Time lapsing with the S90

Now that the CHDK firmware is available for the S90 I can try my hand at some time lapse videos.

The focus went a bit wonky when it got dark. Next time I'll put it on manual focus instead.

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A lot of people dislike it, but I am big fan of teh pretty colorz.

(Taken with my Canon S90 at ISO80, the only usable setting on this camera for HDR)

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Ah, the view...

Definitely going to miss it...

(Photoshop: increased saturation, adjusted layers to remove green haze and sharpened the image a bit)

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Power trip

Today I went cycling (nothing surprising there). I started with the idea of going some place new, which is quite difficult after living in the same place for four years. I ended up going east towards Yokohama for quite a bit, on a horrible road with many hills along the way and nothing of interest to see. Just boring shops, cars, restaurants and people. It's the plain boring side of Japan that I like to avoid if at all possible. I changed my direction and continued southward, thinking that Enoshima must be near, but it turned out to be 10km's away, and the road going there was just as crowded and boring as the one I rode on before.

Enoshima is a great reward though. Whenever I'm there I get the feeling that it's just about ten times better than any other place in the Tokyo vicinity. It's lively yet peaceful, lots of cats around, lots of watersports going on, and a beautiful view no matter if you're on the beach looking at the island, or on the island looking in any direction. I walked around on the island for a while, taking a path I hadn't taken before, and I ended up on the other side of the island without climbing the big hill in the middle, something I previously thought was impossible.

I spent about an hour on the island, walking around, taking photos and relaxing. When I noticed the sun starting to set I prepared to head back. It's still about 25 km's back to Atsugi from there, and it does get cold here in the evening.

I don't know what happened on the way back, but somehow I was able to go way faster than usual, without even trying. The road back to Atsugi is about 12 km's along the seaside, and then another 12 km's inland. The seaside road is straight, flat and without much traffic lights. In front of me was a pro (silly looking) cyclist on a fast bicycle, whereas I was in half-touring mode, front luggage holder mounted, side bag, heavy coat on because of the cold, yet at every traffic light I caught up with the pro guy. Must have looked quite funny to the cars passing us by. I'd say normally I do about 20kph on the straight between Atsugi and the seaside, but this time I was consistently able to do 30kph on the seaside road, and 25-28kph on the inland road. Perhaps my training is paying off...

...or maybe not. During the final stretch of the trip I found my legs not hurting at all, but my arms really started to hurt. I should train those more. Arriving at home (and after climbing 5 flights of stairs) I noticed my legs.. I think I pushed myself a bit far cause I couldn't really calm down even an hour after sitting at my desk. Kinda weird considering that I didn't feel any special strain on my body during cycling. Guess I should be more careful. Well, I'll close this post with this panorama photo (clickable!).

(Note: all photos were taken with my Canon S90 compact. I left the big cam at home this time.)

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S90 addendum 2

S90 mini-review

S90 addendum

I've been using the S90 for a couple of weeks now, so I thought I'd post an update.

First of all, I've been getting majorly annoyed at the huge delay between taking a photo and being able to adjust the settings for the next pic. Usually the workflow is like this: take photo, review, adjust settings, take next photo. The time between viewing the image on screen and being able to use the dials again is just too long. I want to be able to adjust the exposure compensation immediately when seeing the last photo on screen. I pray to Canon that they can make the camera more responsive in the next firmware update.

Speaking of exposure compensation, I've changed the lens ring's default function to adjust the exposure. In P and Av mode I adjust the exposure compensation with the lens ring, and in Av mode I adjust the aperture with the back ring.  This way is really intuitive for me to use, and I like it a lot.

Last thing I like: adjusting the white balance with both control rings is absolutely brilliant. It's a feature I never felt I'd need, but now I can't go without it. I wish my 50D was as easy to adjust as the S90. It's so intuitive.

Update: I shared some photos of my cycling trip today here at Picasa. All photos taken straight from camera without any editing.

