[REVIEW—CANON IXUS 155 compact camera]

by terry on 17 April 2014

Price: $180 street price
A mixed bag

THE LOW-DOWN: This 20mp compact camera is fitted with a 10X image stabilised zoom with a 24—240mm range, in film equivalent. The LCD monitor is small (6.75cm) and very low resolution – 230K dots. The body is small and light. There are some manual controls and it can be used in P (Program) mode. Video recording is in medium HD 720p format.

LIKE: The small form has its appeal, easily fitting a pocket or bag. Image quality is OK when ISO sensitivity is kept low. Even at ISO100 images look heavily processed, but you will only see that at maximum enlargement. Don’t go above ISO200 and you will get good images for sharing on the interweb or with small prints.

DISLIKE: Auto white balance is poor in anything other than straight sunlight. The LCD is inadequate both as a viewfinder and for reviewing photos. Images are much better than they appear on the screen, which makes it impossible to judge when exposure compensation is needed.

VERDICT: We have always considered Canon’s little Ixus compacts to be good value for a customer with modest photo ambitions, but this one looks like a product of the marketing-by-numbers department. 20 million pixels is too many for a compact sensor. Canon’s excellent Powershot S200, which costs $100 more, has a 10mp sensor and a 5X zoom – proving once again that less is more. So what we have in the Ixus 155 is a cheap camera with the specification numbers of a DSLR. Bamboozling the customer with unrealistic specifications doesn’t seem like the way to beat the smartphone.

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[PHONES FINE FOR SNAPS]

by terry on 17 April 2014

While testing the Canon Ixus 155 today we had to ask if there is room in the market for both the compact and the smartphone. Some camera makers are quitting the low end of the compact market because the smartphone is as much camera as the happy snapper needs.

We compared the Canon with the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the Apple iPhone 5s and the news is not good for the future of low-end compacts.

The one area in which the true camera beats phones is in handling. The big physical shutter button, the easy-to-use zoom and the accessible function buttons and knobs make it easier to control the camera. Even the slightly larger size works in the camera’s favour. But that is about where the camera advantages end.

Compact cameras have small, low resolution LCD monitors while smartphones have large, high resolution screens with excellent sharpness, colour and tonality. On the phone you get a better idea of what you are taking and a better review of what is captured.

The Canon has the advantage of an optical zoom whereas the phones rely on pseudo zooming by cropping the image. This does not work at all well on the iPhone because it means throwing away pixels and introducing digital artifacts. Apple assumes that phone camera users won’t be doing too much cropping, but Nokia takes another approach. With 41 megapixels on a larger sensor zooming by cropping becomes a perfectly acceptable option up to the equivalent of a 5X zoom.

We tested the three cameras in automatic mode, and in the case of the iPhone we didn’t have much choice – that is the way the camera is set up. We assumed that most users of cheap compacts will also opt for automatic.

The Nokia has been made with serious photographers in mind and it has a complete suite of manual controls. The full resolution images can be saved in Adobe’s DNG RAW format. However, to compare like with like, we used it in auto mode.

The Nokia 1020 outclasses the other cameras here. Resolved detail is astonishing. Exposure and focus are spot on and colour is realistic, which means it will be a little cool for most people’s taste.

The iPhone is consistent in its output. Photos always look sharp and brightly coloured, which means a touch over-saturated and plasticky. It is a better point and shoot camera than the Canon and fits the bill as the perfect box camera. You press the button and the phone does the rest. 

In this company the Canon is redundant. Nokia is king for photo enthusiasts and the iPhone is perfect for the point-and-shooters.

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[TWO CHEERS FOR WINDOWS PHONE 8.1]

by terry on 15 April 2014

AFTER MUCH AGONISING INDECISION WE HAVE DECIDED TO MAKE THE NOKIA LUMIA 1020 the smartphone we will live with. At least for the foreseeable future.

Nokia1020new We have used Android [two HTCs] and iPhone [a 5 and a long term review of the 5s]. We like them all, but there is something intriguing about the Windows option. Perhaps we just like giving the underdog a boost.

We were on the verge of choosing the iPhone 5s as our keeper, and then along came Windows Phone 8.1 operating system update and it fixed at least one of our major complaints about the Nokia — the ratty sound volume control. In version 8 the volume of the ringtone is coupled with the volume of the media player, which meant that if the music volume was turned down the ringtone followed. And that usually meant that if the phone was in a pocket you couldn’t hear it ring. One unhappy chap even threatened to sue Microsoft and Nokia for business lost due to missed calls. And at our place it almost came to divorce when spousal calls went unanswered.

Windows Phone 8.1 uncouples the volume controls and now the ringtone can be left set at maximum and when the phone is turned off and then on again the set volume persists — which it didn’t do before because it always reset to 13 on the 0 to 30 volume scale, and that wasn’t loud enough to hear in pocket or bag.

