Jeremy's almost but not quite entirely moribund blog

Friday, September 15, 2006

Canon's new compacts: A comedy of errors

Upon reading of Canon's newest batch of compact digital cameras, I was immediately impressed how they took a dumb idea and made it even dumber. Behold the "digital teleconverter"--a fixed 1.4x or 2x digital zoom. I can't fathom why this made sense to the Canon marketroids, because I imagine the intersection of (the set of people that use digital zoom) and (the set of people that know what a teleconverter is) is empty.

While the "digital teleconverter" misfeature will be roundly ignored by photo enthusiasts, the Powershot G7--premeiring the new DIGIC III processor--has already become the target of rage and scorn on the dpreview forums. This camera has everything one would expect in a G-series camera--minus the flip-out LCD, fast f/2 lens, top status LCD, infrared remote, and RAW support. But at least it has a hot shoe.

A new feature the DIGIC III models support is "face detection", a feature first seen on Fuji's F6500. Seems gimmicky to me, but who knows, maybe it cuts down on missed focus when you're shooting faces. (Who knows what it does when you're not.) Still, if Canon were to copy one feature from Fuji, I'd prefer it to be the low-light performance of Fuji's Super CCD sensor. I agree with dpreview that that sensor deserves a better camera, and one with Canon's feature set (that is, on their less dumbed down models) would fit the bill nicely.

Speaking of low-light performance, the DIGIC III chip also features "enhanced noise reduction" that supposedly allows "acceptable" ISO 1600 performance from a 1/2.5" CCD. I personally think they'd be better off engineering a compact low-noise sensor using their famous CMOS technology--even if it means a reduction in pixel count--but of course that wouldn't fly with the unwashed masses who think 10 megapixels in a camera the size of a deck of cards is a good idea. One thing Canon has had going for them in the past was relatively unobtrusive noise reduction--they'd let the picture get grainy and preserve detail rather than blurring it away in a watercolor-like mess (like, say, Kodak and Panasonic). I'm not impressed by their talk DIGIC III's "more agressive noise reduction"--agressive NR is generally considered a Bad Thing by those in the know. We'll have to wait and see if this new processor is able to tame the firestorm of noise inherent in these atom-sized photosites without blurring detail too much.

Oh, and computer control. Since I downloaded the Canon SDK, I receive status e-mails from them occasionally. Yesterday I got a message about SDK support for the newly announced cameras. The Rebel XTi will be supported, of course. As will the G7 and the A640. That's it.

The A630 and A710 IS will not be supported. I'm a little surprised about the A710 IS, but the A630 doesn't surprise me too much, since the A610 lacked computer control capability as well even though the A620 was supported.

Oh, now I see the pattern. Axyz models will only be supported where y is an even number. Naturally. Now it all makes sense.


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