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S90 addendum

Last weekend I had some time to go out and play with the S90, which I mini-reviewed a couple of posts back. I'll report on the trips later, but before that I wanted to share my impression of the S90 after using it 'in the field'. One of the trips was a mountain hiking trip on which I didn't bring my 50D. The other trip was by train, and I brought the big cam as well. I didn't use it. Part of the reason was that the weather wasn't exactly glorious, and neither were the sights along the way, so I never really felt the need to try to take a better photo of something. The S90 sufficed in every case.

Seems average so far, but the interesting bit happened when it started to become dark. Usually that's when the weakness of compact cameras comes to light. Not this one though. I kept on shooting outside during dusk, hand-held. The IS worked great. Forget about the low-light mode though, the image quality is just too poor. I'd rather risk taking three or five shots at a slower shutter speed at a higher quality setting. One of them will turn out well.

I should note that the exposure meter is rather shit during dusk. This is no news to me cause it's always been shit on Canon compacts, but it might surprise people who actually expect this to work. In my case I frequently use an exposure compensation of -1 or lower to make decent shots at dusk time.

One of the tricks I use with my 50D when taking HDR photos without a tripod is to switch the camera mode to high-speed continuous shooting. This, combined with IS and high shutter speeds, usually results in three photos that are either perfectly aligned or can be adjusted easily (and automatically) by software. During my hiking trip I came across some sights that I thought would look great as HDR photos, so I tried the same trick on the S90. Definitely a bad idea. For one thing, the 'high-speed' mode is still too slow to make the photos align perfectly, and you'll see some artifacts. What's worse is that you really can't use high ISO values for HDR shots, cause the noise shows up very clearly when mixing the photos together. It's not an area where compact cameras are very good performers, and not even the S90 can change that. Forget about hand-held HDR photography with this one. Then again, only crazy people would try such a thing anyway.

I should note that the S90 has its own dynamic range improvement setting called (iShitYouNot) iContrast. I turned it on during the hiking trip to see if it's any good, but I didn't really make a fair comparison with iContract on versus off.  Looking at the photos I shot with iContract on I didn't notice any nastiness, but opinions on the net seem divided on this one. In my case I only shot landscapes and trees, which might be just the thing that iContrast can improve on. I wonder if it works just as well on people, though..

One last thing I have to mention here is the speed of the software. Specifically the start-up time and the time it takes for the buttons to respond again after taking a photo. It's too long. Way too long for comfort. After taking a photo it shows up on the display quite quickly. Then I review the photo, notice that the exposure was not so good, say a bit overexposed perhaps. I immediately grab the exposure compensation dial and start rotation it, but nothing happens! The camera doesn't return to shooting mode at all. First I have to half-press the shutter button to get rid of the photo review screen, and then I still have to wait a while before the buttons start to respond. It's the same thing for the zoom lever and the lens control ring. This is a minor annoyance that I would never even notice if I didn't like this camera so much. I just wanted to mention it here so other potential buyers know what they can expect.

Summarizing, the S90 is a lovely little camera. I've never used a compact camera better than this one, but there's still some minor annoyances. I won't let that bother me from taking a lot of photos with it.

Lastly, here's three different pictures taken with the S90, unedited. I chose these photos in particular because they also show the less good parts of the camera (and of the photographer, but that's a whole other story :P)

ISO 80, F/4.5, 1/500s
ISO400, f/8.0, 1/10s
ISO200, f/8.0, 1/400s

Update: I've been playing with the iContrast a bit, and it seems to have a tendency to lighten everything in the photo, and in the case of the photos I tried it with, it lightened them too much for my liking. I wonder if this might be the reason why I though the light metering was a bit off during dusk time. If that was when the iContrast kicked on that might explain why most of the pictures I got during dusk time were too bright. I'll keep it turned off during the next sunset and see how it goes..

