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

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Last Updated: Monday, June 17, 2002

Back when I did a head-to-head review of the Nikon Coolpix 990 and Olympus C-3030Z, I said I'd never do such a thing again. The loyalties to Nikon and Olympus are almost as religious as Mac owners' allegiance to Apple, and when you upset either party, they let you hear about it. When the opportunity arose to do another comparative review, I was hesitant, but many readers wrote in and asked me to do it. And since these are lower-end cameras, I figured that I'd be spared at least some of the attacks that came from that last review.

The three cameras I'm looking at here are all 2 Megapixel cameras with 3X optical zooms. All of them are small and stylish, and two of them are really quite unique. I will cover each camera in several areas, pick a a winner in each area, and than an overall winner (hopefully).

The cameras are the Canon PowerShot S330 Digital ELPH ($399), the Minolta DiMAGE X ($399), and the Nikon Coolpix 2500 ($379).


What's in the Box

Canon PowerShot S330

Canon did a great job with the included software, and just so-so on the other stuff they include with this camera. Here's what you get:

The only real thing to comment on is the rather skimpy 8MB CompactFlash card. I would have liked to see something larger, considering just how cheap CF cards are these days. I'd recommend at least a 32MB card.

Canon includes a Li-ion rechargeable battery and the charger right in the box. The charger plugs directly into the wall, which means you don't have to carry a power cord around. The battery is rated at 3.7V and 840 mAh, which means it has 3.1 Watt/hours of power (that's 3.7 * (840/1000)). Canon says you can get about 285 photos taken with mixed LCD use per charge. It takes 130 minutes to recharge the battery.

Since the S330 has a built-in lens cover, there is no fussing with lens caps.

As far as accessories go, the S330 doesn't have many. There are no lens accessories, which isn't surprising. The most interesting one is the WP-DC500 waterproof case (about $240), which lets you take the S330 up to 30 meters underwater. An AC adapter is also available.

You can also print to Canon's photo printers directly from the camera.

I will cover software later in the review.

Canon's manuals have always been my favorites for digicams, and the newly updated S330 manual is no exception.

Minolta DiMAGE X

Minolta's bundle is about equal with Canon's, with the exception of the software (which, again, I'll cover later). The bundle includes:

While the other two cameras use CompactFlash, the DiMAGE X uses the small, yet not as popular Secure Digital format. You can also use MultiMediaCards with this camera. These cards are very small, and have capacities ranging from 8MB to 512MB. The 8MB card included doesn't hold many photos, so you'll want to pick up a larger one.

The NP-200 battery includes a charger, but it's not quite as fancy as the "plug it right in" Canon charger (you have to carry around the power cable). Minolta estimates that you'll get about 155 photos on a single charge. The battery charges in 80 minutes. The 3.7V / 750mAh battery has 2.8Wh of power.

Like with the S330, the DiMAGE X has a built-in lens cover.

The accessory choices for the "X" are very limited: just cases or an AC adapter.

The DiMAGE's manual is pretty good as well, with long explanations and not a lot of fine print.

Nikon Coolpix 2500

The CP2500's bundle is the best of the bunch. Inside the box, you'll find:

Big thanks to Nikon for including the largest memory card of the bunch. I got a good laugh when I first took the card out of the box. It's labeled "Nikon Coolpix Starter Memory Card (8x speed rated)". Only in fine print on the back do you find out that it's a 16MB card. One nice thing is that they estimate the number of photos that can be stored per card on the back.

Nikon's Li-ion battery is the most powerful of the bunch. It's rated at 3.7V / 1000 mAh which works out to 3.7 Wh. The bad news is that since the camera relies on that power-hungry LCD display, you'll only get 80 minutes of life out of it. Using the charger (very similar to Minolta's), you can refill your battery in two hours.

The unique design of the CP2500 hides the lens when it's not in use, thus eliminating the need for a lens cap.

There aren't any more accessory choices for the Coolpix than the other two cameras. You can get an AC adapter, a case, or a monitor hood (for easier viewing of the LCD outdoors).

While the Coolpix's manual has more fine print than the other two, it's still pretty good.

Winner: Nikon Coolpix 2500
Nikon takes the cake in this category, including a larger memory card and having the most powerful battery. It loses a few points for its reliance on LCD only, but that's for later.


Look and Feel

These three cameras are all unique in their own ways, with the Minolta camera being the real design standout.

