Canon PowerShot SD630 Review and Usability Commentary

I got my new Canon digital camera last week, so it’s time for an initial review!

First, background. This is my first real/decent digital camera…I’m actually a bit of a late adopter when it comes to gadgets. I got my first ipod in December! This is a little odd to me because I am an early adopter when it comes to ideas, late when it comes to gadgets. I had attempted to shop for a digital camera before, but wasn’t that motivated and there are a lot of confusing things to learn in the camera world in general, so I kept putting it off. (See my observation about abundance of choice being annoying below!)

I was urged by several friends to trust Canon, and told that they make the best cameras–certainly in the Point and Shoot category. I took their word for it and a cursory reading of reviews online confirmed this in general. This helped immensely in reducing the too-many-choices problem, although Canon has a dizzying number of cameras on their own. This is where I relied on much more extensive review hunting on amazon and a few other sites. It came down to two choices: a wide angle lens feature versus a bigger LCD display, everything else roughly equal. I went with the bigger LCD display. Cameras today being a surprisingly social device, I figured the bigger display would make for more enjoyable “say cheese, snap, show and tell”!

Pretty picture of camera:
camera

I’m very happy with my purchase, but without having any basis for saying it is better or worse than any specific competitor, I won’t go there. I’ll just leave it at the camera has certainly met my expectations and in some ways really leaves a smile on my face.

Things I really like so far:

-The camera itself. The size is nice and small but not so small as to seem that smallness was an end unto itself during its design. Certain mobile phones are the bigger culprit in that area. It feels solid, a hint of cost-saving on the outer materials but not too bad. The coating on the display feels nice and durable (and I hope somewhat scratch resistant, but we’ll see!).

-The screen size at 3″ diagonally, which is fantastic for such a small device. The display quality is more than adequate. I read a few reviews which suggested it was insufficient, and perhaps there are better ones out there, but these suggestions should be ignored.

-The usability of the camera itself. I am new to using digital cameras. Other than the occasional picture I take with someone else’s camera, no experience. The UI is intuitive, packed with clues and cues, and manageable while function-rich. My learning curve on much less feature-rich devices has been much longer, and I anticipated that to be the case with this camera, but I was pleasantly surprised. I also thought the blend between hardware controls (ie buttons) and software controls (in the display) were well balanced. Plus with such a nice screen, there’s plenty of real estate to organize the UI and the designers did a good job. That said, there’s always room for improvement. I expect “advanced” features of a device to require reference to manuals. This is where Canon came up a little short. See below. Also some of the software buttons/labels were less than intuitive and could be improved. Still, overall great job.

-Number 1 thing I love and should be a requirement of all cameras: The taking of the photo is simple. There isn’t an overly confusing delay (before or after the click). And the camera doesn’t automatically switch into video capture mode as or after you take a picture. Have you noticed that some cameras do this? Do you have one? This should be illegal in all 50 states! That is a usability sin. I’m sure there is a trick or rule I’m unfamiliar with on such cameras, but so what? Cameras are social devices, meaning the basic functions should be 100% intuitive to a non-owner of any specific camera.

Things I don’t like:

-Included only 16MB memory card. This is the equivalent of batteries not included! The OEM on a 128MB memory card is probably in the low single digit dollar range. I realize margin is tight on these things, but I think this puts a dent on the initial experience in no small way. I had to go buy a card (2GB for about $30 – see what I mean??) before really enjoying the product.

-Marginal software for the computer–OK, I still don’t know why software in general in this space is so poor. It should be automatic that when a user hooks their camera into their computer, the offering of a “myspace-appropriate” file size jpeg is presented. All other features are great, but this function deserves the same prioritization as “Send” in an email program. I quickly started using iPhoto on my Mac, but despite suggestions to the contrary, I didn’t find iPhoto all that better. Do I really need to buy Photoshop and ImageReady? Maybe. Software included with devices (printers, scanners, cameras, web cameras, etc.) is almost universally bad. Why is this? Another post I guess.

-Poor user documentation. While thorough, I found it weak. Why is user documentation about where it was with VCR’s in the mid eighties? Certainly in the case of this camera, it would have been an easy area to improve. A dose of humanity, maybe even humor, would go a long way in making documentation more usable (and more effective).

-Can’t tell if the USB connection charges the camera, and if it doesn’t, why not?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this rather lengthy review. I also hope you caught some of my marketer bias here, too. The goal is to strive for prospective buyers to get from zero to happy in the shortest time possible. I wish I had the research (bet you I’ll get it!) that will back up my estimation that with a typical product, the user will max out their willingness to learn within a couple weeks (inclusive of time spent researching before the purchase!!). This means two things:

1. Within a short period after the box is opened, the user’s lifetime experience is set on a trajectory.

2. During this initial period, user sensitivity is at its peak. Take advantage. You can play good defense and go on the offense, too. The Nintendo Wii is the perfect example of this.

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