Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Canon Powershot SX610 HS Review

[NB: This original article first appeared on the GMA News Online Website.]

I have always believed that the best camera is the one that’s with you. You can’t take a photo if you don’t have a camera, right? This is the reason why the number of smartphone photos on the web exploded when smartphones became readily available: when people started putting smartphones in their pockets, getting the shot became really, really easy.

However, it is wrong to assume that the smartphone is all that you need. There are some things that a dedicated camera can do that a smartphone simply cannot.

First, the focal length of the cameraphone is fixed, so, if your subject is far away, then you will have to physically go to it: yes, you have to walk! Imagine you are trying to take a photo of an animal in a zoo; you can’t just go in and walk towards a carnivorous animal, right?

Secondly, the sensors of most cameraphones are smaller than those on dedicated compact cameras. For those not familiar with the nitty-gritty of camera sensors, you can imagine that light is like raindrops and the camera sensor is a bucket; the bigger the bucket is, the more raindrops you will be able to collect. This is a good thing for cameras: since photography is all about capturing light, the more light you can capture, the better the performance of the camera will be.

An aside… I should mention that the ability to capture light is not an assurance that the photos will be great. For that, you will have to have an artistic eye, you will have to evoke emotion. That is something that is outside the purview of this post…

The Canon Powershot SX610HS is a camera that satisfies these two conditions. And boy does it zoom!

The SX610HS has a very slim profile and it slides easily into one’s pocket. When switched off, the barrel of the lens slides all the way inside the camera body so there are no protrusions whatsoever. If you can fit a 5-inch phone into your pocket, you can fit this camera as well.

The camera has a matte finish which makes it easier to handle than cameras which have a glossy, slippery finish. There is a rubber grip where you can rest your pointer and middle fingers and there is another rubber grip at the back where you can place your thumb. The rubber grip at the back is small, however, so my thumb actually spills onto the upper right corner of the screen. I could imagine people with larger hands having some trouble gripping this camera, so, for them, using the camera strap is a must. (I, myself, am not a fan of camera straps…)

The camera is light and compact, but does not feel cheap. It is well built and there are no creaking sounds when you handle it.

The SX610HS is a joy to use. Startup is quick and you’ll be ready to shoot almost immediately after turning it on. Half-pressing the shutter button triggers autofocus and the camera is quick to get the proper focus in bright lighting conditions. However, the camera has a hard time focusing when the scenery gets dark, though that is true for most point-and-shoot cameras.

Photos show great details, especially ones taken with ample lighting. Most smartphones will not be able to show the same amount of detail in the same lighting conditions. The only smartphone that will be able to equal the image quality of the SX610HS is the Microsoft Lumia 950, which I have just recently reviewed. That smartphone was able to achieve the same level of image quality simply because it uses almost the same sensor size as the SX610HS.

[Note: The following photos only underwent cropping and essentially were not edited and came straight from the camera.]

The tracking of moving subjects for this camera is really good and I was able to track moving objects, from bikers and skaters to motorcycles and family vans. This isn’t the type of camera you can shoot for fast sports photography but this will be really useful for photographing running kids or marauding pets.

And talk about zoom… This camera has 18x zoom! Just imagine what you can shoot with that capability! However, note that when the lens is zoomed in all the way, a slight movement in your hands will lead to great camera shake.

When you zoom, zoom with caution…

Anyway, with this level of zooming capability, imagine where your photography can take you…

There is a “P” mode where you can have a little control of the picture-taking process. In this mode, you can control the ISO level, the White Balance, the autofocus mode, etc. As a DSLR user, I always like to have a modicum of control on any camera that I use, and for me, this is a big plus for this point-and-shoot. Don’t expect to have the same level of adjustments as you can get from a DSLR or a more advanced compact though. The “P” mode is just an added bonus for this camera and not its raison d’être. Just be happy that it’s there. :)

There are a lot more things the camera has in store. For example, you can remotely control the camera via wifi! So, with this camera and a paired smartphone, you can take your selfies with a more capable shooter. What’s more, your smartphone will be your “screen” so you will have a good look at the shot even before you push the trigger.

