Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

Canon PowerShot S80

26

Canon PowerShot S80When I wrote about my Kodak EasyShare Z730 in late 2009, I mentioned that its 33mm lens was useful for the roadscapes I photograph so often. But I wished for an even wider lens. Longtime reader Lone Primate commented that I should consider the Canon PowerShot S80, which has a 28mm f/2.8 lens. He sang its praises, saying, “Ounce for ounce, the S80 might be the best camera I ever owned. It’s certainly the one I’ve taken the most shots with.” We chatted back and forth about it in the comments for a while. Then he e-mailed me saying that he had a spare S80 lying around that he just didn’t use, and wondered if I’d like to have it, gratis.

Does a wino want a case of Thunderbird?

And so I came into possession of this camera.

Canon PowerShot S80

The Canon PowerShot S80 was the zenith of Canon’s point-and-shoot digital camera line when it was introduced in 2005. Its eight-megapixel sensor yields images of up to 3264 by 2448 pixels. Its 3.6x zoom yields effective focal lengths up to 100mm. It saves images as JPEGs but does not shoot RAW, not that I ever particularly need that. It has a gob of pre-programmed shooting modes, all of which I tried, and most of which I never used again. I took most indoor shots in Auto mode without flash, as the f/2.8 lens did great work with available light. I took most outdoor shots in Program mode so I could fiddle with exposure and white balance. The 2.5-inch LCD was adequate, washing out in direct sunlight as most of them do. I wasn’t impressed with the viewfinder, which was dim and showed more than the LCD, making framing challenging. My other complaint about the S80 is that it’s a bit too thick to fit comfortably into my pants pocket.

Canon PowerShot S80

I have used the living tar out of this camera – so far, I’ve taken 3,600 photographs with it! I have been impressed with the color it yields. You may remember this photo from my visit to the Potawatomi pow wow.

Potawatomi dancers

Last May’s Mecum muscle car auction was a playground of color. The peach car is a 1954 Ford Crestliner, and the lavender car is a 1956 Lincoln Premiere.

56 Lincoln Premiere

Chicago’s Millenium Park was full of tulips last April when I visited with my older son. I’m pleased with how their colors pop in this photo.

Millenium Park tulips

The S80 does a decent job when you move in close. I did have some early frustrations in macro mode as the S80 sometimes wanted to focus on anything but my intended subject. I eventually learned that backing off a little bit helped. You might recall this shot from last year’s annual Roadside Flowers post.

Roadside flowers 2010

Macro mode also yielded this photo of my Argus A-Four. At larger sizes the writing on the lens barrel isn’t as sharp as I’d like; the S80 focused on the leather case’s stitching. But I liked the way the light played across the camera’s face.

Argus A-Four

I played with the S80’s macro mode a lot. I found my first name engraved into the exterior of the federal courthouse in South Bend, so I moved in close.

James

Naturally, I took plenty of shots from the road with the S80. This is my favorite, from an old alignment of US 50 in Lawrence County that I wrote about last summer.

Old US 50

I spent a lot of time just noodling around with my S80, trying to improve my compositions. I really liked how this shot turned out. This leaf was minding its own business on the wooden deck of the 1891 Cooper Iron Bridge in Putnam County.

A leaf on the deck

Also from my US 50 excursions last summer, this is from the garrison house at Fort Vallonia, or at least from the recreation of Fort Vallonia you’ll find in the tiny town of Vallonia.

Fort Vallonia Garrison House

The S80 loves to take photos of lights at night. Fountain Square is a neighborhood just southeast of downtown in Indianapolis. It has a few hip joints for hanging out and most of them have great neon signs, including a bar called the Brass Ring that my brother really likes. He invited me down there for drinks one night last January, so I took my S80 along and wandered the main drag. This is my favorite photo from the night.

Fountain Square at night

I’ve had a lot of fun with my S80, so much so that when Canon began shipping its successor, the PowerShot S90, I began to lust mightily after it. Then Canon released a slightly improved version, the PowerShot S95. Before I could buy one, my family bought me one for Christmas. It is an even greater pleasure to use than my S80, and I’m looking forward to the road-trip season to really put it through its paces. But that doesn’t mean my S80 is relegated to some dusty corner never to be used again. My habit is to take two cameras on my road trips just in case. And I plan to buy a suction-cup mount so I can attach the S80 to the inside of my windshield for hands-free video while driving.

I’ve thanked Lone Primate privately for his gift, but now I thank him publicly. LP, as you can see, I’ve gotten excellent use out of this camera!


If you’ve been reading this blog any time at all you probably know I collect vintage film cameras. Check out my collection.

26 thoughts on “Canon PowerShot S80

  1. Janet Chlebek

    Jim, spectacular photos! I’m searching for a better camera. I keep a camera in my purse at all times, I love to be able to take a photo of unexpected things.

  2. versa kay

    As usual a great post from you . The exquisite photographs are a treat to watch. I am propelled to think it is high time for me to go into the nuts and bolts of good photography. Hopefully, it is never too late to learn a few new tricks.

    1. Jim Post author

      I consider myself to be an amateur, and I’ve learned a few things over the past few years about taking pleasing photographs. But I’m still always a little amazed when people like my photos, because I don’t think they’re truly good.

