Sony HX30v and Canon SX260

Started May 17, 2012 | Discussions thread
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JordanAT
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Sony HX30v and Canon SX260
May 17, 2012

So, after a disappointing day of testing, I picked up a Canon SX260 late this evening. Now, remember that I'm an engineer and the point of this camera is to take pictures of fine details in lousy light, including crack monitors, which look like 0.5mm grid with a red reticle at distances of 20' in some cases. Darned near crazy for my current Lumix TZ5.

Here's what I found:

Left entirely on auto, the Canon has more fine detail at the same coverage angle. The Sony really did smear the fine lines of the crack monitor, and probably would have meant missing the reading for more than about 15' away. The difference was enough to run my CC for $300 to take the Canon home.

I dug a bit more into the performance after getting home, and found that while the Canon has an edge on an iso-equal basis, the Canon really likes choosing ISO1600 in auto mode under just my office lights. The Sony, otoh, prefers to select a lower ISO and lean more on post processing and the OS. As a result, just grabbing the cameras and shooting resulted in the same kind of detail when shot in my office:

The Sony

The Canon. Note: to try and make an apples to apples comparison of subjective visual quality, I warmed up this shot in LR to match, but no other adjustments were made.

The Canon has a slight edge in detail, but it's very minor. I took some photos of my ruler (which I use the field at times, and is similar to a crack monitor), and found that the Canon tended to seek a bit for focus and had a hard time fixing on the black ruler with a completely white background. The Sony was fast and sharp, but also darker and splotchier, and less defined (though not a watercolor effect). Interestingly, the Sony chose a lower iso 640-800, while the Canon would always choose 1600.

Just for kicks, I fired up the P mode on the Sony and took a shot at ISO100. The detail, thanks in part to the higher resolution, was noticably better. The crazy part of that shot is that is was taken as a 1/2 second exposure, handheld. Sure that's within 4 stops of 1/FL, but I'm still amazed that the photo is sharp.

Even at the far end of the plaque, the letters are sharp and readable.

Some other observations:

The Sony feels flimsier - the battery door is lighter and the lock mechanism feels less confident. The plastic of the Sony doesn't inspire confidence in its durability, esp compared to the metal Lumix and metallic feeling Canon. It's noticeably thicker than the Canon.

Without a doubt, the evening/indoor test shots coming off of the Sony were warmer, more contrasty (but not in an ugly way), and slightly less exposed (but good shadow). For casual pictures, I would expect that I would never have to post-process an image from the Sony, but probably would want to do so with the Canon. The lighting, btw, is from CFL cans and the plaque was lit with rather cool (5000+K?) LED low voltage lamps.

I tried both cameras in a very dark room and the Sony produced a marginally useful image with more color and detail than the Canon when set in its high-sensitivity (3MP binned) mode. I don't know whether the Sony would be useful for moving subjects given the multiple exposures taken.

The LCD screen on the Sony is nicer to look at and use. Though both cameras have pop-up flashes, the Canon is slimmer and biased towards the front, allowing me to hold onto the camera with a full two point grip with my left hand. The Sony leaves no room for a finger.

The Canon has no built in memory. That sucks, because there's always a time that I realize I've left all of my memory cards in the office (or in other cameras). Even a small safety net might save me a 30 minute trip to the office and the embarrassment of not having to reschedule an inspection. The Sony has enough for 40 pictures in a pinch (at 5MP). The Canon also cannot charge a battery internally. Again, if I'm in the field with a dead battery I'm stuck; with the Sony I can plug the camera into the car charger with a uUSB cable and still salvage a few shots in a short time.

I will have to take a few more shots before I decide which one will not go into my site bag. The look of the watercolors in fine, repetitive detail areas and the high level of JPG compression used by the Sony definitely detracts from the image quality, but I think realistically it may not matter as much as I had feared since it seems to be limited to fine detail and highly repetitive areas (foliage, grass).

I think the Sony will provide better shots in many situations right out of the camera, and is almost certainly the better camera if you can handle using 4-5MP images and never worry about the look at 100%.

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