Monday, January 21, 2008

Two generations of PowerShot camers: the SD110 and the SD850IS

I recently purchased a Canon SD85oIS. It's almost exactly the same size as my much older SD110 (purchased in March of 2005). The SD110 was the second Powershot in the SD line, but it wasn't that new a design - Several of the S series of cameras had almost identical form factors, except for using a Compact Flash card instead of an SD card.

Side by side with the SD850IS you can see they share some common linage, but a lot has changed.

The 850 is much more curved. In theory this should make it rest more comfortably in your pocket, and indeed I feel this is true, though it's subtle. A really big change is the size of the LCD, which covers almost the entire backside of the 850. It's a very nice screen to frame and review photos, but it does mean that the camera doesn't have a good surface to hold onto any more. The SD110 had lots of open space for you to rest your thumb and other fingers, making it easy to hold securely. I'm still working on finding an effortless-but-secure grip on the SD850. I fear I may never find it.

The mode dial is recessed on the SD850, which again probably makes it easier on your pocket. But the SD110's mode dial was easier to flick into position. The zoom level on the SD110 was also a bit bigger than on the SD850. In this one case, it seems that the reduction in protrusions has no downside - both the SD850 and the SD110 are equally easy to zoom.

Interestingly, the UI for the camera is almost unchanged from the SD110 to the SD850. There are a few new options, and most notably, it's much easier to change the ISO setting, but on the whole the same menu structures and button names are used accross the whole SD line. I think this reflects the high quality of the SD110's menus - Canon figured out a good system way back then (or likely, earlier) and has stuck to it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Death of a CCD: RIP SD110

About a month ago I turned on my Canon SD110 and could see that something was very wrong. This took me by surprise, as I hadn't dropped it, or even taken it anywhere since the last time I took pictures with it, in my living room. I guess it just died of old age after 3 years (and 7000 pictures). The interesting part is that it was clearly the CCD that was failing. In some ways it actually looked pretty neat.

One way you can tell it's the CCD is the streaks in the images. The way data is read from a CCD is by copying off all the pixels along one edge of the CCD, and then shifting all the pixels in the image one pixel toward that edge. The line read off "falls off" the edge, and now the next line of the image can be read in. Part of the trick with CCDs is reading off each line in this way, without causing artifacts by the repeated pixel shifting. Clearly, something is going wrong with that process in my camera.

Click on the pictures to get full sized images.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Windows 2k support for Canon SD850IS Powershot

With my new SD850IS camera I had a bit of difficulty getting my Windows 2000 computer to recognize the camera. It does work however - the problem was that the installation routine was unclear. One of the options was to install TWAIN drivers for the camera. TWAIN is a protocol most known for allowing programs, such as PhotoShop, to acquire images from a scanner. By default I assumed that Canon was giving you the option of doing the same, except that the source would be the camera. But since I have no desire to directly download images into PhotoShop I skipped installing it. Well, as it turns out you need the TWAIN drivers to download pictures from the camera at all, even if you are using ImageBrowserEX.

Come on Canon! It would be so easy to make this clearer in the installation program. Why should I have to read the manual just to install the right driver?

As it turns out, the new image downloading software that came with ImageBrowserEx 5.8 has a nice feature that the older versions did not have. First, you get a preview of your photos as they are downloaded from the camera. Second, you can tell the program to delete photos from your camera after downloading, automatically. This is a great idea - after downloading pictures there's no reason to leave them on the camera. With this change, it's finally the case that Canon's photo download routine is as useable as the default USB mass storage method of accessing your photos that most other cameras use. This is especialy true if you like the feature that Canon offers of splitting your photos into sepeate folders, one for each day you took pictures.

I still wish they also offered USB mass storage support, however, so that I could grab my photos off the camera without having to install drivers on machines that don't support the DPIC protocal that Canon uses (altho to be fair WinXP and OSX both support DPIC, so this is a dimishing problem).