Mon, 15 May 2000

Capable of 3.3 MP, Powershot S20 fits nicely in your pocket

By Zatni Arbi

JAKARTA (JP): Just last Saturday, Mr. Daripin Wongso, a Jakarta Post reader, wrote in Your Letters column about his less than happy experience in buying a Kodak DC 240 digital camera from a local distributor. That is unfortunate, because I was still pondering whether I should finally buy myself a Kodak DC 280 digital camera, which had been receiving a lot of accolades from reviewers.

Mr. Wongso's account made me a little bit hesitant. What good is a great product if you cannot get adequate support for it?

On the other hand, I could also understand the situation in which the distributor might have found itself. Although in Japan sales of digital cameras have reportedly caught up with sales of conventional film-based cameras, the price difference is still a very significant factor that hampers faster adoption. In general, a respectable digital camera may cost from five to ten times the price of a decent traditional film camera, and therefore it is safe to guess that only a few digital cameras are sold here in Indonesia every month. With such a tiny market, it would not make much business sense for a distributor such as Macindo to set up a local service center for Kodak digital cameras. It would certainly be more practical for them just to send the product to Singapore for repair.

But that will certainly change. A recent report from IDC revealed that last year the shipment of digital cameras grew by 200 percent in the United States and 125 percent in other parts of the world. As they become more and more sophisticated, the prices of entry-level cameras such as the hugely popular Sony Mavicas will become even more affordable and will push adoption even faster.

Talking about digital cameras, are you aware that the bar has been raised again? When I reviewed Canon's Powershot A50 last November, the one million pixel (1MP) capability was considered the mainstream standard. Then, for a short while, while I was still trying hard to save enough money to buy my own digital camera, the norm rose to 2 megapixels (2MP). That was when Canon released its Powershot S10 with 2 megapixel capability. I still had not managed to save enough money to buy one when lo and behold, the industry as a whole moved up to 3.3 megapixel.

Today, leading digital camera manufacturers such as Canon, Casio, Nikon, Olympus and Sony are already offering noteworthy 3MP cameras. Fuji ( evidently has one of the highest resolution picture capabilities at the moment. Its FinePix S1 Pro can capture an image with 6.1 million pixels (3040 x 2016). That many pixels should give us prints that exceed the quality of film prints, especially when they are enlarged.

Since the Powershot S20 has just been announced (it was launched on May 4), it will be at least a couple of weeks before I can get my turn to test-drive one. Already there are a couple of things about this camera that could make it a compelling choice. Reviews on the Internet are still a mixed bag, with a large majority admitting they like the camera. At any rate, Canon can proudly claim that the Powershot S20 is the smallest 3MP camera on the market -- at least for the moment.

Feature packed

What is the big deal about the number of pixels the camera can create? A higher number means there will be more data in the picture, and when you print it out in a large size, say eight by 10 inches, it will have enough detail to cover the entire print area. For beginners or for those who are using cameras for fun, the additional million pixels are not really that important.

At a glance, Canon Powershot S20 looks not much different from my favorite A50. It has an all-metal casing, but now it comes in both silver and gold. Like the A50 and the S10, it has an 1.8- inch LCD screen to help you frame your shot. It has a built-in flash with auto, manual and red-eye reduction options. It also uses a NiMH rechargeable battery. A Lithium battery is used to store configuration data. But the similarities stop there.

The S20 has 2x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom capabilities. It comes with a 16 MB CompactFlash Type II memory card, but you can buy an IBM Microdrive hard disk and get 340 MB storage capacity for your pictures.

Like the A50, it uses a serial connection to the PC, but if your PC has a USB port, this camera also supports it and leaves the serial port for other uses.

The included software can easily combine four or nine shots into one single picture by stitching them together. Panoramic stitching is also possible. Shutter speed can also be selected. If you need to capture a slow-motion or night-time picture, it has a two-second shutter lag. If you do not need color, you can even save your images in black and white. Despite its size, this camera can very quickly get ready for the next shot.

If you are looking for a high-quality, full-featured digital camera that is very easy to carry around, Powershot S20 is a strong candidate. Datascrip is a distributor of Canon imaging products, including Canon printers, scanners and multimedia projectors, and therefore they should be able to provide reliable support. However, if your work demands images with really precise color rendition, reviewers recommend that you go with other cameras, such as the Nikon Coolpix 990 or Olympus C-3030 Zoom. I hope that in their next attempt, Canon will truly leverage its camera craftsmanship and give us a digital camera that can produce great color as well. For now, no other camera in its class can beat Powershot S20's compact size and stylish design. (