Photography

Comparison: Canon PowerShot S95 vs. Pentax K10D and 28-80 SMC Pentax-FA

Welcome to probably the least likely camera comparison on the entire Internet. But these are the two good-quality digital cameras that I own. So I’m comparing them.

I’ve loved my compact Canon PowerShot S95 from the moment I got it. It’s so small and capable. But I’m not impressed with the JPEGs the camera generates. So I shoot RAW all the time and use Photoshop to do a handful of adjustments that give the results I want.

I’ve yet to fully figure out my large, heavy Pentax K10D DSLR, but I do respect that it can use all of my manual-focus Pentax lenses. For this comparison I used my 28-80mm f/3.5-4.7 SMC PENTAX-FA lens, which offers a zoom range close enough to the S95’s 28-105mm (35mm film equivalent) range to make the comparison useful.

For the comparison I set both cameras to set white balance automatically. I meant to set both cameras for automatic ISO selection as well, but it looks like I inadvertently left the K10D set at ISO 400. All other settings were whatever they happened to be, which is essentially camera default.

I’ve written several times how I wish the S95 returned usable in-camera JPEGs. The photo below might be the first time I’ve shown you a JPEG straight from the camera. This photo shows both common S95 faults: how white balance runs cold, and muted colors (typical of all Canon digital cameras, I hear).

CR 800

Here’s what this photo looks like after one minute of work in the Photoshop RAW processor. First I manually adjust color temperature until I’m satisfied. Then I click “Auto” above all the basic settings (exposure, contrast, etc.) and then tweak them. I finally use the built-in lens profile to correct distortion, because the S95 doesn’t go far enough to correct it in camera.

CR 800

In contrast, the K10D gave me usable in-camera JPEGs in every shot.

CR 800

A tiny bit of work in the Photoshop RAW editor brought out what is, to my eye, more natural warmth and color, and helped un-wash-out the sky. All I did was tweak the basic settings a tiny bit.

CR 800

From here on out I’ll show just the RAW-processed photos. At this cemetery gate, the S95 struggled to navigate the shadows, and I had to bring out the details in Photoshop.

Salem Cemetery

The Pentax K10D handled the shadows much better.

Salem Cemetery

I was surprised and disappointed by this photo from the S95. This is exactly the kind of scene I’ve shot over and over using this camera, with lovely results. I couldn’t Photoshop this one credibly to the level of warmth I saw at the scene.

Salem Cemetery

The K10D nailed it.

Salem Cemetery

Maybe the S95 was having an off day. Maybe comparing it to the K10D with its larger sensor makes the S95’s performance just seem worse than usual. Maybe my eyes see more keenly now than in 2010, when I got my S95 and it impressed me so. Maybe the camera really does perform worse now than when it was new — although I can’t imagine how that is physically possible.

Salem Cemetery

Whatever: the K10D blew the S95 away in most of these photos, in that the K10D’s photos are simply more appealing. And the K10D is even older than the S95, having been released in 2006.

Salem Cemetery

One place where the S95 did edge out the K10D was in focusing close. I should have put the camera into macro mode — it’s not hard to do, and it would have let the camera focus on the C. But even in regular mode it focused on the E immediately with a cheerful bee-beep and I made the shot.

Salem Cemetery

In contrast, the K10D would simply not focus on anything in this frame. That 28-80 lens hunted like mad. So I turned on manual focus with a single lever flip and brought that C in sharp with the lens’s focus ring. The S95 has a manual-focus mode, too, by the way. But it involves using the tiny wheel on the back of the camera to focus, and you have to trust your eyes reading that 3-inch screen to know when you’ve focused correctly.

Salem Cemetery

This is the only pair of photos where it’s hard to tell which camera I used. First the S95.

Salem UMC

Now the K10D. On the in-camera JPEGs, the church’s doors were lost in the shadows. Photoshop fixed that easily in both RAW images.

Salem UMC

I have really loved my Canon S95. It is so tiny yet has returned wonderful images for years. Over the last few years I’ve been shooting it RAW+JPEG, which coincided with the time my satisfaction with the in-camera JPEGs trailed off. I think I’ve figured it out: lots of in-camera JPEG-optimizing settings are unavailable the minute you turn on RAW. I think the camera assumes you’re going to post-process and don’t therefore need the in-camera boosts. Well, I want those enhancers and the RAW file. I guess I’m out of luck. But I’m growing weary of all the post processing. I’m ready for a camera that delivers good-enough JPEGs at the second I touch the shutter button.

The Pentax K10D delivers usable in-camera JPEGs. But it slips into no pocket in any coat I own. Slung over my shoulder I am keenly aware of it at all times — it might be the heaviest camera I own, heavier than my wonderful Nikon F2AS. And I haven’t found the right lens for it yet. The 28-80 I used here tends to a little chromatic aberration and too frequently blurs the foreground in long shots. My 35/2 delivers good work, but I shoot it in manual-focus mode most of the time because the K10D focuses it accurately only 1 or 2 out of 10 times.

Because do a lot of documentary work, such as on my road trips, I really want a camera that slips into my pants pocket, offers a zoom range starting with at least 24 or 28mm and running to at least 85mm, does credible close work, and yields usable JPEGs. The S95 ticks all but the last of those boxes.

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Photography

Shooting the 35mm f/2 SMC Pentax-FA AL lens on my Pentax K10D

It was totally an impulse purchase, the 35mm f/2 SMC Pentax-FA AL lens I bought. I’d been toying with buying a fast prime for my Pentax K10D. Then a Black Friday email from Used Photo Pro pushed all of my buttons: the lens was already marked down and then they offered an an additional 15% off.

It is also the single most expensive bit of photo gear this cheapskate has ever purchased. Because of that, the bar is super high — I’d better absolutely love this lens.