The shot above (along with the first one on this page) should give you an idea about how they compare to each other in size. Let's go on a detailed tour of each of these cameras now.

Canon PowerShot S330

The PowerShot "Digital ELPH" cameras were the first cameras to really stand out in a crowd. The small, metal body gave it as much "sex appeal" as a digital camera can have. The S330 is essentially the same as the first ELPH, with just some minor cosmetic changes. (One thing that's interesting to note is that the Digital ELPH has stayed at 2MP, while similar-looking 3 and 4MP cameras have been popping up.)

The body is made entirely of metal and it feels very solid. The only thing I've noticed about these metal cameras it that they scratch easily. Despite it's size, the camera isn't that light, thanks to the metal body, but it easily fits in your pockets. The camera is super-easy to hold, as well. The dimensions of the S330 are 3.7 x 2.5 x 1.2 inches (WxHxD), and it weighs 245 grams empty.

Here is the front of the S330, which looks a lot like the earlier generation ELPH's. The S330 has an F2.7, 3X optical zoom lens with a focal range of 5.4 - 16.2 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. The lens is not threaded.

Just above the lens is the optical viewfinder and AF illuminator, which assists in low light focusing. This is the only one of the three that has this.

Moving over to the right, you can see the built-in flash. The S330's flash has a working range of 0.76 - 3.5 m at wide-angle, and 0.76 - 2.0 m at telephoto. There is no support for external flashes on any of these cameras.

Here's the back of the camera. The S330 has a 1.5" LCD, which is consistent with the rest of the group. The LCD is bright and images move fluidly on the screen. The LCD brightness is not adjustable.

Straight up from the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is large for a camera of this size. It lacks diopter correction for those with less than perfect vision, however. Just left of the viewfinder is the speaker.

The four buttons below the LCD are for:


The Photo Effect menu

The exposure compensation feature on the S330 is the usual: -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments. White balance choices include auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, two kinds of fluorescent, and custom (yay!). The choices in photo effect mode are vivid color, neutral color, low sharpening, sepia, and black & white. I have examples of the first two of these effects in the gallery.

Moving along now -- the four-way switch to the right of the LCD is for menu navigation and more. Each direction has it's own functions:

At the far right is the switch used to open the CF slot door. Up at the top-right are the zoom controls. The zoom moves smoothly, but I wish there was some sort of indicator on the LCD showing how far you've zoomed!

Here's the top of the camera. None of the cameras have an LCD info display, though this is the only camera with room to contain one. The mode wheel has the power button in the middle, which you have to hold down for a second to turn the camera on. The choices on the mode wheel include:

I will cover most of these later. The Stitch Assist mode helps you make panoramic shots -- you'll use the PhotoStitch software to actually combine them.

The only other things up here is the shutter release button and the microphone.

On this side of the camera, under a rubber cover, you'll find the A/V and Digital (USB) out ports. What about an AC adapter? Instead of a DC-in plug, you get a DC coupler, which goes where the battery normally does. The cable feeds out the bottom of the battery compartment.

Here's the other side, with the CF slot door opened up. The included 8MB memory card is shown. This is a Type I CF slot, so no Microdrive.

Finally, here is the bottom of the camera, shown with the NB-1LH battery. The bottom of the S330 features a metal tripod mount and the battery compartment. The tripod mount is strangely located near the edge of the body.

Minolta DiMAGE X

From an engineering and design standpoint, the DiMAGE X is the most impressive camera of the bunch. It's the smallest and lightest camera of the three, and catches people's eyes like the ELPH did two years ago.

The "big deal" about the "X" is how Minolta put a 3X optical zoom lens into a camera less than an inch thick. What they've done is put a prism at the back of the lens, and then put all the moving parts and additional optics down the camera body. The CCD sensor is actually on the bottom of the camera. This page explains it visually better than I can describe it in words.

The X's body is metal, just like the S330's. It fits into your pocket better than any camera out there. The official dimensions are 3.3 x 2.8 x 0.8 inches (WxHxD) and it weighs just 135 grams empty.

Here's the front of the DiMAGE X. The F2.8 lens (or part of it, at least) can be seen at the top right. The focal range is 5.7 - 17.1 mm which is equivalent to 37 - 111 mm. Obviously there are no lens accessories for this camera.

Moving to the left, you can see the optical viewfinder, followed by the flash. The X's flash has a working range of 0.25 - 2.9 m at wide-angle and 0.25 - 2.3 m at telephoto.

