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Budget camera group: Real world comparison

Below you'll find the second 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.

  • All taken from the same tripod position at widest zoom setting
  • Auto White Balance and auto (program) exposure
  • ISO 1600 (or nearest available ISO setting)
  • -0.3 to -1.0 EV exposure compensation (only where absolutely necessary)

Note that the Nikon L18 has no manual ISO control and there is no ISO 1600 sample for it - see below.

Night Shot comparison (high ISO)

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 1600
Canon PowerShot A590 IS
ISO 1600
Kodak EasyShare C1013 *1
ISO 1000
Fujifilm Z20fd
ISO 1600
Olympus FE-360 *1
ISO 1000
Panasonic DMC-LZ8
ISO 1600
Samsung L210
ISO 1600
Sony Cybershot W120
ISO 1600
 
 

ISO 1600 night shot 100% crops:

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 1600
Canon PowerShot A590 IS
ISO 1600
Kodak EasyShare C1013 *1
ISO 1000 (-1.0 EV)
Fujifilm Z20fd
ISO 1600 (-1.0 EV)
Olympus FE-360 *1
ISO 1000 (-1.0 EV)
Panasonic DMC-LZ8
ISO 1600
Samsung L210
ISO 1600 (-1.0 EV)
Sony Cybershot W120
ISO 1600
 
 

As we discussed in the studio tests, shooting at high ISO settings with small sensor compacts means reducing your expectations and accepting that you're either going to get lots of noise or lots of noise reduction (which means the loss of fine detail). As the 100% crops above show, the various manufacturers have different approaches to the balance of noise and detail. Most have managed to produce results that, whilst pretty ugly viewed this close, will produce a perfectly acceptable small print. If you want to shoot at night you'd be far better off with a tripod and a lower ISO setting, but obviously this isn't always practical.

The Olympus FE-360 and Kodak C1013 both seem to suffer from far more of a noise problem than the other models and even at ISO 1000 (where they both top out) the output is barely usable even for a postcard print (as the visible noise and almost total obliteration of detail are both so extreme).

Of the other cameras it's obvious that Canon is struggling to control noise and its attempt to retain fine detail by the use of relatively light luminance noise reduction has resulted in rather grainy images. Fujifilm, Sony and Panasonic all use heavier noise reduction, producing cleaner but less detailed output that looks a bit unpleasant up close but actually produces nice prints at up to around 5x7 inches. The Samsung L210 uses very heavy noise reduction that produces smeary results that still show some grain.

It's also worth noting that the Olympus and Samsung cameras got the color completely wrong, with the Fuji Z20fd and Panasonic LZ8 producing shots with a slightly inaccurate but not unpleasant warm tone. All the other cameras got the color more or less right. As you can see some of the cameras (Samsung, Fuji, Olympus and Kodak) needed quite a lot of exposure compensation (-1.0 EV) - without this they produced very overexposed results.

Although there's not a lot to choose between most of the cameras our joint winners here are the Sony W120 and Panasonic LZ8, with the Fuji Z20fd not far behind, followed by the two Canons.

Nikon L18

As before our testing of the Nikon L18 was severely limited by the lack of manually selectable ISO. We tried every single scene mode and couldn't get the L18 to use an ISO value of higher than 400 with this scene (it seems to use ISO 800 and above only in complete darkness. You can check out the ISO 400 shot of our night scene by clicking on the thumbnail to the right - it's very good, but we've no idea what it would look like at a higher ISO setting.

Low light flash portrait comparison

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.

Perhaps the most common use for small 'point and shoot' 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 (in 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 skintones). 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). Red-eye reduction is useful but less critical than overall color/focus/exposure as it's easy to remove in post processing (and most printing labs do it for you automatically).

  • All taken from the same position at (or near) the widest zoom setting (subject distance approx. 3 feet)
  • Auto White Balance and auto (program) exposure
  • Auto ISO
  • Auto flash mode (with red-eye reduction turned on where available)
  • Face detection active where available
  • Three shots taken with each camera and the best chosen
Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 200, 1/60 sec
Canon PowerShot A590 IS
ISO 200, 1/60 sec
Kodak EasyShare C1013 *1
ISO 160, 1/60 sec
Fujifilm Z20fd *1
ISO 400, 1/60 sec
Nikon L18 *2
ISO 64, 1/60 sec
Olympus FE-360*1
ISO 125, 1/30 sec
Panasonic DMC-LZ8
ISO 100, 1/30 sec
Samsung L210
ISO 100, 1/45 sec
Sony Cybershot W120 *1
ISO 400, 1/40 sec

Even looking at these small thumbnails it's obvious that all is not equal here. From a color and exposure point of view the Canon A590IS, Nikon L18, Panasonic LZ8 get top marks, with the Olympus FE-360 and Sony W120 not far behind (though both are a little harsh and a little too contrasty for our tastes). The Kodak C1013 and (to a lesser extent) the Canon A470 both lose points for the very cool white balance, which (especially with the Kodak) lends a slightly anaemic tone to the skintones.

The Samsung L210 consistently underexposed flash shots, though this is at least something you can easily fix in post processing. The least impressive result was, surprisingly, the Fuji Z20fd (not only does it have very fast face detection, which should ensure perfect exposure, but Fuji has always done flash really well).

It's worth noting that by default many of the cameras use a 1/30th second exposure with flash, which in some conditions could lead to a small amount of camera shake, but does mean a little of the ambient light makes its way into the picture, avoiding the black background common with a low-powered flash. Sony and Fuji both default to ISO 400 when using flash, which helps to balance the flash illumination and ambient light (the background) but runs the risk - as we can see with the Fuji result - of blowing out the main subjects of the picture due to over-exposure. In our tests the Sony W120 best managed the task of balancing the exposure of the foreground (flash) and background (ambient light).

SO 400 flash shot 100% crops:

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 200
Canon PowerShot A590 IS
ISO 200
Kodak EasyShare C1013
ISO 160



Fujifilm Z20fd
ISO 400

Nikon L18
ISO 64
Olympus FE-360
ISO 125

Panasonic DMC-LZ8
ISO 100
Samsung L210
ISO 100
Sony Cybershot W120
ISO 400


As you can see most of the cameras failed to completely remove red-eye from the shot, with the two Canons doing the best job. In terms of detail the Panasonic LZ8, Samsung L210 and Nikon L18 did the best job, though this is without doubt because they used the lowest ISO value. The Kodak C1013 and Fujifilm Z20fd are clearly the least impressive here, with the Kodak producing an unpleasant plasticy watercolor effect and the Fuji overexposed and soft. Once again you'd struggle to see the small differences in detail in a small print.

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