Indecisive as All Hell

Given the untimely demise of my trusty Canon Powershot S400, I'm in the market for a new one. And I've basically narrowed my choices down to two of Canon's best-selling point-and-shoot cameras: the Powershot SD800IS and the SD900.

But which?

SD800IS: poorer optics and sensor (corners are blurry), but has image stabilizer and wideangle lens
SD900: better sensor, better lens assembly, more solid build and looks nicer

I've been agonizing over this for the past 2-3 weeks, as a friend knows very well, lending a sympathetic ear to every morsel of information I gather. I read numerous reviews on the two models, compare side-by-side photos, and even took photos of my own while at the local Future-Shop-esque consumer electronics store. (Of course, I didn't ask them any questions, because why burden them with the thought processes of making up answers when they don't know them? I already know more about these cameras than they do.)

And I think I've finally decided on the SD800IS.
At least for now.

Of course, I've "decided" on the SD800IS before, but changed my mind to the SD900 not three hours later, and then promptly repositioned myself carefully on the "undecided" fence.

I think most of all, I think I'm just frustrated that any current camera model I buy is going to definitively have worse raw image quality than the Canon S400 I bought some 4 years ago. And that just makes me mad. We're supposed to be going forward, not backwards.

Perhaps I'll just try to develope a photographic memory and leave it at that.

[2007-02-02 update: I just realized what an ugly beast the SD800IS really is. And then I remembered that the power button isn't easy to get at, especially with one-hand operation. It could be that, after all this research, it all comes down to the power button design. I'll go check out some real models today and play with that.]


miscmusings said...

why are the newer models not as good as the S400?

Ben said...

Hmm, how to explain this? It all comes down to sensor size and pixel size.

In most of the point-and-shoot cameras, the sensors used are either 1/1.8" or (more commonly the smaller) 1/2.5" sensor. In general, a larger sensor is better because it will capture more light for a certain amount of time (similar to a wider plate collecting more rain over a smaller one), so you can get enough light to make a decent photo in a shorter amount of time: better low-light pictures! From the sensor size, we can figure out the area that's available for collecting light. My old S400 was 1/1.8" and that's becoming harder and harder to find now in the new ultracompact models. By comparison, the DSLRs now have at least 3 times that kind of area, which is why they take such gorgeous photos.

The second part is pixel size. And again, in general, the larger the pixel size, the better. This is mainly due to "noise" or inaccuracies in the pixel's detection of colour and such -- every pixel has some noise, and every camera has this problem to some extent. (It can also be caused by lens problems, but that's another issue.) The main thing is that each pixel will have a little noise, but if the pixel is bigger, its ability to get the right colour/light is going to be better. So it's best to have fewer megapixels than more -- like how they're trying to cram 10MP into a tiny 1/2.5" sensor.

And then we have the comparison between the two of them, the relationship between sensor and pixel size.
My S400 was 1/1.8" with 4MP.
The SD800IS is 1/2.5" with 7MP.
The SD900 is 1/1.8" with 7MP.

We don't need to do any math to see that the pixel sizes on the new ones are going to be much smaller than the one I had, which means more noise. So the physics of the optics dictates that the quality of each pixel is just not going to be as good. Sure, there's all this newfangled technology like anti-shake and new noise reduction stuff, but it has to be tougher now that your raw photo-taking equipment isn't as good.

Know what I mean?

Mike said...

I still think IS is worth the consideration. Perfectly in focus picture with a little imperfection due to sensor noise is much better than a perfect image that was shaken.

One thing I always wish my wife's SD450 had is IS. Being able to hand hold down to 1/2 sec shutter (that's what I get on my 20D with IS lens) helped me get shots I would never have gotten otherwise.