Comparative Review: Canon S100 vs. Canon Digital Rebel (300D)

Discussion in 'Canon' started by Mike Kozlowski, Jan 2, 2004.

  1. This actually isn't quite as useless a comparative review as it sounds
    like. Sure, nobody's making a buying decision between an ancient (in
    digital terms) pocket camera and a shiny new DSLR; but, as someone
    who's owned an S100 for dog's years and now owns a 300D, I need to
    make carrying decisions between them whenever I go anywhere. Because
    this is a long post, I'll put the conclusion up front, and the details
    down below.

    Executive Summary -- The utility of the 300D is so much greater than
    that of the S100 that it's going to be my new default camera for all
    the situations where I can lug it in. For the rest of the time --
    that is, when the only real alternative is "no camera" -- the S100
    will continue to serve admirably.

    The interesting thing for me, is that I can't see any reason for a
    non-pro to buy a camera _other_ than one of these two (well, the S400
    instead of the S100, obviously, but you know what I mean). If you
    want a flexible, high-image-quality camera that you can manipulate
    creatively, the 300D fits your requirements perfectly. If, on the
    other hand, you want a simple, convenient camera that takes
    more-than-good-enough images, the S400 does a superb job of that. So
    why would you want a convenience camera that's less convenient than
    the S400? And why would you want a technical camera that's less
    flexible and has worse imaging than the 300D? It really seems to me
    that just about every other camera out there is a compromise in some
    way, and that (ignoring cost), just about every digital camera user
    would be happier with one or both of these cameras. And the nice
    thing is, since they're so far apart, it's easy to tell which one you

    Now, the more detailed comparison:

    Size -- Might as well start with the obvious one. The thing that
    initially attracted me to the S100 (which is the 2.1 Mpixel
    predecessor of the S400) is its small physical size. I can just drop
    it into my pants pocket when I go to parties, I can toss it into a
    backpack when I go hiking, I can place it into my briefcase when I go
    on industrial espionage missions... but perhaps I've gone into enough
    detail there. By contrast, the 300D is whompin' huge. I'm really
    going to need a special bag to carry it in, I think, as the
    tourist-style around-the-neck thing is the only quasi-feasible
    alternative, and that's rather intensely dorky. The S100 will still
    be my camera of choice when I go to places where I wouldn't otherwise
    take a camera.

    Battery life -- Oh, my. Both the S100 and the 300D have proprietary
    Li-Ion batteries, but that's where the similarities end. The S100's
    battery is about the right size for a 64MB memory card -- both are
    good for just over 100 shots, and then you need to retreat to a
    download and recharge. The 300D's battery, though, just keeps going
    and going. Out of the box, with the battery initially showing a
    partial charge, I got something like 300-400 shots out of the
    battery. This is amazingly useful, effectively quadrupling the useful
    inter-charge life of the camera.

    Megapixels -- I rarely print out my images, so for a long time, I was
    dismissive of increased megapixels. The S100 takes 1600x1200
    pictures, which means I can use my images unmodified as a desktop
    background, and have to shrink them up for Web display -- what good (I
    figured) would more pixels do? I realize now that the extra pixels
    can increase image quality even in their absence. Some of the shots I
    took with the 300D were horribly blurry -- when viewed at the
    3000x2000-ish true resolution. But shrunk down to the 800x600 area
    that I'd use for Web display, that blurriness evaporates. Upshot: I
    can take blurry pictures, and let shrinkage cover for me. Conversely,
    if I take good pictures, the reductions look incredibly crisp. On the
    downside, the larger images take up a lot more room (I needed to buy a
    512MB memory card for the 300D to get similar in-camera storage to the
    64MB memory card on the S100 -- although the cards cost about the
    same, thanks to Moore and the passage of time) and take longer to
    transfer to the computer.

    Low light shooting -- This is, to my surprise, the place where the
    300D marks itself as a huge, qualitative improvement from the S100.
    Like most point-and-shoot users, I've always just automatically used
    the flash whenever it gets dim -- because, really, what else are you
    going to do? The alternatives here are either the auto-flash or dark
    blobs on a field of black. Well, with the 300D, there is an
    alternative: Crank the sensor speed up to ISO 800, and even relatively
    dim indoor light becomes feasible for non-flash photography. This is
    a huge, huge advantage: Taking flash pictures is anti-subtle, stands a
    good chance of irritating people if kept up, and will at the minimum
    disrupt whatever you were taking a picture of. (Not to mention the
    characteristically flash-lit look it gives pictures.) If it's
    possible to take the S100 places you wouldn't otherwise take a camera,
    it's possible to _use_ the 300D places you wouldn't otherwise use a

