These days, as more and more consumers are coming to compact digital cameras from cell phones, movie mode is one of those features that is an expected part of the camera's specification, rather than a nice addition. Video specification is fast becoming one of the key differentiators between compact digital cameras, and all of the models in this test offer at least 720p video recording - the minimum specification that can be given the all-important (from a marketing perspective) 'High Definition' label. The Canon SX230 HS, Nikon S9100, Panasonic ZS10 and Sony HX9V all offer 'full HD' 1080 video but the HX9V offers the highest-quality video capture mode, of 1080p, at 60i/p.
These pages are based around two samples per camera, all shot at their respective highest quality settings (highest resolution, lowest compression, and AVCHD/Lite format in the two cameras where it is available) with all other settings at default.
A note on all cameras: We assessed video files from all of these models on a top-end desktop computer with a powerful graphics card and an HD LCD display. Footage from all cameras in this group played back with no 'jerkiness' or pauses. If you experience issues playing back these files, you're seeing the limitations of your hardware/internet connection.
Canon Powershot SX230 HS
The Canon Powershot SX230 HS offers full HD video recording of 1920 x 1080p, at 24fps. It is also possible to shoot standard HD video at 720p at 30fps at lower resolutions right down to 320 x 240, also at 30fps. The SX230 HS can also shoot high-speed video, at either 120 or 240fps in 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 pixel resolution, respectively. Audio is recording using a built-in stereo microphone.
The SX230 is one of the better all-around performers of the group and generally produces really nice looking videos. At full zoom, the SX230's image stabilization does a good job of allowing the user to keep a subject in the frame and stable. But like most cameras in the test, in situations where panning is required to track a moving subject at mid to full zoom, things can get a bit jittery (see sample 1 below).
When zooming in and out while recording, continuous AF remains fast and is barely noticeable, especially in bright conditions like this, but low contrast and low light scenarios can cause auto focus to hunt a little bit at times. In really low light scenes, the SX230's noise reduction leaves scenes looking relatively detailed (see sample 2 below). In terms of sound, the mic has a setting to block wind noise which works pretty well in outdoor situations, and in use doesn't have a noticeably detrimental effect on the quality of other sounds being recorded.
Sample video 1
In this sample we tracked a speedboat horizontally at full zoom to show the SX230's ability to pan and maintain focus.
|1920 x 1080 24 fps, .MOV file, 11 sec. 47 MB Click here to download original .MOV file|
Sample video 2
This is sample from inside a club with very poor artificial colored lighting. You can see the lens trying to find focus a few times in the clip, but in terms of color this sample is very accurate.
|1920 x 1080 24 fps, .MOV file, 14 sec. 60 MB Click here to download original .MOV file|
Nikon Coolpix S9100
The Nikon Coolpix S9100 can shoot 'full' HD video footage at 1080p and 30fps, but also offers a range of lower resolution video capture modes, right down to VGA (640 x 480). Like the Canon SX230 HS it also offers two ultra high-speed modes, which capture video at 240 and 120fps respectively. Of arguably more use are two additional high-speed modes, which can be used to capture 720p video at 60fps, and full HD 1080p footage at a more modest 15fps. Audio is recorded courtesy of an in-built stereo microphone in the S9100's top plate. The S9100's lens can be zoomed during recording, at a reduced speed in order to minimise motor noise on the soundtrack.
Video footage from the S9100 is excellent, and although it can't quite compete with the 1080p, 60i/p modes of the Panasonic ZS10 and Sony HX9, 30fps is good enough for smooth rendition of moderately fast motion. Detail capture from the S9100's HD footage is high too, as we'd expect from the 1080p specification. Drop the resolution down a little bit to 720p and you get access to a useful 60fps frame rate, which might come in handy for some applications, such as sports and fast action. Color and sharpness are excellent at all video settings, but we're a little concerned about the efficacy of the S9100's VR system in video mode. Sensor-shift VR is not available in video mode, leaving only electronic VR in operation. On its own, this simple isn't enough to keep video footage shake-free, particularly at the long end of the zoom. The S9100 offers single or continuous AF in video capture, and continuous is a better choice if you need to use the zoom, since in single AF, focus is lost when the lens is zoomed in or out significantly from it's starting point.
Sample video 1Video footage from the S9100 is very detailed, as you can see from this clip. This clip also demonstrates the limitations of the S9100's built-in stereo microphone, when dealing with multidirectional sound. As the camera is slowly panned across the stadium the soundtrack becomes rather 'boomy'. As the camera is panned you can also see the exposure changing in response to the brightness of the scene.
|1920 x 1080 30 fps, .MOV file, 42 sec. 73 MB Click here to download original .MOV file|
Sample video 2This video shows how effective the S9100's built-in microphone is at close range, but also demonstrates the amount of distortion which is visible at the wideangle setting of 25mm (equivalent). Take a look at the vertical post which is panned past at about 5 seconds and again at 10 seconds. This barrel distortion is corrected in still capture, but not in video footage.
|1920 x 1080 30 fps, .MOV file, 20 sec. 35 MB Click here to download original .MOV file|
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 is second only to the Sony Cyber-shot HX9 when it comes to video specification. The ZS10 can record full HD AVCHD video footage at 60i (in NTSC regions - 50i in PAL) from a 60p sensor output. AVCHD footage is a great choice for viewing on HD televisions but you also have the option to shoot in Motion JPEG mode at three resolutions, 720p, VGA (480 x 640) or QVGA (320 x 240). Sound is recorded in stereo, by microphones built into the camera's top plate. The ZS10 also has a wind cut feature, designed to reduce the sound of wind in recorded footage. The ZS10's lens can be zoomed during recording, at a reduced speed.
