Just did this on a whim, I was feeling happy with myself. And yes, the Canon PowerShot SX120IS is a fantastic camera!
September was a glorious month for me. Here are the highlights:
- Bought my birthday present (the Canon PowerShot SX120 IS) way ahead of schedule. Yes, I was naughty, so what?
- The Piano Idol finals at the Copthorne Orchid Hotel—it was the second time I was asked to judge, and I was very pleased with the overall standards. Will there be a third time for me? Dunno.
- The BBQ gathering at the Pau’s residence was awesome. Lots of food and drink and nice company.
- My 49th birthday of course, on September 26. And the crème de la crème was spending a night at the E & O Hotel, coupled with an unforgettable buffet breakfast the next morning. What a blast! Er…Mike, if you’re reading this–can I do it again, soon?
Now here comes October (or what’s left of it, almost halfway through) and—blech, nada, nothing much happening. There are peaks and there are valleys, I suppose. Here are some “exciting” things (yes, I’m being sarcastic here, hee hee) that I’ve been doing to keep myself preoccupied:
- Relearning some classical pieces from the past. See this post.
- I’m still contemplating about giving my website a total makeover. It’s beginning to fill with cyber cobwebs and someone said it’s high time I gave it a good spring-cleaning.
- I’m trying to get my blog-writing juices running again. Hopefully this post is a sign of more stuff to come.
- Bought Avira’s Antivir Premium antivirus locally. Pretty decent price ($13 USD) for a 13-month license. I’ve also downloaded and installed Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) which is a neat antispyware program. It’s free and except for a strange quirk (which I’ll explain in a later post) I like it.
- Christmas rehearsals for the lighting of the Christmas Tree at the hotel are due to start this Friday October 16th. Time flies.
- Catching up with some of the current movies. I prefer to watch them on DVD because I despise the censorship in the cinema halls. Some movies I’ve watched and enjoyed include: State of Play, Obsessed, 12 Rounds, The Taking of Pelham 123, Terminator Salvation, and Star Trek. The last one is simply amazing—I’ve been a Trekkie all my life and J.J. Abrams did an excellent job with the retelling. Looking forward to the sequels!
So there you have it. Aside from eating my oats, doing my laundry, having leftovers for lunch, paying the monthly bills (ugh), teaching students, I lead a pretty exciting life huh. Until the next post, this is Philip, signing off.
Note: Seeing as this is a personal review, I will only cover the features of the Canon PowerShot SX120IS that I’ve tried and used.
So I’m at the local Canon store and the guy hands me the Canon PowerShot SX120IS. His eyes display a genuine amazement at this camera—10 mega pixels, 3” LCD screen, 10x optical zoom, Digic 4, Face detection…all for around $250USD. I confess trying out its bigger brother too, the PowerShot SX20IS. However, I would have to cough up another $200 for it—no way. The SX120IS is good enough for me.
This camera is a joy to hold, because it’s not too slim and at the same time not so large as a DSLR. Moreover, the coarser black finish prevents fingerprints from showing up, a plus in my book. Loading the memory card and the batteries is a snap; the battery compartment cover is pretty tight though, so it does take some effort to close it. The SX120IS powers up very quickly, there is a startup sound which can be turned off if desired. The startup sound can also be adjusted between 5 different volume levels. This applies too to the operational buttons, self-timer, and shutter sounds.
The 3” LCD screen is just glorious; its brightness can be customized. You can choose how much information you want displayed. Its only failing is when you try to view it outdoors in bright sunlight—not easy, and without a built-in viewfinder you’ll have to shield the monitor screen with one hand while taking pictures. I’ve noticed that more and more digital cameras nowadays are doing away with the viewfinder as LCD screens become larger. Oh well.
I tend to use Auto mode most of the time while shooting, since it’s the easiest to use—why don’t I use Easy mode? (pun intended) Ah, here we come to another quirk of the SX120IS. I don’t like using Easy mode because it doesn’t allow you to print the date and/or time, period. I like to have the date printed on my pictures as a record, but I’m sure there will be people who prefer not to; in that case Easy mode will do just that, without one having to access the Menu options to turn the date/time imprinting off.
Program mode is basically the same as Auto mode, except that you have the option of making the flash fire every time you shoot. You can also have the flash on auto (the camera will decide whether the picture needs flash or not) There is also a slow synchro flash option in Program mode, though you’d need a tripod for doing this.
Scene mode comes in handy when you’re taking pictures like foliage, kids, snow, and even an aquarium, believe it or not. Here’s a comparison of the same scene, taken with different modes. I used Scene mode > Foliage for the first shot and Auto mode for the second. Both pictures are unedited. You can see that Scene mode > Foliage enhances the color of the greenery.
