Pros: Very fast, Ultra- Compact, ISO 50, 4 megapixels, ease of use
Cons: Weak flash, Redeye problems, no scene modes, off-set tripod mount
Canons very popular Digital Elph microcams have completely dominated the ultra compact digicam market for almost five years, although Minolta and Sony have been trying to muscle in. The newest Digital Elph, the Powershot S410 (which replaces the groundbreaking S400) is a snazzy synthesis of style and function that provides users with four megapixel resolution, point & shoot ease of use, a 3X optical zoom, and a nice selection of useful features---all stuffed into a tough as nails metal body small enough to be dropped into a shirt pocket.
Whats New? How does the S410 differ from the S400
The Powershot S500 is Canons flagship Digital Elph and the Powershot S410 is a virtual clone of its more expensive big brother. Savvy consumers who purchase the S410 will get all the benefits of the S500 except the five megapixel CCD and the gold lens trim (the S410s lens trim is silver). The only conspicuous difference between the S410 and its predecessor is the new Print/Share button (Canons newest digicams feature simplified direct printing with compatible Canon printers and one-touch image transfer to recent MS-Windows OS computers), but less evident differences (improved battery life/power management and better speed/timing performance) are actually much more important. The most impressive difference (for many consumers) may be that the S410s list price is $100.00 less than the S400s.
Nuts & Bolts
The S410 uses the same real image zooming optical viewfinder as the S400. The viewfinder is bright, sharp, color correct, and fluid. It covers a bit less than 85 per cent of the frame. Theres no dioptric adjustment for eyeglasses wearers.
The S410s 1.5 LCD screen is sharp, clear, color correct, contrast accurate, and fluid. The non-reflective LCD coating makes it easer to shoot in bright lighting. Users can adjust the LCD brightness level, but theres no live histogram.
The S410 features the same f2.8-4.9/36-108mm (35mm equivalent) all-glass 3X zoom lens found on the S500. When the camera is powered up, the lens automatically extends from the camera body. When the camera is powered down the lens is fully retracted into the camera body and a built in lens cover slides into place for protection against smudges, scratches, and dust.
The S410s 3x zoom exhibits noticeable barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range, some minor softness in the corners, and very minor pin cushioning (straight lines bow in toward the center) at full telephoto. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is minimal and very well controlled. Minimum focusing distance (in macro mode) is 2 inches. Zoom operation is fast, smooth, and relatively quiet.
Canons DIGIC Processor
Canons DIGIC Processor (Digital Imaging Integrated Circuit) combines image processing and most automatic camera control functions in one chip that more efficiently manages Auto Exposure, Auto Focus, Auto White Balance, JPEG compression, gain control, and most other auto functions resulting in faster processing, noticeably quicker write times, lower power consumption, and improved auto focusing speed and accuracy. DIGIG images are also optimized for sharp resolution, balanced contrast, low noise, and bright colors.
The S410s 9 focus point AiAF (Advanced intelligent Auto Focus) system makes it easier for the camera to analyze whats in front of the lens and accurately calculate shooter to subject distance. The AF system determines which of the 9 AF points is closest to the primary subject and automatically locks focus on that AF point. Experienced shutterbugs can choose the specific AF focus point and manually line that AF point up with the most important element in the image (like the face or eyes in a head and shoulders portrait) which makes for better compositions (since the primary subject is not always in the center of the frame, snapshooter style). The S410 provides a focus aid beam for more accurate focusing in dim/low light.
The S410 has no provision for manual focusing.
The S410s tiny built-in multi mode flash provides a fairly standard selection of lighting options including Red-Eye Reduction and Slow-Synch modes. Maximum flash range is (according to Canon) eleven feet, but realistically anything beyond 6-7 feet is going to be fairly dark unless shot in light colored surroundings with lots of ambient light. Like all ultra compact digicams, the S410 has serious red-eye problems.
CompactFlash (Type I) cards
USB1.1, A/V out, & DC in
The S410 uses the same NB-1LH. Li-ion rechargeable battery that powers the S500 (and the older S400). The NB-1LH is good for 180-200 exposures (with occasional flash and continuous LCD use). Heavy review of captured images will exponentially reduce battery life. The included charger needs about two hours to charge the battery. A back-up battery is a good idea for everyone except the most casual users.
Enable the S410s auto mode and the camera makes all exposure decisions----just point & shoot. The S410s AiAF (advanced intelligent auto focus), DIGIC processor, and the super accurate evaluative metering system work together flawlessly to produce consistently first-rate images.
The S410s "manual" mode isnt really a manual exposure mode; rather it allows users limited input (shooters can select ISO sensitivity, enable a Photo Effect, disable AiAF, lock exposure/focus, modify exposure compensation, adjust white balance, change metering options, and select shutter speeds) into the exposure process. The camera controls aperture settings in all modes.
