Monday, April 19, 2010

Getting sharper and more vibrant photos from the Canon Powershot SX20 IS

People have complained in some forums about the images from the Powershot SX20 IS often having a somewhat dull, washed out quality. I find this to be true especially when taking zoomed in images of birds and other wildlife. Admittedly, the photos from this camera will not quite rival those from a SLR, but I've been advised to try two things to improve image quality, at least in the sense of sharp, vibrant images. One I have tried, the other not:

1. Use a tripod to get a more steady shot (I haven't tried doing this yet, even though I bought a Gorillapod for this purpose). Even though the Powershot SX20 has built-in image stabilization, this can only go so far in reducing the impacts of vibration. Indeed, the shots at 20x zoom or close to it tend to be the least sharp when the camera is held in the hand, which makes sense as the slightest shake will get amplified at such a high zoom. I tend to get far crisper images when at low zooms, as in the night bird shot below (the bird is called a common potoo). It was shot from only a few feet away, so I didn't have to zoom in too much.

2. Increase sharpness and saturation on the camera settings, which I did. You can accomplish this by setting the mode dial to M or P mode, then pressing the "Func Set" button, scrolling down to the "My colors" item on the menu, and then scrolling sideways to the "custom colors" option, and then setting the contrast, sharpness and saturation settings to maximum. Both the above and below pictures were taken under these settings. The photo below is not as sharp as the one above, but it was taken at 20X zoom with a hand held camera, so the results are not bad, all things considered. For both pictures, I used the Av mode (aperture priority) and set a as low an aperture as I could to make the background blurry, and it seems to have worked, at least in the photo below:

If you're looking for other tips on using the Canon Powershot SX20, you might want to try the following book:
A Short Course in Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Photography book/ebook

And for some other hints from my blog, check this link.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Books and tutorials to get more out of your Powershot SX20 IS

I've been looking for resources to learn to take advantage of the less intuitive features of the Canon Powershot SX20 IS. Here's what I've found so far:

A Short Course in Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Photography book/ebook

Anyone know of other good resources, online or offline?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A few tips for getting the most out of the Canon Powershot SX20 IS

While I'm still a newbie with the Canon Powershot SX20, here are a few things I've learned by trial and error:

1. First of all, stop using the auto mode and learn to take advantage of the other modes this camera has to offer. If you're going to stick with auto mode, then you might as well have saved some money and bought a basic point and shoot model. The auto mode produces so-so pictures, but not great ones as a rule. And some people complain how the SX20 often produces blurry pictures - one reason is that in the auto mode, it is also in continuous auto focus mode, which can really throw off the focus if you're trying to take a picture of a continuously moving object - like  bird, for instance.

2. Setting the mode dial to P is a good way to play with various settings.

3. As mentioned above, turn the continuous auto-focus off, especially for bird photography. You can do this by pressing the Menu button and then finding the option for continuous AF.

4. Don't use the digital zoom. It's better to take the photo at the maximum (20x) optical zoom and crop out the parts you don't want later, using photo-editing software.

5. Generally, I prefer to shoot in vivid color. Seems to be a general improvement over the default, unless you're going for a specific effect. To do this, while in P mode, press the "Func set" button, then choose "My Colors" and toggle this option until you're in vivid colors mode.

6. Do buy a lens cap keeper and use it to keep your lens cap attached to the camera body. One of the few real annoyances about the SX20 is how there is no way to secure the lens cap easily while taking pictures. The keeper has made my life much easier.

7. Keep an eye on the lens hood if you have attached it to the lens by reversing it. It has a tendency to fall off. I have lost one already. Fortunately, you can get a replacement by calling Canon customer support, and it only costs about $15 including shipping and handling.

8. If using the viewfinder rather than the LCD screen (which I like to do to compose my shots better) you may find that the view is somewhat blurry. That is easily taken care of by adjusting the diopter dial (the little wheel to the left of the viewfinder). See this article on how to adjust the viewfinder on the SX20.