With the wifi function, you can also send images from the camera to your smartphone. There are a million photo editing apps out there for smartphones. And when the pictures are loaded into your phone, you will be able to edit them to your heart’s content and share them on social media easily! Actually, connection-wise, you’ll fare better if you have an Android phone. Since the camera is NFC-equipped, transferring photos between the camera and your NFC-capable Android phone will be much, much easier. As an iOS user, that is something from Android that I envy…

There are also other effects that are a little gimmicky, like pinhole camera, fish-eye, monochrome, to name a few. It has a “Creative Shot” mode and in this setting, the camera will take six images taken six different ways. Again, as in the “P” mode, it’s nice that it’s there though I don’t see myself using it much.

And yes, this camera shoots Full HD videos at 30fps and video capture is really nice for this range of cameras.

The only thing I wish this camera had was a dedicated GPS sensor. My old Canon Powershot SX230 HS had one; I wish this model had one too.

This camera will definitely have a space in my everyday bag. It’s compact, it’s nice to hold, and is more capable than a cameraphone. If you do not carry a bag on a daily basis, then you may be contented with your phone. But, if you are like me, who always has a bag (I don’t like putting my wallet nor my phone in my jeans' pockets), then a dedicated camera is a plus, and the Canon Powershot SX610HS is a good option. The camera easily turns on, is ready at a moment’s notice, can really zoom in, and has a bigger sensor than a typical smartphone. If you are on the fence regarding getting a compact camera and you like taking pictures, then struggle no more. Get this camera and put it in your purse or bag. You won’t regret it.

Gear used to make this post:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Review of the Microsoft Lumia 950

N.B. This is a reposting of my original article that first appeared on the GMA Network website. I added more photos here since there are no constraints here to the number of photos that I can include and I've also updated this post to address some of the comments on that article. The link to the GMA Network post can be found here.


昔、昔。。。(Mukashi, mukashi...)

A long, long time ago, I really wanted a Microsoft phone. So as not to reveal my true age, I will not say what model that was. But my point is, I wanted a phone that can do what a bar phone of the time can't do: keep appointments, make a list of my contacts, set reminders, and sync with my PC.

How time flew...

Now we have smartphones that can do most of what full desktop PCs can do. There are cameraphones now that can challenge the photo quality of DSLRs of years past. And more importantly, phones now can keep us connected to any other portion of the globe.

Being an Apple fan, I own an iPhone 6s+ and this device has substituted most of my everyday gadgets.

However, being a gadget guy, I always look at what is on the other side of the divide. I am not an Apple snob, so even if I am an Apple loyalist, I still look at what the other gadget makers have to offer. So, when I was asked to do a review of the Microsoft Lumia 950, I immediately jumped on the opportunity.

So, with that, I would like to say before going any further that my review of this phone will be seen through an iPhone lens, if that makes sense.

The phone has a very nice construction. You put your SIM card in by removing the back cover and by removing the battery. This phone is actually a "dual-SIM" one, so you can actually put two cards at the same time. You can also expand the storage capacity of the phone by using a micro-SD card. The construction of the phone is impressive so even if the back is removable, there are no squeaking sounds when you press the back cover.

Speaking of the back, for all the complaints lodged at Apple for the protruding iPhone camera, this Lumia also has a protruding lens; I didn't mind it with the iPhone, I didn't mind it with this phone.

When you switch on the phone, you will be greeted by a gorgeous screen. Set up is fairly simple though using a phone pin to protect your contents will require you to have a Microsoft account (like live.com, for example). I am guessing that this is required so that you will have a place to send the recovery pin if ever you forget your password.

The built-in apps are extensive enough to make the phone useable and enjoyable out of the box. There are the usual apps like the different office apps, mail, calendar and contacts, to name a few. There is also a music player, an app to dump all of your photos and videos, and, of course, a camera app.

You can assign tiles for the apps that you use most of the time. The level of customization for the look of the “desktop” is highly commendable.

Speaking of camera, this is the one thing that outshines the iPhone outright: the camera of the Lumia is really great and the pictures show great details. I am primarily a gadget photographer, so I was impressed by the Lumia even in low-light conditions. And at 20 megapixels, you will be able to crop photos to re-compose your shot. The photos are auto-processed after each shot and the auto-HDR is really impressive. And what’s more impressive is you can have full manual control of the camera app, like setting ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.

And yes, you can shoot raw photos with this, in DNG format, so you will be able to tweak your shots after the fact without sacrificing the quality of your photos. Take note, though, that shooting in DNG format will produce bigger-sized file sizes.

