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Digital cameras, now and not quite now…

As a follow-up to my Cameras, then and now… story, here’s what’s happened with digital camera evolution in our household over the last three years.

As noted in the other writeup, our current digital camera is the Canon PowerShot SD400, a marvel of features and compactness that we bought this past July. It replaced a Canon PowerShot S30, which I purchased in January of 2002. So just how far have consumer digital cameras come in three years? Probably a lot farther than this article will demonstrate, as I’ll only be speaking to the differences in the two cameras we own. But even there, the changes are pretty dramatic, starting with (of course), the size:

s30 vs. sd400

Read on to see just how much has changed in a little over three and a half years.

 PowerShot S30 [2002]PowerShot SD400 [2005]
Weight (no batt.)16.9oz4.6oz
Largest Image Size2048x1536 pixels2592x1944 pixels
Image Sensor3.3mil pixel CCD5.3mil pixel CCD
Optical ViewfinderShowed 82% of image areaShows all of image area
Back panel LCD1.8”2.0”
Movie Mode320x240 (30 sec max)
or 160x120 (120 sec max)
Both at 15fps
640x480@30fps (no limit)
or 320x240@60fps (60 sec max)
Storage CardsCompact FlashSD Memory Card
Battery InfoShots (LCD on/off): 160 / 390
Weight: 1.4oz
Shots (LCD on/off): 150 / 400
Weight: 0.6oz
InterfaceUSBUSB2 Hi-Speed

As you can see, everything in the new camera is an improvement over the old, even beyond the smaller size. I really enjoy the upgraded movie mode; it means I often-times don’t take our DV camera with us, knowing that I can capture short some really nice clips at 640x480. Also notable to me is the new USB2 interface; this makes a huge difference when transferring images from the SD cards. And it’s not just the camera that has gotten smaller; the battery in the new one is less than half the weight of the old, yet has nearly identical performance. And even the charger for the battery is notably smaller, so much so that it’s not a hassle finding space for it when packing for a trip.

Though there’s clearly a limit on practicality as sizes decrease, I don’t think the new SD400 is too small. In fact, it’s actually easier to operate than was the S30, due to better design. As seen in this shot…

camera backs

…the back of the SD400 utilizes what was empty space on the S30 for its control functions. On the S30, you had to use this somewhat-tricky four-way rocker switch at the top of the camera. On the SD400, the large control ring makes working through the camera’s interface very simple—a nice use of previously-wasted space.

This isn’t meant to be a pitch for the SD400; it’s a fine camera, but I’m sure there are many others out there that are just as capable, if not more so. Instead, it’s just a peek at how fast things are moving in the world of digital cameras.

As a closing footnote, sorry for the relatively poor image quality in these shots. I had to use my Treo to take the pictures, as I was running out of picture-taking devices!

4 thoughts on “Digital cameras, now and not quite now…”

  1. I should drag out my original digital camera (a Kodak camera in 1996) and show comparisons with my current (several years old) pro-sumer camera. On the other hand, my main camera these days is a Canon Digital Rebel. Not exactly small. But it can create images as good as my original EOS 650 camera (circa 1987). And the best part is that I don't have to pay for any but the few I want to print. So I can snap hundreds of images over the course of a day and only spend a dollar or two to print some excellent samples (no film, no development). Yahoo!

  2. Maybe the latest models are different, but from my experiences the new small SD consumer cameras don't have as much control and functionality as the bigger S## series cameras. The S80 (or whatever Canon is up to nowadays) remains just as big as your S30. So the question is does more size have to equate to more control? Or is this just the expectation the market has created for us? Just a thought.

  3. I got a Canon Powershot G5 two years ago, I believe. The Powershot series is among the best digital amateur photography has to offer. Consumer Reports has done some excellent reviews and comparisons of multiple camera models, so you can see which parameters are most important to you. I discarded any camera with more than 2 seconds between shots in our selection process, and would look for even faster performance now.

  4. I completely agree with Step -- there's a definite choice to be made. We owned one of the early PowerShot G cameras, but I sold it quite soon after purchase. I quickly determined that I am not a prosumer user of camera, but rather, valued the portability.

    I just found I left the G at home all the time, whereas the SD400 is in my pocket almost all the time now :)


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