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Pocket DigiCam Shootout
Pages: 1, 2

Computer Compatibility

Both the Nikon and the Canon work wonderfully with iPhoto, making picture transfer via USB a snap. They also come with their own software packages that are both Mac- and PC-compatible. So, even if you're in a mixed Windows/Mac environment, you won't have any problems uploading pictures to your computers.



Both Canon and Nikon provide Mac OS X users with decent software bundles to augment iPhoto and QuickTime. Canon offers PhotoStitch and ImageBrowser. PhotoStitch enables you to assemble your panoramas and create QuickTime VRs--a very pleasant surprise. ImageBrowser helps you organize your shots and provides some basic editing controls.

Nikon View 5 is also a handy organizer and comes with some nice tools to facilitate everyday tasks, such as emailing pictures to friends. I really liked having all the EXIF data displayed at the top of the browser frame for each image I was working on. Nikon bundles PhotoImpression by ArcSoft, which is also Mac OS X-compatible. If you don't already have an OS X image editor, you'll appreciate this inclusion.

Neither Canon or Nikon have embraced the Aqua interface with their bundled applications. So I felt a little like I had journeyed to another planet whenever I opened one of them. I hope that over time each company will continue to develop its bundled software to integrate better with Mac OS X and iPhoto. But as I mentioned earlier, both companies are supporting users who are moving to Mac OS X, and I really appreciated seeing those applications offered in the box.

Speaking of compatibility, the Coolpix 2500 takes this concept to a higher level by functioning as a Mass Storage Device too. This means you can plug it in to any modern Windows (98 SE or newer) or Macintosh (OS 9.x or Mac OS X) computer, and the camera's contents display as an external drive. No drivers needed! When you're on the go you simply connect the Nikon in to nearly any computer available, and drag and drop its pictures on to the hard drive. Very nice.

Just for fun, I took a full memory card out of the Canon S200 and put it in the Nikon Coolpix 2500. Not only could the Nikon display the Canon's pictures on its LCD monitor, it could upload them to the computer acting as a Mass Storage Device. I then took the full Nikon memory card and inserted it into the Canon. Lo and behold the Canon could read the pictures and upload them to iPhoto for me. I love this type of standards adherence and salute Canon and Nikon for providing this flexibility.

Each camera records loads of EXIF data including exposure settings, focal length, flash status, metering pattern, image resolution, file size, camera type, time, and date. So you never have to take notes regarding any of this information because it's all recorded as metadata and stored in the file header. Most modern image editors including Adobe Photoshop 7.0 and Apple's iPhoto 1.1 retain and can display the EXIF data these cameras record. Plus the bundled image browsers also display this information.

I never had any problems uploading images from either camera to a Windows XP, Mac OS 9, or Mac OS X computer. Overall though, I have to give the nod to Nikon in the computer compatibility category because of its Mass Storage Device functionality. I hope all digital cameras adopt this standard soon.

Disappointments

I was surprised at how poorly the Nikon performed in low light situations. It has difficulty focusing without an AF-assist beam, and the images tend to have poor color when captured in low light. Not being able to manually control the ISO speed also hampered my ability to squeeze out good shots in difficult lighting. The Canon S200, on the other hand, performed well in these situations.

As I mentioned earlier, Nikon's lack of an optical viewfinder is a problem if you're going to be taking lots of shots in bright sunlight.

Battery chargers.
Canon's battery recharger (right) includes the two-pronged plug right in the unit. Nikon's charger is compact too, but it requires a six-foot cord!

Both cameras come with compact battery chargers that easily fit in your backpack or even your pants pocket. Canon's charger has the two-pronged plug built right in. But to my disappointment, the Nikon charger requires that you also lug around a six-foot cord to connect the charger to the wall outlet. Why?

The Canon includes a measly 8MB memory card, whereas the Nikon at least springs for a 16MB version. I'd like to see camera makers stop fooling around with these wimpy cards and provide at least 32MBs with 2-megapixel cameras.

Neither camera comes with a case. I had to spend an additional $25 for a nice Canon-made leather case, and found an existing case stashed away in my closet that protects the Nikon. But I think cases should be standard issue with all compact cameras -- if for no other reason, to help you protect your investment.

Pros and Cons Review

When it comes right down to it, either of these cameras will make most hobbyists quite happy. So it really comes down to which camera has the features most important to you. Here's a quick review of each camera's pros and cons.

Canon PowerShot S200

Nikon Coolpix 2500

Pros

  • Excellent image quality.
  • Extensive feature set with many advanced tools such as spot metering, selectable ISO speeds, and image histogram.
  • Solid, attractive design and construction. Very compact.
  • Accurate LCD monitor and useful optical viewfinder.
  • Good low light performance.
  • Focus-assist light.
  • Compact battery recharger.
  • Metal tripod socket.
  • Mac OS X compatible.

Pros

  • Very light and slides easily into any pocket.
  • Innovative swivel lens.
  • Mass Storage Device.
  • Unique functions such as "Small Pic" and "Quick View."
  • Excellent close up performance.
  • Extended zoom range (3X).
  • Mac OS X compatible.

Cons

  • Short zoom lens (2X)
  • No included case.
  • Wimpy 8MB memory card.

Cons

  • No optical viewfinder.
  • Lacks focus-assist light.
  • Poor low light performance.
  • Plastic tripod socket.
  • No included case.

Final Thoughts

If you want to spice up your photography pursuits, then either of these cameras will bring new joy to your shooting. Add the fact that you can slip either into your shirt pocket on your way out the door means that you'll never miss a great shot because you left your camera at home.

Both cameras are capable of producing photo-quality prints up to 5 by 7 inchs and very good reproductions up to 8 by 10 inchs. I recommend that you always shoot at the highest resolution and lowest compression settings to capture maximum quality. You never know when you're going to encounter that great shot that you'll want to enlarge to an 8 by 10.

The Canon S200 costs about $30 more than the Nikon Coolpix 2500. Even though you get a longer zoom lens with the Nikon (3x versus 2x), the Canon has quite a few more features that easily justify the higher price.

In head-to-head competition, I give a slight nod to the Canon S200. But the Nikon Coolpix 2500 is also very addictive, and I don't plan on parting company with either camera in the foreseeable future.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.


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