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Slim / Ultra Compact Camera Group Test (Q4 2008)

December 2008 | By Simon Joinson

Holidays '08 Compact Camera Group Test
Group 2: Ultra compact/slim 'style' cameras

The digital camera hasn't escaped the consumer electronics industry's obsession with miniaturization. The first compact consumer digicams arrived in the mid 1990's and they've been getting smaller and slimmer ever since. As far back as 1999 companies such as Olympus, Canon and Pentax were offering small, metal-bodied compacts that weren't a lot bigger than a credit card, and we saw a new pretender to the 'world's smallest camera' crown almost monthly.

Since then the development of the folded zoom lens by Minolta in 2001 (first seen in the Dimage X) and the collapsible 'sliding' zoom (introduced by Pentax in the Optio S in 2003), combined with the adoption of the smaller SD card format and new slimmer Li-Ion batteries, have seen pocket cameras getting ever slimmer (though ergonomic issues and increasing screen sizes mean the other dimensions haven't got much smaller).

We've tested many slimline cameras over the years and have found that choosing something you can slip into your pocket without ruining the line of your jacket almost always involves some kind of compromise, usually in the form of slightly below-par image quality, reduced battery life and less than ideal handling - often with a 'style conscious buyer' premium slapped onto the price too. We wanted to find out if the latest generation of ultra compacts still suffered from these drawbacks.

The test cameras

For this group test we picked nine of the leading 'size zero' cameras, all but two of which squeeze into our 'under 21mm/0.8 inches thick' criteria (we let a couple of portly 22mm models through out of pity). We included one camera, the Nikon Coolpix S210, which was originally slated for inclusion in our budget camera roundup (at around $130 it's a lot less expensive than all the other cameras here), but was switched to this group because it's a lot slimmer and more compact than any of Nikon's premium compacts.

  • Canon Powershot SD790 IS (IXUS 90)
  • Casio Exilim EX-S10
  • Fujifilm FinePix Z200fd
  • Nikon Coolpix S210
  • Nikon Coolpix S60
  • Olympus Stylus 1040
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37
  • Pentax Optio S12
  • Sony Cybershot DSC-T700

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 by far the most important figures are the zoom range, screen resolution and presence of an optical image stabilization system - and of course that all important girth figure (which range from a positively anorexic 16mm to a merely well-toned 22mm). You can basically ignore the sensor pixel count as it makes virtually no difference to your pictures on this type of camera.

 
Canon SD790 IS
(IXUS 90)

• 1/2.3" CCD
• 10.0 MP
80-
1600
35-105mm
• Lens • 3.0"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
21mm • 640x480
• 30fps
$230
Casio EX-S10 • 1/2.3" CCD
• 10.1 MP
50-
1600
36-108mm
  • 2.7"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
15mm • 848x480
• 30fps
$200
Fujifilm Z200fd
• 1/2.3" CCD
• 10.0 MP
64-
1600
33-165mm
• CCD • 2.7"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD/xD
20mm • 640x480
• 30fps
$250
Nikon S210 • 1/2.5" CCD
• 8.0 MP
64-
2000
38-114mm
  • 2.5"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
18mm • 640x480
• 30fps
$149
Nikon S60
• 1/2.3" CCD
• 10.0 MP
64-
1600
33-165mm
• CCD • 3.5"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
22mm • 640x480
• 30fps
$320
Olympus 1040 • 1/2.33" CCD
• 10.1 MP
80-
1600
38-114mm
  • 2.7"
• 230k
xD 20mm • 640x480
• 30fps
$200
Panasonic FX37 • 1/2.33" CCD
• 10.1 MP
100-
1600
25-125mm
• Lens • 2.5"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
22mm • 720p
• 30fps
$270
Pentax S12
• 1/1.7" CCD
• 12.0 MP
50-
3200
38-114mm
  • 2.5"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
21mm • 640x480
• 30fps
$170
Sony T700 • 1/2.3" CCD
• 10.1 MP
80-
3200
35-140mm
• Lens • 3.5"
• 960k
Memory
Stick
16mm • 640x480
• 30fps
$380

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