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There's a whole lot of pixels in this li'l camera.
The eight-megapixel, 3.6x optical-zoom PowerShot S80 has everything we expect from a Canon camera: ease of use, intuitive design, and a great set of features. Unfortunately, it was also a bit of a letdown.
We used the PowerShot S80 to take several pictures of a Macbeth ColorChecker chart (a grid of different colors used to check the color balance of the camera you're using - check it out at www.gretagmacbeth.com). We shot photos using shutter speeds of 1/125 and 1/60 of a second with the camera set at all of its ISO values (50, 100, 200, and 400) in open shade on a sunny day. Our images all displayed noise - grainy artifacts in an image - ranging from simply noticeable to obnoxiously mottled. We experienced the most noise at ISO 400 and the least at ISO 50, but the images at ISO 50 seemed underexposed. To a degree, this was to be expected, since, in general, the higher the ISO and the longer the exposure, the more noise you get. But with the PowerShot S80, the noise was more noticeable than what we've seen from other comparably priced cameras.
We also took several pictures in bright daylight under cloudless skies. The blue sky appeared to be out of an Impressionist painting, with the amount of noise increasing as we raised the ISO. The best combination of ISO and shutter speed we arrived at was at ISO 100 and a minimum shutter speed of 1/80 of a second or faster. We also took several shots of scenery, people, events, and more, and the good news is that despite the noise, we were quite pleased with the camera's accurate and vivid color fidelity.
The PowerShot S80, which stores images on an SD card, is as compact as any other eight-megapixel camera on the market. The sliding door that protects the lens when it's not in use also acts as the power switch. The camera is quite easy to use with just one hand, as all the controls are within easy reach with it held in your right hand. The PowerShot S80 uses a wheel to adjust shutter speed or aperture settings if it's set in either of those modes. The wheel was annoyingly loose - it's too easy to have a finger resting on it, unknowingly rotating the setting to something else.
The mode dial is on the upper-right side of the camera. To switch between Auto, Program, Shutter Speed Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Custom, Video, Stitch Assist, My Colors, and Scene modes, you use your thumb to move the dial up and down. An icon that corresponds to the mode you selected appears on the LCD. It's easy to see and use. When you select the Scene mode, you get more shooting modes, including Night Scene, Underwater, Digital Macro, Portrait, and Landscape. You navigate through these choices using the same wheel you use to adjust shutter and aperture speed. It's a lot easier to use than it sounds.
One of the PowerShot S80's best features is its 2.5-inch LCD. It's excellent for reviewing your images, and works well most of the time when framing your shot - and when we had some problems seeing the LCD in bright sunlight, the optical-zoom viewfinder was more than adequate.
The bottom line. For everyday point-and-shoot moments, the PowerShot S80 is a capable camera. But temper your expectations when it comes to image quality from an eight-megapixel point-and-shoot camera.
CONTACT: 800-385-2155, www.canon.com
REQUIREMENTS: USB, Mac OS 10.2 or later
Easy to use. Large and good-looking LCD. Good color accuracy.
BONUS TIP: Go Low ISO, Bro
To fit eight or more megapixels on the sensor of a point-and-shoot camera, the pixel-capturing elements on that sensor must shrink. As their size decreases, the amount of image noise they produce increases - and point-and-shoot cameras can rarely handle the robust noise-reduction algorithms used by professional digital cameras. To help cut down the noise, use low ISO settings whenever possible, plus adequate lighting.