Rebel or Powershot?

My brother recently accused me of having too much fun with my new camera.  It’s a used Rebel and I have been having quite a lot of fun with it.  His comment got me thinking.  Is the Rebel really that much better than the Powershot for my purposes or is it just that it’s a new toy?

To try to answer that question I started a list of containing the features that I like and dislike about each camera.  The cameras are the Canon Powershot SX120 and the Canon Rebel XS.

I’ve been using the SX120 for a couple of years now and been quite happy with the results.  Yes, there’s a bit of grain in the darker areas and at low light levels, there is some violet amp glow when doing long exposures in the dark and it’s not a great choice for eyepiece projected astro photos.  Otherwise it’s been a reliable camera that produces good pictures and video.  With the addition of CHDK it can be extended in a number of different ways.

Canon SX120

  • It’s smaller than the Rebel.  After using the Rebel for a while, the SX120 feels tiny.  It will (just) fit into a jeans pocket and easily drops into jacket pockets.  It’s not as small as some cameras in the Powershot line but it’s still pretty compact.
  • CHDK support is available.  Scripting and motion detection are nice features at times.  I use the scripting for all our dance events so that the camera can be off taking pictures while I’m dancing.  I’ve only used the motion detection a few times to capture lightning but it worked well.
  • It’s inconspicuous.  Much easier to take out and take a picture without alarming the camera-shy.
  • It does have amp glow. This is an artifact seen on lower-end cameras when doing long exposures.  In the SX120 this shows up at one corner. An example is  AmpGlow
    where I’ve exaggerated the exposure a bit to make the glow obvious.
  • It doesn’t have cable release support.  It’s possible to add it by hacking a cable together and setting things up with CHDK but I haven’t pursued this.
  • No bulb mode. There’s not much point in this mode without the ability to attach a cable.
  • Easier to use active preview.  Composing the shot is done through the screen on the back which is nice and large.  It’s very easy to see when the scene is in focus.
  • Harder to compose a shot in bright daylight where it’s more difficult to see the screen.  At those times it would be much nicer to have a viewfinder.
  • Pictures taken at a high ISO (600+) are very much noisier the higher you go.  It’s not bad for snapshots but would be undesirable for prints.
  • Has video support.  They’re very good quality too.

Canon Rebel

  1. Raw mode built in.  I don’t have a process for using the raw files yet so this isn’t a big deal. Yet.  Hopefully someday I’ll use it.  Right now it’s just a feature that nags at me, wanting to be used.
  2. Bracketing built in.  This I’m using quite a lot.  I’ve got a ways to go to get the best quality possible but basic shots with bracketing turn out much better than pictures straight from the camera.
  3. More natural manual focus. Twisting a ring on the lens is a lot more natural than spinning a ring on the back of the camera.
  4. On the other hand, Manual focus is a little finicky.  There isn’t a focus ring in the viewfinder that changes based on ideal focus and it all has to be done by eye in a small viewport.
  5. No amp glow.  None.  Long exposures are nice and dark where they should be.
  6. Changeable lenses.  I’ve settled on one particular zoom lens for most of my shooting but being able to change lenses is really nice.  Related is the ability to take the lens off for astrophotography through my telescope.  I haven’t done this yet but I’m working toward it.
  7. Easier to switch between manual and auto focus.  Flipping a switch on the lens is much easier than moving through several menus.
  8. No intervalometer, but I can build one using an Arduino and stereo cable.
  9. Cable release support.  Not absolutely necessary for automatic long exposures but for those longer than 30 seconds (the limit of the built-in software) it’s nice to be able to hold the shutter open without vibration.
  10. Bulb mode.  Built-in ability to keep the shutter open as long as I like.
  11. It’s bigger, taking it somewhere can be a major decision.  I’ve only taken it on one vacation so far and there were times I missed the convenience of a camera that can be put in a pocket.
  12. Conspicuous.  It can be taken out without alarming the camera-shy but the loud shutter alerts everyone that pictures are being taken.
  13. Better flash.  The built-in flash isn’t much different (placement is the same) but the speedlite with the ability to move the head and use a diffuser can make a huge difference in the final results.
  14. It’s easier to compose a shot in bright daylight since you look through a viewfinder and the lens rather than at a screen which gets washed out in bright sun.
  15. Pictures taken at ISO 200 have no noise.  There’s a bit at 400 and more at 800 and 1600 but depending on the subject it is frequently unnoticeable.  It does have some noise reduction capability for high-ISO pictures but I haven’t experimented with that yet.
  16. Remote shooting is ‘built-in’ so that the camera can be almost fully controlled from a computer. You have to use a Canon supplied utility but it’s available out of the box and I’ve used that some with light painting.  I will likely use that for astrophotography in the beginning.
  17. Can’t shoot video.  When I first got the camera this was a bit of a wth? (it was a gift and I’m not looking that horse in the mouth) but this is primarily a SLR camera intended for taking stills.  I’m not sure I’d really want to hold this beast for videos.  I think the SX120 will remain my video workhorse.

So, which one comes out on top?  I think I’ll have to force myself to use the SX120 for a week and see.  I’ll let you know what happens.

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Michael Harrison

Husband, Programmer, Irish dancer, tinkerer, astronomer, layabout (as much as possible)

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