DCRP Review: Three Small 2 Megapixel Cameras
Canon PowerShot S330 Digital ELPH / Minolta DiMAGE X / Nikon Coolpix 2500

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Taking Pictures

Canon PowerShot S330

The PowerShot S330 takes just three seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. Believe it or not, you can actually customize the startup screen and sounds used on the S330.

Depressing the shutter release button halfway generally resulted in locked focus in a second or less. When you fully press the button, the photo is taken after a short and barely noticeable lag.

Shot-to-shot speed is pretty good, with a wait of about three seconds between Large/SuperFine shots. The image is shown on the LCD for 2 or 10 seconds (use setup menu to change this) after it is taken, or indefinitely if the shutter release button is held down.

If the feature is turned on, the camera will automatically rotate images (such as portraits) to display correctly on the LCD.

Speaking of image quality, let's take a look at the resolution and quality choices available on the S330:

Resolution Compression # shots on 8MB card
(included with camera)
Large
1600 x 1200
Superfine 7
Fine 11
Normal 24

Medium
1024 x 768

Superfine 16
Fine 24
Normal 46
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 35
Fine 50
Normal 87

There is no TIFF or "RAW" mode available on the S330.

The S330 has both auto and "manual" modes (though it's not very manual). You have control over ISO speed, shutter speed (sort of), exposure compensation, white balance, metering, and of course, image quality and resolution. I'll describe this in more detail in the next section. I've already mentioned the continuous shooting mode as well.

Minolta DiMAGE X

The DiMAGE X takes just over 2 seconds to turn on, before you can start shooting. Auto-focus response is good, keeping under a second. Without an AF illuminator, however, low light focusing can be frustrating. Like the S330, the X has short, but noticeable shutter lag.

Shot-to-shot speed is about the same, or a little slower than the S330 -- it's about 3.5 seconds.

After a shot is taken, the image is shown on the LCD. The display time is not adjustable.

Here's a look at the resolution and quality choices on the DiMAGE X:

Resolution Compression # shots on 8MB card
(included with camera)
1600 x 1200 Superfine (TIFF) 1
Fine 6
Standard 13
Economy 25

1280 x 960

Superfine (TIFF) 1
Fine 10
Standard 20
Economy 39
640 x 480 Superfine (TIFF) 7
Fine 39
Standard 68
Economy 117

The DiMAGE X is the only one of the three cameras to have a TIFF mode, though you can see that you can't hold many on that tiny 8MB Secure Digital card. If you take a TIFF shot, the camera will lock up for 11 seconds while it's writing the image to the card. This is remarkably fast compared to other cameras I've tested.

The manual controls on the X are limited. The only real manual controls are exposure compensation, white balance, and continuous shooting mode. There are only four white balance choices, and no manual mode like on the other two cameras. Two other annoyances are the lack of file numbering control (it just resets the numbering when the card is erased) and the fact that settings are lost when the camera is shut off.

Nikon Coolpix 2500

It takes just under three seconds for the CP2500 to show it's startup screen and prepare for shooting. If the lens is not rotated, the camera will either show a message or an animation to get you to do it.

Like the other two cameras, auto-focusing takes about a second. Like the DiMAGE X, the CP2500 had some trouble in low light situations. Shutter lag is minimal on the 2500.

Shot-to-shot speed is comparable to the other cameras -- about 3 seconds between shots. Nikon is the only one who lets you review and delete photos before they saved to the memory card.

Here's the image quality settings:

Resolution Compression # shots on 16MB card
(included with camera)
1600 x 1200 Fine 8
Normal 15
Basic 29

1280 x 960

Fine 12
Normal 23
Basic 43
1024 x 768 Fine 18
Normal 34
Basic 60
640 x 480 Fine 43
Normal 71
Basic 113

There is no TIFF or "RAW" mode available on the CP2500. You can see that the 2500 has four image size choices, where the others have three. Don't forget that you can also make a 320 x 240 image by hitting the "Small Pic" button on the back of the camera.

The CP2500 has the most manual controls of the bunch. These include exposure compensation, size and quality (of course), continuous shooting, "best shot selector", image sharpening, and white balance. The 2500 has a manual white balance mode. More on this in the next section.

The CP2500 also has the aforementioned "scene modes", which none of the other cameras have. This certainly helps out in many situations where you don't know the best settings to use.

Winner: Nikon Coolpix 2500
This was really a tough call. All three cameras are about the same speedwise. The CP2500 has the most controls, just edging out the S330. The DiMAGE X hardly has any, and it forgets the settings when you turn it off.


Menus

Canon PowerShot S330

The S330 has an intuitive and easy to use menu system. There are three "tabs" at the top of the menu, for Rec. Menu, Setup, and "My Camera". In playback mode, Rec. Menu will be switched to Play Menu. The "My Camera" mode lets you customize the startup image, along with various sounds the camera makes. You can use what Canon gives you, or "install" your own. I don't think this feature will make anyone buy the S330, but it's nice to know that it's there.

Here's a look at the choices available in the Record Menu. Items that are only available in Manual Mode are bold.

