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Compact Superzoom camera group: Real world comparison

On this page you'll find the first of our 'real world' comparison shots taken with each of the cameras in the group. Note that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5 and ZS7 produce identical image quality (as demonstrated here) and images from the ZS7 are shown here to represent results from both cameras. Click on the thumbnail to see the full image.

  • All taken from the same tripod position at approximately 35mm equivalent focal length
  • Auto White Balance and auto (program) exposure
  • Base ISO (lowest setting)

Base ISO Landscape comparison (all cameras at approx 35mm equivalent focal length)

Canon SX210 IS
ISO 80
Casio Exilim EX-FH100
ISO 100
Fujifilm Finepix F80EXR
ISO 100
Fujifilm Finepix JZ500
ISO 100
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 100
Nikon Coolpix S8000
ISO 100
Olympus Stylus Mju 9010
ISO 64
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5/7
ISO 80
Ricoh CX3
ISO 80
Samsung HZ35W
ISO 80
Sony Cybershot DSC-H55
ISO 80
Sony Cybershot DSC-HX5
ISO 125

Base ISO Landscape 100% crops:

Note that for this group test we've included two crops; the lower crop shows each camera's ability to capture fine low contrast detail, and is taken from an area of shade, on the nearside tower.

Canon SX210 IS
ISO 80
Casio Exilim EX-FH100
ISO 100
Fujifilm Finepix F80EXR
ISO 100

Fujifilm Finepix JZ500
ISO 100
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 100
Nikon Coolpix S8000
ISO 100
Olympus Stylus Mju 9010
ISO 64
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5/7
ISO 80
Ricoh CX3
ISO 80

Samsung HZ35W
ISO 80
Sony Cybershot DSC-H55
ISO 80
Sony Cybershot DSC-HX5
ISO 125

Blessed with an unusually prolonged period of bright sunshine for Great Britain (i.e. longer than ten minutes), all of the cameras in this test have delivered a fairly consistant color and exposure. The only significant deviations from the norm are the Casio and the two Sony Cybershots, which have produced slightly warmer results than the other cameras, that - although not strictly 'neutral', are far from objectionable.

In terms of detail reproduction, the worst performers here are the Olympus 9010, the Nikon Coolpix S8000, and the Fujifilm Finepix JZ500, all of which produce fairly muddy results when viewed at 100%, especially in lower-contrast areas. The Nikon Coolpix S8000 is so soft at 100% as to look slightly out of focus. The Fujifilm Finepix F80EXR's innovative multi-mode sensor isn't wonderful when set to HR (12 million pixel output) mode, and although high contrast detail is reasonably well-rendered, lower contrast areas are mushy, with an odd texture at 100%, reminiscent of carpet weave. This is almost certainly a consequence of the unusual way in which picture data is assembled in HR mode, compared to a traditional Bayer-type sensor. Ironically, the F80EXR comes closer to being a 'conventional' digital camera in its DR and SN modes, where its output drops to 6 million pixels.

The Canon Powershot SX210IS gives good results, but like the Fuji pair, Canon appears to be making minimal effort - if any - to correct for chromatic aberration. Coloured fringes around high contrast edges are visible in images shot with the SX210IS, although it's unlikely to show in a small print.

Of all the cameras here, the best results are produced by the Casio Exilim FH-100, which delivers excellent sharpness from its 10 million pixel CMOS sensor, and - perhaps surprisingly - the Kodak EasyShare Z950, which despite its low cost, is capable of detailed, crisp images in favourable conditions like these. But as you can see - there are no 'bad' images in this collection.

Telephoto (long end of zoom)

This is less of a direct comparison as the cameras have slightly different focal length ranges, but gives you an idea of the kind of range offered (these were shot from the same tripod position as the previous shots, but with the crest centred in the frame).

Canon SX210 IS
ISO 80
Casio Exilim EX-FH100
ISO 100
Fujifilm Finepix F80EXR
ISO 100
Fujifilm Finepix JZ500
ISO 100
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 100
Nikon Coolpix S8000
ISO 100
Olympus Stylus Mju 9010
ISO 64
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5/7
ISO 80
Ricoh CX3
ISO 80
Samsung HZ35W
ISO 80
Sony Cybershot DSC-H55
ISO 80
Sony Cybershot HX5
ISO 125

The telephoto capabilities of these cameras vary from 240mm to 392mm (in 35mm film terms), and the total range of their zooms spans 10x - 15x. The camera with the widest zoom range in this test is the Samsung HZ35W, which covers the equivalent of 24-360mm, and it also offers the joint widest-angle setting of 24mm. The Canon Powershot SX210IS offers the greatest telephoto 'reach', but its widest angle setting is far from shabby either, at 28mm (equivalent). At 35mm the Kodak Easyshare's widest angle setting is the least wide of the lenses on show here, but the Z950 comes into its own at the long end of the zoom where it can reach 350mm (equivalent).

