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Sharper, But Noisier Photos Than Some Others
on June 8, 2012
I purchased the Canon ELPH 100 HS camera last year to try out the Canon HS System. I was impressed with the relatively clean-looking images that can be taken in low light, compared to the noticeably noisy images taken with my older cameras. However, when I zoomed in on parts of the images to look at details, the images were soft and lacking the detail I wanted. The ELPH 100 HS also did not have an optical zoom for video - only a digital zoom, and only if the still image aspect ratio is set at 4:3. I considered getting the ELPH 300 HS, which had a 24mm wide angle lens and which did have optical zoom for video, but I decided to go for the models with the newer DIGIC 5 processor, which Canon described as follows:
"The Canon HS SYSTEM lets you take bright, clear photos in an even wider range of shooting situations. Beautiful low-light shots are possible with minimal noise and maximum detail in highlight and shadow areas. The system is the result of two technologies brought together in PowerShot cameras: a high-sensitivity imaging sensor, which is able to capture more light; and the DIGIC Image Processor, which actively reduces noise with high-speed image processing. The 16.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor in the PowerShot ELPH 110 HS digital camera incorporates advanced light reception technology that enhances sensitivity. The DIGIC 5 Image Processor provides a major boost in noise reduction, expanding the usable ISO range to an amazing high of ISO 3200. The Canon HS SYSTEM takes the frustration out of low-light shooting, delivering clear, blur-free images."
Based on the representation that the DIGIC 5 processor "provides a major boost in noise reduction," I decided to pre-order the ELPH 110 HS at $249 on Amazon.com. - the 310 HS has a longer zoom lens range, but starts at 28mm and did not have the 24mm wider angle that I wanted. The 110 HS is also available in black, whereas the 100 HS and the 310 HS did not have a black model. The 310 HS also has the DIGIC 4 processor, not the newer DIGIC 5 processor that provided the "major boost in noise reduction." Then I read the review by PC Magazine:
"I used Imatest to measure the sharpness of photos captured by the Elph 110 HS, and the results were actually quite good. We consider a sharp image to be one that contains a center-weighted average of 1,800 lines per picture height, and the 110 HS exceeded that--recording 2,189 lines. In this regard the camera ran circles around the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH27 ($229.95, 2.5 stars), a camera that only managed 1,548 lines.
High ISO performance was another matter entirely. We consider a clean image to be one that contains less than 1.5 percent noise. The Elph 110 HS was only able to keep noise under this threshold through ISO 200, a surprisingly low setting. That said, it only registered about 1.6 percent at ISO 400 and ISO 800, so it isn't going to produce terribly grainy photos at higher ISO settings. That's the good news. The bad news is that the camera applies some pretty aggressive noise reduction to hit even these just-ok numbers. Detail is slightly diminished at ISO 400, but you can still make out textures and fine lines in the image. At ISO 800 it's bad, and at ISO 1600 it's pretty terrible--any semblance of texture is gone from your photo by that point. The Canon PowerShot Elph 310 HS does a much better job both in terms of image noise and preservation of detail--it keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 800, while managing to do a great job with image detail through ISO 400. At ISO 800 it's not that bad at all, although at ISO 1600 the 310 HS is also a victim of some heavy-handed noise reduction.
. . . .
The PowerShot Elph 110 HS is a good compact camera, but not a great one. Its lens is sharp, but Canon's decision to cram 16 megapixels onto a tiny sensor results in noisy images at higher ISO settings. The camera attempts to counteract this with noise reduction, but only serves to kill detail in photos at higher ISOs. This won't be a problem on smaller-size screens, but if you want to share your photos on larger LCDs or prints, the lack of texture and detail at higher ISO settings will be noticeable.
