COMPARING SUPER ZOOM BRIDGE CAMERAS OR WHY I BOUGHT THE FZ200

Started Apr 7, 2013 | User reviews thread
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DoctorJerry
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COMPARING SUPER ZOOM BRIDGE CAMERAS OR WHY I BOUGHT THE FZ200
Apr 7, 2013

I have included in this group of -bridge super zoom cameras (aka hybrid cameras) only those with some type of viewfinder. In my opinion cameras with zoom range of 24x optical or more zoom need a viewfinder, desperately need a viewfinder, should NOT be marketed without one. Sony, Nikon and Olympus have cameras with zoom ranges in excess of 24x optical without viewfinders and I have excluded them from this list. Those excluded cameras are the Olympus SP820UZ, Nikon L820, and the Sony H200. I only have limited info on some of the cameras listed because DPReview doesn't list those details as yet.

MEGAPIXELS (MP)

Having a large number of pixels populating a sensor offers some advantages, BUT AT A VERY HIGH PRICE. That high price comes in two versions, (1) increased noise (grain) (2) a decrease in image sharpness as the camera automatically applies varying amounts of noise reduction (NR) in order to minimize the noise. An advantage of having a large number of pixels is (1)  the ability to greatly crop the image while still retaining enough pixels to make a fairly large print and (2) some increase in the available dynamic range.

ZOOM RANGE

For many people, the greater the zoom range the better the camera or at least the more desirable the camera. However, there are also trade-offs to be considered. For most lenses, the brightness of the lens decreases, i.e., the bigger F stop (f2.8-f3.2) which is available at the wide angle setting is greatly reduced to f5.6-f6.5 at the long end of the zoom range.  That change can require a slower shutter speed and/or the need to use a higher ISO setting. Pictures taken at the long end of the zoom range tend to be less sharp as the ability of the camera’s image stabilization to minimize camera movement is often pushed beyond its ability. Color fringing at both the wide angle and long zoom settings is not uncommon with extreme zoom cameras and neither is some distortion or so called “pin cushion” affect. An increase in both weight and bulk is also common as the zoom range grows.

Some people fail to recognize the viable alternatives some cameras offer in exchange for having very long zoom ranges. As an example, the Panasonic FZ200 has their EZ Zoom which increases the zoom range as the resolution is changed from 12MP down to 8MP or even 5MP. There is NO image degradation since no digital zoom is applied. You will be limited to some extent on how large an image you can print without spending some time with Photoshop. Sony seems to offer something similar. Most of the cameras offer some version of a limited amount of zooming while preserving most details. Canon has a digital tele-converter which does apply a limited amount of digital zooming with only a minimal negative impact on image quality. Please note, I am not advocating digital zooming but need to point out some viable alternatives to having the biggest zoom range. If you view using the long end of your zoom a great deal then checking out the longer zoom ranges make a great deal of sense, but if you do NOT view that in your immediate future and/or are not planning a trip to Africa, then a camera with a faster lens may be worth taking a closer look at.

APERTURE

Most of the cameras start off at a fairly fast f2.8 to 3.1 but change rapidly to a much slower aperture as you zoom out. As noted above, this can have a significant impact on what you can accurately capture. In bright light the change has minimal impact. If you were going to take a picture at f2.8, 1/600 second at ISO 100 when at wide angle and then you zoomed in, you may have to shoot at f5.6, 1/150 second (or slower) still at ISO 100. But image stabilization (IS) may only offer a 2 or 3 stop advantage so you should be shooting at least at 1/300 second, probably even 1/800-1/1000 second still at ISO 100. Crank up the ISO a bit and you can probably shoot at that higher shutter speed but you will be paying the price of added noise in your images along with reduced sharpness.

It is critical to point out an important rule in photography that relates to the proper shooting speed. That rule says that the MINIMUM shooting speed when zoomed out should be at least 1 over the zoom in 35mm equivalents. If zoomed out to a maximum of 1000mm (in 35mm film terms) then the minimum shutter speed should be 1 over 1000 or 1/1000thsecond. Image stabilization would normally reduce that by 2 to 4 stops, or down to 1/250th  to 1/60thof a second. That rule also assumes that both the photographer and the subject are standing still, NOT MOVING.

