Camera Reviews

Pentax K10D

If the Pentax K10D isn’t a dinosaur among DSLRs yet, it will be soon: it was introduced in 2006. At 10.2 megapixels, its image resolution doesn’t compare to modern cameras. But it was good for its day and is plenty even now. It’s a competent performer in all but low light. Critically, you can buy them used for as little as $100. I bought one because it promised to take all of the manual-focus K-mount lenses I already own. Also, other owners report that its CCD sensor returns film-like color.

Pentax K10D

The K10D was aimed at the “serious amateur” market, offering features entry-level DSLRs didn’t. It is sealed against dust and weather, and automatically removes dust from the sensor on startup. The K10D also includes a shake reduction system.

Pentax K10D

It offers the usual Program, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority modes. You also get Sensitivity Priority (Sv) mode, where you dial in the ISO and the camera chooses aperture and shutter speed; and Shutter/Aperture Priority (TAv), where you set aperture and shutter speed and the camera chooses the ISO. In these modes you adjust shutter speed with the dial on the camera front below the shutter button, and the aperture with the dial on the camera back below the LCD screen.

Pentax K10D

The K10D uses an 11-point autofocus system, with 9 points clustered around the center of the frame. It offers matrix, center-weighted, and spot metering. A menu setting lets you choose the ISO range the camera will use in auto ISO mode. I set mine to 100-400 ISO, because ISOs higher than that lead to progressively noisier images on the K10D. Its ISO range is 100 to 1600.

By the way, I’ve reviewed a handful of other digital cameras: the Kodak EasyShare Z730 (here), the Kodak EasyShare C613 (here), the Canon PowerShot S80 (here), the Canon PowerShot S95 (here), the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 (here), and the Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87 (here). Have a look!

I bought the K10D to see how vintage Pentax glass performed against a digital sensor. I started with my 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M. Because the K10D’s APS-C sensor is smaller than a frame of 35mm film, a 50mm lens behaves more like an 85mm lens would on 35mm film. I liked doing close work with this lens.

Daisies

I also bought an adapter to let me mount my screw-mount Takumar lenses. It worked, and here’s one photo to prove it. I made this through my 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar lens.

Ford

I mounted my 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens for a trip to Chicago. This lens is a little too wide for me on my 35mm SLRs, but it was just right on the K10D.

Ross Trump Self-Park (with Man)

This photo from the 28/2.8 shows the brilliant color the K10D’s CCD sensor can deliver. It reminds me of shooting on color slide film.

Colorful tables and chairs

Shooting a manual lens on the K10D isn’t as simple as mount and go. You first have to go into the camera’s menus to enable the Using Aperture Ring setting, which lets the camera recognize the aperture you select on the lens. You also need to set the mode dial to M, for manual exposure. And then when you’ve framed and focused a scene, you have to press the green-dot button (next to the shutter button) to stop the lens down and meter.

It works very well. But on my trip to Chicago I soon wished for easier shooting. I started looking for a good autofocus lens for my K10D. I first found a 28-80mm f/3.5-4.7 SMC Pentax-FA lens for cheap.

Country Marathon

The lens was best with distant subjects. It struggled to find focus closer than about five feet. Also, when I shot subjects with a lot of depth in anything other than great light, things up close were out of focus.

Indiana State Road 45

The narrow end of this 28-80mm lens was mighty useful on road trips, however, where I sometimes want to zoom in on something distant. Thanks to the APS-C crop factor, 80mm is like 120mm on 35mm film.

Martinsville

Next I tried a 35mm f/2 SMC PENTAX-FA AL lens, thinking a prime would perform better. This lens cost way more than I’m used to paying for my gear. Unfortunately, with this lens mounted the K10D frequently couldn’t find enough light to fire the shutter, and the autofocus often struggled to guess what I meant the subject to be. Even when it got the subject right, it sure hunted a lot trying to focus on it. When it hit, it hit big, however, as this photo attests. Still, I sold this lens pretty quickly, for what I paid for it.

Jimmy

I feared that I would soon let the K10D find its next owner. Then I read somewhere that the lens that came with the K10D in its kit, the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL, worked well with this body and performed beautifully. So I bought one. Verdict: oh heck yeah.

