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Slim/Style 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 a couple of 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). We were surprised to see cameras at this level (price wise) not offering a custom white balance feature - even if you don't think 'lifestyle' camera buyers will ever use it, surely it's a little patronizing to refuse to include it so as to avoid confusing their perfectly coiffured little heads?

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 SD790 IS (IXUS 90 IS)
ISO 80
Casio Exilim S10
ISO 50
Fujifilm Z200fd *1
ISO 64
Nikon Coolpix S60
ISO 64
Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 64
Olympus Stylus 1040
(Mju 1040)

ISO 50
Panasonic DMC-FX37
ISO 100
Pentax Optio S12
ISO 64
Sony Cybershot T700 *1
ISO 80

100% crops: center

Canon SD790 IS (IXUS 90 IS)
ISO 80
Casio Exilim S10
ISO 50
Fujifilm Z200fd *1
ISO 64
Nikon Coolpix S60
ISO 64
Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 64
Olympus Stylus 1040
(Mju 1040)

ISO 50
Panasonic DMC-FX37
ISO 100
Pentax Optio S12
ISO 64
Sony Cybershot T700
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). The cameras here fall into two broad groups; the sharp ones and the less impressive, soft ones. Perhaps unsurprisingly the Nikon S210, which is by far the cheapest camera here, produces the least impressive results, with indistinct details and evidence of noise reduction even at ISO 64, though it's perfectly good for smaller prints. The Fujifilm Z200fd and Panasonic FX37 don't look that pretty up close, certainly not when you take into account the fact that they're both towards the upper end of the price range in this group, though again with 10 megapixels to play with you're unlikely to see it in a small print.

Whilst there are minor variations, the remaining cameras don't have a lot to choose between them; the Olympus Stylus 1040 has the most obvious over-sharpening when viewed this close, the Sony T700 has a hint of noise and all show some mild noise reduction smearing.

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 SD790 IS
(IXUS 90 IS)
ISO 80
Casio Exilim S10
ISO 50
Fujifilm Z200fd *1
ISO 64
Nikon Coolpix S60
ISO 64
Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 64
Olympus Stylus 1040 (Mju 1040)
ISO 50
Panasonic DMC-FX37
ISO 100
Pentax Optio S12
ISO 64
Sony Cybershot T700
ISO 80

Only the Pentax Optio S12 and Casio S10 show any significant sharpness reduction towards the edge of the frame, whilst the Canon SD790 IS, Nikon Coolpix S60 and Sony T700 all show impressive consistency. The remaining cameras show a very mild drop off (though with the Fujifilm Z200fd, Panasonic FX37 and Nikon Coolpix S210 it's hard to tell as their results are soft across the frame). Optically the Canon would appear to be the winner here.

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 SD790 IS (IXUS 90 IS)
ISO 400
Casio Exilim S10
ISO 400
Fujifilm Z200fd *1
ISO 400
Nikon Coolpix S60
ISO 400
Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 400
Olympus Stylus 1040 (Mju 1040)
ISO 400
Panasonic DMC-FX37
ISO 400
Pentax Optio S12
ISO 400
Sony Cybershot T700
ISO 400

Although there are differences in the type of noise reduction used and its impact on visible noise and detail, in truth there's not a lot to choose between most of these cameras when viewed this close. The sharpest appearance comes from the Canon and Olympus cameras, closely followed by the Sony T700; the Nikon S60, Pentax S12 and Panasonic FX37 show the most obvious loss of detail, with the Nikon and Pentax particularly disappointing given how sharp they are at base ISO.

The Fujifilm Z200fd shows a hint of chroma noise (colored speckles) in the shadows but doesn't sacrifice much detail (which is fortunate since it didn't start with that much). Casio is obviously doing a huge amount of chroma noise reduction, giving the result a slightly 'washed' appearance, though luminance noise reduction is fairly low, so there's still some detail there. Overall the output of all these cameras at IS0 400 is pretty much what we'd expect; fine for small prints of subjects where fine detail is less important (such as portraits) but not that useful for anything else.

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