Canon also turns out to be its own worst enemy here--if the PowerShot 310 HS wasn't available for a mere $10 more, the 110 HS would be easier to recommend. The 310 HS, which earned our Editors' Choice award for midrange compact cameras, features a nearly identical design and a more impressive 8x zoom lens. It does have fewer megapixels and its lens doesn't provide the extra-wide 24mm field of view of the 110 HS, but when you consider the noise reduction that the 110 HS requires to shoot images at ISO 800 and above, you really aren't losing much in terms of image quality when shooting in anything but bright light."
This review was disappointing - apparently, instead of producing a "major boost in noise reduction," the DIGIC 5 processor in the 110 HS was noisier than the DIGIC 4 processor in the 310 HS. Now the question was whether I should cancel my pre-order of the 110 HS. I put off the decision, because the "release date" for the 110 HS was not until March 31, 2012. On March 30, I noticed that the price had dropped by $20, so I decided to cancel my pre-order. But then I saw that my order of the 110 HS at the original price of $249 was labeled as having been shipped, so it was too late to cancel. [UPDATE JUNE 30, 2012 -- two months after the release date, the price of the ELPH 110 HS has dropped by $50 or twenty percent -- it does make my decision to pre-order the camera and not cancel the pre-order in time look pretty bad -- that will be the last time I pre-order from Amazon.com a new Canon camera model. UPDATE AUGUST 5, 2012 -- four months after the release date, the price of the black ELPH 110 HS has dropped by another $30 or a total of $80 or thirty-two percent from the original $249 that I paid! If I had known, I would have waited four months to save $80 or thirty-two percent.]
Since receiving the 110 HS on April 2, 2012, I have been using it as my everyday carry camera - it is as thin and light as my 100 HS. The images taken in bright daylight look fine to me. The images taken at higher ISOs do look a bit noisy, but they are sharper than the images taken with my 100 HS. When I zoomed in on the images in the camera and on the computer, I could see more detail, even in the images taken indoors. So there still is the trade off between sharpness and noise - on the balance, I prefer the additional sharpness that I get with the 110 HS, even though there is more noticeable noise. In addition, the 110 HS provides the wider 24mm angle and provides optical zoom during video.
Unfortunately, the 110 HS is the same as the 100 HS regarding the limitation on the use of digital zoom - digital zoom is only available at the 4:3 still image aspect ratio, while I prefer to shoot at the 3:2 still image aspect ratio to match the 4 X 6-inch prints that I usually order. I was surprised to find that the images taken with the digital zoom looked better than the images taken at the maximum optical zoom and cropped on the computer to match the magnification of the digital zoom, so now I set the camera at the 4:3 still image aspect ratio with the digital zoom turned on in case I want to take quick snapshots with the digital zoom. I compared images of a FedEx truck taken through an office opened window with the digital zoom of the 110 HS and with a 70-300mm (at 300mm or the 35mm equivalent of 450mm) lens on a Nikon D5100. The image taken with the D5100 was less noisy and sharper than the image taken with the digital zoom of the 110 HS, but all of the letters and numbers on the side of the truck could be read in the digital zoom image taken with the 110 HS, except the Grumman name plate on the side of the truck, which could be read only in the image taken with the D5100. I was pleased to learn that I could take usable photos with the 110 HS when I am not carrying the DSLR and zoom lens with me.
If you are looking for a thin, light, and not too expensive [UPDATE -- especially at the $169.99 price as of Aug. 5, 2012; on Nov. 29, 2012, the prices on Amazon.com range from $129 to $179 depending on the color of the camera] everyday carry camera with reasonable sharpness, with a lens with the 24mm angle of view at the wide end of the zoom, and in the color black, the ELPH 110 HS may suit your needs. I decided to keep the 110 HS, which is my fifth Canon compact camera (but the first one in black). The 110 HS is a good compact camera that is my current everyday carry camera to have handy for quicky snapshots of various things and people, but, as PC Magazine said, it is "not a great one." If images with lower noise are desired, there are other camera models around this price range and size that should be considered and, of course, there are more expensive cameras with bigger sensors that will provide images with lower noise.