Cary Quad *EXPLORED*

How wonderfully this light, plastic-bodied kit lens performs. It focuses quickly and nearly silently. It’s super sharp. It has a tiny bit of barrel distortion at the wide end and a tiny bit of pincushion distortion at the narrow end, both easily corrected in Photoshop. Except for that slight flaw, this lens makes the K10D almost a pleasure to shoot.

Damion

Since getting the 18-55mm lens I’ve taken the K10D on more road trips. This is a fairly heavy camera — my wife’s Nikon D3100 feels feather light in comparison. By the end of a long day on the road I definitely feel the K10D slung over my shoulder. This is why the K10D is almost a pleasure to shoot.

Eastbound on IL 64

I’m not thrilled with the JPEGs the K10D generates — for a CCD sensor, colors are surprisingly muted. Fortunately, shooting in RAW and applying a couple quick tweaks in Photoshop’s RAW editor makes the colors pop.

Talk

Purple and yellow are, to me, the big tests for color fidelity on a digital sensor. Purples too often come out as blue and yellows too often wash out. The K10D handles both colors very well.

Abandoned bridge on 37/DH

Typical of DSLRs, the K10D’s extra long battery life far outclasses my point-and-shoot Canon S95. For a full-day road trip I must bring my two extra batteries for the S95, while a full charge on the K10D’s battery is more than enough.

The George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge

Because of the K10D’s CCD sensor, you quickly reach the camera’s limits in low light. Better low-light performance was one factor that drove the industry to CMOS sensors. But so far, CMOS sensors can’t deliver the same bold color as CCD sensors.

Sunset off the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge

I don’t often use the K10D to photograph family. My Canon S95 is so much lighter and easier to handle for that kind of work. But whenever I do use the K10D with family, the images I get back richly reward me.

Lain

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax K10D gallery.

I’ve written mostly about the lenses I’ve tried and the images I’ve gotten. So let me wrap up by offering my take on the K10D under use. Its viewfinder is big and bright for a DSLR — you’ll find bigger and brighter viewfinders on plenty of 35mm SLRs but seldom on other DSLRs. All of the controls are just where you’d expect them to be, the body feels good in the hand, and the grip is perfect. It all adds up to easy, sure handling.

Despite its weight and the low-light limits of its sensor, the Pentax K10D is a winner.

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Camera Reviews

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55

When someone gives me a camera, I shoot it if I can. Most of the time people give me old film cameras, but once in a great while the gift is digital. When my mom’s neighbor moved away last year he gave her a bunch of stuff, including this Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55. Mom didn’t have any use for it, so she gave it to me.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55

Sony introduced this camera in 2010. It’s a “good features for the money” camera, neither top nor bottom of the line. It features a 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor that delivers 14.1 megapixels. Its 25-150mm (35mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.5 Sony lens starts wide and zooms deep. It saves images as JPEG only (no RAW option), with maximum resolution of 4,320×3,240 pixels. It saves video files as MPEG-4, 1,280×720 at 29.97 frames per second. It offers both optical and digital image stabilization. Its LCD screen is 3 inches diagonal. Its proprietary battery is good for only about 310 photos.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55

The DSC-H55 sold for about $250 when new. At 4.1×2.3×1.1 inches and just 7.1 ounces, it’s very small and light. I slipped it into my back jeans pocket and forgot it was there.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55

This camera offers some modes, including a panorama mode where you pan the camera and it stitches the image together. I didn’t play with any of that stuff so I can’t comment on it.

If compact digital cameras appeal to you, also check out my reviews of the Canon PowerShot S80 (here), the Canon PowerShot S95 (here), and the Kodak EasyShare C613 (here). I’ve also reviewed the Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87 (here), an early digital camera that stored images on floppy disks! My first digital camera was the Kodak EasyShare Z730 (here).

I took this DSC-H55 out on a couple spring outings. I discovered right away that mine has a common fault: the LCD blanks out sometimes, turning entirely white. Since there’s no optical viewfinder, unless the screen works you can’t frame a shot. I found that pressing the buttons on the camera’s back often brought on this condition, so I used them as little as possible.

