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Canon PowerShot S30 3MP Digital Camera With 3x Optical Zoom

Canon’s S30 fills a nice niche between expensive, feature-laden cameras and point-and-shoots. Its compact size, snug enough to fit in the palm of your hand and perfect for slipping into a pocket, makes it an ideal companion for those excursions when a larger camera would be too bulky or conspicuous. The silver all-metal body is sleek and stylish, so much that it’s almost a fashion accessory. It’s loaded with features, an amazing feat for such a small package, while at the same time offers unparalleled ease of use. Lastly, it’s a great deal considering its price-feature ratio.

The S30 includes the usual automatic presets such as landscape and portrait, but also offers the semi-automatic and fully manual modes that a serious photographer would want. The following adjustments may come in handy: 1) film speed from ASA-equivalent 50 to 800, 2) spot, center-weighted and evaluative metering modes, 3) three selectable autofocus areas, 4) exposure compensation between -2 and 2 EV in steps of 1/3 EV, 5) continuous drive mode (though maxing out at a modest 2.5fps), 6) macro mode. While I still prefer an SLR in most situations, the S30 fills many of my needs very nicely. I use the it to take preview or experimental shots or to take shots that I would hesitate to blow film on. Morever, the S30 makes your job a cinch when it comes to panoramas. The panoramic mode shows you a third of the previous frame, either vertical or horizontal, which is an invaluable guide to help you line up the current frame. I used to have to spend a lot of time in Photoshop to line up adjacent frames and erase the seams between frames. Canon’s Photostitch software does all of that and more, at the click of a button!

Picture quality is very good, with excellent sharpness throughout the image and no noticeable softness in the corners at wide-angle. Macro shots are very sharp, to the point that I decided to do close-ups primarily with the S30. Colors can be a little flat, but this can be easily fixed in Photoshop. There is a special “Vivid” or saturated mode, but this comes at the expense of losing other controls over the shot. I’ve noticed that the dynamic range for the CCD sensor is quite low, much worse than for color negatives or slides. This is most apparent if you’ve got a mixed light and dark scene; either the sky would be washed out or the foreground would be underexposed. This could be a shortcoming of CCDs in general and not one particular to the S30.

The S30’s 3-megapixels resolution is good enough for a 2048x1536 image, which in turn is sufficient for 8x10 enlargements. If this is not large enough for your needs, the S40 ups the ante to 4 megapixels. There is a USB jack for downloading images and an A/V jack for previewing images on TV. You will want to invest in a CF card-reader however, for convenience’s sake. The storage slot takes Type I or II CF cards, and also accommodates a Microdrive.

The S30’s compact size is its greatest asset, but is also responsible for a few shortcomings. The 1.8” LCD screen is bright and contrasty, but only indoors. Lacking a swivel and anti-glare coating, it’s virtually useless outdoors. You may have to resort to the optical viewfinder, which does not cover 100 percent of the image. The LCD displays most useful information, but inexplicably lacks a battery life indicator. You’d have no idea how much power is left until the low-battery indicator flashes. To make matters worse, the rechargeable Li-Ion battery has rather short lifespan, between 30-50 shots. I have to carry 2 spare batteries in order to shoot for a whole day. The thumb-operated directional controller is rather awkward to use. You scroll to move up/down and press to move left/right. To select, you have to press down on the middle. In my case, to hit select, I had to learn a way to press it just right, otherwise the controller would move left or right instead. Lastly, while this may not matter much to most people, I frequently use a tripod, which blocks the battery cover and makes changing battery quite a hassle.

Despite its shortcomings, I’ve found the S30 to be an indispensable companion. I’ve had it for almost a year and taken it with me on trips to Asia and throughout western North America. At times I yearned for a more advanced camera like the Canon G2 or even a digital SLR, but more often than not I found myself thankful that I was able to take pictures I wouldn’t have taken otherwise with a larger camera. The S30 has more than paid for itself.

Originally posted March 21, 2003 on