A tale of two digicams

Volume 8, Issue 80; 20 May 2005; last modified 08 Oct 2010

A brief discussion of the pros and cons of two digicams: the Nikon CoolPix 5700 and the Canon PowerShot S500.

This essay started life as a comment in response to Dave's question, “what camera please?”, referring to the camera I used for the underwater pictures in St. Thomas. But I thought it got to be too long for a comment.

The camera in question is a Canon PowerShot S500. Sweet little camera. Nice high-res images; it focuses well, even in low light; offers fewer manual controls so it's not as flexible as my Nikon CoolPix 5700 but it's pocket-sized which the 5700 isn't. It has a much shorter optical zoom so it's not as good for nature photography (pics of lizards, for example) because you have to get so much closer.

I chose the Nikon 5700 as a compromise between the portability of a pocket-sized camera and the power (and expense) of a full-blown digital SLR. In some ways it's a great compromise: the 5700 takes great pictures, has both a viewfinder and an LCD display, has manual exposure controls (and offers manual control of almost all the other features too), and you can buy useful accessories for it, like a remote shutter release cord. Its biggest weakness, IMHO, is lack of a practical manual focus and some difficulty focusing in low light conditions.

The non-technical aspect of the compromise that turned out to be most frustrating was the fact that, since it doesn't fit in my pocket, I don't take it everywhere. And if you don't take your camera everywhere, you miss pictures.

So for this second camera, I wanted a literally pocket sized digicam. I also wanted decent resolution, an available under-water housing, and it had to use CompactFlash media. That about limits things the PowerShot line. I would probably have bought the Nikon CoolPix S1 if it took CF media, but it doesn't.

Coolest bells and whistles on the S500: it knows the orientation of the camera, so you can automatically rotate the images when you copy them off the card, and the "panorama assist" feature that shows you about 20% of the previous image as you're going around so that you can line things up easily. Things that have annoyed me: you get a low-battery warning about two or three shots before the battery is completely dead, and that's the only warning you get, there's no other battery meter; the LCD is awfully small; and you can only set “infinity focus” in manual mode. The odd thing about the focus settings is, there's a button that toggles between normal focus and macro focus. In manual mode, that button cycles through normal, macro, and infinity focus. Why it can't cycle through all three even in automatic mode is beyond me. All pretty minor complaints, really. Well, except maybe for the battery thing. But it takes about 180 shots on a single battery so even that isn't a dire complaint.

Comments

Funny, I was looking at the same two cameras, ended up going with the S500. The key thing for me is that the S500 is truly pocketable. The small difference in size makes a huge difference in practice. The fact that the camera fits unobtrusively in my pocket means I can take pictures when the opportunity arises. At my skill level that's more important than the bells and whistles.

—Posted by Parand Tony Darugar on 20 May 2005 @ 08:24 UTC #

Hey, I just picked up the 7.1 megapixel Japanese model, the IXY 600, in Akihabara last week (aka the SD500 in North America). Your analysis still applies on this model though; the lack of a battery indicator is a huge PITA, and the auto-rotate feature a big time saver. I also like the battery charger which is much easier to carry around than the power cord and transformer in my ancient Powershot G3. The startup time - a measly 0.8 seconds - is also impressive.

—Posted by Mark Baker on 22 May 2005 @ 12:08 UTC #