I’ve also discovered that the flash can get very confused when confronted with difficult lighting. For instance, the flash just had a hiccup when I tried taking some pictures during the Piano Idol finale…then again other friends reported the same problem with their cameras, because the lighting tended to be tungsten and changed dramatically from one moment to the next. So it wasn’t entirely the SX120IS’s fault.
Movie mode is another feature I’ve been experimenting with. The SX120IS captures movies using the avi format, and audio is encoded as mono wave files. It doesn’t have HD though. All the videos featured in my blog from My First Video post were taken with the camera perched on a tripod, with the exception of Anthea’s video which was hand-held. An 8GB memory card allows about an hour’s worth of video.
The self-timer (as I’ve discovered) is another bright feature of the SX120IS. There are many options available:
- 10-second self-timer
- 2-second self-timer
- Custom timer
- Face self-timer
The first two are self-explanatory. The custom timer as its name implies, allows you to set the time delay (from 0 to 30 seconds) and the number of shots (1 to 10). There is a beeping sound and a blinking light (both become faster just before the camera takes the picture). The Face self-timer is pretty ingenious. Select this option, compose the shot, and press the shutter button fully. Join your friends in the picture and once the camera detects a new face (yours) the lamp and beep will speed up and two seconds later the shutter is released. Not only that, the camera will take another further two shots (great for those candid moments) Again you can change this if you wish. Another nifty thing about the self-timer is that you can even use it in Movie mode (yes I’ve done that) so for instance I can engage the self-timer and then seat myself ready at the piano.
Thus far pictures taken with the SX120IS have turned out to be sharp and vibrant. Just be aware that flash shots tend to be more subtle and natural; if you want bright paparazzi-style shots, this is not the camera for you, unless you use Program and/or Manual modes where the flash intensity can be regulated by the user.
I’ll keep experimenting with this camera and may post further about any new features that I try. In conclusion I will say that I have no regrets buying the SX120IS—this camera gives a lot of bang for the buck.
- Takes sharp, vibrant pictures
- 10x optical zoom
- Bright 3” LCD screen
- A wide range of shooting modes
- Inclusion of Manual mode (something not found in many of the Digital Ixus/Elph models)
- Controls are easy to use
- Camera feels very sturdy, not plasticky
- Uses 2 AA batteries
- Instruction manual is easy to read and understand
- Battery life is good
- Flash has to be manually activated and deactivated
- Flash effect is subtle compared to other cameras
- The zoom control is too fast, not good for on the spot candids
- No viewfinder
- Easy mode does not allow date/time imprinting
- No HD movie recording
- A choice of finish other than black would be appreciated
Note: all the pictures featured in my blog from My Morning Walk post onwards were taken with the Canon PowerShot SX120IS.
Here’s what you’ll find when you open the SX120IS box:
- The SX120IS
- 2 AA-size alkaline batteries
- A 128MB SD memory card
- A camera to PC interface cable
- A camera to TV AV cable
- Wrist strap
- Getting Started Guide
- Digital Camera solutions CD
- Warranty card
The folks at the local Canon store here were kind enough to give me an 8GB SDHC memory card, which has enough storage for close to 3,000 pictures and an hour of video, plus a Canon soft pouch for storing the camera. The icing on the cake was a free extended 2-year warranty from Canon, which means that now my SX120IS has a warranty lasting 3 years! Beat that.
The detailed instruction manual is in Adobe PDF format on the CD (Canon is being environment-friendly here) so you’ll have to view it on your computer or print out a hard copy yourself. Canon’s Zoom Browser software is also included, but I didn’t feel the need to install it as I’ve already got my own picture viewing/editing software installed. Needless to say the camera is instantly detected on connection to your computer if you’re using Windows XP or Vista.
You can get about 100 shots using alkaline batteries, and over 300 using NiMH rechargeables. The camera doesn’t have a viewfinder, so all viewing has to be done with the 3” LCD monitor screen, which is bright and sharp. However, trying to view this in bright sunlight outdoors is difficult, so in a sense I do miss having a viewfinder. The SX120IS starts up in less than 2 seconds, ready to take pictures immediately.
A plethora of shooting modes are available to the user:
- Aperture priority
- Shutter priority
- Night snapshot
- Kids and Pets
- Scene Mode (which has sub-modes)
My preferred mode is Auto, because all you do is point the camera, zoom, and shoot. Press the shutter button halfway to focus, and all the way to shoot. The camera will beep twice and the back indicator will light green. If the indicator lights orange and “Raise the flash” appears on the LCD, you’ll have to raise the flash yourself. That’s right, this is one of the few quirks of the SX120IS—the flash unit does not automatically pop up (is Canon trying to go retro here?) I can live with this, but some people might find this a wee bit annoying. And it goes without saying that you’ve got to lower the flash yourself after you’re done with it. Another thing I’ve noticed in Auto mode is that you can’t use the flash for fill-in or force it to fire if the camera deems it unnecessary. If you want to force the flash to fire or fill-in you’ll have to use Program mode.
