In case you’re shopping for a post-Christmas present for yourself or someone else, take a look at the Canon S5-IS. With a battery charger, AC adapter, and 2GB flash card, it should set you back about $400. The liberation of not worrying about wasting film is exhilarating.
The L5-IS is a compromise between pocket digital cameras and bulkier, heavier, and more expensive digital SLRs with interchangeable lenses. The Canon has a fixed lens (though you can buy both a telephoto adapter and a wide-angle adapter for it) but makes up for it with 12x optical zoom. It’s light, comfortable in the hand, and seems to do very well in automatic mode, though it has more menus and settings than I ever expect to understand. And the screen is good-sized, bright, and flexible, allowing you to shoot accurately from the waist or above your head
It’s not perfect. A relatively small sensor and a fairly slow F/2.7 lens make it unsuitable for low-light photography without flash. The image stabilization does a good job of correcting for camera wobble; I managed to take some pictures with the subject on the edge of the image by failing to hold the camera steady, but even those didn’t come out blurry. It has the typical annoying digital-camera lag between pressing the shutter button and taking the image.
But even in the hands of a duffer, it seems to take excellent images, and Picasa (a free download from Google) is the perfect PhotoShop for Dummies; it took me less than an hour to figure out how to use it, and it can rescue some pretty bad images. With the Canon’s 8MP, you can crop an image quite drastically before it becomes grainy.
Below are a few samples from my first week of camera ownership after 30 years. I can’t say whether I would have been happier with some other camera, but I have to say I’m pretty damned happy.
Update A reader points out that by pushing the shutter release half-way, you can get the camera to focus and calculate its settings; that reduces both the shutter lag and the risk that you will move the camera in the process of pressing the button.