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Budget camera group: Studio comparison (base ISO)

On this page you'll find our standard studio comparison shot taken with each of the cameras in the group. Click on the thumbnail to see the full image.

  • All taken from the same tripod position roughly half way through the zoom range
  • Manual white balance where available (nearest preset used where not - indicated with a *1)
  • Aperture Priority or Manual mode where available
  • Luminance matched (middle grey ~L50)
  • Lighting: Daylight simulation, >98% CRI

Base ISO studio comparison:

All digital cameras produce their best output at the lowest ISO setting, and this is particularly true of compacts, where the very small sensors and high pixel densities mean that noise becomes an issue as soon as you start to move up the ISO range. We use this studio test as a quick and easy way to get an overall impression of what each camera's sensor and lens are capable of, particularly in respect to resolution, edge-to-edge sharpness and contrast.

A couple of points to be aware of when looking at the crops below (and the full resolution images if you choose to download them): firstly these are for the most part pretty simple cameras, and most lack any form of manual exposure control, so we can't choose the aperture we're shooting at. Some also only offer 0.5 EV exposure compensation steps (which makes matching their brightnesses more difficult).

Finally, and most importantly, there are several models in this group that don't have a manual (custom) white balance option, meaning that they produce images with a color cast when working under our studio lights. In these cases we've experimented with auto white balance and the various presets to get the most neutral result but you can't judge the color response of those cameras from this shot (there's some 'real world' images later in this article).

It's worth mentioning that you need to be aware that the 100% crops shown here are slightly unrepresentative of the kind of enlargement at which typical users of budget cameras will be viewing their photographs. With 10 million pixels, for example, the 100% crops are roughly the same as looking quite closely at a print around 50 inches across.

If you're only ever going to produce 6x4 inch prints the best way to assess each camera is to download the full resolution images on this page (and elsewhere in the group test) and produce some prints yourself - or simply look at them on-screen at a lower magnification (if they look ok to you when reduced to fill a 20" screen you'll be happy with standard sized prints from them).

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 80
Canon PowerShot A590 IS
ISO 80
Kodak EasyShare C1013 *1
ISO 64
Fujifilm Z20fd *1
ISO 64
Nikon L18 *2
ISO 64
Olympus FE-360 *1
ISO 64
Panasonic DMC-LZ8
ISO 100
Samsung L210
ISO 80
Sony Cybershot W120 *1
ISO 100

100% crops: center

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 80
Canon PowerShot A590 IS
ISO 80
Kodak EasyShare C1013 *1
ISO 64

Fujifilm Z20fd *1
ISO 64
Nikon L18 *2
ISO 64
Olympus FE-360 *1
ISO 64
Panasonic DMC-LZ8
ISO 100
Samsung L210
ISO 80
Sony Cybershot W120 *1
ISO 100

As well as giving us a feel for the sharpness of each camera this particular area of the frame is useful for spotting any noise reduction being applied at base ISO (common in budget cameras as a way to disguise the shortfalls of a less than stellar sensor). Although there's not that much to choose between any of these cameras there are some (such as the Samsung and Olympus) that show strong evidence of noise reduction smearing even at base ISO. The best detail comes from the Canon and Sony models, with the Fuji Z20fd and Kodak not far behind. The Nikon L18 and Panasonic LZ8 are quite soft, and as mentioned, the Samsung and Olympus both look a bit 'over processed' when viewed this closely.

100% crops: Edge

The crops below are taken from nearer to the edge of the frame (cheaper lenses tend to fall off in sharpness as you move away from the center).

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 80
Canon PowerShot A590 IS
ISO 80
Kodak EasyShare C1013 *1
ISO 64

Fujifilm Z20fd *1
ISO 64
Nikon L18 *2
ISO 64
Olympus FE-360 *1
ISO 64
Panasonic DMC-LZ8
ISO 100
Samsung L210
ISO 80
Sony Cybershot W120 *1
ISO 100

Here the differences are more pronounced; Canon's budget model (the A470) was one of the best in the group when we looked at the center of the frame, but looks far less impressive at the edge (the more advanced Canon A590 IS does a much better job). The Fuji and (to a lesser extent) Olympus and Panasonic models also show a fall off in sharpness as we move to the edge of the frame, whilst the Canon A590IS and the Nikon, Sony, Samsung and Kodak models all seem pretty consistent.

ISO 400 compared

As mentioned above most cameras can produce perfectly acceptable results at their lowest ('base') ISO setting. Despite all the marketing hype surrounding super high ISO modes (of up to 12,800 in some cases) the truth is that all small sensor cameras start to struggle as you raise the ISO. We'll look at the performance of each camera at really high ISO settings on the next page, but before we do, let's have a quick look at how they do at ISO 400.

ISO 400 is important because it's the setting you're most likely to use for indoor flash shots (see later) and is usually the highest setting where compact cameras still produce what we would consider to be 'acceptable' output; anything higher and the problems of noise and strong noise reduction (which smears away detail) really start to take their toll. In 2008 we feel it's fair to expect any compact camera to produce a usable result, with the main difference being the balance of visible noise and the destructive effect of noise reduction. So let's see how the cameras in our group fare.

Note that the Nikon L18 has no manual ISO control, so - try as we might - we couldn't get it to shoot at ISO 400 in the studio, meaning we have no sample for it.

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 400
Canon PowerShot A590 IS
ISO 400
Kodak EasyShare C1013 *1
ISO 400

Fujifilm Z20fd *1
ISO 400
Olympus FE-360*1
ISO 400
Panasonic DMC-LZ8
ISO 400
Samsung L210
ISO 400
Sony Cybershot W120 *1
ISO 400
 
 

Here the difference in the approach to dealing with noise is stark. Canon's two models and the Sony W120 are the clear winners, as they use less of the 'no turning back' noise reduction and so produce images that, whilst a bit noisier, haven't sacrificed all their detail and sharpness. The Kodak, Samsung and Fujifilm results show very strong noise reduction smearing, whilst the Olympus FE-360 manages the neat trick of smearing away detail using noise reduction without actually removing noise. Panasonic, as usual, remove all color noise but since the output is so soft (even at base ISO) you don't really gain - or lose - anything.

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