      Here’s a site with some excellent tips for improving your photographs:

      http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech.htm

  3. Lone Primate

    I agree, you’ve got some really enviable shots up in this post. One I especially admire is the antique cars. An exciting verging-on-monochrome aspect to most of the shot, with just a couple of creamy colours on the car bodies, and the cherries of the tail lights. They almost look like candy. It’s a real delight, that one.

    1. Jim Post author

      I love going to the Mecum auction every year, not just because I love the cars, but because it provides such an excellent chance to practice composition.

  4. Lone Primate

    Ack, me again. :)

    I still really love the look and feel of the S80. Maybe you never leave your first love behind. I had digital cameras before that one but I think the S80 was the first really impressive one I could carry around with me (I’m a nerd; I wear a fanny pack; shoot me). I took somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25,000 shots with the S80 I had from 2006-2008 when I sold it to a friend to defray the costs of the used G9 I was buying, and so the S80 wouldn’t collect dust. But I missed it! So I bought and fixed a jammed one from eBay (the one that Jim has now), and then when I noticed someone in China was selling one reconditioned to shoot infrared, I jumped at the chance to have another S80, and one that wouldn’t just sit around. I’ve had three of them so far. Man, I like that camera. :)

    I’ve seen the S95 and it’s a nice little bundle of tricks. Superior in essentially every way to the S80. Ah, but you can’t quite convince me a Mustang from today is as sweet as one from the 60s. :) For me the S80’s the benchmark. Others might be better… but nothing’s as good. ;)

    Go crazy with that video setting now! Share with us the road in passing, as well as in particular. :)

    1. Jim Post author

      The S80 is easy to hold. The S95 is a little harder, because it’s so slim. Not so much that it’s hard to hold, but there’s no doubt that the S80 wins in this category.

      Otherwise, I find the S95 to be a slightly superior camera. It has some usability improvements over the S80 that make some things a lot more pleasant to do. Also, the lens is faster, making it easier to get good depth of field when you go in close.

      But really, for routine everyday picture taking it’s six of one, half-dozen of the other.

  5. jacullman

    What a versatile camera! Love the shot of the vintage pink car. I’m really starting to dislike the lens that came with my nikon D-40. The distortion (keystone distortion?) around the edges drives me crazy. Pictures never look crisp enough to me, then again my eyes aren’t working as well as they used to ;-). Never had these problems with the Canon lenses.

    1. Jim Post author

      And here I am sometimes wishing I had a DSLR for the extra control. I have a couple friends with D40s and they swear by them. Sounds like you swear at yours instead!

      1. Lone Primate

        I have a Rebel XT, which by now is getting long in the tooth as these things go. It does GREAT work… I tend to forget how good… but then, that’s because it’s such a pain to lug around, try to guess which lens I’ll wanna use, etc. Once I started carrying around a CX7330 and especially an S80, my photographic hobby really took off.

        1. Jim Post author

          When I shoot with my film SLR, I take only one lens along. It simplifies things — no futzing with lenses, just shooting. There may be a few shots I can’t get, but let’s be real, that’s always the case even with my pocket camera.

  6. Michael

    FWIW, you can shoot RAW if you use the CHDK hack I mentioned a few posts back though I’ve not had a need for that either yet.

    You’ll find in macro mode that manual focus is your friend. Unless it’s obvious it focused where I want it, I always adjust the focus by hand when doing closeups. I get real annoyed when it’s not a closeup and I discover afterward it really focused on a limb or leaf in the foreground instead of the subject in the distance.

    I wish more cameras had the vari-tilt LCD. I swear I’ll never by a camera without that so I stick with my A620. I know Canon has brought it back on 2 fairly recent models but they weren’t the ones I wanted, of course.

    Some great shots. I especially like the night shot – great exposure for an unedited shot. What settings did you use for that? The tulips were superb as well.

    1. Jim Post author

      Michael, maybe I’ll try CHDK on the S80. I’ll hold off on using it on my S95 though. I can’t imagine needing RAW, but some of the other goodies are interesting.

      I very much prefer to get the shot right in the camera so I don’t have to dink with it on the computer.

      I do intend to play with manual focus in macro mode on the S80. The S95 is much more of a mindreader than the S80 in macro mode, though.

      Thanks for the compliments on my photos! I took the night shot in full auto mode — all I did was frame and click the button. Here’s a link to the EXIF data. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mobilene/4299818534/meta/

  7. Ivy

    Thank you for reassuring me that I don’t need to upgrade my trusty ‘point & shoot’ Powershot s80 to a new Canon DSLR. I just need to learn how to play with this camera properly for great shots like yours. Unfortunately, this camera came out when youtube was in its infancy and no video tutorials are available for this old gem so I will have to dig out the manual and write off a day in park to explore the camera’s full potential.

    1. Jim Post author

      The S80 is a capable tool. A good photographer can get good shots even with the lousiest camera, so don’t be fooled by the lure of upgraded equipment!

  8. Jonas

    Hi!
    I’m having a slight focus problem with my S80 when taking photos indoor of shiny objects like vintage amps and cds. How can I make it better?

    1. Jim Grey Post author

      I’m afraid I just don’t know. My S80 sometimes has trouble focusing on things up close, too. I keep trying until it locks, and just put up with the frustration.

    1. Jim Grey Post author

      I’ve tried all sorts of modes trying to get it to lock focus in macro mode, and I’ve concluded that there are simply some things it can’t see. You might try full manual focus mode. That’s the only suggestion I have.

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