Typically, it is at the extremes of lenses like these that we would expect to see the most problems, but we're impressed to see that all of the cameras in this test are at least acceptable, and in some cases, extremely capable at their longest telephoto settings. Some are worse than others - the Nikon Coolpix S8000 is - again - rather soft with visible CA, and the Olympus Stylus Mju 9010 really suffers towards the edges of the frame - but all are good enough for a post-card-sized print or web gallery. The best performers are the Casio FH-100, the Panasonic pair, the Samung (which is excellent considering its reach) and the Kodak Z950, all of which are capable of rendering an impressive amount of detail, albeit not with the same crispness that they can manage towards the wide end of their lenses.

Although we don't pretend to speak for all photographers, we suspect that with cameras of this type, their wideangle performance is likely to be of more interest than how 'long' their lenses can go. There are several reasons why telephoto settings on compacts are often less useful than wideangles, including the need for highly effiicient image stabilization. At focal lengths of 200mm and greater, camera shake is greatly magnified, and all of these cameras' lenses get slow at their long end, typically ending up with a maximum aperture of f5, at least.

Add to this the fact that a typical compact's AF system isn't capable of keeping up with the sorts of subjects that you might traditionally want to capture with a long lens, like wildlife, or sports, and it is easy to see the potential for disappointment. Whilst it is easier for a manufacturer to add longer and longer focal lengths to these sorts of cameras, but there is a strong argument for increased wideangle coverage, purely on the basis of usefulness.

Wide angle

To their credit, camera manufacturers appear to have realised this, and with the exception of the Kodak EasyShare Z950, all of the models in this test offer wideangle settings that are meaningfully 'wide' - i.e. 28mm equivalent or wider. Three actually extend to the equivalent of 24mm, which is impressive given their relatively compact form-factors. The difference between 28mm equivalent at 24mm is much greater than the bare numbers suggest, and it is perennially true that a few millieters makes a lot more difference at the wide end of a zoom than at the long, as you can see by comparing the images below with the telephoto pictures above.

It is obvious from the images shown below that the Kodak's 35mm equivalent wideangle setting is significantly less 'wide' than the other cameras in this group test. Those models that sport a 24mm wideangle setting have a real advantage when it comes to landscape shots like this, where the bottom line is that a wider angle of view means that more of the subject is included in the frame. Image quality from all of these cameras is good at their widest angle, but softness towards the extreme edges of the frame and coloured fringing around edges is visible in almost all of these images. Some cameras correct the fringing better than others (the Casio and Samsung for example show almost none, whilst chromatic aberration can clearly be seen in images from the Canon Powershot SX210IS) but again, at a normal sized print, the playing field is far more level than when the images are viewed at 100% onscreen.

Of greater concern is the relatively poor softness of some of these models, particularly the Nikon Coolpix S8000 and the Ricoh CX3 - both of which really struggle to accurately resolve fine detail in this high-contrast scene. Images from the Nikon simply look smudged at 100%, and sharpness drops off significantly in the corners of the frame. The Ricoh is slightly better in high-contrast areas, but low-contrast detail is smeared into a mush by noise-reduction. The worst edge performance comes from one of the cheapest cameras in this test - the Fujifilm Finepix JZ500, but surprisingly, the absolute cheapest model is one of the better performers. The Kodak Easyshare Z950 might only offer 35mm, but images are sharp and detailed, with good consistancy across the frame. The best performance comes from the Casio Exilim FH-100, which produces excellent sharpness towards the wide end of its zoom.

One of the greatest challenges to getting genuinely wide wideangle performance into wide-ranging zooms like these is managing distortion. As you can see from the images shown here, distortion isn't a major problem with any of the cameras on test, and even at the corners of the frame, straight elements remain straight in all cases. How much of this is down to their lens design, and how much to in-camera correction of the images, is something that cannot easily be established without access to the raw image data. Fortunately, one of these cameras - the Casio Exilim FH-100 - shoots raw, and to see how it corrects distortion in its JPEG output, click here.

Canon SX210 IS
ISO 80
Casio Exilim EX-FH100
ISO 100
Fujifilm Finepix F80EXR
ISO 100
Fujifilm Finepix JZ500
ISO 100
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 100
Nikon Coolpix S8000
ISO 100
Olympus Stylus Mju 9010
ISO 64
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5/7
ISO 80
Ricoh CX3
ISO 80
Samsung HZ35W
ISO 80
Sony Cybershot DSC-H55
ISO 80
Sony Cybershot DSC-HX5
ISO 125
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