Here's the back of the DiMAGE X. Like the other cameras, the X has a 1.5" LCD display. The LCD is bright and fluid, and the brightness is adjustable via the setup menu.

The optical viewfinder, found at the upper-left, is really small, and like the other cameras, lacks diopter correction.

The switch above the LCD toggles the camera between playback and record mode.

The four buttons below the LCD are for:

Up at the top-right of the photo, you can see the four-way switch (it doesn't really look like one), which controls the menus, exposure compensation, and the zoom. The lens moves slowly but smoothly, and like with the S330, there's no indication on the LCD of the current zoom setting. The exposure compensation is the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments.

Finally, at the lower-right, you can see the microphone.

Looking at the top of the DiMAGE X, you can really get a feel for just how thin this camera is. Over on the left is the microphone (make sure you don't cover it with your fingers while filming movies!). At the center, you'll find the on/off button. Just to the right of that is the shutter release button.

On this side of the X, you can again see how thin it is. At the bottom, under the rubber cover, you'll find find a cool USB and A/V port (it's a single port).

Here's the other side of the camera, with 8MB SD card and battery shown. The plastic door that covers these slots seems rather flimsy.

You can also see the port for the optional AC adapter.

Here's the bottom of the DiMAGE X, complete with plastic tripod mount.

Nikon Coolpix 2500

You can see the Coolpix heritage right away when you're look at the CP2500. They've taken the famous rotating lens of the Coolpix 900 series and put it "inside" the body of the 2500. The lens rotates inside the body, rather than on the side of it. You get the flexibility of the Coolpix 900 series' rotating lens, though it's a lot clumsier to operate.

When I first heard about the way Nikon implemented the rotating the lens, I figured there was some kind of knob on the size of the camera to rotate it. As it turns out, that's not the case -- instead you have to use your hands "inside" the body of the lens, and it's not as easy as it could be to rotate the lens.

Why do you want a rotating lens? My favorite reason is one that's happened to me in real life many times. Suppose you're at a parade or some event where lots of people are in front of you. You can rotate the lens toward the ground, hold the camera up over everyone's heads, then tilt the camera so you can see the LCD. That way you can see the picture you're taking over the heads in front of you.

Unlike the other two cameras, the CP2500 is made entirely of plastic, which I'd judge to be average quality. Although the Coolpix 2500 is the largest of the three, it's still easily pocketable. The dimensions of the CP2500 are 4.5 x 2.3 x 1.2 inches, and it weighs 165 grams empty. While it's the largest camera, it's not the heaviest -- the S330 takes home that honor.

Here's a look at the front of the CP2500, with the F2.7 lens open. You can rotate the lens to any number of positions, and you can also turn it around and take self-portraits (they will be shown correctly on the LCD). Like the other two cameras, this is a 3X optical zoom of 5.6 - 16.8 mm, which is equivalent to 37 - 111 mm. Also like the others, the lens is not threaded.

Just to the right of the lens is the flash. If you're wondering about redeye, I'll cover that later. But generally, the closer together the lens and flash, the more likely redeye will be a problem. Anyhow, the working range of the flash is 0.4 - 3.0 m at wide-angle, and 0.4 - 1.7 m at telephoto.

Here's the back of the camera, with the lens closed. You can see the diagram explaining how to open it. The LCD displays an animation as well.

The CP2500 has a 1.5" LCD just like the others. And, like the others, it's bright and fluid. Brightness is adjustable via the setup menu.

One big negative (in my mind) about the Coolpix 2500 is the lack of an optical viewfinder. Being stuck with only the LCD really kills the high power battery that Nikon uses. I don't really know where they could have put one on it, and keep the design.

Let's talk buttons now -- the back of the CP2500 is well-designed and everything is easy to get to. The three buttons below the LCD are for:

What is Auto transfer? Like on the other recent Coolpix cameras, you can mark photos to be transferred automatically when the camera is connected to your Mac or PC.


Scene Mode

Scene mode should be familiar to DCRP readers. This lets you choose from several scenarios, and the camera chooses the best settings for the job. On the Coolpix 2500 (which is the only camera of the three to have such a feature), the choices are:

Ok, back to our tour! Directly to the right of the LCD is the four-way switch. In addition to navigating menus, the switch can also change the following:

Below that is a button for Quick Review mode (which shows the last picture taken in the upper-left corner of the LCD), which also creates a 320 x 240 image while in playback mode.