I found two ways to temporarily relieve this condition: press into the bottom right corner of the LCD, or repeatedly tap hard on the camera front between the Sony and Cyber-shot logos, until the display resets. Neither solution is great for the camera’s long-term health. But since it makes no sense to pay to repair a 2010 digital camera I did it anyway.

Sunset

Having to keep reactivating the screen was frustrating, but otherwise this camera performed well. Margaret and I made a sunset walk on a trail in a large Indianapolis park near us and the DSC-H55 delivered pleasing photos.

Margaret

Margaret was looking to practice her skill at shooting directly into the setting sun, so I did too. The lens flared, but I find the effect to be pleasing.

Margaret

The camera overexposes light colors that reflect light. I was able to tone it down in Photoshop on my wife’s jacket, above, but not on the frame of the soccer goal below.

Soccer goal

I did only a little low-light work with the DSC-H55, but I found that it tended to flatten colors that my Pentax K10D or my Canon PowerShot S95 would have captured well.

Sunset over the Toyota dealer

On gray days and when the sun is blocked, colors lose their punch in the DSC-H55. This is a sunny-day camera.

Pathside flowers

But in good light, the DSC-H55 returns accurate color. I like that. I haven’t used a ton of digital cameras in my day but among those I’ve tried I find accurate color hard to come by.

Cruze

This flower is a perfect example of the DSC-H55’s color accuracy. It perfectly captured the nuanced orange-purple gradient in this flower’s petals.

Orange flower

I also liked how the DSC-H55 could focus very close without me having to put the camera into macro mode. It’s common for digital cameras to switch to macro automatically now, but it wasn’t in 2010.

Droplets

The DSC-H55’s lens and sensor do a great job of capturing detail. Upper-tier Sony point-and-shoots boast Carl Zeiss lenses; my wife’s Sony RX100 has one and it’s wonderful. But this Sony lens holds its own.

Ash trunk

I am impressed with the camera’s depth of zoom, and its ability to get a sharp, shake-free image when zoomed to the max. I shot this early bird with its worm at maximum zoom from my front porch about 50 feet away.

The bird got the worm

I wished I could click in exact focal lengths as I zoomed, as I can on my Canon PowerShot S95. But I realize that most people use zoom to replace moving closer to the subject. I gave myself over to shooting the camera that way.

Reflecting in the pond

My one serious gripe with this camera is that the LCD reflects badly, washing out the display. In bright light, the LCD showed only my reflection, rendering me unable to compose. This is a dealbreaker.

At the pool

See more from this camera in my Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 gallery.

I’m sorry to say that I’m dropping this camera into the trash. Its white-screen problem made it more frustrating than rewarding to use. Also, its battery is nearing the end of its life as I got maybe 50 shots on a full charge. That one-two punch spells this camera’s doom.

But this is a pleasant little shooter, an easy companion for everyday photography. Except for its overly reflective LCD, it would have been a great choice in its day — capable for a good price.

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Photography

Kodak EasyShare C613

Inexpensive cameras were crap during my 1970s kidhood and only slightly better during my 1980s teenagerhood. $25 would buy you a basic new camera, but most of them had limited utility and were cheaply made. By the mid 2000s you could get an entry-level digital camera for about the same money, adjusted for inflation, which works out to about a hundred bucks. And that’s what I paid for this Kodak EasyShare C613 Zoom when I bought it as a gift for my youngest son.

Kodak EasyShare C613

This camera was introduced in 2007, the same year as the iPhone. That first iPhone’s camera couldn’t hold a candle to this Kodak, but as we all know smartphone cameras soon became good, even brilliant in some ways, and put an end to the entry-level digital camera. While there is no substitute for a wafer-thin camera that’s always with you and connects seamlessly to social media, I do regret the loss of Kodak’s digital camera business. You see, no other camera maker renders color as appealing as Kodak. Oh, I know appeal is subjective. Hang in there with me; photos from this camera follow. You’ll see.

Kodak EasyShare C613

On the surface there isn’t much to the C613. You get a few modes, 3x optical zoom, and built-in automatic flash. It’s meant not to confuse the casual snapshooter. That’s definitely what my youngest son was when I bought it for him. But it’s been a reliable performer all these years.

