First the images, then the review. Oh, and a little contest: Can you guess what and where each of these shots are? (Click each for larger image, post your answers to the comments.)
I ordered a Canon SX30IS 14.1MP Digital Camera with 35x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom because I was lucky enough to be asked to NASA for the final launch of Shuttle Discovery. I wanted as much zoom as possible in a small, easy to use and affordable package. I wanted most of all to be present and see everything with my own eyes. I wanted to capture images along the way with a minimum of distraction from the equipment.
I knew to expect amazing access through the #NASATweetup, including the press area (as close as you can get for a launch, but still three miles away), at the launch pad, and inside the Vehicle Assembly Building. Not to mention briefings by Astronauts, engineers and managers, and meeting Robonaut 2. Thanks so much to NASA (in particular @NASATweetup and @NASA) for your wonderful hospitality and amazing opportunity to learn and see so much these past five days! Still looking forward to viewing the (delayed) launch from the press area!
So how well has the Canon meet my needs for these conditions so far?
Let me start by restating the obvious: 35x image stabilized optical zoom is incredible. I previously posted test shots from the Blue Angels over San Francisco from the day after I got the camera. I set up a tripod at the NASA press area the moment I arrived. From three miles away, I was going to be able to get the launch pad and Shuttle to fill half the frame!
I shot all five samples you see above in Auto mode, and used a circular polarizing filter. I imported them into iPhoto, with no cropping or processing other than exporting smaller .jpgs. In other words, I pointed and I shot and I didn’t do any other work.
I had the opportunity to take a few shots with other prosumer and pro cameras loaned to me while at NASA (“hey, would you mind taking my picture in front of the shuttle?”). Going back and forth, it’s easy to tell the difference between a $4000+ setup and a $399 camera. But someone who rents an 800mm Canon lens for nearly $100 a day has to hold and haul something that looks like a battleship. At that point, they stop being able to enjoy the experience of anything but being a photographer. While a little envious at the clarity of the viewfinder on the SLRs and the solid click of their shuttlers and the like, I was still really happy with the SX30is. It’s a fantastic combination of size, price and performance, and I was happy to get stunning snapshots from a compact camera without having to really work for it. Some of these shots would have been impossible with any other point-and-shoot (because they just don’t have the zoom), and all of them were on par with anything I could imagine taking with any sub-$500 camera.