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June 5, 2009

Latest Canon Compact Cameras with HD Video

My friend Gail emailed me this week asking for a recommendation on a compact "point-and-shoot" camera. She mentioned having done some research and had turned up a Canon that she quite liked the sound of but which was "last year's model". This is how she described what she was looking for:

I'm mostly a point and shoot type of a person, sometimes I will do the odd video and use the different settings for night or action, etc...I want something good, it would be great if it takes either rechargeable or regular AA's, preferably compact. But if there is a much better camera that is slightly larger I would consider that too. I'm just overwhelmed by all the choices so I'd appreciate if you have any insight.

Gail also mentioned in her email that in reading reviews she saw frequent references to "noise" and wondered what that is. Noise is "grain" or noticeable specks that you can see in an image. As you shoot at higher ISO (film speed) in low-light conditions you get more and more noise until you get to the point where it degrades the image. So less noise at higher ISO settings is a sought-after thing.

Anyhow, being a Canon guy myself, I ran with the Canon brand and researched the Canon website for their latest compact point-and-shoot cameras that come with video capability. I turned up the following cameras, all of which have HD video capability.

They also all shoot 12 megapixels which is big! This means you can throw away millions of pixels and still have an image that will have sufficient remaining pixels to print well. I'm talking cropping here. So this gives you two advantages: you can crop out distracting parts on the perimeter of the photo and focus on the subject; or create a photo that looks like you are a lot closer to the subject than you really were - a zoom effect without zooming, if you get what I mean.

So what will distinguish these cameras since they all have HD video, and they all capture 12MP of image data? It comes down to three things: lens, LCD size, and user feedback in my opinion.

The main thing I would focus on would be the lens. That essentially is what you are really paying for with cameras that all offer the same digital-camera features. Look for "optical" as opposed to "digital" in the lens description. If a lens is described as "optical zoom", for example, this means it is "true" zooming, meaning that the lens will actually move when zooming. On the other hand, "digital zoom" means the camera uses a mathematical algorithm to guess at what the image would look like if the lens could actually extend that far. Note that the longer the optical zoom, then the more the lens is going to move and you will get to the point where the lens has to extend out beyond the face of the camera. If you want a camera that is always flush that you won't have to wait for the lens to retract before you put it back in your purse or pocket, then you will have to limit yourself to a shorter optical zoom.

Another feature that zoom lenses are coming with now is "image stabilization". Once again you can get "optical" and "digital" image stabilization. An "optical" image-stabilized lens has a motor that compensates for hand-shake and/or movement of the subject to help keep your subject in focus. This feature becomes more and more important when you are zooming out as the more you do that, the more magnified movement becomes. The fact that it is "optical" image stabilization again means that motors in the lens are compensating for the movement. There are some cameras that use "digital stabilization", which like digital zoom, is achieved by mathematical calculations to estimate what the camera thinks would be an in-focus shot.

Below I have provided links to the black or silver version of each of these cameras at Amazon - most come in a variety of colors if you want to get "jazzy". I have also listed the key features offered for the cameras including the lens details, LCD size, and user reviews at both Canon and Amazon.

Full disclosure statement: Since I am enrolled in the Amazon Affiliate program, if you make a purchase using any of the links I have provided to Amazon, I will be paid a small commission by Amazon.

And one last thing - if you want to keep this page open and have the links open in another page, then hold down the Ctrl key while clicking the link and then the new page will open in a separate window.

This is one of Canon's higher-end compact cameras.

  • 12 MP
  • 12x optical zoom lens for crisp close-ups
  • Optical image-stabalized lens
  • 28mm wide angle - not too bad; you should be able to get almost any shot you want into that wide of a lens except for scenes like interior achitectural shots that take in the entire room
  • 3" LCD
  • Motion detection - helps keep your subject in focus when it is moving
  • Blink detection - camera won't fire when someone in the picture blinks! If this works, that's pretty amazing!
  • Face detection timer - set the camera on a tripod to take a shot of you and your friends and no longer worry about using a timer and running to join the group in a panic - the camera senses when another person moves into the frame, and takes the photo only once you've settled in!
  • Red-eye correction
  • ISO settings up to 3200 - shoot in really low-light without a flash, but at an ISO that high you are going to end up with significant noise. I typically try not to go above ISO 800 even with my Canon 5D
  • High-Definition (HD) video capture
  • HDMI video out for the highest quality HD show on your TV
  • Canon DIGIC 4 technology (Digital Image Capture) - The latest technology from Canon that allows the camera to do all this amazing stuff, and better
  • Overall user reviews at Canon: 4 out of 5
  • Overall user reviews at Amazon: 4 out of 5

The following compacts are all models within Canon's "ELPH" range. I guess ELPH rhymes with "elf" to indicate small or compact.

PowerShot SD970 IS ELPH

Canon PowerShot SD960IS released in February 2009

PowerShot SD780IS

Last but not least in the latest models within the ELPH range is the Canon PowerShot SD780IS

My Recommendation
Finally! Now I know why you were so confused. So which of these cameras would I recommend for you? They all offer video and the same snazzy features and technology that comes with Canon's DIGIC 4, so it boils down to lens and camera size. You said in your email that you "want something good", so if your budget allows for it, I would recommend the first camera in the list the Canon PowerShot SX200IS. Why wounldn't you go for the longest zoom lens in the list. And with its 12x optical zoom you'll be able to get some farily decent shots of the cute guy at the other end of the beach on your next Carribean cruise!

If pictures of hot men at the other end of the beach aren't what you're planning on doing, and most of the shots you're going to take will be basic snapshots of subjects that are close or general scenes of places and faces, then pick something from the list of ELPHs based on just how small a camera you want to slide into your pocket or purse.

Going to the next step the Canon G-10
In doing the research I came across the Canon G-10 so wanted to give it a mention.

It's a compact digital camera for the serious amateur all the way to pro. I have read rave reviews of this camera by the reviwers at Photoshop User where I get all my Photoshop training, product reviews and stuff like that.

And it will still fit in your pocket - unless you're wearing those spandex jeans yet again!

It has a full range of shooting modes, from different sized jpeg files to "RAW" image capture. If RAW is a must for you then this is the camera that makes it possible for the serious amateur and pro alike never to be caught without a camera, even on those occasions when you don't want to have a camera hanging from your neck. If I had the budget, this is the compact camera I would like, but what would be driving my decision would be the fact that it shoots RAW since I almost always shoot in RAW.

Note, shooting in RAW requires subsequent processing with Photoshop, so is for those who are more serious about photography and "post-processing" their images. But the G-10 of course also shoots in jpeg which most people are used to and which is the standard image format that any photo editing program will work with.

If you want to start getting serious about using Photoshop, here's a link to Photoshop User which includes a free copy of "The Best of Photoshop User: The Tenth Year DVD". Included in your membership is a subscription to "Photoshop User Magazine" which I love. You'll learn heaps of new things and tips and tricks in every edition.

Hope this helps. Happy shopping!

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