Up at the top right of the photo you'll find the zoom controls. The zoom is smooth and quiet.

On the top of the camera, you'll find the power switch and shutter release button.

In case you're wondering where the microphone is located on this camera... well, it doesn't have one.

On this side of the camera, the only thing to see is the hole for the wrist strap. Too bad they didn't make it into a knob for turning that lens!

On the other side of the camera, you'll find the memory card and battery compartment, as well as the Digital I/O (USB) port. No video out on this camera! You can lock the compartment door, as well. Let's open it up.

After opening the rather sturdy door (for a change), you'll find the battery and CompactFlash (Type I) compartment. Note the funny labeling on the CF card.

Finally, here is the bottom of the CP2500, complete with plastic tripod mount.

Winner: Minolta DiMAGE X
The Minolta wins big here. The DiMAGE X is what the Digital ELPH was two years ago -- eye-catching. People noticed it wherever it went (even if they didn't know me). The CP2500 has a unique design that's frustrating due to the lack of an optical viewfinder and the clumsy rotating lens. The S330 is nice but doesn't stand out anymore, though it is the only one that has an AF illuminator.

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.

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:

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):

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:

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.

Movie Mode

Canon PowerShot S330

The PowerShot S330 can record movies at three different resolutions. The choices are 640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 160 x 120. Before you get too excited, clips are limited to 4, 10, and 30 seconds respectively for each resolution.

Movies are recorded at a rate of 20 frames/sec, and are saved in the AVI format using the M-JPEG codec. Sound is recorded with the movies.

The zoom lens is not useable during filming, so you'll need to get it where you want it before you start.

I took the same thrilling sample movie with each of the three cameras, so you can compare the movie quality.


Click to Play Movie (2.2MB, AVI format)

Can't play it? Download Quicktime.

Minolta DiMAGE X

The DiMAGE X is limited to one resolution: 320 x 240, and clips are limited to 35 seconds. However, you can only fit 19 seconds worth of video on that tiny SD card that Minolta includes.

Movies are saved in Quicktime format.

Like with the S330, sound is recorded with the movie. Be sure not to cover the microphone with your finger. Also like the S330, the zoom lens is disabled during filming.

Here's that sample movie again:


Click to Play Movie (2.7MB, Quicktime format)

Can't play it? Download Quicktime.

Nikon Coolpix 2500

Nikon's movie mode hasn't really evolved since the earlier models. Only the Coolpix 5000 supports sound.

Movies are recorded at 320 x 240 at a rate of 15 frames/second, and are saved in Quicktime format. Clips are limited to 15 seconds.

Since sound is not recorded, you can use the zoom lens during filming.

One annoyance I noticed was that you cannot access any menu items in movie mode, not even white balance. So movies filmed under "funny" lighting may not look great.


Click to Play Movie (2.3MB, Quicktime format)

Can't play it? Download Quicktime.

Winner: Minolta DiMAGE X
Another close one, but the Minolta wins. It can record the longest movies and the video quality is the best in my eyes. The microphone could be in a better spot, though. The S330 has more choices as far as resolution goes, but clips are short and the video quality isn't as good as the other two. The CP2500 has high quality video but no sound, and clips are limited to only 15 seconds.


Photo Test: Macro Mode

The first of the photo tests in this review is the traditional macro test shot. If you've read any of our reviews, you've seen this shot before.

I took these shots over the period of a few minutes using natural light, so things should be equal in each. Again, I used automatic mode for each, and used exposure compensation on some of them.

Canon PowerShot S330 Minolta DiMAGE X Nikon Coolpix 2500

All three cameras did a fine job with this test, though the DiMAGE X has a yellowish cast, possibly due to that cork coaster I put underneath it to get it a boost (due to the high placement of the lens on the X). If I was to pick a winner of the three, I'd choose the Coolpix 2500, which had the best color and detail. If you blow up each of them, I think you'll agree.

At the push of a button, you can enter macro mode on the PowerShot S330. At wide-angle, you can get as close as 16 cm to your subject, while at telephoto, it's 26 cm.

The DiMAGE X doesn't have a macro mode you just turn on. The camera must sense that the subject is super-close, and adjusts the focus accordingly. The minimum distance you can be from the subject is 25 cm.

The Coolpix line has long been known for its macro ability, and the CP2500 keeps up with the family. You must use the "Close up" scene to get into macro mode, but once there, you can be just 4 cm away from your subject.

