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Premium Compact 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).

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 compact 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 5x7 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 SD880 IS
(Ixus 870 IS)
ISO 80
Fujifilm F100fd
ISO 100
Nikon Coolpix S710
ISO 100
Panasonic Lumix FX150
ISO 100
Samsung NV100HD
(
TL34HD)
ISO 80
Sony Cyber-shot W300
ISO 80

100% crops: Center

Canon SD880 IS
(Ixus 870 IS)
ISO 80
Fujifilm F100fd
ISO 100
Nikon Coolpix S710
ISO 100
Panasonic Lumix FX150
ISO 100
Samsung NV100HD
(
TL34HD)
ISO 80
Sony Cyber-shot W300
ISO 80

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). Four of the cameras here produce broadly comparable results in terms of detail (though there re marginal differences in sharpness) with only the Nikon Coolpix S710 and Samsung NV100HD really disappointing - in both cases the culprit appears to be excessive noise reduction giving an almost painterly feel to the output).

It's interesting to note that the cameras with the highest resolution don't produce the best results and that the camera with the fewest pixels (the Canon SD880 IS) is actually producing some of the cleanest, most detailed results. Looking at the Samsung NV100 HD (TL34 HD) and the Nikon S710 next to the Canon is a real eye opener, and shows without a shadow of a doubt that pixel count alone is no measure of a camera's image quality. I'd also add that the blame here can't be put down to the old 'squeezing more pixels into a sensor' argument; the Canon SD880 IS and Samsung TL34 HD have almost exactly the same pixel density (the Samsung, like the other cameras in this group, has a considerably larger sensor than the S880 IS).

100% crops: Edge

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

Canon SD880 IS (Ixus 870 IS)
ISO 80
Fujifilm F100fd
ISO 100
Nikon Coolpix S710
ISO 100
Panasonic Lumix FX150
ISO 100
Samsung NV100HD
ISO 80
Sony Cyber-shot W300
ISO 80

With some of these cameras costing more than $300 we'd be surprised if they suffered significant sharpness fall-off when shooting in these optimal conditions, and we weren't disappointed; all six show good edge to edge consistency. Once again the Nikon and Samsung cameras produce the least detailed results, and the Canon and Fujifilm and Sony are probably the best, followed closely by the Panasonic.

Color comparison

Canon SD880 IS
(Ixus 870 IS)
ISO 80
Fujifilm F100fd
ISO 100
Nikon Coolpix S710
ISO 100
Panasonic Lumix FX150
ISO 100
Samsung NV100HD
(
TL34HD)
ISO 80
Sony Cyber-shot W300
ISO 80

A quick glance at the color charts above shows that from a color and contrast point of view the six cameras here are relatively consistent, with some variation in the default saturation (broadly speaking Samsung, Sony, Panasonic and Canon are relatively high, Fuji and Nikon relatively low). There are also slight variations in the overall color rendition (mostly in terms of red saturation and how the color is tweaked to produce vivid blue skies and bright foliage), though as our 'real world' tests show this doesn't produce a lot of visible difference in photographs.

ISO 400 compared

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.

Canon SD880 IS
(Ixus 870 IS)
ISO 400
Fujifilm F100fd
ISO 400
Nikon Coolpix S710
ISO 400
Panasonic Lumix FX150
ISO 400
Samsung NV100HD
(
TL34HD)
ISO 400
Sony Cyber-shot W300
ISO 400

Given the base ISO results it'll come as no surprise that the Samsung and Nikon cameras come off worst here, though the Sony W300 actually shows the biggest drop in quality, with heavy noise reduction removing all fine detail. The clear winners here are the Canon and Fujifilm cameras, both of which manage to retain an admirable amount of detail with very little visible noise; the F100fd result looks particularly good and isn't significantly worse than it was at ISO 100.

The Panasonic is obviously struggling a little with noise and as a result is having to apply quite a lot of chroma NR (smearing the colors slightly), though we're glad to see that it hasn't gone quite so far with luminance noise, so there is still some detail there, even if it doesn't look that clean this close.

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