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: Thursday, April 18, 2002

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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 2.0 (effective) Mpixel PowerShot S330 camera
  • 8MB CompactFlash card
  • NB-1LH Li-ion battery (rechargeable) w/charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • 152 page camera manual + additional software manual
  • Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk v. 9.0 plus ArcSoft Camera Suite (more on this later)

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:

  • The 2.0 (effective) Mpixel DiMAGE X camera
  • 8MB Secure Digital card
  • NP-200 Li-ion battery (rechargeable) w/charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • 87 page manual
  • DiMAGE Viewer Utility + DiMAGE Software CDs

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:

  • The 2.0 (effective) Mpixel Coolpix 2500 camera
  • 16MB Lexar CompactFlash card
  • EN-EL2 Li-ion battery (rechargeable) w/charger
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • 107 page manual
  • NikonView 5 + documentation CDs

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:

  • Set - "OK" in menus {rec/play}
  • Menu {rec/play}
  • Display - toggles info on the LCD, as well as the LCD itself {rec/play}
  • Exposure compensation + white balance + photo effect {rec} / Delete photo {play}

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:

  • Up: Spot metering
  • Right: Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, forced on, forced off, slow-synchro)
  • Down: Continuous shooting (2.5 frames/second) + self-timer (2 or 10 secs)
  • Left: Macro + landscape

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:

  • Playback mode
  • Auto record
  • Manual mode
  • Stitch assist
  • Movie mode

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:

  • Display
  • Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction. forced on, forced off, slow-synchro)
  • Menu
  • Enter - for menus

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:

  • Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, forced off, forced on) {rec} / Delete photo {play}
  • Scene mode {rec} / Auto transfer {play} - more below
  • Menu {rec/play}

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:

  • Portrait
  • Party/Indoor
  • Night Portrait
  • Beach/Snow
  • Landscape
  • Sunset
  • Night Landscape
  • Museum
  • Fireworks
  • Close up (macro)
  • Copy (for text/drawings)
  • Back Light

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:

  • Up: Self-timer
  • Left: Display (LCD info)
  • Down: Mode (Auto Rec, Manual Rec, Movie Mode)

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.

Continue to page two for more on using these two cameras >>

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