 300X CF cards I got between 16 and 20 continuous RAW files at the 8fps rate before the 7D needed a short break.

Using a 600X SanDisk Extreme Pro UDMA 6 card, the camera also captured 16 to 20 files before stopping, but write times with the 600X card were significantly better - about 6.5 seconds to clear the buffer versus 11 seconds with the 300X.

Our studio tests got 160 JPEGS, only about 140 more than the longest sequence I've ever shot in the field. Here are four shots from a sequence at 8fps - the advantage of the higher speeds is you get the "in between" shots the 4 and 5 fps cameras miss. If you compare the first and third shots and particularly the second and fourth, you can get an idea of how much can be missed shooting at the lower rates.

The EOS 7D carries a new Canon AF system consisting of 19 cross-point sensors (cross-point sensors can establish focus in both horizontal and vertical planes). There are 5 AF area selection modes: single point (manually selected); zone AF (the 19 points can divided into 5 separate zones covering various portions of the field of view); auto select 19 point AF (used in the fully auto and creative auto shooting modes); spot AF (same as point AF but the AF point covers a smaller area than in point AF) and AF point expansion (manual selection of the active point and adjacent points are then also used to aid with focus).

Any of the modes worked well with static subjects, although users should keep in mind when using the auto select or zone methods that all AF points in the selected zone are used to acquire focus and will tend to focus on the nearest subject. For moving subjects I found that AF point expansion worked best - but only after some trial and error. In addition to simply selecting the AF point expansion mode, I ultimately ended up adjusting the AI Servo tracking sensitivity to slow in order to get the best results.

The higher performance DSLRs have a myriad of settings in various menus that impact their performance, and fine tuning these combinations is the key to realizing the full potential of any camera. I shot over 2500 captures in preparing this review, many of them sequences testing the ability of the 7D to acquire and/or keep focus on moving subjects.

Here are six shots from a sequence of thirteen tracking a single gull through some crowded airspace - the 7D did a pretty good job of not losing track of the bird despite a lot of movement in and out of the frame. These were made with the 200mm lens at f/4 to pick up some shutter speed and within thirty feet of the birds so depth of field was fairly shallow. Overall the 7D handles moving subjects well with the right settings in the camera - it's not perfect and will lose track every so often, but it turned in a decent performance.

The 7D built-in flash has a guide number of 39 at ISO 100, which translates into a range of about 10 feet with the lens set at f/4. Recycle times in moderately lit conditions with a fully charged battery ran only a second or so - and Canon lists three seconds as the nominal recycle rate.

When shooting in aperture priority, the flash can be set to fire and illuminate a subject in the foreground while the camera holds the shutter open an extended period to use natural light to expose the background. In this example, the owl in the foreground is lit by the flash while the castle is exposed for the ambient light.

The 7D flash can also act as the master unit with Canon Speedlite flashes with wireless slave capability and remotely trigger these other flashes to fire.

Canon rates the 7D battery for about 800 shots with no live view shooting and 50% flash usage; that figure drops to about 220 shots using live view and 50% flash. Continuous live view shooting lasts about 90 minutes.

Lens Performance

Canon provided an EF-S 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS USM zoom lens for this review, and also an EF 200mm f2 L IS USM to help us better explore the 7D's potential for sports and action shots with that 8 fps motor. Here's what the wide and telephoto ends of the zoom look like, as well as the 200mm.

17mm wide angle

85mm telephoto

200mm telephoto

Because the 17-85 is not being offered as a kit lens with the 7D I'll just briefly comment that it proved to be a nice walking around lens, not overly fast and exhibiting some barrel and pincushion distortion with straight lines in images. One advantage of the DSLR is that there are usually a large number of lenses available to mate with the body depending on your particular shooting need(s). The 7D accepts both EF and EF-S lenses, which total over sixty at last count.

