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Premium Camera Group Test (Q4 2008)

December 2008 | By Simon Joinson

Holidays '08 Compact Camera Group Test
Group 3: Premium cameras

For the third of our group tests we've picked what are best termed 'premium' compact cameras. Since this is a rather vague description let me explain the criteria we used to select the six cameras in this group - starting with what they're not. Obviously they're not budget cameras, nor are they the slimmest models in the range; we've already covered both of those groups. They're also not advanced enthusiast models or SLR-like super zoom cameras aimed at the more serious photographer; we'll be looking at them next.

What we've got here are the top spec 'point and shoot' models from Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony. Generally they've got the most pixels (as many as 14.7 million of the things) and almost all have wider zoom ranges (more specifically they nearly all start at a more wideangle 28mm equivalent). As some of the most expensive cameras in their respective ranges they also boast the latest 'must have' gadgetry; image stabilization, high ISO modes, face detection and - for the most part - large, high quality screens and solid all-metal cases. Having said that, what you're mainly paying for are all those pixels; the cameras themselves aren't significantly different to their less expensive brethren further down the range.

The test cameras

The air gets a lot thinner as you move towards the higher reaches of compact camera ranges, and once you pass the $300 point you leave behind the mass market and enter the less crowded 'luxury' arena where the target market is the guy who absolutely has to have the latest/highest specification model money can buy. The six cameras in our group range from just under $300 to about $370, though all of them were launched at considerably higher prices and most are likely to be replaced by new models at PMA in March '09. Pixel counts range from 10 to just under 15, and all but one has a zoom that starts at 28mm.

In case you're wondering why we picked the Canon SD880IS over the 14.7MP SD990IS (apart from the obvious preference we'd have for a wide lens over more pixels), it was purely down to which we could get in time for our tests. We would have liked to include the Sony W170 too, but having included the (almost identical) W150 in one of our group tests we opted for the range-topping W300.

  • Canon Powershot SD880 IS (IXUS 870)
  • Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
  • Nikon Coolpix S710
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150
  • Samsung TL34 HD (NV100HD)
  • Sony Cybershot DSC-W300

Key Spec compared

As we've discovered over the years the bare specification of a camera tells us precious little about how good it is, but it does at least give us a starting point for our comparison. In this table the key differences are the lens range and screen specification, though each camera has its own collection of unique features, from dynamic range expansion on the Fujifilm to HD quality movie recording on the Samsung and Panasonic. The Panasonic also stands out by being the only camera in the test capable of outputting the data from its sensor as a RAW file, for those photographers who want to tease the most out of the images they've shot.

Despite the 50% difference between the highest and lowest, you can almost completely ignore the sensor pixel count as it makes virtually no difference to your pictures on this type of camera.

 
Canon SD880 IS
(IXUS 870)
• 1/2.3" CCD
• 10.0 MP
80-
1600
28-112mm
• Lens • 3.0"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
P
• 640x480
• 30fps
$370
Fujifilm F100fd • 1/1.6" CCD
• 12.0 MP
64-
12800*
28-140mm
• CCD • 2.7"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD/xD

• 640x480
• 30fps
$290
Nikon S710 • 1/1.72" CCD
• 14.5 MP
100-
12800*
28-101mm
• CCD • 2.5"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
P,A,
S,M
• 640x480
• 30fps
$350
Panasonic FX150 • 1/1.72"
• 14.7 MP
100-
6400
28-100mm
• Lens • 2.7"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
P,M • 720p
• 30fps
$350
Samsung TL34HD
(NV100HD)
• 1/1.72" CCD
• 14.7 MP
80-
3200*
28-102mm
• Lens • 3.0"
• 460k
SDHC/
SD
  • 720p
• 30fps
$320
Sony W300 • 1/1.7"
• 13.6 MP
80-
3200
35-105mm
• Lens • 2.7"
• 230k
Memory
Stick
P,M • 640x480
• 30fps
$310

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*highest ISO settings only available at reduced resolution
† highest ISO settings only available in Hi Auto mode

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