    UI -- I've always rather liked the UI on the S100, compared to other
    people's borrowed cameras. Where other cameras use clunky W and T
    buttons on the back to zoom, the Canon has a more natural rocker
    switch on top of the camera; the menus and displays are logically laid
    out; the controls you want are close to hand; and the ones you don't
    want, aren't there to confuse you. The 300D has a similarly
    transparent interface, but it's very, very different in feel, purpose,
    and emphasis. The S100 has a UI that's appropriate for a highly
    computerized digital image capture device; the 300D has a UI that's
    appropriate for a camera that happens to take digital images. So, the
    300D doesn't have any explicit image-review mode -- the camera can
    always take pictures -- and the 300D does all its zooming with physical
    manipulation of the lens, rather than electronic motorized switches.

    Configurability -- The 300D assumes you give a damn. It's going to
    tell you apertures and shutter speeds all the time, and it's going to
    let you set them most of the time. It's going to show you the
    autofocus points, and let you set them yourself if you feel like it.
    Yeah, you can use the camera in full point-and-shoot mode, but _it
    won't like it_. The camera gives off a palpable whiff of demand: If
    you aren't at least using the P mode, you can almost see the camera
    sighing at you. (And it's still going to insist that you look at
    those numbers, by God.) To be clear, I'm not talking about technical
    capability here: The 300D almost certainly makes a great pure
    point-and-shoot camera, just as the HP 48G calculator can balance your
    checkbook with the best of them. But, just as when you use the 48G as
    a generic four-function calculator, the ignored extra capabilities are
    right there on the surface, taunting you. You will know you aren't
    using the camera as it could be used, and it's a bit intimidating.

    With the S100, on the other hand, you don't need to worry. Is it
    possible to manually set apertures and exposures? I have no idea, and
    I've been using this camera for years. Does it even have multiple
    autofocus points? No clue. The motto of the S100 could be, "You
    don't need to know, so we're not going to tell you." And it's
    certainly not going to let you shoot yourself in the foot by fucking
    around with its carefully chosen settings. Whether you think this is
    good or bad depends on whether you think you're smarter than the
    camera -- and it's pretty smart. For my own part, the S100's
    assumption of uncaring was precisely what I was looking for, for a
    long time; but now, I think I want to sweat the details a bit more
    with the 300D.

    Shot preview -- This is really part of UI, but it's important enough
    to break out separately. The S100 uses the standard LCD screen on the
    back (augmented, for no obvious reason, with a cheap, stupid little
    viewfinder that there's no reason to ever use); the 300D uses a
    through-the-lens optical viewfinder. Which means that, if you want to
    know what you're getting a picture of, you need to put the 300D right
    up to your eye, but can place the S100 just about anywhere that you
    can still see the back. I was worried about this, going to the 300D;
    I'd grown so used to taking pictures without having to put the camera
    up to my face, that I was afraid I wouldn't be able to adjust to that
    retro SLR style. Fortunately, this appears to be a non-issue, as I
    don't remember any awkwardness with that at all. It turns out that
    when I'm taking a picture, the only thing I'm looking at is the
    picture I'm going to be taking, and whether that's on a screen or
    through an eyepiece is irrelevant.

    Flexibility -- I'm already thinking about how I could make the 300D
    more useful. After spending a few days taking pictures at a party,
    I'm realizing that in that situation, zoom is largely unused and
    low-light capability is paramount, so a fast 50mm prime lens seems
    like a good bet, for instance. With the S100, what you have is what
    you have.
    Mike Kozlowski, Jan 2, 2004
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  2. You're joking, right? Or is it that you really haven't looked at any
    other cameras, even within the Canon line alone? Each one has a unique
    combination of features, package, and capability, and might be the best
    choice for some photographers.

    For example, if small and convenient to carry are important, why not
    pick the SD100 or SD10 instead of the S400? The SD100 is smaller and
    slightly lower resolution, but still has a zoom lens, and has a better
    movie mode (important to some). The SD10 is fixed focal length, but
    quite a bit smaller than the S400.

    On the other hand, how about the A80 instead of the S400? It's only
    slightly larger, but has the manual exposure controls the S400 lacks,
    as well as a flip-out LCD. It takes standard AA batteries too, so it's
    cheaper to operate as well as cheaper to buy in the first place.

    Or if cheaper is important, the A300 is somewhat larger than the S400
    and doesn't have a zoom lens, but it operates from AA batteries and
    costs half as much to buy. If you're shooting in a place where there's
    a fair chance of losing or damaging your camera, the loss of an A300 is
    a lot less painful than a S400.

