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'Super Zoom' Camera Group Test (Q1 2009)

January 2009 | By Simon Joinson

Compact Camera Group Test
Group 5: SLR-like 'super zoom' cameras

You don't need to be on safari to appreciate the benefits of a big zoom range (in fact the target audience for many of the cameras in this group is what's known in the US as the 'soccer mom' market), and in the last few years the super zoom sector has grown dramatically with at least one model in most manufacturers' lineup. The appeal of being able to shoot everything from a sweeping landscape or cramped interior to a tightly framed telephoto shot with a single affordable - and relatively compact - camera is easy to understand; finding your way through the sea of seemingly very similar models is more of a challenge. We decided to look at seven of the latest models to find out if they are as similar in performance as they are in specification and design.

It's easy to see the appeal of superzoom cameras when you look at these two shots, both taken from the same position within seconds of each other. These images (taken with the Olympus SP-565 UZ) represent the greatest range currently offered in a compact camera lens, 20x (26-520mm equivalent in this case).

One of the advantages of a smaller sensor is that, compared to an SLR, you need a much smaller lens, and it's possible to fit a huge 10x, 12x or even higher zoom range into something small enough to be considered portable. As far back as 2000 Sony and Olympus had models with 10x zooms that, though bulky (and expensive) compared to modern superzooms, were a lot smaller and a lot less pricey than a digital SLR with lenses covering the equivalent range. And those key advantages - price and portability - have ensured that the superzoom camera has remained popular despite the arrival of the budget digital SLR.

These superzoom cameras incorporate such large zoom ranges that, if you were to try to match on a film camera, you'd end up with something so large and imposing you'd expect it to need a special weapons export licence. Even on these small-sensor cameras, the lenses tend to be large enough to dominate the design of the camera. The result is that most of these superzooms are designed to look like SLRs - a hand-grip with a large protruding tube at the front.

The race of competitive advantage has seen the average zoom range extend from a ambitious 10X to the current generation of cameras that includes models that double that figure. The good news is that, as well as engaging in an arms race to see who can put the largest zoom ratio sticker on the front of the camera, manufacturers have also started to expand the wide end of lens.

All seven models in this group offer zoom ranges of at least 12x, covering ranges from modest wideangle to super telephoto, and all feature some form of optical or mechanical image stabilization - essential when working at such extreme magnifications. Other common features include electronic viewfinders, full photographic control and, for the most part, they have a pretty similar design (there are a few models here that you'd struggle to tell apart if you removed the nameplate). Looking at the specification we suspect that several of these cameras actually have the same lens (manufacturers often buy the lenses for their compact cameras from third party suppliers).

The test cameras

Although not the first to market with an SLR-like superzoom camera, there's no doubt that Panasonic did an awful lot to popularize it with the FZ10 and FZ20 back in 2003/2004. Since then the number of manufacturers wanting a slice of this lucrative pie has grown to include all the major players, and there has been a proliferation of models and a constant battle to push even further the amount of zoom you can squeeze into a single compact lens. We selected seven of the most recent models for this test.

  • Canon Powershot SX10 IS
  • Fujifilm FinePix S2000HD
  • Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd
  • Nikon Coolpix P80
  • Olympus SP-565UZ
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
  • Sony Cybershot DSC-H50

Note: there are several cameras in this group that have already had full reviews - you'll find the links in the relevant sections of this article, and several will be reviewed in full in early 2009.

Finally, many of these cameras are relatively minor upgrades to existing models; check out the links below to read full reviews of cameras that didn't make it into this group and models that precede some of those here (some of the cameras below are still available new, others are discontinued):

Key Spec compared

These are sophisticated cameras with large feature sets, so the bare-bones specifications shown here won't tell you a great deal, but are a good starting point.

 
Canon SX 10 IS • 1/2.3" CCD
• 10.0 MP
80-
1600
28-560mm
(20x)
Lens • 2.5"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
• 0.44"
• 235k
• 640x480
• 30fps
$350
Fujifilm S2000HD • 1/2.3" CCD
• 10.0 MP
100-
6400*
28-414mm
(14.7x)
CCD • 2.7"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
• 0.2"
• 200k
• 720p
• 30fps
$270
Fujifilm S8100fd • 1/2.3" CCD
• 10.0 MP
64-
6400*
27-486mm
(18x)
CCD • 2.5"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD/xD
• 0.24"
• 230k
• 640x480
• 30fps
$250
Nikon P80 • 1/2.33" CCD
• 10.1 MP
64-
6400*
27-486mm
(18x)
CCD • 2.7"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
• 0.24"
• 235k
• 640x480
• 30fps
$340
Olympus SP-565 • 1/2.33" CCD
• 10.0 MP
64-
6400*
26-520mm
(20x)
CCD • 2.5"
• 230k
xD not known • 640x480
• 30fps
$300
Panasonic FZ28 • 1/2.33" CCD
• 10.1 MP
100-
1600
27-486mm
(18x)
Lens • 2.7"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
• 0.2"
• 230k
• 720p
• 30fps
$325
Sony H50 • 1/2.3" CCD
• 9.1 MP
80-
3200
31-465mm
(15x)
Lens • 3.0"
• 230k
Memory
stick
• 0.2"
• 201k
• 640x480
• 30fps
$350

Battery lives quoted in the review are supplied by the manufacturers, based on standardized CIPA tests. The figures, unless otherwise specified, are based on the use of the LCD screen. NiMH refers to 2500 mAh rechargeable cells.

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*highest ISO settings only available at reduced resolution

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Comments

Chiemba
By Chiemba (11 months ago)

My Lumix Fz28 has my picture images hostage SMILE .. I took pictures at granny's party and when I upload the images only a few showed . But when I put the sd card back into the camera I can see all 85 pictures . During my picture taking I change the setting and all pictures after that won't upload . But again I can see them all in my Fz28 .
How do I up load all of my images ?
Thanks in Advance
Chiemba E

0 upvotes