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Old Sep 4, 2006, 8:17 AM   #1
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Hi folks,reader of Steve's but new to the forum.

I'm looking to purchase my first 'good' digital camera, after experiencing much dismay with my currentsuper-budgetmodel and its complete lack of competence with anything approaching non-ideal lighting (so many ruinedfamily pics, argh!).

The camera will see equal amounts of indoor and outdoor use, so the ability to work well under lowish, home-levellighting is a must.Typical uses: Indoor: kids birthdays, pets / Outdoor: local historical buildings, museums.

The two cameras currently on my shortlist are the Powershot A540 and Sony DSCW50. Here'swhat I consider their respective strong points:


*Stylish, easily pocketable design
* High-res LCD screen
* Slightly sharper images (my opinion)
* Quicker flash recharge

Canon Powershot A540

*Manual controls
*Useable with currently owned memory cards/batteries
* Reportedly better under low light conditions
* More pleasing color reproduction

After reading a lot of reviews andviewing afew hundred sample images, the A540 seems to cover most of my bases, though I amconcerned bythe relatively low-res LCD resolutionand slightly over-smooth look to many sampleimages.Ideally I'd like something that combines the best of both of these models, though I realise this is a lot to ask at this price range.Feel free to suggest any other, similarly pricedmodels you feel might fit my needs.

Thanks for reading.
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Old Sep 4, 2006, 1:22 PM   #2
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The Fuji F30 pretty much combines the best of both of those models, at a bit higher price. It's pocketable, with manual controls, and very good image quality. It will produce images pretty much comparable to the Sony and Canonn in outdoor light, but it will easily exceed them in the "lowish, home-level" situations which are giving your current camera problems.

If price is an important factor, consider the the F20, which at around $230 US, will give you the same image quality, but with a weaker battery and without the manual controls you want.

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Old Sep 4, 2006, 2:52 PM   #3
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From reading some reviews, the F30 did great indoors but is not comparable to the Canon's outdoors. This is from from one of the reviews.

"On the downside the F30 is not as impressive on bright sunny days as it is indoors or at night; sure, the sharpness and low noise are still there, but the tone curve often produces images that lack highlight or shadow detail, yet can look a bit flat. Add the tendency to over expose and you've got a camera that really needs to be used by someone who knows what they're doing to get the most out of it.

So, whilst it be unfair to label the F30 a 'one trick pony' (no matter how good that trick is) it is fair to say that it really shines in low light, whereas daylight- especially bright daylight- it is mere competent."

The Canon would be a better camera for normal to bright light situations, and the Fuji would be better for lower light. The Canon can go up to 400 ISO easily and the Fuji can go to 800ISO with good results, but my preference would be the Canon and manually kick it up to 400 ISO indoors.
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Old Sep 5, 2006, 12:15 AM   #4
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I agree that the Canon is a bit better outdoors. But most users will not notice the differences most of the time. The difference between the two indoors is more stark. The reviewer you are referring to, Simon Joinson, is very thorough and will highlight even minor issues with regard to image quality. He hasn't reviewed the A540, but he had some similar complaints about it's sister, the A700:

As is common with small sensor, high pixel count cameras, the A700 struggles to capture the full range of brightnesses in scenes with a large dynamic range (high contrast, very bright days). As with other PowerShots, the A700's problem seems to be a combination of slight overexposure of contrasty scenes, and a fairly steep tone curve, which can lead to quite harshly clipped highlights (and in some cases clipped shadows too). We found the problem could be minimized by careful use of AE compensation when the metering got it wrong, but this is hardly a completely acceptable situation, as clipped highlights can be difficult to spot on an LCD screen. To be fair, the problem wasn't widespread, but was prevalent enough to merit mention here. We also found in bright conditions that some channel clipping occurred (mainly reds) when shooting very bright, bold colors, though this can be overcome by reducing the saturation setting.

But putting it into context, he gave a favorable review of the F30 (as well as the A700). Here is the section you cited, with less editing:

On the downside the F30 is not as impressive on bright sunny days as it is indoors or at night; sure, the sharpness and low noise are still there, but the tone curve often produces images that lack highlight or shadow detail, yet can look a bit flat. You'll get some amazing results if you know your way around Photoshop (or similar), but I often (though by no means always) found the 'out of camera' results slightly disappointing. Add to this the tendency to over expose and you've got a camera that really needs to be used by someone who knows what they're doing to get the most out of it.

So, whilst it would be unfair to label the F30 a 'one trick pony' (no matter how good that trick is), it is fair to say that it really shines in low light, whereas in daylight - especially bright daylight - it is merely competent. If I'm being brutally honest this sensor deserves a better camera - or at least one with some control over things like contrast, sharpness and saturation. The good news is that the recent announcement of the S6500fd certainly suggests that Fuji isn't going to abandon this sensor for a while yet.