Video Quality

Video quality out of the 7D at the 1920x1080p HD resolution is good - our demo videos were shot at the "cinema" speed of 24fps, but 30 and 25fps speeds are available as well. The 7D uses a CMOS sensor for video and still image capture, and that type sensor can be subject to "rolling shutter effect" which causes vertical stationary objects to appear to be bending as the camera pans across the scene. The 7D does exhibit this effect, which is slight at normal panning speeds but can be greatly exaggerated by panning quickly back and forth at, frankly, speeds that no reasonable person would ordinarily employ. Panning to follow a fast jet at an air show would be one example where the effect might be more objectionable without purposely trying to initiate the phenomenon.

Reduced resolutions of 1280x720p and 640x480p are also available at 50 and 60 fps rates. Regardless of resolution, video length is limited to 4GB or 29 minutes 59 seconds. AF is available at the start of recording, but continuous AF is not provided. Manual focus and zoom are available, and the 7D also allows for manual exposure in addition to automatic.

Video recording is a simple matter of setting the live view shooting/movie shooting switch to the red "movie" icon, acquiring focus automatically by means of a half push of the shutter or full push of the AF ON button (or focus manually) and pushing the start/stop button to initiate capture. A second push stops recording. As heavy as the 7D is with even the lightest of lenses, a tripod or some other form of camera support is a good idea for extended video shoots. Holding the 7D and lens with even partially extended arms in order to see the monitor will get tiring pretty quickly.

Image Quality

Shortly after the 7D reached market Canon issued a firmware update to correct a problem with ghost-like images in some 7D captures: "In images captured by continuous shooting, and under certain conditions, barely noticeable traces of the immediately preceding frame may be visible. This phenomenon is not noticeable in an image with optimal exposure. The phenomenon may become more noticeable if a retouching process such as level compensation is applied to emphasize the image."

Our demo model 7D displayed no traces of the problem for over 2000 shots, but checking a sequence from an overcast day at the beach I found one example of the phenomenon: two shots of a gull with the ghostly outline of the preceding shot appearing on the second. While I use a calibrated 24 inch LCD monitor to review shots and made the discovery on that screen, the ghost was faintly visible on a 5x7 print I made of the image.

Here are the two shots as they came out of the camera:

In any event, the firmware update has reportedly fixed the problem, which was subtle, at least on our problem image. Folks contemplating moving into a 7D should plan to update the firmware if their camera hasn't had the latest version installed at the factory.

Default images out of the 7D were generally pleasing with regard to color fidelity, contrast and sharpness, but are output at 72 dpi which results in a 72x48 inch image at 100% enlargement - you're going to be resizing for both printing or internet/email usage.

Not sure what Canon's thinking is on this one - if the images are output at 300 dpi that resolution is excellent for printing as is, and you're left with resizing for internet/email only.

And while we're on the subject of image size, let's talk about those 18 megapixel resolution files. Conventional wisdom holds that the higher resolutions tend to be attractive to folks who do landscape or scenic shots where the higher pixel counts bring out greater detail in those wide vistas. Studio work is also mentioned - the ability to bring out detail in portraits, or commercial products for example. And finally, more resolution means larger files which can then be cropped more aggressively yet still retain good photo quality, or, in the absence of cropping produce larger images.

Cropping is a useful tool to improve images as long as the perspective of the shot isn't ruined - composing the shot as it will finally appear in the camera is always preferable to a composition that will need surgery in the computer later. Here's the original and a cropped version of an Anna's hummingbird - both at 15x10 inch size with the original at 345 dpi and the crop at 247 dpi.

With many competitors' cameras carrying 12 megapixel class sensors, the 18 megapixel sensor of the 7D enjoys an almost 50% advantage in pixels. The 7D has sensor pixel dimension of 5184x3456 to produce that 18 megapixels; a Nikon D300s has pixel dimensions of 4288x2848 to produce 12.3 MP.

