Polaroid X530 Review

NEWS FLASH ! 15/04/2005 - x530 recalled - according to Polaroid's digital support department the x530 has been recalled due to "image quality problems" and should not have been available for sale in the first place - existing purchases should be returned to the retailer for a refund - the product has been withdrawn from all retailers - this news has now been confirmed by www.imaging-resource.com, but they have been told it is due to a "firmware issue".

In light of this news I have no choice but to suspend this review for the time being.

Legal Disclaimer - This is my own personal opinion of this camera based on the sample in my ownership. I can neither confirm nor deny that the sample used is a final production model, and can thus neither confirm nor deny that my findings are representative of the final production model.

This review will be updated on an irregular basis - please check back every now and then

What's In The Box

Quite a lot actually

Camera  Note the lens cap attached to the camera. The lens also has a built in protector.

Battery   3.7v 1020maH Li-Ion. Can only be charged in the camera. 8hrs first charge, 3hrs after that. 

32Mb SD Card

USB SD Card Reader 

AC Adapter  Comes with 3 snap-on plugs - 3 pin UK, 2 pin round and 2 pin flat

USB Lead 

TV Connector Lead

Neck Strap

Quick Start Manual

CD  Contains drivers for the camera and USB reader (only required for Win98SE), Polaroid Photolab and Arcsoft PhotoStudio programs (PC and Mac), manuals for the camera and PhotoLab in PDF format, and Adobe Acrobat Reader.

A pretty impressive package. My main concern here is the lack of an external charger. Note that the camera will operate fully off the mains adapter, so you can try it before having to wait 8hrs for the battery to charge.

 

 

The Camera

Front 

The lens is a 3x zoom with a maximum aperture of f2.6 at full wide and f3.4 at full zoom. The focal length is 7.3 to 21.9mm. I don't have any details on the 35mm equivalent, but would guess at about 35 to 105mm. Shutter speeds are 1/1000 to 1/2 second according to the manual. The lens extends about 3/4" for taking pictures. If the lens cap is on the lens will push it off. The lens cap is a push on type, so this isn't a problem. The lens is not threaded. The lens does not move when focusing or zooming.

The viewfinder is almost directly above the lens, and is about average for compact digital cameras. It's positioning means your nose does not touch the camera at all when using it in either portrait or landscape mode (assuming you use your right eye).

To the right of the viewfinder is the flash which is rated at 3-10 feet in normal mode, and 0.4 to 9inches in macro mode according to the manual.

To the left of the lens is the combined focus assist lamp and self-timer lamp. The focus assist lamp can be enabled and disabled in the menus. It operates regardless of the lighting conditions when enabled.

Below the lamp, just above the x530 logo, is the microphone.

The handgrip, on the left, is of a good size, and has a rubberized coating. It is very comfortable in use and the camera controls fall naturally in the the correct place when holding it.

 

Back

The LCD screen is a 2" TFT, and does not seem to be of a particularly high resolution. In record mode especially, colours can be dull and muted, with a lot of noise in low light. It copes very well outdoors in direct sunlight. However, the colours is displays outside can sometimes be a little random. Purple skies, anyone ? These odd colours do not appear in the final output.

At the top centre is the power button. This needs to pressed for about a second to power up the camera, which should prevent any accidental power-ups while carrying the camera. The positioning of the power button on the back seemed odd at first but it is in a position where it is very unlikely to be accidentally pressed.

To the right of the power button is the zoom rocker button. The zoom is smooth, if a little noisy. This button falls perfectly under my thumb when holding the camera. This button is also used for zooming when reviewing existing photos.

 The cursor key cluster is used to navigate menus, and scroll when reviewing photos. The up and down arrows are used for manually focusing. It's a little small for my thumb, with the wrong button occasionally being pressed by mistake, but, again, it's location is near perfect for quick access.

The buttons to the left of the cursor keys bring up the Menu, change the flash settings, control the self-timer and continuous shooting mode, change the display on the LCD screen, and allow a picture to be deleted. These options will be examined later.

The FUNC button on the bottom right gives quick access to commonly used controls for picture taking; namely - Exposure Compensation, ISO settings, White Balance, Photo Effects and Metering Modes. Personally I'd like to have seen a resolution setting in here, rather than the Photo Effects, but it does beat having to navigate a whole series of menus.

 

Top

The shutter button sits in its own recess, which is angled to the front. Very easy to find and a pleasure to use, with a half-press being easily found without accidentally becoming a full press.

The rotary dial selects between recording in Normal Picture mode (anything further than 9 inches away), Macro Picture mode (0.4 to 9 inches) and Movie Mode. It also has several Scene modes, similar to those found on most digital cameras. Please see the Manual Controls section for more details on these. This dial must be set to Play to review photos. It may seem a minor point, but I do like the fact that this dial goes round and round, rather than having a start and end point to its rotation.

