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Compact Camera Group Test: Travel Zooms

June 2010 | By Barney Britton


The so-called 'Travel Zoom' category hasn't been around long - in fact the first camera that could really lay claim to the label was the Panasonic TZ1, released in 2006. The idea of a wide zoom lens in a genuinely compact form factor (as opposed to a 'bridge' or DSLR type) has obvious mass appeal, and as a result, all of the major camera manufacturers (and a couple of the minor ones too) have been pulling out all the stops in an effort to cater for this demand.

As a consequence, this group test covers a lot more cameras than the last test of this type, which we published a year ago. Since then, new wide-zoom compact lines have been introduced, from the likes of Casio and Nikon, and established ones, like Panasonic's ZS/TZ series, have matured.

The cameras in this group test are all designed for maximum versatility whilst still remaining compact. As such, they all feature 10x zooms or greater, the widest focal length on offer being 24mm, and the longest, 392mm (equivalent).

The appeal of so-called 'travel zooms' is obvious. If you've ever taken a DSLR away on vacation you'll know just how much bulk it takes up in your luggage. For a lot of people, even die-hard DSLR users, carrying a large camera around all day is just a pain. For most of us, the lower weight and associated versatility of a compact more than outweighs the inevitable penalty in performance compared to a larger format interchangeable lens camera.

All of the cameras in this roundup test are small compared to a DSLR, and although none is exactly in the 'ultra compact' class, pretty much all of them are pocketable, despite packing enormous zoom ranges. Even the cheapest camera in this group, the Kodak EasyShare Z950, covers an impressive 10x optical zoom range equivalent to 35-350mm.

Zooms of this type are made possible because the sensors inside these cameras are tiny compared to the sensors inside DSLRs. Because the size of a lens is directly related to its required imaging circle, the smaller the imaging circle (defined by the dimensions of the sensor) the smaller the lens needs to be. The sensors in these cameras are almost all the same size, around 1/2.3in, which equates to actual dimensions of 6.1x4.6mm - much smaller than any interchangeable lens camera.

The test cameras

As the travel zoom marketplace has expanded, the technology has advanced. One of the most noticeable effects of the increased competition in this sector is the increased sophistication of the products, especially as regards the angle of view covered by the lenses.

Whereas 35mm used to be considered a 'standard' wideangle, many of the cameras we're looking at here range from 24mm well beyond 200mm, which in theory, makes them just as capable when tackling intimate interiors and landscapes as distant telephoto shots. The Samsung HZ35W/WB650 covers the widest range, from 24mm at the wide end to 360mm tele, but none of these cameras can be justly criticized for not packing enough lens for their asking price.

  • Canon SX210 IS
  • Casio EX-FH100
  • Fujfiilm FinePix F80EXR
  • Fujifilm FinePix JZ500
  • Kodak EasyShare Z950
  • Olympus Mju 9010*
  • Nikon Coolpix S8000
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5 & 7 (TZ8 and TZ10 in Europe)
  • Ricoh CX3
  • Samsung HZ35W (WB650 in Europe)
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5

*Note: Unlike its predecessor the µ/Stylus 9000, the µ-9010 is not available in the United States.

Key Spec compared

Naturally, there's a lot more to these cameras than these 'bare bones' of specification, but this table is a good enough guide to the main features of all of the models we're testing here. As you can see, some specifications, especially as regards sensor size and ISO span, are more or less standard from model to model, but there are a few distinctions.

 
Canon Powershot SX210 IS • 1/2.3" CCD
• 14.1 MP
80-
1600
28-392mm
(14x)
Lens • 3.0"
• 230k
SDHC/
SDXC/SD
• 720p
• 30fps
$299
Casio EX-FH100 • 1/2.3" CMOS
• 10.6 MP
100-
3200
24-240mm
(10x)
CCD • 3"
• 430k
SDHC/
SD
• 720p
• 30fps
$284
Fujfiilm FinePix F80EXR • 1/2" CCD
• 12 MP
100-
1600 (12800*)
27-270mm
(10x)
CCD • 3.0"
• 230K
SDHC/
SD
• 720p
• 24fps
$258
Fujifilm FinePix JZ500 • 1/2.33" CCD
• 14.1 MP
100-1600
(3200*)
28-280mm
(10x)
CCD • 2.7"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
• 720p
• 24fps
$199
Kodak EasyShare Z950 • 1/2.3" CCD
• 12.0 MP
100-
1600
35-350mm
(10x)
Lens • 3.0"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
• 720p
• 30fps
$159
Nikon Coolpix S8000 • 1/2.3" CCD
• 14.0 MP
100-
3200
30-300mm
(10x)
Lens • 3.0"
• 921k
SDHC/
SD
• 720p
• 30fps
$240
Olympus Mju 9010 • 1/2.33" CCD
• 14.0 MP
64-
1600
28-280mm
(10x)
Lens • 2.7"
• 230k
SDHC/SD • 720p
• 30fps
£221
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5 (TZ8 in Europe) • 1/2.33" CCD
• 12.1 MP
80-
1600
25-300mm
(12x)
Lens • 3.0"
• 460k
SDHC/
SDXC/SD
• 720P
• 30fps
$238
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 (TZ10 in Europe) • 1/2.33" CCD
• 12.1 MP
80-
1600
25-300mm
(12x)
Lens • 3.0"
• 460k
SDHC/
SDXC/SD
• 720P
• 30fps
$315
Ricoh CX3 • 1/2.3" CMOS
• 10.0 MP
80-
3200
28-300mm
(10.7x)
CMOS • 3.0"
• 920k
SDHC/
SD
• 720p
• 30fps
$347
Samsung HZ35W (WB650 in Europe) • 1/2.3" CCD
• 12MP
80-
3200
24-360mm
(15x)
Lens • 3.0"
• VGA AMOLED
SDHC/
SD
• 720p
• 30fps
$349
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 • 1/2.3" CCD
• 14.1 MP
80-
3200
25-250mm
(10x)
Lens • 3.0"
• 230K
Memory Stick/SD • 720p
• 30fps
$199
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5 • 1/2.3" CMOS
• 10.1 MP
125-
3200
25-250mm
(10x)
Lens • 3.0"
• 230K
Memory Stick/SD • 1080i
$329

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.

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*Highest ISO settings only available at reduced resolution

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