Kodak EasyShare C613

The 6-megapixel C613 packs a 36-108mm f/2.7-4.8 Kodak AF Optical Aspheric lens. (If you’re a Millennial or younger, you’re probably chuckling that this lens is Kodak AF.) Most users probably just left the C613 on Auto, but this camera also offers an image-stabilization mode, a macro mode, and a host of scene modes such as snow, beach, and sports. It also takes 640×480 QuickTime video. If you dig into the menu, you’ll find a surprising amount of control including the ability to set ISO (80, 100, 200, 400, 1250); adjust white balance; choose among multi-pattern, center-weighted, and spot metering; and choose multi- or center-zone autofocus. The C613 stores images on an SD card, but also offers limited built-in storage. Two AA batteries power it.

In 2009 I borrowed this camera from my son for a day. My church had a concert in its parking lot and I was on the crew. I wanted to photograph the event in spare moments, but my comparatively bulky Kodak Z730 wouldn’t fit into any of my pockets. My son’s svelte C613 did, though.

And then wow, did this little camera perform! It delivered excellent sharpness and candylike color. This is Nancy, who organized and hosted the event.

Praise and Music Festival

We rented this stage. The C613’s lens was probably at its widest angle, 36mm equivalent, which added good drama to my easy camera angle.

Praise and Music Festival

In spare moments I pretended to be a concert photographer, even though I’m sure I looked ridiculous with this little plastic camera. This bassist went along with the charade, deliberately posing for me as he casually fingered his instrument.

Praise and Music Festival

That concert was a remarkable experience for reasons that have nothing to do with the C613. I told that story here.

Eight years on my youngest son is preparing to leave for college and I’m preparing to move in with my new wife. These big transitions for both of us made it necessary to clean out his childhood room. We sorted his things into three piles: keepers, things to donate, and things to pitch. He put the C613 onto the donate pile, thanks to a capable camera on his Android phone.

I palmed this little camera and later installed a spare SD card and fresh batteries. I first photographed flowers in my yard in macro mode. But the C613 often struggles to focus in macro mode, especially when the lens is at all zoomed. I frequently had to do a little dance with the C613, repeatedly adjusting framing and pressing the shutter button halfway in hopes the autofocus system could grab onto something. Sometimes it simply wouldn’t. And of course you have no control over depth of field. But when it manages to focus, it does lovely work.

Basket o' flowers

The autofocus system works best on high-contrast subjects, like this yellow flower on a dark green background.

Yellow

Most of the time I shot the C613 at the wide end of its zoom range simply because that’s where it goes when you turn it on. 36mm is a great focal length for everyday walk-around photography. Or drive-around photography, as is the case in this photograph.

Wrecks

But shooting wide reveals the C613’s fatal flaw: barrel distortion, gobs of it. These two photos are certainly not interesting in and of themselves, but the first shot shows this barrel distortion well. The second shot shows it corrected, which I did easily enough in Photoshop: open the RAW editor, set distortion to 14, set scale to 104%. At 36mm, those settings worked every time.

Window awaiting painting
Window awaiting painting

That distortion goes away more the farther out you zoom. None is evident on this max-zoom (108mm) photo off my deck.

Back yard

I checked the flash’s performance in a few photos. It appears, appropriately, to be optimized for shots across a room in your house, such as of your kid on his birthday. This photo of my Kodak Monitor is about as close as you dare get when using flash. Any closer and the flash washes out the subject and creates a spotlight effect. This post is already too long or I’d show you that flash also did a good job illuminating a shadowy close-up subject against a well-lit background. The C613 sets flash to “auto” every time you turn on the camera and guesses when flash is needed. Sometimes the C613 guesses well, other times not. More than once I shot a scene twice because the C613 thought I needed flash when I really didn’t.

Monitor

I did take these recent photos into Photoshop to correct distortion, fix little exposure sins, and tweak color to my liking. But every one of the photos I’m sharing here were plenty usable right out of the camera. The concert photos far above had no post-processing and look great.