The S410s macro capabilities are adequate for e-bay images and very good close-up images, but more artistic compositions with bugs and flowers are likely to be disappointing.
The Powershot S410s movie mode (identical to the S400s) is definitely nothing to write home about. Video clips (with sound) can be captured at 320x240 @ 15 fps with maximum clip duration limited to three minutes.
The S410s default evaluative metering system is dependably accurate in all but the most difficult lighting situations. More experienced photographers can opt for center weighted averaging or Spot metering in tricky lighting or for more traditional looking compositions.
The S410s White balance options are fairly standard with settings for: Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, two fluorescent modes, and a custom (one-push WB) mode.
TTL Auto, ISO 50, 100, 200, and 400 (35mm equivalents)
Noise reduction is automatic on all exposures longer than 1 second.
Photo Effects Mode
The S410s Photo Effects mode allows users to select spot metering, adjust exposure compensation, choose vivid or neutral color saturation, opt for low sharpening (rather than the S410s default sharpening), and try out sepia or B&W tonal effects.
Night/Low Light Photography
The S410 does a slightly better job in low light situations than earlier digital Elph models, however microcams dont perform well in night/low light situations as a class. If good low light performance is an important consideration, the S410 is probably not your best choice.
Controls, Design, & Ergonomics
The stylish little Canon Powershot S410s stainless steel body is tough enough to go just about anywhere and small enough to drop in a pocket. The S410 is surprisingly easy to use, an almost perfect compromise between the constraints of miniaturization and the creative limits of functionality/usability. The controls are logically laid out and handling quickly becomes intuitive. The S410s FUNC button calls up a menu overlay of the most commonly changed camera settings (exposure compensation, white balance, drive mode, ISO sensitivity, flash options, image size/quality options, and photo effects) so that users can directly access the setting they wish to modify without having to navigate through multiple menus. Canons quick shot feature seems to reduce shutter lag, marginally, but the LCD screen freezes during focusing, so shooters will need to use the optical viewfinder in order to capture the decisive moment.
Resolution: 4 megapixels (2272 x 1704)
Viewfinder: optical (real image) zooming & 1.5" TFT LCD
Lens: f2.8 -f4.9/36-108 mm (35mm equivalent) 3X zoom
Exposure: Auto & Manual (minimal) modes
Flash: built-in multi mode (Auto, on/off, Slow Sync, and Red-Eye Reduction)
Metering: evaluative, center-weighted, spot
White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, & Custom
Exposure compensation: yes-- /- 2EV in 1/3EV increments
Sensitivity: Auto & 50 / 100 / 200 / 400 (35mm ISO equivalents)
Noise Reduction: yes (automatic on long exposures)
In-camera Image Adjustment: yes w/Photo Effects mode: Low Sharpening, Vivid Color, Neutral color, Sepia and B&W
Image Format(s): jpeg
Connectivity: USB & Video out
Image storage: CompactFlash type I
Street Price Range: $339.00--$299.00
32MB CompactFlash card, NB-1LH rechargeable Li-ion battery, Battery Charger, Wrist strap, USB cable, A/V cable, software CD-ROMs, printed users and software manuals
WP-DC500 & WP-DC800 waterproof cases, ACK500 AC adapter, Car-Battery Charger, and Canon soft case
In the Filed/Handling & Operation
My friend (who sells new and used digital and analog photographic equipment) and I got together to check out Canons new Powershot S410. After running some color tests we headed for Bernheim Forrest, 30 miles south of Louisville. Bernheim Forest is the official Arboretum of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, a 14,000 acre combined nature preserve and Biological/Ecological/Environmental research station. The weather was perfect (mid seventies, Robins egg blue skies, and puffy white clouds) for a photographic expedition.
When the first Europeans arrived in North America almost a third of the continent (the area between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountain chains and from the Gulf Coast into northern Canada) was covered by prairies, the most extensive grasslands anywhere on earth. When the first long hunters walked through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky forty years before the revolutionary war more than one third of the Bluegrass state was grasslands. The pioneers who followed the long hunters broke the sod, fought to control the annual cycle of prairie fires, and killed off the migratory buffalo herds that kept the prairies healthy. Farming, logging, erosion, poor environmental stewardship also contributed to the destruction of Kentuckys grasslands. Now towns, farms, industry, and second growth woodlands swathe most of the area formerly covered by prairies. Less than one tenth of one per cent of the original expanse remains.
Starting in 1997 Berheims grounds crews stopped mowing part of the big meadow area and allowed it to return to a wild state. A year later they started controlled annual burns to destroy trees, bushes, shrubs, and invasive non-native plants. In 1999 they started sowing native grasses and flowers to resurrect a small patch of Kentucky Prairie.