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Mini-review: Canon S90 compact

A couple of weeks ago I finally received a new compact camera after my last Ixy (that's Japan's version of the Ixus series) broke almost a year ago. I'd been content with lugging the 50D around for a long time, but on some occasions when I didn't want to carry a lot with me the alternative, my trusty G7, proved too big to fit comfortably in my pocket. It's getting old too, so I finally bought a new one: a Canon S90.


That's it. Nothing special. Just your average black camera. But it's so good. :D

It's like Canon finally listened to all of the criticism it's been getting over all the years, and decided to fix every possible problem they ever had. Well, except one, but I'll get to that later. The controls are great: besides the zoom lever there's the usual ring around the four-way pad at the back, and as an added bonus there's a digital control ring around the lens that I just can't stop twisting. It makes such a satisfying clicking noise whenever you turn it. The ring is digital, so every click changes a setting in the camera, and you can adjust per mode (PASM) what feature it should change (ISO, EV compensation, aperture, zoom). The ring's really easy to adjust, even with one hand, although using the camera with both hands feels slightly more comfortable. The one thing I had to get used to in the beginning is that the direction of operation is the opposite of what I'd intuitively expect: I twist the ring thinking the aperture should become smaller, but instead it becomes larger. This should please Nikon users who want to switch to Canon, I guess. It doesn't take long to get used to, though. The controls are great in every other way too; every button is where you'd expect it to be. The control ring around the d-pad at the back is very loose and easy to use. Now that I think about it, the mode dial was very difficult to adjust in the beginning, but it's getting more smooth during use.

For years now users have been telling camera companies to stop increasing the resolution of their sensors and to focus on image quality (and low-light performance) instead. Well, Canon listened. No huge megapixel sensor inside this camera: it's a 10 megapixel sensor, just like the Canon G7 that came out 3 years ago. That doesn't mean that Canon's been sitting around doing nothing, though. They claim that the sensor they used in this camera is excellent in low-light conditions. And it's not just the sensor: the lens is a beauty: an f/2.0 aperture and a 28-105mm range make for an excellent lens. In theory, at least. Canon feels confident enough to allow ISO values of up to ISO3200, and there's a special low-light mode available that operates at half the resolution.

For some reason Canon cut down on the movie mode. While competitors are starting to offer HD quality movie recording modes the S90 can record at a maximum resolution of 640x480. They've finally changed the compression format so you can record way longer movies on your memory card compared to older Canon compacts. That's great, but since the format is now .mov video I have to find a new video editing software.. Also worth noting is that there is no time-lapse video mode on the S90. Why!?!?! That was such a cool feature on the Ixus series, yet Canon decided to remove it here. Since Canon is not exactly known for adding features in firmware updates our only option is to hope that the CHDK people will be kind enough to hack the firmware so that we can write our own time-lapse scripts. That could take a fair while though, if ever.

So what about the picture quality? It's difficult for me to say, but I guess I'm slightly underwhelmed. Photos taken in low-light are indeed great compared to the G7 I used to use as a compact camera, but they're still far from perfect. I'm quite satisfied in this area though. What I'm less happy about is what the camera software is doing to photos taken on a perfectly clear day. Take a look at this.


Blurry-ish? Grainy-ish? Unfit for cropping, IMHO. Then again, that's not what I plan to do with it anyway. Without cropping the pictures are great, as you can see from the photo three posts below this one. This might be the one area where Canon hasn't improved much since the G7. Still, if that bothers you, you can always take RAW photos instead and process them afterwards by yourself.

All in all I'm very happy with this camera. All previous Ixus/Ixy series camera's I've owned were always lacking in some way, always missing an importing button, control or feature. The S90 has it all, and besides the image quality I really can't think of what could possibly be improved on this camera. My suggestion: if you haven't bought a compact camera in the last 1-2 years, get an S90 now. It's very worth it.

I'll end with these two night shots, taken with the low-light mode and auto ISO, choosing ISO3200 and ISO5000, respectively. Think of this as the worst case scenario.


Edit: I made a little addendum to this post after using the camera a bit more. Read it here.

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