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Superzoom camera group: Real world comparison (cont)

Social flash snapshots:

Below you'll find the final set of our 'real world' comparison shots taken with each of the cameras in the group. Click on the thumbnail to see the full image.

One of the most common uses for compact cameras is for social 'snaps' of friends and family, and in anything but the brightest light this means using flash. This test allowed us to not only check each camera's flash performance, but also to find out how well they cope with focusing and face detection in more challenging conditions (like a dimly lit bar).

In the resultant shots we're looking first and foremost for accurate focus and exposure and pleasing color balance (flash can produce very cool / bluish results - not ideal for flattering skin tones). We're also looking at how well the red-eye reduction works (some cameras use a simple 'preflash' system, others actually find and remove red-eye once the picture has been taken, and some even do both). Red-eye reduction is useful but less critical than overall color/focus/exposure as it's easy to remove in post processing (and many printing labs do it for you automatically).

  • All taken from the same position at very similar zoom settings (subject distance approx. 5 feet)
  • Auto or Intelligent Auto mode
  • Face detection AF activated (where available)
Canon SX210 IS
ISO 400
Casio Exilim EX-FH100
ISO 400
Fujifilm Finepix F80EXR
ISO 400
Fujifilm Finepix JZ500
ISO 1600
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 200
Nikon Coolpix S8000
ISO 250
Olympus Stylus Mju 9010
ISO 200
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5/7
ISO 320
Ricoh CX3
ISO 1600
Samsung HZ35W
ISO 200
Sony Cybershot DSC-H55
ISO 400
Sony Cybershot DSC-HX5
ISO 400

One of the interesting things about this test is how many of the cameras in this group give more or less the same results. Almost all of these cameras are capable of excellent exposure, and pleasant color. Those that aren't, like the Fujifilm pair, have clearly been fooled into underexposure by the tungsten backlighting. The Olympus has given good results, but absolutely refused to focus on this scene - eventually one of the subjects held up a cellphone to provide a point of bright contrast, and we locked focus from that.

Focusing issues were very much a factor in this test, and the only camera that had no problems with focusing was the Canon SX210.The Canon actually coped best overall in this tricky environment, and immediately increased the gain on its LCD screen to provide a useable preview image. It also detected both faces, and delivered an excellent exposure, with a good balance between flash and backlighting.

Remember that these images are shot in full auto mode, so the camera has complete control, including over ISO. All of the cameras here have increased the ISO sensitivity above their base, but not generally by much. Only two cameras have risked setting an ISO higher than 400 - the Ricoh CX3 and Fujifilm JZ500. The Ricoh gives a good, well-balanced exposure with a decent level of detail (albeit rather noisy in low-contrast areas) but the Fuji fails spectacularly. The JZ500 is one of only two cameras here without an AF assist lamp, too (alongside the Olympus) which is a huge handicap in this sort of environment, and can lead (as it did in this case) to a lot of frustration and out of focus images.

The best results in this test come from the Sony HX5, the Samsung, and the Nikon and Olympus, both of which show the benefit of their extra pixels. The Ricoh gives a well-balanced exposure, but the high ISO setting and the associated noise reduction takes the edge off detail resolution, and the color balance is a little too yellow for our taste. Redeye isn't a problem in any of these images, which is good to see (or rather not see).

Flash shot 100% crops:

Canon SX210 IS
ISO 400
Casio Exilim EX-FH100
ISO 400
Fujifilm Finepix F80EXR
ISO 400
Fujifilm Finepix JZ500
ISO 1600
Kodak EasyShare Z950
ISO 200
Nikon Coolpix S8000
ISO 250
Olympus Stylus Mju 9010
ISO 200
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5/7
ISO 320
Ricoh CX3
ISO 1600
Samsung HZ35W
ISO 200
Sony Cybershot DSC-H55
ISO 400
Sony Cybershot DSC-HX5
ISO 400

At 100%, none of these cameras are disappointingly bad (apart from the JZ500, but that's a different issue) and all are capable of resolving a decent amount of detail - certainly enough for a small or medium sized print. The image from the Ricoh is the noisiest, but it's not drastic. The haziest output comes - again - from the Canon SX210IS, which despite producing a good, well-balanced exposure, just can't deliver the sort of detail at a pixel level of many of the other cameras. Again though, this isn't an issue at normal print sizes or when images are resized for viewing on a computer screen.

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