9. When using a tripod, turn off the image stabilization mode (IS mode). The reason is that the IS mode tries to compensate for camera shake, and if you're using a tripod, there is no camera shake. So if IS mode is on and the camera is on a tripod with no camera shake, the SX20 tries to compensate for the slightest movement it can detect (e.g., a shaking leaf) and ends up overcompensating, possibly throwing the whole frame out of focus. IS mode can be turned off using the menu button (again, not in auto mode), and then finding the IS mode option.

10. The LCD screen can get scratched up pretty easily. Don't let the screen face outwards when you have the camera slung around your neck. It's a sure way to get scratches from your shirt buttons on to the camera screen.

11. Do invest in a lens cleaning kit that comes with an air blower and lint free cloth. Apart from using it to clean the lens, which should not generally be necessary, you can also use it to clean the LCD display (which can also get scratched from cleaning with an ordinary cloth - I speak from experience here).

12. Post-processing the pictures using photo-editing software can yield quite satisfactory results. I have used the ZoomBrowser EX software that comes on the CD provided with the Powershot SX20 to crop and sharpen some images (using the Edit > Sharpness menu), as well as some of the editing options in Picasa to tweak color and contrast. Here's an before(left) and after (right) example.


Another before (left)-and-after (right) editing example:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Basic accessories for the Canon Powershot SX20 IS

I bought a few accessories that have really enhanced my experience with my Powershot SX20 IS:

1. Rechargeable batteries: Although the SX20 is pretty economical with batteries, having a couple of rechargeable sets mean that I don't, in theory, ever have to buy any more batteries for it. I went in for the Canon CBK4-300 Rechargeable Battery and Charger Kit, which costs a bit more than other models, but decided to go for the Canon name brand. I haven't regretted it - they have great battery life, and I took hundreds of pictures on a single charge.

2. Lens cap holder: One of the few annoying features about the SX20 is the fact that the there is no convenient place to keep the lens cap when you're shooting. It gets to be a pain to hold on to it, so I spent a couple of dollars to buy a lens cap holder that attached to the lens cap and tethers it to the body of the camera. Definitely a good investment. 

3. SDHC memory cards (8 and 16 GB): I bought Transcend SDHC memory cards, one for backup. Although the 16 GB card holds about 6000 photos and I'm not about to fill it up any time soon, I think it's a good idea to keep a backup card in my camera bag just in case the main one gets damaged.

4. Gorillapod (tripod): Since I would like to practice some serious photography with the SX20 IS, I thought it would be good to invest in a small tripod. The Gorillapod SLR is a flexible, lightweight and relatively inexpensive tripod that works well with small SLR and prosumer cameras. If you get one, make sure to get the Gorillapod for SLRs, as a smaller one might not hold the weight of the SX20.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My experience using the Canon Powershot SX20 IS camera

If you've landed on this page, chances are you are already the proud owner of a Canon Powershot SX20 IS camera, or are actively considering getting one. And maybe, like me, you are somewhat intimidated by all the bells and whistles this camera has to offer. Well, my hope is to try and help dispel some of your fears by sharing what I've learned about this versatile camera over the past couple of months. Like you (maybe) I wanted something that was not quite as advanced as a DSLR, but could take me well beyond what a basic point-and-shoot model can offer. And in this, I have not been disappointed. What especially intrigued me about the Powershot SX20 was its 20X zoom lens that held out the promise of finally being able to indulge in some decent wildlife photography, and more specifically, bird photography. And after a few blurry shots, I'm pleased to report that I've been able to get to the point where I can get shots like this one:

What I hope to do with this blog is to share my experiences with this wonderful and surprisingly economical camera, and I hope this will help fellow SX20 users in honing their skills. And in no way do I claim to be an expert in any of this - I'm just describing what works for me, and if it works for me, a strict amateur, it should work pretty well for you too! And I certainly appreciate any words of wisdom for all of you kind readers. More to come soon!