Winner: Nikon Coolpix 2500
Just like its predecessors, the CP2500 is the best of the bunch for macro shots. Not only can you get closer to the subject than with the other cameras, but the test photo looked the best to my eyes as well. Don't write off the other two, as they both did a good job.


Photo Test: Night Photos

Next to the macro test, no photo test has been around longer than my fabled night shot test. Unfortunately, the usual spots were totally fogged in, so I had to grab a friend to watch my back while I photographed City Hall (not a great idea to have thousands of dollars in camera equipment down the block from the projects).

I used the $2000 Canon D60 Digital SLR as my reference camera for most of these photo tests. If you blow up the images you will see the incredible amount of detail that it can record with virtually no noise. If all cameras were so lucky!


Canon EOS-D60
Reference Camera
8 sec exposure
view 30 sec exposure
ISO 100
Canon PowerShot S330
Long shutter mode
1/2 sec exposure
ISO 50
Minolta DiMAGE X
1 sec exposure
ISO 100
Nikon Coolpix 2500
Night Landscape mode
1/5 sec
ISO 400

Winner: Canon PowerShot S330
I will go in reverse order here. The Coolpix 2500 will adjust its ISO automatically, which is bad news for shots like this. There's no way to turn that off. As you can see, the ISO 400 shot the CP2500 took is very noisy. The DiMAGE X's image is much less noisy, and shows more detail, but the white balance isn't great and it overexposed a lot of the lit areas of the building. The S330 is the big winner, with the most accurate colors (perhaps more accurate than the D60) and excellent detail. And I hadn't even discovered the manual shutter speed controls when I took that photo!


Photo Test: Flash

Everyone always wants me to take people pictures. Since I can't find anyone to volunteer and I'm sure not going to do it, I've had to get creative. The following tests will hopefully give you an idea as to which camera takes the best flash pictures.

For this first (unscientific) test, I put my hand on the wall and took four flash pictures within a few seconds of each other, all under the same lighting.

Canon EOS-D60
Reference camera
Canon PowerShot S330
Minolta DiMAGE X

Nikon Coolpix 2500

Holy smokes, does my hand look red in that DiMAGE shot, or what? Something else to note -- though you probably cannot tell in those small shots, the DiMAGE's shot is much noisier than the other three (in fact, it makes it look blurry). The reason for this is that the DiMAGE boosts its ISO setting up to 200, which brings in the noise. The other three cameras did a pretty good job.

"Redeye" is an annoying phenomenon that affects both digital and film cameras. In a nutshell, here's what it is: When you fire off the flash, the light goes through your pupils, and hits your retina. There, the blood vessels absorb all the colors of the flash (remember, white is made up of lots of colors), except for red, which is reflected. This red light is what you see in the pictures that makes both man and beast look like something out of a horror movie!

All three of the cameras take a similar approach to fixing this problem: they try to shrink your pupils. The S330 uses its AF illuminator to do the job, while the other two use the flash.

In my test below, I set the camera on the tripod in a darkened room. I let my eyes get used to the light between shots so my pupils would be roughly the same size in each. I used the self-timer and made sure redeye reduction was turned on. The images below are blown up 200% so you can get a closer look at my lovely eyes.

Canon PowerShot S330

Arrrgh -- it's the one red-eyed demon pirate!

Minolta DiMAGE X

Hey, not too bad but a little noisier than the others. Skin tone seems off as well.

Nikon Coolpix 2500

I told you having the lens so close to the flash was a bad idea! I look like the Terminator!

The results from that test are pretty obvious. After a good nights sleep, my eyes have returned to normal.

Winner: Canon PowerShot S330
While the Minolta did a good job at redeye reduction, it loses points for the noisy images. The S330 did a nice job on skin tone (and the wall is actually white in the first test) and was OK in the redeye department. While the Coolpix did alright with the hand, it was a complete disaster in the redeye test.


Photo Test: Image Quality Comparisons

This isn't the easiest thing to pull off (especially outdoors when the LCD is hard to see), but I've attempted to take the same shot with the three cameras. I've again used the D60 as my reference camera. Here goes.

Canon EOS-D60
Reference camera
Canon PowerShot S330
Minolta DiMAGE X

Nikon Coolpix 2500

Observations: The D60 and DiMAGE X really have saturated color. The shot on the X loses detail in the background and the edges of things have this video capture look to them.