Shot with the Lumia.

Shot with the with iPhone 6s+.

If you want to get the photos from the phone to your computer, the easiest way to do it is by taking out the micro SD card from the phone and by using a card reader. This is also the easiest way to move music from your computer to the SD card. Otherwise, it’ll be really annoying to move files back-and-forth from the phone, especially if you are using a Mac.

Shot with the Lumia.

Shot with the with iPhone 6s+.

If you take the latter route, transferring photos to a computer was a big pain… My laptop didn’t recognize the phone, nor the SD card, as an external drive so what I did was a round-about way of transferring files: I uploaded the photos from the phone to OneDrive, then I downloaded the photos from OneDrive to my computer. This was a really cumbersome process. Maybe there is a downloadable app from Microsoft that will make the Mac and the phone easily find each other, but I wasn’t able to try it out in the time I had the phone. (Update: Some people pointed out that there is an app that can be downloaded from Microsoft to make the phone and the Mac see each other. As I've said, I wasn't able to test it during the time I had the phone and, secondly, what I would have wanted was to have a "disk mode" for the phone, not necessarily to sync the computer and the phone. I don't like not having that with the iPhone, I don't like not having that with this phone.)

Shot with the Lumia.

Shot with the with iPhone 6s+.

The built-in Maps app looks really good and shows a lot of details, though turn-by-turn direction could use more work.

Oh, I love the keyboard on this device. It’s probably better than most of the third-party keyboards that are available for the iPhone. And this phone uses USB-C, which is a high mark for me. (Update: As of this writing, Microsoft has already bought the third-party keyboard maker Swiftkey, so I am guessing that the Microsoft keyboard will get a lot better...)

Shot with the Lumia.

Shot with the with iPhone 6s+.

As an iPhone user, there are some things that I found very confusing. A good example is the camera trigger button on the right side of the phone. I kept confusing it for the power button so in some of the times I wanted to open the phone, I actually opened the camera app.

Also, putting the phone on silent requires reading the manual… If you don’t want to be disturbed, then you push either of the volume buttons, then press the bell on the left end of the volume bar. And, doing this doesn’t put the whole phone on silent: alarms and reminders will still produce sound! If you want to really put the phone on silent, then you will have to completely turn the phone off! (Update: Note that the last tidbits came directly from the phone manual.)

Aside from the built in apps, there are really not a lot of apps on the Microsoft app store. Twitter has a native app, as well as Facebook, though Instagram is still on beta. YouTube doesn't even have a native app; it’s just a mobile web browser… (Update: People pointed out that there are a lot of third party apps... I am not talking about those here. I am talking about apps made by the companies themselves. It really boggled my mind why Google has not made a YouTube app for the Lumia...)

Shot with the Lumia.

Shot with the with iPhone 6s+.

Oh, I don’t know why I kept seeing the same posts on FB…

The sound produced by the phone was really good though the music app could still use some tweaking. You will have to use earphones though, if you really want to take advantage of the sound quality of the phone. Well, this is true for most phones anyway… And yes, you will have to set the equalizer for you to enjoy the sound. I thought, at the beginning, that the sound produced by the phone was flat, but when I changed the equalizer preset, the phone sounded much, much better.

And yes, call quality sounds great.

Despite the 3GB RAM, the phone is a tad slower than the 2GB-RAM iPhone 6s+. And also, I don’t know if it was just my demo unit or true for all Lumia 950s, but the one I used can get really warm even if I wasn’t actually using it. (Update: Some people pointed out that the phone did not get as warm after they updated the OS. I did not get that chance in the time I had the phone... Oh, I don't think I ever said anything about battery problems either...)

Battery life lasted the whole day through my usual usage (LTE, wifi and bluetooth always on; about four to five hours of cumulative reading twitter and FB and website browsing, plus emails and listening to music).

And, oh, I absolutely loved unlocking the phone using the iris scanner!

I can see myself using this phone. I will recommend this highly for those people who use two networks but don’t want to use two phones. And though there are far fewer apps for the Lumia, the apps that came with the phone out of the box will still make this device a compelling choice. And if you are a user of the different Microsoft tablets/computers, the look and feel of this phone will make you feel immediately at home.

Highly Recommended!


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