The twenty-five acre area is now a healthy prairie. Theres a 6 foot wide mowed path through the waist high Big Blue Stem, Little Bluestem, and Indian grasses so that visitors (and photographers) have easy access to the plants, birds, small mammals, and insects that populate this mini ecosystem.
The afternoon golden light was warm toned with no glare or harshness so we decided to spent the afternoon shooting Prairiescapes, insect-wildflower (a couple of butterflies and a huge praying mantis that looked like something out of a fifties Sci-Fi flick) interactions, and Eliot Porter style (small very natural looking mini settings) intimate landscapes with the S410s Photo Effects mode set to vivid color and the flash set to on (fill mode). Kentucky is one of the best places in the country to photograph native wildflowers. Blossom shooters can photograph forest wild flowers like Trillium, Trout Lilly, Bloodroot, Moccasin Flowers (Ladys Slipper Orchids), and many species of flowering trees like Dogwood, Redbud, and Tulip. The eastern part of the state has alpine species like Mountain Laurel and Flame Azalea and we are also rich in Prairie flower species including Yarrow, several varieties of flowering Milkweed (including Butterfly Weed), Goldenrod, Weak Stemmed Sunflowers, Giant Purple Coneflowers, Ohio Asters, Prairie Clover, and Ironweed.
I also used the camera in the heavily shaded forest area around the small wildlife enclosure, holding the S410s 3X zoom flat against the wire fence to frame a doe curled up in the grass under a tree. No matter what we tried, the spunky little S410 rose to the occasion.
Resolution (how many pixels) is obviously a factor in how good the images from any given digital camera should be, but image quality isnt based solely on resolution. Two other very important considerations (the optical quality of the cameras lens and how well the cameras image processor handles its job) will ultimately have just as much impact on the final product (the image) as resolution.
The S410s proven 3X zoom and DIGIC processor work beautifully together, even absolute beginners should be able to shoot great pictures (in Point & Shoot mode) with the S410. Colors are well saturated and resolution is sharp with balanced contrast and consistently good shadow detail. Excellent enlargements (up to 5x7) are easy and very good 8x10 enlargements shouldnt be a problem. We printed one 5X7 and two 8X10 enlargements from our Bernheim adventure with an Epson Stylus 2200 (on Epson Photo paper), exposures were consistently accurate and colors were vivid and contrast and shadow detail were surprisingly good. Image noise is very well controlled at ISO 50 and 100 and not too bad at ISO 200, but ISO 400 images show fairly high noise levels.
The S410 is ready to rock & roll (boot-up cycle) in about 2 seconds. Write to card and shot to shot times (about 1 second) are also fast. Shutter lag (from almost instantaneous with pre-focusing to about one second from scratch) is markedly improved over earlier digital ELPH models. AF lag is virtually non existent in good lighting and faster than average at lower light levels.
A Few Concerns
The S410s lens exhibits minor chromatic aberration and visible barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of the zoom range. The tiny flash is not much help except under optimum conditions and (like all ultra compact digicams) the S410 has some serious red-eye problems. ISO 400 images display unacceptable levels of digital noise.
Heres a question for Canons camera design folks---Why doesnt the S410 have scene modes? The (relatively easy) addition of Portrait, Landscape, Night/Lowlight, and Action/Sports scene modes would have substantially enhanced this already superb micocam.
Is Canons little S410 the ultimate micro cam? At this point in the rapid evolution of digital imaging tools the answer is probably yes. The S500 offers five megapixel resolution, but the snazzy little S410 may actually be a better option for most users. Either camera is an ideal choice for weight/style conscious casual photographers, travel/vacation shooters, bikers, hikers, and backpackers. Bargain hunters may still be able to find a few new S400s (with virtually all of the benefits of the S410 and the S500) at very attractive prices.
My Last Word
Photography (whether digital or analog) has always been about compromises. Tiny cameras have inherent limitations that cannot be completely overcome. Potential purchasers should be aware that micro-cams consistently provide shorter battery life than their larger counterparts. In addition micro-cam zoom lenses (because of their tiny size and innate complexity) have more problems with distortion and lens aberrations than larger digicam zooms.
Epinions is always your best source for critical unbiased end-user electronics reviews.
For definitive advice on How to Choose a Digital Camera please see my review:
If youd like to compare the S410 to similar (3-5 megapixel) ultra-compact digital cameras, you may find the reviews below informative
Canon Digital Cameras
Canon Powershot S500
Canon Powershot S400
Canon Powershot SD100
Minolta Digital Cameras
Minolta Dimage Xt
Pentax Digital Cameras
Pentax Optio S