Video is a traditional strength of Panasonic's Lumix series, and as we've come to expect, the ZS10 produces crisp, detailed HD footage and excellent sound reproduction. Although it can't quite match the Sony HX9's maximum quality 1080p, 60p footage, video clips from the ZS10 are of a very high quality and look great when played back on a computer screen and HD television. Saturation and sharpness are high, and although the ZS10's continuous AF system can hunt a little when the camera is panned during filming, it is stable during zooming, and generally extremely accurate. The ZS10's Power O.I.S. system is excellent too, and really helps to keep camera-shake down to an absolute minimum even when the lens is zoomed to its maximum telephoto setting.
Sample video 1This video was shot hand-held at the ZS10's longest telephoto setting of 384mm, and shows how effective Panasonic's Power O.I.S is at stabilizing the footage when the camera is stationary, and panned.
|1920 x 1080 60 fps, .MTS file, 49 sec. 108 MB Click here to download original .MTS file|
Sample video 2This clip showcases the abilities of the ZS10's built-in stereo microphone. Sound is crisp and clear, without any distracting background sounds. The lens was zoomed several times during filming, and as you can hear (or not) the lens zoom motor is inaudible on the soundtrack.
|1920 x 1080 60 fps, .MTS file, 60 sec. 132 MB Click here to download original .MTS file|
The Pentax RZ10 offers the most basic video mode of the cameras in this group test, and can only capture a maximum of 720p Motion JPEG video footage at 30fps. It is also possible - as with its peers - to set lower video resolutions, right down to QVGA (320 x 240). Sound is recorded with a single built-in microphone, the lens cannot be zoomed during recording, and nor can AF be re-acquired.
Due to the RZ10's lower resolution its video quality already a step behind the competition, but all else being equal 720p is enough resolution to produce great videos for web viewing, and still the Pentax is only average. In bright daylight conditions with subjects in focus, the RZ10's videos appear soft, and the magenta cast problem we observed on the LCD screen while taking pictures is clearly visible in this video.
On the plus side, the camera's CCD-shift does a decent job of reducing camera shake while recording video (see this sample). And in the second sample video below, the camera's mic excels in a very loud setting.
Sample video 1
Although the lighting was very poor in this video, the sound is recorded surprisingly well. The RZ10 has a mic on the top of the body used to record sound, and despite the music being extremely loud in this club, it managed to record it without any clipping.
|1280 x 720 30 30 fps, .AVI file, 15 sec. 44 MB Click here to download original .AVI file|
Sample video 2
This clip is shot inside of a market at the RZ10's widest angle, and the scene remains in focus throughout the video during camera movement.
|1280 x 720 30 30 fps, .AVI file, 28 sec. 84 MB Click here to download original .AVI file|
The Samsung WB210 sits towards the bottom of this group of cameras in terms of video specification, and like the Pentax RZ10 is limited to a maximum video resolution of 720p at 30fps, with mono sound recording. Unlike the RZ10, though, it is possible to zoom the WB210's lens whilst shooting video footage (at a slower rate than normal to reduce motor noise) and continuous AF is possible.
The video quality of the files produced by the WB210 are good enough for upload and web sharing, although when viewed at 100% on an HD monitor can appear visibly soft. In addition, the optical image stabilization is not as effective as others in this group, resulting in somewhat shaky videos, especially when filming with the lens fully zoomed.
Sample video 1
This video illustrates the WB210's optical image stabilization in action. While it doesn't completely mitigate all camera shake while in-hand it's definitely helpful when filming at the long end of the zoom.
|1280 x 720 30 fps, .MP4 file, 19 sec. 22 MB Click here to download original .MOV file|
Sample video 2
In this video you can see that the WB210 maintains a consistent exposure while filming and panning across an unevenly lit scene.
|1280 x 720 30 fps, .MP4 file, 21 sec. 24 MB Click here to download original .MOV file|
Sony Cyber-shot HX9
The HX9V records the highest quality video of this group test. Like the Panasonic ZS10, the HX9 can record full HD footage in the AVCHD format, but can do so at a maximum frame rate of 60 progressive frames per second. If you don't need this level of quality, it is also possible to shoot at more modest resolutions, from 720p down to VGA, at 30fps. Sound is recorded by built-in stereo microphones, and the HX9's lens can be zoomed during video recording. AF is also possible, in continuous mode.
With 2 levels of image stabilization it is possible to choose one that fits your shooting situation best. STD mode works best when on a tripod or hand-held and ACT mode is primarily for use while recording while walking. The HX9V's optical image stabilization system does very well at keeping the video smooth when shooting at the full end of the zoom even with fast panning as seen in the 'Sample video 2' below.
Currently Vimeo does not support 60p video, so to see the full benefit of the Sony HX9's maximum video quality you should download the full original files via the links below the embeds to access the non-transcoded .MTS files.
Sample video 1
This video is a good example of the kind of rich color reproduction and fine detail that you can expect from the HX9V.
|1920 x 1080 60 fps, .MTS file, 20 sec. 67 MB Click here to download original .MTS file|
Sample video 2
Even with quick panning movements while zoomed at the full telephoto end of the zoom the HX9V does a respectable job of stabilizing this video without over-correcting.
|1920 x 1080 60 fps, .MTS file, 12 sec. 38 MB Click here to download original .MTS file|