Also on the top there is the speaker.

 

Bottom

A sliding cover hides the battery compartment, which also holds the SD card. The cover is on a hinge towards the centre of the camera. The slot for the SD card is right up against this hinge, and it makes it a real struggle to get the SD card in and out. Putting this slot at the bottom of the camera could make changing the card and battery impossible when the camera is mounted on a tripod.

The tripod socket is metal, and as shown, is not in line with the lens.

 

Side

A rubber cover hides the compartment containing the AC power socket, the USB connector and the TV connector. I do not know whether this is USB 1 or USB 2. I hate these rubber covers. This one is attached by a rubber strip to a hole, and I wouldn't like to vouch for its longevity.

 

Size and Weight

These pictures show the x530 next to a Canon Digital Ixus V.

Personally, I like the weight and size. At about 250g, some may find it a little lightweight, but the weight seems to suit the size of the camera. You're hardly going to notice this hanging around your neck. It does not, however, feel particularly solid. I wouldn't like to drop it too often

 

Camera Settings

I'm not going to go through these in detail - most are pretty standard.

FUNC Key 

Record Mode - Exposure Compensation ( +2 in 1/3 steps), ISO (Auto,100,200,400), White Balance (Auto and 4 presets, no Manual), Photo Effect (see below), Light Metering (Multiple, Centre, Spot)  - Some bad news here. I don't know why I didn't notice this originally. When the camera is turned off, these values reset to default, unlike the menu options which have a switch to say if they reset or not. This proved incredibly frustrating on a morning's shoot.

Photo Effects - The camera does not have options for setting parameters such as contrast, saturation and sharpness. The Photo Effects options, which are applied at the time of capture, available are Vivid (increased saturation and contrast), Neutral  (neutral hues), Sepia, Black and White and Red, Green and Blue filters. These have not been tested. These effects are not available when shooting in X3F mode. 

Playback Mode - Selects an action to perform on the currently displayed picture. The available actions are Rotate, Crop,  Enhance (Auto Colour, Auto Contrast or Auto Levels in Photoshop terms), and Red Eye Removal. In each case you are given the option to write the changed image to a new file or overwrite the original. These have not been tested. These effects are not available when shooting in X3F mode.

 

Picture Record Menu

Resolution - X3F( always 1420x1060)  or 2432 x 1824 , 2048 x 1536, 1408 x 1056, 640 x 480 JPEG - Odd that no JPEG resolution matches the X3F raw resolution.

Compression (not X3F) - SuperFine, Fine, Normal

Digital Zoom (not X3F or Macro) - On/Off 

Autofocus Assist Beam - On/Off - I have not found this to be particularly effective.

Quick Review (not X3F) - Off, 2 or 5 Seconds

Focus Mode - Auto/Manual - The Auto Focus has 3 distinct rangs of operation - Macro (0.4 to 9 inches), Normal  (9 inches to Infinity) and Far (13ft to infinity at wide, 82ft to infinity at full zoom). Please see the section Manual Controls for more information.

Movie Record Menu

Resolution - 640 x 480, 320 x 240

The menus are well laid out, and relevant settings are easy to find. No real complaints here.

 

File Sizes

Note : JPEG sizes are approximate - they will vary depending on the subject. For these sizes, I used a similar subject for all shots, but nothing very scientific.

X3F (always 1420 x 1060)  about 6.5Mb - this size does not change much, even when photographing a blank sheet of paper. This is a very large file size for a 1420 x 1060 image.

2432 x 1824 - SuperFine 3.0Mb - Fine 1.5Mb - Normal 1Mb

2048 x 1536 - SuperFine 2.3Mb - FIne 1.1Mb - Normal 750k

1408 x 1056 - SuperFine 1.3Mb - Fine 750k - Normal 450k

640 x 480 - SuperFine 340k - Fine 180k - Normal 120k

For those that understand these things Photoshop reports the bits per pixel for these JPEG files as 3.0, 2.0 and 1.0 for SuperFine, Fine and Normal, regardless of resolution. An excellent choice of settings.

 

Timings

No fancy machinery here, I'm afraid - this is just me and a clock with a second hand !

Focusing Speed - Slow  - between 1 and 2 seconds is my best guess, even slower in macro mode. And not intelligent. Focusing takes just as long each time, even when focusing on the same object as previously focused, the camera goes through its whole focus range again. The camera will not take a picture when you do a full press of the shutter if focus is not confirmed before you release the button. It will, however take a picture if focus is not confirmed when you have the shutter button either half or full pressed. Low light indoors focusing is absolutely terrible, even with the focus illuminator enabled, especially with the lens zoomed to anything but full wide angle.

Shutter Lag - I didn't notice any in Manual focus mode or when pre-focused.

