Mon, 21 Aug 2000

Want to use an even smaller digital camera? Try Ixus

By Zatni Arbi

JAKARTA (JP): Not long after Canon released PowerShot A50, they came out with PowerShot S10. Before I could try out this 2.1 megapixel model, they launched the 3.4 megapixel PowerShot S20. I was still requesting a test unit of this sleek digital camera when I was handed a PowerShot S100 instead.

About two months ago, this model had not been launched in Indonesia, although it had been written about in several publications, including Singapore's The Business Times. This small digital camera is better known as the Canon Digital Ixus.

It may be the case that the PowerShot S20 is still the most compact 3.4 megapixel digital camera. The Ixus is not a 3.4 megapixel, it is a 2.1 megapixel, the same as PowerShot S10. It means that this camera, which has exactly the same width and height as a credit card, is capable of capturing images with a resolution of 2.1 million pixels. The CCD is 1/27th of an inch, and the manual says the best file formats are Superfine/Large with 1600 x 1200 pixels and Fine/Large with 1600 x 1200 pixels. To save space on the Compact Flash (CF) storage media, the resolution can be lowered to Fine/Small (640x480).

I tried an 8 MB Type 1 CF to use with this camera, which could hold only 14 Fine/Large shots. A larger capacity should be used, perhaps the 16 MB CF. You may even want to have some extra CFs in your pocket if you intend to take a lot of pictures, although you can always erase the unwanted images easily. Interestingly, I had no problem replaying the 2.1 megapixel images on my older, 1.3 megapixel PowerShot A50, which also uses the same type of CF.

Although it is small, it has a depth of 1.1 inches. That somewhat reduces the perception of its size, especially when held in the hand. The body is made of aluminum-type metal and has a solid feel. Its weight, without the battery and the Compact Flash, is 190 grams.

The tiny lens is just 5.4-10.8 mm, which is equivalent to 35- 70 mm with 35 mm films. The sensitivity is equivalent to ISO 100. For nighttime shots, use the Slow Synchro mode, which slows the shutter speed and adjusts the flash accordingly. The optical zoom capability is 2x, while the digital zoom can be upped to 4x. For a 2.1 megapixel image, the digital zoom beyond 2x can sometimes, however, give a less than satisfactory result.

Because of its diminutive size, I thought this camera would be difficult to use. Not true. Canon has streamlined the interface a lot and has reduced the number of buttons. The zoom control is a ring around the shutter release button. The power button is neatly recessed next to it. At the bottom of the sharp and bright LCD there are only three buttons with clear marks on them.

Quick recharge

One impressive feature of this camera is its very short shot- taking interval. It takes the camera only 1.7 seconds to get ready for the next shot. An internal memory buffer helps make this possible, as images can be stored temporarily in a faster storage before being written to the CF. In Black-and-White mode, two shots can be achieved per second in Continuous Shooting Mode, good for journalists who do not really need color pictures for their publications.

It is also the first Canon digital camera to use a three-point focusing mechanism called AiAF. What this does is use three different focus points and then automatically selects the one that gives the best focus for the target.

The digital signal processing has also been improved since the PowerShot A50. It took noticeably less time for the image to appear on the LCD display after each shot than it takes with the older camera. The same is true when switching from one image to the other during image previewing, which is much faster than the A50.

The camera is connected to a PC via the USB port, and should be faster than the A50, though, as the older camera uses the serial port. Canon also supplies an S-Video cable that allows the pictures to be directly displayed on a TV. I found this feature, which is also available on my A50, very useful. During a recent reunion, for example, I was able to show pictures I had taken of former classmates on a large TV set.

If you're an underwater buff, you can even buy an optional all-weather accessory that will allow you to take this camera down to a depth of three meters. Unlike the A50, the Ixus box does not contain the AC power kit. You would have to buy it if you wanted to use the camera with AC power and save the battery. It would be useful if Canon put this kit back in the box. The battery is a Li-ion. You might want to purchase an extra battery or two if you take and preview a lot of pictures.

Other useful features include White Balance to compensate for the impact of different lighting conditions (daylight, cloudy, tungsten or fluorescent), the Black-and-White mode and the Stitch Assist facility that allows a combination of several shots in one large picture.

As I didn't have access to a photo printer during the two-week test, I was unable to check whether Canon had improved the color quality of its digital cameras. On the TV screen, the colors look great, though.

At about Rp 5 million, Ixus is not too highly priced. It is sturdy and extremely compact. If you have some experience with digital cameras, this one will be easy for you to learn and use. However, with such rapid product development, one cannot help but wonder what Canon will come up with next. (