I took this kit to Coxhall Gardens, a park in Carmel, an Indianapolis suburb. I harbored a fantasy of man rapturously bonding with machine to produce fine-art images for the ages.

Pond at Coxhall Gardens

Instead, I experienced a camera whose autoexposure frequently couldn’t find enough light to fire the shutter and a lens and autofocus system that 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. Here, I wanted the pump to be in focus.

Coxhall Gardens

Here the K10D focused on the pine tree out in the mid-distance rather than the large tree trunk right in front of it. What the? I checked: I had multi-point autofocus on.

Wood by the street

I drove home disappointed: I just didn’t bond with this kit on this outing. But I think I need to give it another chance. I’ve only had the K10D a few months and have yet to learn its ways. I remember that it took a few months to really become one with my beloved Canon S95. I need to give the K10D time, too.

Coxhall Gardens

It is, however, telling that the camera behaved better for me on my previous two outings: the first in Chicago with a 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M manual-focus lens, and the second on my October road trip with a 28-80mm f/3.5-4.7 SMC Pentax-FA lens.

Coxhall Gardens

If after a couple more major outings with this lens I don’t start to make it sing, I’ll probably just sell it. The great thing about lenses like this is that they tend not to depreciate. This lens in particular is highly regarded and should sell with no trouble for at least what I paid for it.

Coxhall Gardens

For fun I did a bokeh test. Here’s the lens at f/2, 1/500 sec.

Coxhall Gardens

f/4, 1/160 sec.

Coxhall Gardens

f/8, 1/50 sec.

Coxhall Gardens

f/16, 1/30 sec.

Coxhall Gardens

When the lens manages to focus properly, it is plenty sharp and offers reasonable bokeh.

I think my next trial of this lens will be on one of my Pentax film bodies — this lens has a manual-focus ring and should work great. If it passes muster, I’ll know that my meh experience here was not the lens’s fault, but the photographer’s.

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Photography

Kodak EasyShare C613 Zoom

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Inexpensive cameras were crap during my 1970s kidhood and only slightly better during my 1980s teenagerhood. A basic new camera could be had for under $25, but most of them had limited utility and were cheaply made. A camera my dad gave me as a gift was typical, boasting a plastic lens and a camera-shaking stiff shutter. I recorded hundreds of childhood memories with it, but most of the prints are blurry.

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. I love macro photography. 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 reasonable 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.

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Camera Reviews, Photography

Canon PowerShot S95

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As much as I love my film cameras, my everyday camera is digital. I’ve taken about 8,000 photographs so far 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! Money was tight in 2007 when I bought a refurbished Kodak digital camera. I think I paid $150 for it. And then I promptly took a road trip during which I shot 300 photos. That much film and processing would have cost at least $150!

Reader Lone Primate helped me move up in the digital world when he sent me a Canon PowerShot S80 he no longer used. It was such a sweet 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, and it automatically switches into macro mode when you’re inches from your subject. You can also set the camera to shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and full manual modes, as well as a host of special modes that I never use.

The S95 features two control rings, one around the lens and another on the back next to the screen, that you can customize. In Auto mode, I have the front ring set to cycle through 28, 35, 50, 85, and 105mm zoom settings. I love being able to dial 50mm in! In aperture-priority mode, I have the front ring set to adjust aperture, and the back ring set to adjust exposure value up and down.

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 S95Canon 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

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

You can fiddle with the S95’s color settings in the menus, but the default is best, I think. This photo is of a restored iron bridge in nearby Boone County.

At the bridge on Holliday Road

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 S95Rendering 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. I took this inside a round barn in Fulton County.

Inside the round barn

This is the State Theater in Logansport. Last time I drove through, the STATE letters had been removed from the sign.

State Theater, Logansport

I photographed this tree against the sunrise one morning on my way to work.

Early autumn sunrise, almost Indianapolis

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. These daffodils come up every spring in my front yard.

First color

I shoot a lot of flowers with the S95. I found these along the National Road in Ohio. This shot showcases the sharpness this lens can deliver. The S95 also offers image stabilization for when you can’t hold perfectly steady.

Roadside flowers

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

Both the S95 and the S80, along with extra batteries, accompany me to the Mecum car auction every May, as I shoot a thousand photos in a day there. I tend to shoot the S80 outside and the S95 inside, because the S95 is better with available inside light. But I can control the S95 much better than I can the S80, so sometimes when an outside subject is right I reach for the S95, as I did with this Chrysler Airflow.

1935 Chrysler Airflow f

I just love this photo of the domed hood of a 1951 Chevrolet.

1951 Chevrolet Deluxe c

I’ve shared all of these photos before on this blog, but always in some other context: documenting a road trip, or telling stories about my life, or illustrating something when I don’t want to wait for film to be developed. I guess 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 inaccurate purples I mentioned earlier. At and below 35mm there is some barrel distortion. I bought the PTLens Photoshop plugin, which quickly and automatically corrects it. 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. The S95’s successor, the S100, geotags each photo. That would be so useful when I’m on the road! Instead, I use a program called GeoSetter to tag each photo by hand.

And I’ve thought about buying a DSLR for the extra layer of versatility it would offer. I’ve hovered over an “Add to Cart” link more than once. But I always talk myself out of it, because the S95 does almost everything I need, but in a small, light package. And heaven knows I have plenty of film SLRs lying about the place. When I need what an SLR offers, I drop film into one of them. And even my lowest-spec film SLR gives me much more control than a DSLR can.

But even when one of my film SLRs hangs around my neck, the S95 is likely to be in my pocket, too. It’s a fine performer and a great companion.

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Camera Reviews, Photography

Canon PowerShot S80

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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!


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