Shot to shot - Very slow - There appears to be minimal buffering of the image data. In JPEG mode the time until you can take the next shot varies between 3 and 5 seconds depending on the resolution/compression settings. The screen is blacked out for most of this time. In X3F mode this increases to about 10 seconds. A preview of the image is displayed for the first 6 seconds, then the LCD view returns. But a picture can not be taken for another 4 seconds. Continuous Mode shooting does not improve these times- it just saves you having to press the shutter button again.

Shot review - Again, disappointingly slow. It varies with compression/resolution settings, but approximately 1/2 second to display a 640 x 480 file at Normal compression, 3 seconds to display an X3F file, and 5 seconds to display a 2432 x 1824 file at SuperFine compression. Zooming and panning are also a bit laborious.

Oh dear ! This is a slow, slow camera.

 

raw

Bits and Pieces

Histogram - a live histogram is available when recording and when reviewing. It's a little small but useful, nonetheless.

Auto Power Off - Can be set to Off,  1 or 3 minutes. This does a complete power off - the camera does not seem to have a standby mode.

Lens Retraction - When the mode dial is set to playback, the lens will retract after a while. As far as I can tell, there is no way to stop this, or to review pictures without going into playback mode

X3F Files and Sigma Photo Pro - To all the SD9 and SD10 users out there, I can confirm that SPP 2.1 can read these files correctly. I can not yet comment on how well it handles them.

X3F Files and ThumbsPlus - The RAW plugin works just fine with these files.

X3F Files and Photoshop CS - The RAw plugin works with these files - The size options available are 1420 x 1060 , 2048 x 1529 and 2744 x 2048.

 

Manual Controls

The camera does not give direct access to allow control of shutter speed and aperture, but could the Scene Modes available on the Rotary Dial be used to give some degree of control ?

Please note that the flash mode set by selecting any of these modes can be overridden by the user.

The Scene Modes provided are as follows:-

Macro - Locks the zoom. Sets Auto Focus range to Macro. Sets flash to off. This also seems to throttle down the flash, if re-enabled, which is well controlled in macro shots.

Portrait - Gives priority to a large aperture to blur backgrounds. Sets flash to automatic.

Landscape - Gives priority to a small aperture for maximum depth of field. Sets Auto Focus range to Far. Sets flash to off. There seems to be a bug when using  this mode. If the distance to the subject is outside the limits of the Far autofocus range, the camera will confirm autofocus, but the picture will be out of focus.  Using this mode rather than Automatic does speed up focusing of distant objects slightly.

Night Scene - For taking night shots ? - Sets flash to off - Allows flash to be used with a slow shutter speed, for shooting people in front of night scenes. Curiously, the Auto Focus range here is set to the Far focus range with the near distances halved.(so 6.5ft and 43ft near limits). This mode suffers from the same apparent bug as the landscape mode.

I was hoping that these scene modes could be used to give limited control over the aperture for normal shooting. It turns out that the Auto Focus range limits applied by some modes mean that only the Portrait mode is generally useful in this context when Auto Focus is used. 

If you are prepared to use Manual Focus, however, things are very different. There are no details of this in the manual, so this is based entirely on my own experience. In Manual Focus, the entire focusing range is available whatever mode the dial is set to. The most obvious use for this is to obtain greater depth of field when shooting macro shots. Put the dial mode into Landscape and manually focus and the job's done.

Manual Focus - Landscape Mode - Camera selects f7.6

Manual Focus - Portrait Mode - Camera selects f2.6

Unfortunately, the lack of any manual focusing aids can make this a tricky affair. Also note that the flash will not throttle down as it does when Macro mode is selected.

From the manual for Auto and Night Shot mode - "When the flash is used for shooting in low lighting conditions, the camera cannot set an auto focus but switches to a fixed focus." Great idea! You're using flash, it's too dark to auto focus, so fix the focus to the flash range and fire away. I can not yet confirm this.

 

Battery Life

No figures are quoted in the manual, but so far it does not look particularly good. I am currently using an external battery pack attached to the AC socket, which works fine.

 

Software

The software supplied for handling the raw X3F files is Polaroid PhotoLab. This appears to be a re-labelled version of Sigma's Photo Pro 2.1 software. This is a powerful and highly regarded package. The 2 programs gave identical results when tested with X3F files from a Sigma SD9 camera. The only visual differences are the PhotoLab logo and a series of '+' signs rather than a number in the magnification loupe strength box. The processing results from PhototoLab and SPP 2.1 have been identical on every picture tried so far. The resolution of saved images is not the same. SPP has options to save the file at Double and Half the resolution, which does exactly what it says giving sizes of 2840 x 2120 and 710 x 530. PhotoLab's options are labelled as Large and Small and produce resolutions of  2460 x 1836 and 820 x 612. A Normal size save produces a resolution of 1420 x 1060 in both programs.

 

Image Quality

Samples from the camera will be posted at http://www.pbase.com/skaliwag/test_shots