Another advantage and one that may even be more important to you is the ability to blur the background, to better isolate the subject. As it is, most small sensors such as those used in these cameras, already have a difficult time blurring backgrounds. As you are forced into using a smaller aperture (f5.6-f8-f11) your ability to blur the background is much more difficult, sometimes impossible.

EVF –ELECTRONIC VIEWFINDER

In general, the more pixels or dots the viewfinder has the better the detail, the easier it is to evaluate image sharpness. Another factor is how fast is the image updated, refreshed? That bit of data is not easily found. I have found data on pixels in the EVF but here again, that is only a part of the story. The viewing size also has a major impact on how easy it is to use the EVF. Here again, the data is not readily available. This is a rapidly changing area so I strongly suggest that you take your time in checking out the  viewfinder of any camera that you are considering. An eye sensor that switches automatically from the LCD to the EVF is a definite plus factor. Only the Fujifilm SL1000 seems to have one but I am unsure since the available data on the Sony cameras is not clear on that subject. Sony uses an eye sensor on their NEX 6 and 7 cameras so I wonder if they may also be using it on these new models as well.

LCD

Just like the EVF, the more pixels or dots the more detailed the image displayed. In general, the more pixels the brighter the image is as well and therefore the easier it is to use the LCD in bright light. Another important factor to consider when examining the LCD is does it move? Some LCDs tilt, i.e., rotate up or down while others rotate up and down as well as swing away from the body of the camera. I have used T in the note section to indicate a TILTING LCD while the letter A indicates a fully articulating LCD. The articulating LCD has several advantages,(1) the LCD can be rotated so as to place the glass against the camera body to protect it (2) makes it easier to take pictures on the sly, unobserved, (3) and like the tilting LCD, makes shooting over a crowd or near the ground far easier.

SENSOR

All the cameras discussed here but two use a 1/2.3" BSI-CMOS sensor. This is the same sized sensor used in almost all of the typical Point and Shoot cameras. However with all of these cameras, the sensor is a BSI-CMOS sensor which has a much higher level of performance than the same sized CCD sensor found in the P&S cameras. The sensor used in the Fujifilm X-S1 is the 2/3” BSI-EXR-CMOS, an even larger sensor and one that uses a different arrangement of pixels on the sensor. The EXR CMOS style sensor has proven to be very good in low light and the larger size of that sensor should also contribute to that better low light performance.

The area of the 1/ 2.3” sensor used in most P&S cameras is 28.5mm square while that used in the Fujifilm X-S1 is 58 square mm,  double that of most of the hybrid super zoom cameras.

NOTES

I have used this column to indicate special features which I consider important. The T indicates a tiltable LCD; the A indicates a fully articlulating LCD; the GPS  is used to designate that GPS is built-in; the E indicates that the camera has an eye sensor; the

SP is used to indicate that the camera has a sweep panorama program; the AA shows that AA batteries are used to power the camera; and NR shows that no RAW format is available for that camera. On the chart I highlighted in RED those features that I view as very important. I also used RED in various columns to which camera had the top feature of ALL the cameras in that column.

Conclusion

After going through all the data I find it hard to select a single winner, but one camera, at least for me stands far above all the others in almost every parameter. There were several that tempted me, I even bought one of them, the Panasonic FZ200. Three features on the FZ200 persuaded me, the constant f2.8 lens, the very good EVF, and the articulating LCD. The other camera that I found most interesting (and about $150 more expensive) was the Fujifilm X-S1. This camera does not have a constant f2.8 lens. The size of the sensor in that camera is double that of all the other cameras in this group except the Fujifilm HS50. The X-S1 also had the highest resolution EVF although not very much above the FZ200. That larger sensor should yield better images at higher ISO levels but as i started to put the choices in context, the ability to use lower ISO levels at higher shutter speeds was most appealing. I also found the fully articulating LCD spoke to me the loudest.  The Canon SX50 was also somewhat tempting except for the very mediocre EVF and the relatively slow lens (f3.4-f6.5), the slowest of any of the lenses in this group. Of course, that 50x optical zoom does come at a price.

Summary

No regrets, the FZ200 is one very good camera and has largely replaced my Sony NEX 6 and Olympus PL2. I hope that a newer model will sport the eye sensor.

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 DoctorJerry's gear list:DoctorJerry's gear list
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W620 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 Sony E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS
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