While on the subject of flash, I’ve noticed that compared to my A510 PowerShot, the flash on the SX120IS has a more subtle effect. In other words, flash shots tend to be more natural, in stark contrast to the A510 which tends to give a full burst of flash resulting in shots where every spot and blemish on faces can be easily seen. You can adjust the flash exposure compensation in Program mode, and the flash output can be adjusted in Manual mode. Personally I just leave it to the camera and it comes out with good results most of the time.
Controls on the camera are well-placed—the On/Off button, mode dial, shutter release and zoom buttons are on top and have a solid feel to them. I like the fact that the Auto mode position is colored green and Easy mode is red. Makes it very easy for me to see which mode I’ve set without putting on my reading glasses. There’s also a mono microphone, a speaker, and a lamp for the self-timer, AF assist beam, and red-eye reduction.
On the back from the top we have the Playback button, buttons for face detection and single erase/exposure compensation, the rotary control dial with ISO, Flash, Macro/Manual Focus and Self-Timer, finishing up with the Display and Menu buttons at the bottom. The rotary dial is a breeze to use and while it doesn’t have any clicks, picture icons appear on the LCD screen when you’re using it.
Using the camera will be covered in Part 3.
Testing my Canon Powershot SX120IS on Anthea, one of my promising students. I asked her whether she would kindly play Happy Birthday for me to record, seeing that I taught her the song a few weeks ago. Happily she said yes. All together now, ahhhh.
Thanks to Mr. Song for permission to display this video in my blog.
…will be held this coming Sunday September 13, 2009 at the Copthorne Orchid Hotel here in Penang. I’ll be judging it again this time together with my fellow judges Helen, Razif, and another judge from Kuala Lumpur. The star instrument this year will be the Yamaha GB1 4’11” Grand Piano. I’ve tried it already, and it’s a very well-made instrument.
As always I’m looking to seeing and hearing what the contestants come up with this time round. Hopefully they will choose their pieces wisely to make us judges sit up and marvel. I’ll be bringing my Canon PowerShot along to snap some pictures for posterity, and yes yes, I will be posting some of them here after the competition.
I’m certainly looking forward to this year’s event. See you there!
Aside from my Canon PowerShot SX120IS (which I wouldn’t consider a small reward) I’ve lately been…how shall I put it, pampering myself. Not with lavish head to toe makeovers, or anything like that. Just small rewards, because I feel happy and fortunate to be myself (and I have to be myself because everyone else is taken, hee hee) And since I can’t take whatever financial gains I’ve made when I go to see my Maker, why shouldn’t I indulge, once in a while?
Which is what I’ve been doing, and some of these rewards are free, like my morning walks. Even smiling back at a fellow resident here is a small reward. Saying thank you to somebody. Allowing an older person to get into or out of the elevator first (usually I allow other people to do that first, regardless of age) Playing the piano for guests and staff at the hotel to hear. These are all small rewards, and they come at no cost to me.
It may come as no surprise to know that I also cherish my alone times. I guess I got used to this during my college and university days in England and the States. At first I was terribly lonely (which is different to being alone) but then gradually I learned to get over it. Nowadays my alone time is treasured. I’m not saying that it’s better or that I don’t like the company of friends or anything like that. Just plain time alone by myself, to contemplate whatever I like.
Some of my friends (I won’t name names here lol) know how much I love food, including leftovers…yes, what a piggy I am. I do gobble, but greedy I most certainly am not. But to have a nice meal as I did the other day in a shopping mall and just watch people go by—I find that very relaxing, in a way. And then recently on a whim I decided to stop by at Swensen’s to have a Coit Tower ice cream (my favorite from eons past) Mmmm, delicious!
To top it all off, someone recently (ok, it was Mrs. Fong, the music school administrator) was so kind as to get me some cheesecakes from the local Ritz Pastry here, and man, it was heavenly! Uh…so much so that someone (who shall remain nameless) actually gobbled one without my permission. My favorite was the blueberry cheesecake, so I made a beeline for Ritz today, and what do you know, they were out of it! Wah! I settled for a Mocha cheesecake instead (see the picture below) At a price of RM5.80 ($1.65USD) for a small slice, it isn’t exactly cheap, but once that first mouthful goes in, it’s definitely worth every penny. Quality has a price, yes?