    At the other end, if cost is no object, why not get the 10D instead of
    the 300D? If cost *is* an object, perhaps the G3 or G5 represent the
    best camera someone can afford.

    I've also heard of people whose main camera is a D60 or 10D using a G3
    as their portable second camera. It provides RAW output like its
    larger SLR brethren, which none of the smaller Canons do, along with
    full manual controls, external flash shoe, etc.

    Basically, there are plenty of conditions where one of these cameras
    would be a better choice for some photographers than either the S400 or

    Dave Martindale, Jan 2, 2004
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  3. A bit. I mean, obviously there's _some_ purpose to the hundreds of
    other models out there, and I was ignoring budgets (someone who might
    prefer a 300D might quite reasonably buy some other camera that's more
    affordable), but I do think that there are more camera models than
    there are reasons for different models to exist.

    As you pointed out, Canon alone has three "compact" models, all
    slightly different from each other. It's obvious why they do this:
    Someone who's looking to buy a small camera now has three cameras to
    choose from, at slightly different price points, with slightly
    different features. When a customer is staring at the shelves full of
    nearly-indistinguishable cameras at Best Buy, they need to make a
    choice based on _something_, and whatever random attribute they decide
    to make their discriminant amongst substantially similar cameras,
    Canon's odds of going home with that customer are improved by having
    different-but-similar models out there.

    But what's good for the camera maker isn't what's good for the
    consumer. Because if you are that camera buyer, staring at that row
    of cameras, you really have very little idea what you want, and what's
    going to provide that to you best. So now you're looking at three
    Canon models, probably a couple from Casio, a Sony or two, and
    probably some others, and you need to pick one out. Making that kind
    of choice, with a half-dozen minor "marketing" variables visible to
    you, and some likely invisible differences, is stressful.

    That buyer would almost certainly be happier to just see the one
    camera that's going to do about the same thing as the others, and not
    waste their time poring over minor differences. ("Okay, so THIS one
    has compact flash instead of a memory stick, but THIS one has 3x
    instead of 2x zoom, but THAT one has a .5" larger LCD on the back...")
    And sure, some people are going to care about those little differences
    -- and some people are going to care deeply about them. But, again, I
    think that most people won't care quite so much, and would be happy
    not to have to make a difficult choice.
    Mike Kozlowski, Jan 2, 2004
  4. Well, I disagree. I do a lot of gathering of information before ever
    showing up at the camera store, so I'm not upset by variety. And I wish
    Canon made an even *larger* range of cameras, so I could get what I
    want. What I really want is something the size of the S400 that has all
    the manual controls of the A80. I can deal with the LiIon battery and
    the lack of flip-out LCD on the S400, but the lack of manual exposure
    controls on the S400 is why I ultimately bought the A80. I really want
    a camera in between the two.
    I'm one who cares. For people who don't care, they can always go to
    their local camera store and buy what the sales person recommends would
    be best for them. Or they can pick something more or less at random.
    After all, if they don't care about little differences in features, it
    doesn't matter much whether the camera has them or not.

    Anyway, why should P&S digital cameras be different from P&S film
    cameras? There used to be a staggering array of choice in P&S film
    cameras, all with minor differences from each other. How did consumers
    deal with choosing then?

    Dave Martindale, Jan 2, 2004
  5. Well, of course. So am I. It's a given that the small, small
    minority of people who go to Usenet to talk about a subject care far
    more about it than the typical person.

    But for most people, those who don't obsess about things, I think what
    I originally said, "just about every digital camera user would be
    happier with one or both of these cameras" is still broadly true
    (controlling for the fact that I was deliberately ignoring cost
    issues, which, right, is unfair).
    The same way they deal with choosing CRT TVs, DVD players, and
    microwaves -- they find an appropriate class of product, then choose
    at quasi-random. I'll note that I hated shopping for my microwave.
    Mike Kozlowski, Jan 2, 2004
  6. I bought the 300D, sold my Nikon CP 4500, and bought a Nikon Coolpix 2500,
    which was discounted to like $99,95. I also wanted a camera to bring where
    the 300D will not go.

    As it is now, I "hate" those CCD consumer cameras. The CCD noise is
    very annoying, and especially the CP2500 likes to increase ISO to
    lower shutter time. But the CP2500 can go where I can't bring the
    300D. And it has slightly beter white balance, and is easier to do
    manual WB on. I am also missing manual aperture/shutter priority,
    or just the P mode.

    And if the 300D dies / runs out of batteries, it is nice to have
    some cheap alternative.
    Povl H. Pedersen, Jan 2, 2004
  7. There is your reason a non-pro/pro would want something different.
    George Preddy, Jan 4, 2004
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