  • Resolution (see chart in previous section)
  • Compression (see chart)
  • ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400) - in auto mode, the camera will choose a value between 50-150
  • AiAF (on/off) - when on, camera chooses from three focus points. When off, camera uses center focus point.
  • Digital zoom (on/off)
  • Self-timer (2 or 10 sec)
  • Review (Off, 2 or 10 sec)
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • File No. Reset (on/off)
  • Auto Rotate (on/off) - I described this in the previous section
  • Long shutter (on/off) - allows you to choose the shutter speed

The long shutter feature will let you choose from a range of shutter speeds from 1 to 15 seconds. This is the only camera of the three that gives you this kind of control.

There's also a setup menu, with the usual options like date/time, beep, language, and card formatting.

Minolta DiMAGE X

The DiMAGE X's menus are similar to the Canon's, except their are fewer choices. It took me a minute to figure out that the button with the black circle was actually the OK button for the menus. The menu choices are:

  • Basic Settings
    • Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous shooting, self-timer, movie, audio recording)
    • Image size (see chart)
    • Quality (see chart)
    • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent)
  • Custom Settings
    • Digital zoom (on/off)
    • Instant playback (on/off)
    • Voice menu (on/off)
    • Folder name (standard, date form)

Continuous shooting mode will let you take images consecutively at a rate of 2 frames/second. You can take 7-29 shots in a row at 1600 x 1200, depending on the quality setting.

Audio recording mode will record audio at 8 kHz. You can record audio in 90 second increments.

Any setting above that is selected will be reset to default when the camera is shut off.

Like with the S330, there's also a basic setup menu.

Nikon Coolpix 2500

Nikon's menus are just as intuitive as the other two cameras, so I'll get right to the details. Items in bold are only available in manual mode (which is selected by pressing "down" on the four-way switch):

  • Image quality (see chart)
  • Image size (see chart)
  • White balance (Auto, custom, fine, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, speedlight)
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Continuous shooting (single-shot, continuous, multi-shot 16)
  • Best Shot Selector (on/off)
  • Image sharpening (Auto, high, normal, low, off)

The CP2500 has an excellent selection of white balance settings, including a custom mode. Continuous shooting mode will shoot at 1.5 frames/sec. If the buffer fills up, the camera will keep shooting at a slower rate. Multi-shot 16 will take 16 shots in a row and combine them into one 1600 x 1200 shot. Best Shot Selector will take up to 10 shots in a row, and then uses "fuzzy logic" to pick the sharpest image. This works best when camera shake may blur images.

There's a setup menu as well, just like the other ones.

Winner: Canon PowerShot S330
While all three menu systems are easy to use, Canon wins for having the most controls. Nikon is very close here, but the manual shutter speed controls put the S330 over the top. Minolta loses points for not storing the settings when the camera is shut off.


Viewing Pictures

Canon PowerShot S330

Canon cameras have always had a superb playback mode, and this newest Digital ELPH continues the tradition. The basic features include image protection, DPOF print marking, slide shows, and thumbnail mode.

More advanced features include "zoom & scroll", image rotation, and a sound memo function, which lets you add 60 second sound clips to each image.

Zoom and scroll mode (my term) lets you zoom in as much as 10X into your image, and then move around in the image. The scrolling is super-fast and real-time.

The camera can show basic or detailed information about your photos. In advanced mode, you get exposure information and even a histogram!

The S330 zooms through images -- there's about a second delay between images on the LCD. The camera goes straight to the high res image -- there's no low res placeholder like some other cameras.

The only downside for me is the S330's inability to delete a group of photos.

Minolta DiMAGE X

Minolta's playback mode isn't nearly as robust as Canon's. There's no slideshow feature, but there is still image protection, DPOF print marking, and thumbnail mode.

The advanced features include audio captions and zoom and scroll. Audio caption mode lets you add a 15 second sound clip to each image. Zoom and scroll mode lets you zoom in 4X into your image and scroll around. The scrolling is not smooth like the S330, but is still decent.

Information shown with each image is extremely basic: just date/time, filename, and the resolution and quality settings. No exposure info or histograms are available, though I'm not sure how many people will miss these.

The X moves quickly through images on the LCD in the same manner as the S330, just a little faster.

Nikon Coolpix 2500

The CP2500's playback mode is at the same level as the DiMAGE X but still below the S330. The basic features here are DPOF print marking, image protection, and thumbnail mode (4 or 9 images). There's no slideshow mode here either.

The fancier features include Auto Transfer, Small Pic (both of which I already mentioned), and Zoom and Scroll. Zoom and scroll lets you zoom in 6X and scroll around fairly smoothly.

Just like on the DiMAGE X, the info shown with each photo is basic. In fact it shows the same things that I mentioned there.

Unlike the other two cameras, the CP2500 shows a low res image before the high res one replaces it. This This helps speed up image browsing (though the high res version takes longer to appear on the CP2500 than the other cameras).

Winner: Canon PowerShot S330
No contest here. Canon has always had the best playback mode, and you get more options and faster image browsing on the S330 than the other two.