Canon EOS-D60
Reference camera
Canon PowerShot S330
Minolta DiMAGE X

Nikon Coolpix 2500

Edges seem sharper on the CP2500 and S330 vs. the DiMAGE X. Also, take a look at the text on the stone. No sign of any chromatic aberrations (purple fringing).

This next one was designed (by accident) to show how the cameras handle tough metering situations. These are all taken in auto mode.

N/A
Canon EOS-D60
Reference camera
Canon PowerShot S330
Minolta DiMAGE X

Nikon Coolpix 2500

Still no signs of CA, even in this situation. The CP2500 really had trouble with this one, with the Minolta and Canon faring better. The Minolta camera still has that video capture look though.


View mid-sized image
View full-sized image

View mid-sized image
View full-sized image
Canon EOS-D60
Reference camera
Canon PowerShot S330

View mid-sized image
View full-sized image

View mid-sized image
View full-sized image
Minolta DiMAGE X

Nikon Coolpix 2500

This final test shot involves my newly-purchased plastic fruit and veggies. Choosing the winner is tough here, but the D60 is definitely the most accurate in terms of color. The yellow pepper is way too yellow on the S330 and CP2500, and is closer on the DiMAGE X. At the same time, the DiMAGE's shot seems to have a blue cast to it.

Be sure to at least blow these up to the mid-sized level to compare them. They were all shot at the same time under identical lighting, on a tripod, in auto mode.

For additional sample photos, please visit the PowerShot S330, DiMAGE X, and Coolpix 2500 galleries. You can use those samples to make you own decisions about photo quality.

Winner: Canon PowerShot S330
This was really a tough call. Both the Coolpix 2500 and PowerShot S330 take excellent pictures. The S330's looked a little better to me, so I gave it the edge. Many of the photos from the DiMAGE X look like they were taken with a camcorder... they're soft and "fuzzy". Something noticed by the keen eye of Phil Askey is that the DiMAGE X exhibits "vignetting", where the corners of the images are darker than the rest of the image. Once made aware of this, I could see this on some of my images too. Again, please refer to the galleries (linked just above here) and use them to make your own decisions.


Conclusion

This is the part of the review that I hate the most: making decisions. So here's what I suggest. What you see in this section is my conclusion. Using the information you've hopefully gained in this review, you need to draw your own conclusion. I recommend giving each of my tests a "weight" and decide which of the areas is important to you. That said, here's the summary chart for all my tests:

  Canon PowerShot S330 Minolta DiMAGE X Nikon Coolpix 2500
What's in the Box      
Look and Feel      
Taking Pictures      
Viewing Pictures    
Menus/Features    
Software    
Movie Mode    
Macro Mode    
Night Photos    
Flash Tests    
Image Quality    
       
WINNER    

Based on all the tests I performed, it looks as if the Canon PowerShot S330 Digital ELPH is the best of the bunch, with the Nikon Coolpix 2500 close behind. For me, the things that really pushed the PowerShot S330 ahead of the Coolpix 2500 were the redeye troubles and auto ISO boosting of the CP2500, which made low light shots awfully noisy. The CP2500 is still an excellent choice that you should consider in your camera search.

While the Minolta DiMAGE X has a stunning design, its feature-set, photo quality, and software bundle weren't at the same level of the other two cameras. The Minolta DiMAGE 7 was a very good camera that was troubled in some areas, and Minolta addressed them with the 7i -- so let's hope they do the same with the X.

Well, that's all! I hope this review has helped you figure out which of these three cameras might be the best match for your needs. But don't take my word for it. Go out and try all of them, if you can find them.

Other small cameras with an optical zoom include the Canon PowerShot S200 Digital ELPH, Fuji FinePix 2600Z and 2800Z, Kyocera Finecam S3, Minolta F100, Olympus D-40Z and D-520Z, Pentax Optio 330 and 430, and the Sony DSC-P5, DSC-P71, and DSC-P9.

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Canon PowerShot S330 - Buy now
Minolta DiMAGE X - Not available
Nikon Coolpix 2500 - Buy now

Photo Gallery

For additional sample photos, please visit the PowerShot S330, DiMAGE X, and Coolpix 2500 galleries. You can use those samples to make you own decisions about photo quality.

Need more opinions?

Or, check out some other reviews of these cameras, just to make sure that I'm not crazy:

Feedback

What did you think of this review? Send me some feedback, please! If you want to criticize the review, please be constructive. But please, do not send requests for personal recommendations or missing software/manuals.


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