Thursday, January 26, 2012

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS - Great for Low-light Photography?

Low-light shot taken without flash to demo the Canon HS system

The question I set out to answer here is 'Does the Canon HS System really take good (usable) low-light photographs with minimum noise?'

Over the past almost 10 months that I have used the Canon PowerShot SX 230HS I have been very happy with it's overall performance, from it's amazing X14 zoom (and relatively wide starting point of 28mm), it's miniature toy mode, Also it's stitch assistant has helped my panoramic cravings and of course let's not forget the many manual control options not just of ISO and WB but Aperture and Shutter priority modes in particular which I have found invaluable when taking macro shots where control of depth of field is essential, others who take portraitures will no doubt find these useful too.

However the stand out feature most trumpeted by Canon of this camera is it's High Sensitivity (HS) after all it is included in the name of the camera itself. From what I have read Canon takes a twofold approach to low light photography in their HS enabled cams, the first is increasing the sensitivity of the camera's, ermmm, sensor allowing for an improved ISO range and the second is the newer Digic processor of course (version 4 in the SX 230 HS) which has a greater capacity for reducing noise and processing the images taken by the sensor.

So how does this compare to using the flash vs not using the flash in low light situations I hear you ask? Well I took an evening stroll through a local cemetery to find out (not recommended if you're afraid of ghosts or zombies, neither of which I saw in Arlington MA yesterday).

The shot at the top of this article was taken without any flash and the camera has done an amazing job of making the twilight conditions almost appear like 2pm on a cloudy day which in reality the sun had all but set.

Low light shot taken with on-camera flash

The second shot taken here was with the camera's built flash. There's no hot shoe on the SX230 and you can see here at a aperture of f/3.08 that the flashed light falls off rather quickly, nothing passed ~18 ft receives any light here. In this shot the flash has lit the front grave stones and they have more detail and clarity than the low light none flashed shot, however for objects beyond those details are lost and have turned to black, note the trees and branches are now in silhouette compared to the first shot where we have exposed bark level detail albeit rather noisily.

So which shot is better? I think the answer is subjective and it really depends on the effect you were going for, if your intention is to take a night portrait you would opt for the flash to highlight your subject, or if you wish to read the names of the gravestones here. If however you wish to capture more of the surrounding landscape and objects out of the range of your camera's flash then leaving the flash off and leaving the exposure to the Canon HS system seems to be the way to go.

What's your take on the Canon HS cameras versus their traditional IS counterparts which use simple camera shake technology and/or upping the ISO settings?

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