If we resize both files to 300 dpi for printing, we get a 17.28x11.52 inch print out of the 7D and a 14.29x9.49 inch print out of the D300s. So 50% more pixels doesn't get you a 50% larger print. There's more to work with, but perhaps not the sweeping amount many folks might expect out of such a seemingly large boost in resolution.

The 7D offers evaluative, partial (9.3% at the center of the screen), spot (2.3% at the center of the screen) and center-weighted metering options, with evaluative being the default. In practice, evaluative worked well for a variety of conditions and was used for the captures in this review. The 7D fairly consistently lost highlights in the high contrast surf shots I try to use to test metering systems. However, the highlights were barely being lost and 1/3EV under exposure compensation fixed virtually all the problems.

The 7D offers a highlight tone priority setting that seeks to expand the camera's dynamic range between the standard 18% gray and bright highlights, smoothing out the gradation between grays and highlights. Highlight tone priority helped with the highlights as evidenced by histograms of individual shots, but with the downside that ISO settings from 200 to 6400 are required - the 100 to 200 ISO range is disabled when this setting is enabled.

Auto white balance worked well for most lighting conditions and shot warm under incandescent light. The 7D also offers daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, custom and color temperature settings.

Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

Generally, adding pixels to the same physical sized sensor increases noise in digital captures - both the additional pixels and their smaller size are largely to blame. But it's also true that technology inexorably marches on and that may be why the 7D noise performance came as a pleasant surprise. The camera doesn't re-write the book on low ISO noise performance, but by the same token noise performance didn't take the hit I thought it would, at least to my eyes.

Generally, adding pixels to the same physical sized sensor increases noise in digital captures - both the additional pixels and their smaller size are largely to blame. But it's also true that technology inexorably marches on and that may be why the 7D noise performance came as a pleasant surprise. The camera doesn't re-write the book on low ISO noise performance, but by the same token noise performance didn't take the hit I thought it would, at least to my eyes.

ISO 100 and 200 are quite clean and hard to tell apart - 400 is quite good but showing just a hint of noise and 800 a bit more. ISO 1600 is still fairly good but showing more noise, and 3200 has dropped off even more. The biggest individual drop looks to be between 3200 and 6400, both of which I'd try to avoid if possible. The 7D has "standard" high ISO noise reduction enabled as a default and the camera actually applies noise reduction at all ISO speeds - in the low ISO range the effect is primarily reduction of noise in shadow areas. There are also "low" and "strong" reduction settings, as well as a disable option.

With the introduction of the 7D, Canon has fit a camera neatly into both the resolution and cost gaps that had formerly existed in their DSLR lineup. Now there's a smooth progression of resolution from 10 megapixels to 21 at roughly 2 or 3 megapixel increments, and a $1700 camera to fill the gap between the $1100 50D and $2700 5DII.

The Canon EOS 7D is an interesting mix of features - on the one hand it brings a new level of performance to the Canon line with a new AF system, new viewfinder, new metering system, new sensor with dual Digic 4 processors and an 8 fps motor that screams "professional" (or at least loudly proclaims "advanced amateur"). In the next breath we find things like 2 auto shooting modes that could have been pulled right from your daughter's Point and Shoot and a face detection live view shooting mode. Huh?

Fortunately, the serious side wins out in the end and Canonistas have a nifty new body to move up to if they're shooting at the entry level now, or a legitimate budget backup to their pro body at the other end of the scale. It's hard to call a $1700 body-only camera "budget", but considering the overall performance of the 7D it's pretty close to being a steal.

The autofocus is pretty good, image quality is very good, and ISO noise is good considering the resolution. The camera zings along at 8 fps when it needs to and will do that all day before the buffer fills if you're shooting JPEGS. There's true 1080p HD video if you're into that sort of thing and the whole package is well built and designed to resist the elements.


Good image quality
Great continuous shooting rate with JPEG files
8 fps high speed shooting rate
HD video


72 dpi output of images