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-- by John Woram
Conventional film maintains its lead in the race with its digital competition, but that lead is narrowing. And if convenience, features and versatility were the sole criteria, the race would be over already, with digital the winner by a mile. Here's a look at two of the latest contenders.
Canon PowerShot 350
Measuring 3.75 by 3.5 by 2 inches, the Canon PowerShot 350 fits comfortably in one hand. Most controls are conveniently arranged on the rear panel, whose top-hinged LCD display may be tilted through 45 degrees for viewing convenience. Small push-buttons above the display control white balance, flash mode, image erase and various display functions, including the option to view multiple stored images simultaneously. Additional controls allow you to focus images while in Close-Up mode (Auto Focus is the normal mode) and to regulate image quality and LCD image brightness.
Due to a production error, the wrong photo accompanied the review of the Canon PowerShot 350 digital camera in the print version of the August issue. The correct photo appears here.
The PowerShot uses a removable flash memory card (it comes with a 2MB card), which can be swapped when you "run out of film." This is a nice feature because it allows you to leave your laptop at home, even on a lengthy field trip. With a suitable adapter (not included), the memory card may be fitted into a Type II PC Card and then inserted in any PC Card slot, eliminating the need for an infrared or cable camera-to-PC transfer.
The camera's Auto Power-Off feature remains enabled in Record mode even if the camera is run from its AC adapter. This quickly became annoying, as it kept turning itself off while we were making various adjustments. This unnecessary feature also rules out the PowerShot 350 as a monitoring device-doubly unfortunate since the camera provides a video output jack that can be connected to a video input on a VCR or TV set.
The PowerShot uses regular JPEG compression; the degree varies according to the selected quality mode. It comes with a special edition of Ulead Systems' PhotoImpact software, whose Album applet borrows the Windows 95 Explorer to display thumbnail views of JPEG files transferred to the hard disk. PhotoImpact itself is a first-class JPEG file editor.
Though relatively small (3 by 4 by 1.6 inches), the Sony DSC-F1 is larger than the PowerShot 350. Its rear-panel LCD remains fixed, but the lens may be rotated through a 180-degree arc. On the right-hand side, a rotary power knob selects Record or Play modes, while a push-in thumbwheel control on the opposite side is used to configure the camera. In Play mode, you can view stored images individually or six at a time. Additional menu options allow selected images to be erased, erase-protected or transferred via infrared transmission. Other push-buttons just to the left of the LCD provide more options, including self-timer, flash control and display rotate.
Unlike the PowerShot 350, the Auto Power-Off feature on the DSC-F1 is disabled if the camera is run from its AC adapter, so video output can be used indefinitely as a monitoring device when not otherwise engaged. This feature could be used for a variety of tasks-for example, to watch a sleeping baby.
The camera uses a proprietary JPEG-based compression system that allows it to squeeze a few more images into its storage space (unfortunately no removable storage options are provided). This also means that you must use the included Sony Digital Still Camera Album Utility to view the images, either in the camera or after transferring them to hard disk.
Although the utility is quite good, it still has a few rough spots: If the Open Disk Album option is selected, the software searches your diskette drives and then your entire hard drive for such albums, and you have to wait for the search to conclude, even if you know exactly where the album resides.
We took both cameras on a photo shoot and immediately discovered an important high-tech limitation: The LCD displays don't do very well outdoors. Even in moderate sunlight, the Canon display was just about invisible. The Sony was somewhat better but still far short of being usable. Both cameras urgently need an optical viewfinder such as that found on Olympus cameras like the D-200L (see WinLab Reviews, April)
As for image quality, everything you've heard is true: Conventional film still takes first place. However, a few of our digital exposures came very close to it in perceived quality, when printed on premium-quality paper. As already noted, both cameras use data compression to store their images. But compression ratios notwithstanding, when both cameras were set to the same mode, the Canon images were consistently superior.
The ideal digital camera would combine ease of use and removable media (Canon PowerShot 350), a rich feature set and bright LCD display (Sony DSC-F1), and an optical viewfinder and first-class images (Olympus D-200L). Since neither the Canon nor the Sony camera offers all of these features, neither earns a place on our WinList of recommended products.
Windows Magazine, August 1997, page 165.
[ Go to August 1997 Table of Contents ]