To sum up, the F30 is far and away the best low light compact camera on the market today, bar none. It's the perfect 'social' camera for the DSLR owner who doesn't want to lug all his or her gear to parties, and it is - in expert hands - capable of superb results in any light. I would even go as far as to suggest - funds permitting - getting one for low light work even if you already own a camera you use for daylight shooting... So then, Highly Recommended unless you rarely shoot indoors or at night.

And here were some of his more detailed image quality comments, from the Photographic Tests section:

On the downside there is a tendency to overexposure and burnt out highlights, and the default contrast is way too high (in as much as there is clipping of both shadows and highlights) - something you can't change, though some users have reported getting better results by sticking the camera in Portrait mode, even when shooting landscapes. There is also some purple fringing.

That all said, if you're prepared to do a little work - both in camera (mainly AE compensation and manual white balance) and in post processing (to lift the shadows), the results you can get from the F30 are almost in a class of their own - particularly in low light. It's worth noting that virtually all the problems below are applicable only when shooting in bright, contrasty situations.
Left on the default settings (pattern metering, area focus), the F30 consistently overexposes bright scenery; unfortunate considering that the steep tone curve (see below) is particularly unforgiving, with even the mildest overexposure causing serious highlight clipping. The lack of a histogram in record mode is made worse by the fact that the LCD cannot be relied upon as an indicator of exposure - all the overexposed shots here looked fine in the instant review. The answer - though in a camera like this it's hardly an ideal one - is to use at least -0.67 EV exposure compensation when shooting in bright conditions, and to avoid re framing after half-pressing the shutter (this locks the AE as well as the focus, and can lead to exposure problems when using area autofocus).
I haven't had a problem with the default contrast setting myself, though I guess that's a matter of personal preference. As for the rest, I find that in very bright sunlight, particularly shots including a bright sky, that if I use the +/- button on the back to reduce the exposure as suggested (when using pattern metering), I get results that seem comparable to the Canon or Sony models.

I think Steve summed up all three cameras fairly in his reviews. Here is what he said about image quality for the F30:
Image quality was very good for a 6-megapixel model in this price range. All of our samples were sharp and showed good color balance and saturation. The exposure system did well in most lighting situations, however it did tend to overexpose the sky on very sunny days.

And for the A540:
When it comes to image quality, Canon's models are almost always at the top. And, the A540 is no exception. We were very pleased with its Large SuperFine 6-megapixel images. Our sample images were sharp, well exposed, and showed accurate color balance. As you can see from our kayak shots, the exposure system of this model does an excellent job of capturing sky detail. Imager noise is an issue we touch with just about every model we test, and the A540 showed very little, if any, when using ISO 80 and 100.

And the W-50:
I was pleased with the image quality of the W50's 6M Fine mode. Outdoor images were well-exposed and sharp with true to life colors. Indoor shots are limited to small rooms and small group portraits because of the W50's limited flash range (13 feet at wide angle) and the lens limited field of view at its full 38mm wide angle. Portraits had realistic skin tones, but the red eye reduction flash mode proved only marginally effective because of its relatively weak power.

You can also review the test shots on both sites. Again, dpreview doesn't have the A540, but they have the A700 and A620. So maybe these outdoor shots from the F30 are a bit overexposed, with a bit of detail lost:


Compared to these:

But i think most viewers won't see a problem with the F30 shots. Likewise, in steves samples, I think these:
are better than these:

But the difference is far less dramatic than:

Finally, I have my some more "Kayak photos" of my very own, to more clearly demonstrate the effects of overexposure in bright sunlight. I should note though that the following doesn't represent the default settings of the camera, as I this overexposure ocured using spot metering:


Many users may not fully see what's wrong with the above, until they see the additional detail that was captured when I retook it with -2/3 EV. In particular, check out the clouds:


I probably should have taken one at EV -1/3; but I got good results with the above with some light post processing (though the advantages are only clear in the larger image, so I'll just leave the link):


Keep in mind of course that even the "large" images in the links are significant reductions of the 2848x2136 originals.

In any case, I hope this demonstrates why, despite the imperfections noted in some reviews (and not noticed by many other professional reviewers), the overwhelming majority of users seem to have no complaints about the F30 in bright light. As demonstrated by the user reviews and ratings at the review site you quoted:


So yes, I agree that the A540 is better in bright sunlight; but I also don't think that's inconsistent with saying the two are "pretty much comparable" outdoors. If I'm picking a winner outdoors, it's the A540. But for me, the overall winner in image quality is easily the F30.

There are other strengths of the A540. The ability to fine tune contrast and saturation with the "custom colors" option, noted by Joinson as lacking in the F30, is one nice feature. The optical viewfinder, and the add ons available are other pluses. But, since the OP specifically noted his desire for better family pics in indoor light, I think he would do well to consider the F20 and F30.

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Old Sep 9, 2006, 7:44 PM   #5
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Agree with everything you said. All in all It's going to be personal preference between great cameras, and what environments you would be shooting in. Good reply.
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