Software

Since this isn't usually something I cover, I'm going to keep this brief. I'm only going to mention the basic software used to get the photos off of the camera. I will be covering the Mac versions of the software, since that's what I use. I assume the PC versions will be very similar, if not identical. All three software packages are compatible with Windows 98, 2000, ME, and XP.

Canon - Digital Camera Solutions 9.0

The S330 is currently not supported by Mac OS X's Image Capture program, or iPhoto. It's up to Apple to fix this.
>> Update 6/4/02: Mac OS X 10.1.5 adds support for this camera.

Of all the bundled software that I've seen, Canon's software is my favorite. Canon includes ImageBrowser (for downloading photos and basic editing), PhotoStitch (for panoramas), RemoteCapture (for controlling your camera from your computer), and various drivers. In addition, Canon includes the ArcSoft Camera Suite for further photo editing (an older version than what Nikon gives you).

When you connect your camera to the computer, there's a good possibility that ImageBrowser will start up. In Mac OS X, you need to turn Classic off in order to download photos.

Here's a look at ImageBrowser. This is running natively in Mac OS X. The image at the top left is where you see photos which are on the connected camera. Double-clicking them, or hitting the download button will transfer them to a folder which you designate. You can see the "browser" window in the background, where you can move through your folders and view the images in each. When you click on an image, you can delete it, get info, rotate it, or edit it. The cat image on the right is in edit mode. You can crop images or adjust their color. Unfortunately there's no redeye reduction feature. You can also add captions to your images, but I couldn't figure out how in this version.

The software is easy to use and very snappy (especially compared to the other two products in this review). A slideshow feature is also available, but turn off those transitions, as it's dead slow.

PhotoStitch, also Mac OS X native, is my favorite tool for making panoramas. It's pretty self-explanatory and the results are excellent, especially if you were careful while taking the pictures.

Those are the only two OS X native programs included.

Minolta - DiMAGE Image Viewer

Minolta includes just one program with the camera -- Image Viewer. This tool is more powerful than Canon's software, but it's also slower and clumsier. In addition, it doesn't work in Mac OS X properly. When you connect the camera, the Image Capture program (in OS X) will load, and you can get the pictures off the camera that way. But you'll have to copy the images to somewhere where DiMAGE Image Viewer can see them.

So I've done that, and here's what you get. You can see the thumbnails, and if you get info on a photo, you'll see the window at the center.

When you double-click on an image (or select one and choose Color Correction) you will get the window you can see in the background. The "Variations" window in the front is one of many tools you can see in this mode. The color correction tools include:

  • Color-balance
  • Brightness / contrast
  • Saturation
  • Tone curve / histogram
  • White, black, gray-point corrections

You can also click on the sharpness tab to sharpen your images. One other feature of the Image Viewer is the ability to change the color space, but you probably won't need to, as the DiMAGE X does not use a nonstandard color space like some other Minolta cameras.

There's one big thing missing among all these fancy tools: no ability to crop photos! And since this is all Minolta gives you, you're out of luck!

All in all, the DiMAGE Image Viewer software is fairly powerful, but needs a little work in the UI department.

Nikon - NikonView v5.0

Like Canon's software, Nikon has updated their NikonView 5.0 product to support Mac OS X. That's the good news. The bad news is that the software is still buggy, and it's not that great in the first place. But it's improving.

When you connect the camera to the computer, NikonView will load up and will download the pictures you've marked (if you wish), or you can choose the ones you want. Note that pressing the "transfer" button on the camera is not supported in Mac OS X yet, but it works for the other supported OS'es.

Here you can see the image browsing interface over at the left, and an image being edited on the right. Above the images in each is a Shooting Data window, with all the stats about your photos that you could dream of. It's nice to see that without having to hit some key command.

In the thumbnail mode, you can adjust the size of the size of the thumbnails in a manner reminiscent of Apple's iPhoto software. There are five thumbnail sizes available.

When you double click on an image, you get the window you can see towards the right. Hoping to do some photo editing? Forget it, as all NikonView can do is rotate images. However, Nikon redeems themselves by including a new version of ArcSoft's CameraSuite, which includes PhotoImpression, VideoImpression, and PanoramaMaker. Unlike Canon's ArcSoft bundle, these are Mac OS X native versions, complete with fancy interface:

ArcSoft's PhotoImpression can do just about everything you could possibly want to do to your photos, with a pretty easy to use interface too. That includes color controls, redeye reduction, effects, captions, and more.

NikonView has the unique ability to transfer your photos to your NikonNet account (for sharing or printing), or to your PDA. A slideshow feature is also available.

It's nice that NikonView is getting updated for modern operating systems, but it's still one of my least favorite bundled products out there. It's just as sluggish as Minolta's software, with none of the features.

Winner: Canon PowerShot S330
Minolta was easy to eliminate here -- their software has lots of color correction tools, but lacks basic functions like slideshows and photo cropping. Canon ImageBrowser is superior to NikonView, and light years better than DiMAGE Image Viewer. Nikon gets a few points for including a newer version of the ArcSoft suite than Canon, but Canon's older version does the same things.

Continue to page three for more tests and the conclusion >>

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