Anyway, that is fixed. Good.

There are a number of other changes that improve the user experience, such as the Action Centre. Drag down from the top of the screen and the Action Centre shows queued messages, emails, Facebook notifications, Twitter, app updates, either made or pending, and so on.

Once the Microsoft account has been set up or activated the phone works seamlessly with the MS OneDrive cloud service, backing up data and OneNote [free app] content on the fly and in the background. Because it runs on the 3G/4G system data transfers are lightning fast.

The highly anticipated Cortana — Windows answer to Siri — won’t arrive on Australian phones until 2015, so we couldn’t test that feature. Even though we were pretending to be an app developer in order to download the update the Microsoft server obviously knew that we were not American. Still there is a decent level of speech input and output already in the system. Messages and emails can be written by dictation with an impressive degree of accuracy, which is about all we use Siri for anyway. We like the Win 8.1 start screen and the smooth responsiveness, together with the logical layout and operation, of the icon “tiles”.

Windows Phone 8.1 has more customisation options than its predecessors, including a new Start Screen custom option. Download the app Start Screen Customize [pardon American spelling] and any photo can be turned into a background, visible through the translucent tiles. Not all tiles are translucent so you might like to arrange the tiles for maximum or most tasteful effect.

Much is made of the app-gap between Windows and the Big 2 but in practice we only miss Dropbox [there are third party work-around apps] and remote camera control for our WiFi enabled cameras. Even there we have found a reasonable third party offering for Sony cameras, but nothing useful for Olympus gear.

The Nokia has very good call and receive audio quality and an excellent music player, although the supplied earphones are a bit cheap and nasty. The phone music player works well in the car via Bluetooth connection to the car’s media system.

The absolute killer feature of the Nokia Lumia 1020 is the 41 megapixel camera, able to save images in RAW format. No other phone comes close in image quality. And the camera has a full set of manual controls that match any serious dedicated camera. It is the camera that persuades us that the Nokia is the smartphone we want to have with us wherever we go.

If you have a Windows Phone 8 you can download the 8.1 update, but it involves registering as an “app developer” with Microsoft even if you don’t intend to be one. The download and installation took 30 minutes on the Nokia 1020 and has to be done in two stages. As it keeps reminding us on the screen: “It is worth the wait.”

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[REVIEW–FUJIFILM X-T1]

April 10, 2014

Price: $2620 with 56mm f1.2 lens as tested Eccentric and wonderful   THE LOW-DOWN: This 16mp APS-C sensor camera has a weather-resistant body. Main controls for aperture, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity are analogue, a useful retro feature for those who grew up with film. The electronic viewfinder is very large and of exceptional resolution. […]

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EQUIPPED FOR THE TASK

April 10, 2014

“Buying a Nikon doesn’t make you a photographer. It makes you a Nikon owner.”  Anon That may be so, but having a big camera with a whopper lens certainly impresses the spectators.  The best, general purpose digital cameras are the Nikon D800 and the Canon 5D MkIII. These full frame DSLRs are magnificent and if […]

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[REVIEW—NIKON D5300 DSLR]

April 3, 2014

Price: $1320 with 18—140mm lens (street price) Entry to a great system THE LOW-DOWN: This 24 megapixel DSLR is Nikon’s second level (by price) model. It has an 8.1cm swivelling LCD and live view is activated with a small lever near the mode dial. Pressing the i button turns the LCD into a control panel […]

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[FIGHT THE FUD]

April 3, 2014

Let’s start with a bold assertion: There are no bad cameras. Whatever camera you buy it will take better pictures than most of us are capable of imagining. This being the case it is a waste of time and a cause of unnecessary anxiety to agonise over the pixel level image quality of one camera […]

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[THREE GORGEOUS CAMERAS]

March 26, 2014

THE NEW FUJIFILM X-T1 JOINS THE OLYMPUS OMD E-M1 AND THE SONY a7 at the top of the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera category. For the past ten days I have had them all here together on the test bench. If I were forced to choose only one as the camera for everyday use I would […]

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[NEWS ABOUT IMAGING]

March 26, 2014

THE IMAGING reviews and columns will now only appear three weeks each month. On the fourth Thursday there will be no IMAGING and that means that there will be no updating of the IMAGING content here on dpexpert. There will, however, be additional information posted here that doesn’t fit in the IMAGING format. Such as […]

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[MY NIKON & ME – a photographic exhibition]

March 26, 2014

  MY FRIEND MURRAY STAPLETON, surgeon, impresario, farmer and traveller, is exhibiting some of the prints from his travels at Art at St Francis from March 24 to April 24. The exhibition is in the meeting hall on the east side of St Francis’ church on the corner of Lonsdale and Elizabeth Streets, Melbourne. The […]

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