Although I own some wonderful professional DSLR equipment I don’t always want to carry all that heavy gear about with me so I often carry a compact camera around. In fact I always have a small compact in my handbag, just in case.
Although I own, use and love Nikon DSLR equipment I love Canon and Panasonic compacts. I have owned a Canon S90 high end compact for a while and thought it was great but wanted something with a bit more zoom for travel purposes so I coughed up just under £200 for a Canon SX240 compact recently.
While the S90 is still a “higher end” compact offering more advanced features than the SX I always wished it had the long lens that I have on my elderly TZ3 Panasonic compact. The SX offers this but it does have the limitation of slower aperture (meaning it gathers less light) and no RAW file format – not a problem for most users but I like RAW as it allows me to do what I like to the RAW picture data rather than having to accept the camera’s inbuilt levels of noise reduction/sharpening etc. However I was prepared to overlook this and give the Canon SX240 a try as the reviews were generally favourable and it does have manual shooting mode options.
Well I certainly have put it through it’s paces on a recent trip to Monaco. I only took the compact and found myself shooting mostly in extremely dark conditions, for example indoors at a social event taking photos of a band on stage, indoors at a car exhibition and outdoors in cloudy conditions shooting animals in a local zoological park, as well as the usual landscape/memory type pictures.
So first off… what’s it like in use. Well it’s very similar to my S90. Menus are clear, easy to navigate, the only problem I had was sometimes clicking the button when I was trying to scroll the wheel at the back so entering flash menu etc. Just a case of getting used to I suspect.
I shot in Large jpeg superfine mode for all these shots and with the VIVID setting in the photo settings menu just to enhance the colours a bit. I usually used the Aperture priority mode, Av, sometimes shutter priority mode Tv and occasionally full manual mode, M, rather than relying the auto settings, though I did try P mode a couple of times and had some fun with the automatic miniature effect setting.
The image quality straight from Jpeg looks good – can benefit from extra sharpening/contrast in post processing programs such as Lightroom etc – but I think it’s better that way round than the camera processing the photo to harshly which is hard to recover from. The IS in the lens works exceptionally well and help stop camera shake even at long zooms with slowish shutter speeds.
Shooting in the dark at a social event I used manual mode to expose the shots as using auto-modes tends to over expose due to large dark areas in the photo. The camera was on auto-ISO sensitivity and all the time chose ISO 1600. Now when I first got my first DSLR I wouldn’t have wanted to shoot at that high ISO due to noise even on those big sensors so I was wondering what the little compact sensor which is only about 1/4 the size would make of it. Well the results impressed me. The in-camera noise reduction has obviously done fairly heavy noise reduction to get rid of the noise and grain but it’s left a good amount of detail in the images. One reason I think might be that Canon has resisted the urge to add yet more megapixels and the camera is still only 12mp when a lot are up in ridiculous figures by now… bigger numbers = smaller pixels =less light gathering = more noise…. BUT modern technology does overcome this to some extent.
This shot of the singer was shot at quite a long zoom range at a slowish shutter speed without flash – an extreme test for a compact camera. The IS in the lens has done a very good job of stopping handshake. It’s not pin sharp for sure – but this type of shot is challenging even with a professional DSLR camera. I would say that the DIGIC 5 processor has done a pretty good job of cleaning up the high ISO noise whcih I’m sure must have been present on the original, not without some smudging of detail but perfectly fine for a web site shot or perhaps low resolution newspaper print. It was possible to sharpen the shot up somewhat using Lightroom and improve it further with a little processing.
I also shot at the Prince of Monaco’s car collection, again low, indoor light.
Again I shot without flash to try to keep the ambience natural. I shot on aperture priority with -2/3 exposure compensation. Again the camera was pushed to ISO 1600 and slowish shutter speeds. Much easier to handle with a non-moving
subject though! Again processed the jpegs through lightroom and was pleased with the results.
One additional feature on the compact which I had fun trying out was the “Miniature effect” mode. This mode creates an image with blurred features, like you would see on close up picture of a model, thus making life size objects look like models, this can also be done with an expensive lens called a “tilt-shift” lens which is used to alter the depth of field of focus in an image.
The mode worked really well and Monaco was a great place to try it out with perfect subjects which suit the treatment and high places that the pictures can be shot from.
This is the result of once such image.
All in all I’m really pleased with this camera and I’m sure will be testing it out in lots of other situations soon.