View through the hosta

This shot of the oak in my front yard is my favorite from my test. Sure, I had to notice this scene and the subtle light play to be able to photograph it. But the C613 captured it well.

Oak

You can see more shots from this camera in my Kodak EasyShare C613 Zoom gallery.

The C613 a passable little digicam. It’s not perfect — on top of the barrel distortion and fussy macro-mode autoexposure, the screen washes out entirely in direct sun and its color fidelity is terrible, so you are never sure you got the shot. But compared to any camera of this inflation-adjusted price class forty or even thirty years ago it’s a stunning performer. I would have died and gone to heaven as a kid for a camera this good at this inflation-adjusted price.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87

Although I love film, I don’t hate megapixels. I shoot digital all the time. I just don’t collect digital cameras like I do film cameras. But when my parents found this 2001 Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87 at a rummage sale for a few dollars, they thought of me and bought it.

Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87

It seems hard to believe now, but consumer digital photography was still pretty new in 2001. Cameras had only recently passed the one-megapixel barrier, giving them enough resolution for a decent 4×6 print. Many early digital cameras had unusual form factors compared to conventional 35mm cameras – they looked weird, like this tall and wide Mavica.

This Mavica’s specs are probably competitive with other digital cameras of the time. It features an f/2.8 lens that zooms digitally from 39-117mm (equivalent). Its 1.3-megapixel sensor offers a maximum resolution of 1,280 x 960 pixels. It focuses and sets exposure automatically. There’s no viewfinder, but you can frame and review your shots on the 2.5-inch screen on the back. There’s a built-in flash and a few exposure and focus modes.

Amusingly, this Mavica writes photos onto 3.25-inch floppy disks. At maximum resolution, only a handful of photos fit onto a single floppy. Sony sold a floppy-shaped adapter that let you use Sony’s Memory Sticks, but my camera is not so equipped. Fortunately, a bunch of floppies came with the camera. I had to buy a USB-powered floppy drive to read them on my computer, though. Yes, you can buy such a thing.

Another not-so-amusing feature of this Mavica is its proprietary battery, because my yard-sale find came with no charger. Unbelievably, this Mavica can be plugged into the wall, and that’s how I used it. The eight-foot range that gave me would normally be a non-starter, but given that my goal was to satisfy curiosity rather than to create art, I made it work. Here, then, are some photos of things I could reach within that radius of my living room’s south wall. First up, the Native American wedding vase that sits on my coffee table, taken in available light on a sunny afternoon. The detail, sharpness, and color fidelity are all pretty good.

Native American wedding vase

When your subject is mostly one color, this Mavica tends to tint the whole photo toward it. This photo has a brown caste. It also displays the lens’s inherent barrel distortion.

Framed

This photo of my car’s nose has a blue caste. I took this from my front stoop, and zoomed in to the max. There’s noticeable pixelation in the image, which you can best see along the door seam at full resolution.

Matrix wheel

At the lens’s wide end, however, the camera registers good detail. The Mavica offers no macro mode, but it let me get pretty close anyway.

Brick in the door jamb

And just for grins, here’s a portrait of sorts that my son took of me in my parents’ home shortly after they gave me the camera.

Selfie

See a few more photos from the FD87 in my Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87 gallery.

This Sony Mavica is little more than an amusing footnote in digital photography’s history. Given its bulky body, its low image resolution, and its floppy-disk image storage, curiosity is the only good reason for using this camera. But it produces usable images, which was kind of a big deal in 2001 when digital photography was just starting to gain its legs.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Canon PowerShot S95

As much as I love my film cameras, my everyday camera is digital. I’ve taken countless thousands of photographs with my Canon PowerShot S95.

Canon PowerShot S95

Going digital was a purely economic decision: it was getting expensive to shoot film on my road trips! I started with a refurbished Kodak digital camera that performed surprisingly well. Then a reader helped me move up in the digital world when he sent me a Canon PowerShot S80 he no longer used. It was such a great camera that when Canon restarted its PowerShot line with the svelte S90, I knew I wanted one. Shortly, they upgraded it a little and rechristened it S95; that’s the model I got.

