Sunday, March 20, 2011

Canon SD4500IS - Worried about Wide angle shots?

So after some many weeks of researching various manufacturers long zoom P&S shooters I drive to Best Buy for the Canon PowerShot SX210IS but ended up leaving with the Canon PowerShot SD4500IS after the slimmer form factor of latter won me over. Note: I already have a DSLR which is too bulky to carry around on ad-hoc walks & family vacations and I wanted a camera to fit in my jacket pocket.

I had read lots of reviews of the Canon PowerShot SD4500 after which I was more confused than ever if my choice was a good one. There were lots of positive reviews about the quality of the glass and of course the Digic 4 processor but lots of negative (or neutral) reviews about the lack of a wide angle available on the camera. In 35mm equivalent the SD4500 starts at 36mm zooming in to 360mm, and those of us with DSLRs all know that 36mm is not very wide at all, competitors offerings started at 26-30mm which might not sound much better but if you take a lot of landscape photographs, like I do, you may miss this capability on the SD4500.

So what to do?? Well the SD4500 offers a pretty nice ability to photo stitch many photos together. This is something I have loved doing manually for years with my Nikon L11 and my Pentax DSLR. This involves taking lots of consecutive photos while scanning the horizon from left to right (or right to left if you prefer with the SD4500) and then spending some time with software merging all the images together to make one ultra-wide panoramic. Now I'm sure nobody likes spending hours of unnecessary post processing but I do like to play a little in Photoshop with contrast, color settings and cropping. Also I like to use software to assist with the joining of many images together to make one massive image, a technique called Photostitching. You may be happy to read that the SD4500 (and other Canon P&S cameras) come with such software for free. And as we'll find out below it turns out this packaged software does an adequate job of making the process less time consuming.

The SD4500 has a dedicated mode that helps you line up your consecutive shots. At first I wasn't sure how much this was going to help me personally, I have a very steady hand and am used to hand holding my cameras and panning unaided rather than lugging a tripod around and have always been happy doing that, but having the guide in camera did help me to 'overlap' each photo leaving enough 'common' area between shot 1 and shot 2 so that stitching the images together in software later would be easy.

I took out the SD4500 this morning in 38F degree weather to the local cemetery and tried out various modes to really play with the settings such as 'color swap', 'vivid' and also 'photo stitch'. And I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised with the results and any 'buyer remorse' I was having (thinking of returning and getting the Ricoh CX4 for extra $ mind you but even that 'pro-sumer p&s had its own issues).

How to create a Panoramic image using the Canon SD4500 IS

Step1 Switch the camera to Stitch Assist (left to right) by pressing 'FUNC SET', right and then scroll down to this option on the menu.

Step2 Take your first shot with the camera out directly in front of you standing very still and then turn 90 degrees to your left.

Step3 Move the camera a few degrees each time further to your right while ensuring the image lines up with the previous one in the cameras LCD display overlapping around 33% of the current frame with the previous one. This later gives the stitching software enough 'common' information in 2 consecutive images to know where one end and next begins as it pieces all the separate images together to make one extra Wide panoramic, fun!

Step4 You should finish up facing as far right as you want to pan (I recommend stopping at 180 degrees from where you started). I ended up with 11 images and headed home (but not before taking some more pics with the different modes, including fish eye (useless IMHO!) and miniature (a lot of fun, watch for a future post on those!)

Step5 With the field work done you should head home to your PC (or Mac). With your images stored on your Camera's SD card, take the Card out plug it in to your PC, download them all and start up Canon's PhotoStitch software.

Click 'Open' and browse to the folder location of your shots, 'Merge' them together and 'Save' the results. If you aligned them correctly the results should turn out something like image shown below.

If you look closely at this image you can see several mistakes the software made when joining the edges of each frame, the statue of the angel for instance has 2 faces, not good! Note: This first image is about 25% the size of the original (12086x3201, equivalent to roughly a 38 Megapixel Camera, sweet!).

In comparison check out this version stitched together in a trial version of PTGui, a much better effort I think you will agree. So I can't fault the SD4500 IS for its ability to take great shots and to assist my effort with the 'Stitch Assist' mode but I can fault the Canon PhotoStitch software and you may find that you will have to invest in a 3rd party alternative (at extra cost of course, but I think it would be worth it if you are going to do a lot of panoramic photography!). Note: This second image is also about 25% the size of the original (11877x3521).

Note: These pics were taken with the SD 4500's 'Color Accent' mode set to grassy green to highlight the coming of Spring this weekend and I think it did a good job, don't you?

Side Note: The temperature outside was 38F I had a fully charged battery took over 100 shots, none with Flash of course and several slo-mo videos (another Cool feature of the SD4500 IS) and at no time was I shown the low battery warning so posts about battery life sucking in cold temperatures perhaps should be taken with a grain of salt?

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