And what a sweet little camera it is. It’s about the length and width of a credit card and is less than an inch thick, so it fits in almost any pocket. Its Auto mode is remarkably versatile, giving good results in all but the dimmest light. It automatically switches into macro mode when you’re inches from your subject. You can also set the camera to programmed, shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and full manual modes. For the first several years I shot this camera in Auto mode. Then for a few years I shot it in Program mode with RAW capture turned on. I got tired of processing the RAW files, so I switched back to just JPEGs. But I stayed in Program mode so I could turn on the S95’s Vivid Color option, which yields more pleasing colors.

The S95 features two control rings, one around the lens and another on the back next to the screen, that you can customize. I set the front ring to cycle through 28, 35, 50, 85, and 105mm zoom settings. I love being able to dial in these focal lengths!

The S95’s screen is big and bright, and isn’t as prone to washing out in the sun as my previous digital cameras. Because of that, its missing viewfinder isn’t much of a problem.

Canon PowerShot S95
Canon PowerShot S95

It packs a 28-105mm (equivalent) f/2-4.9 zoom lens. That wide angle is super handy on road trips, where I can’t always back up enough to get everything I want into a picture. I could use a deeper zoom, though. This is the old Dixie Highway north of Bloomington.

On the Dixie - Canon PowerShot S95

This 1932 Standard station is on Route 66 in Odell, IL. The S95 has a typical Canon color signature, and it’s fine. But I prefer the more vibrant colors my old Kodak digital camera delivers.

1932 Standard Station - Canon PowerShot S95

Maddeningly, the S95 renders purple as blue or blue-violet. Below left is a photo of my purple Zippo lighter taken with the S95; on the right, with my iPhone. The iPhone renders purple much more accurately.

Rendering purple - CanonPowerShot S95
Rendering purple - iPhone

The S95 simulates ISO from 80 to 3200, and its noise-reduction software is pretty effective. With those advantages and its f/2 lens, the S95 easily handles low-light situations. Newer cameras do even better low-light work, but the S95 remains plenty usable today. I took this inside a round barn in Fulton County.

Inside the round barn - Canon PowerShot S95
State Theater, Logansport - Canon PowerShot S95
Early autumn sunrise, almost Indianapolis - Canon PowerShot S95

The S95 usually does good work in macro mode, although its autofocus system sometimes can’t see light colors at short distances. When that happens, after I get over my frustration I switch to manual mode. While that involves wrangling with menus, it’s not terribly hard to learn.

First color - Canon PowerShot S95
Roadside flowers - Canon PowerShot S95

When not in Auto mode, the S95 lets you adjust white balance. I do that routinely to get the warmth I’m looking for, as I did in this photograph in a park near my home.

Sunset at the park

Even today the Canon PowerShot S95 remains my everyday, go-to camera. It continues to deliver terrific work. Here’s a smattering of images.

1951 Chevrolet Deluxe c
On the beach in Ocean City, MD
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
Dublin at golden hour
On N59, County Galway
IMG_3729 rawproc.jpg
At Slieve League
Brooklyn Bridge
Moon through the oak tree
Michigan City Lighthouse
Lincoln Memorial

I’ve shared all of these photos before on this blog, but always in the context of whatever it is I’m doing, not about the camera itself. That’s the nature of a workhorse camera – it fades into the background and does its job.

I do have some complaints about the S95 beyond the inaccurate purples I mentioned earlier. At and below 35mm there is some barrel distortion. I also find that most shots have a slight haziness to them, which Photoshop’s Auto Levels command always fixes. But for everyday shooting, especially the documentary work I do on the road, 90% of the photos I take can be used just as the camera captured them.

I’ve thought about upgrading a couple times. This camera is from 2010, after all, and imaging technology has made giant strides forward since then. My wife’s Sony RX100, for example, is clearly a superior camera in nearly every way.

But the S95 does almost everything I need, in a small, light package. It’s often in my pocket when one of my film cameras hangs around my neck. The Canon PowerShot S95 is a fine performer and a great companion.

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Camera Reviews

Canon PowerShot S80

Canon PowerShot S80

When 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 upon its 2005 introduction. 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! It yields great color. 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 phlox

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.

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