Slim/Style 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)
Night Shot comparison (ISO 1600)
ISO 1600 night shot 100% crops:
|Canon SD790 IS
(IXUS 90 IS)
|Casio Exilim S10
|Nikon Coolpix S60
|Nikon Coolpix S210
|Olympus Stylus 1040
|Pentax Optio S12
|Sony Cybershot T700
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 an 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.
As we saw with the ISO 1600 studio shot there are no clear winners here; all the results are suffering from noise, loss of detail (through strong noise reduction) or both. The Canon, Sony and Olympus cameras use fairly strong noise reduction but manage to hang onto just enough detail that they can produce a print that doesn't look too bad at 6x4 inches; the Fuji and Nikon both smear away too much detail for our liking and look soft even in small prints. For shots like this the approach taken by Panasonic (strong chroma noise reduction and relatively light luminance NR) is probably the most effective; you lose a certain amount of color resolution (the colors get a bit of a 'watercolor wash' effect) but retain enough detail to produce a print that doesn't look soft.
The worst performer is without doubt the Casio S10, which produces images that are both noisy and blurry - and has appalling low light white balance too. The Nikon S210 is interesting because it takes a very different approach, with what appears to be almost no luminance noise reduction, heavy chroma noise reduction and a hefty dose of sharpening. The result isn't very pleasant to look at this close, but does produce quite crisp looking (though very grainy) prints.
From an metering point of view several cameras (Fuji Z200fd, Nikon S60 and S210, Olympus 1040) needed manual intervention as they overexposed our test shot. The Casio S10 was also the worst performer in this respect, needing -1.7EV to get near the right exposure. The Canon, Pentax, Panasonic and Sony models got the exposure more or less right without the need for AE compensation.
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
As we saw with the last group of compacts there's noticeable white balance variation between the nine cameras here, from the warm toned Sony T700 to the cooler, slightly purplish (and far from flattering) skintones produced by the Casio S10 and Olympus 1040. Most of the other cameras captured fairly neutral color with natural skin tones.
Exposure-wise this group was far more consistent than the budget cameras, with only the Fujifilm Z200fd really disappointing (washed out faces), though it has to be said the Casio S10 isn't much better (and at least the Z200fd's color is fairly good). Although technically a bit on the warm side (color wise) the Sony T700 won the popular vote here, but I should add that the flash is woefully weak, meaning it's almost unusable at the long end of the zoom at any distance - this is something that the Fuji does a lot better.
It's worth noting that by default some 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. The cameras also vary considerably in which ISO setting they choose for flash shots, from base ISO (which will produce the sharpest, cleanest detail) to ISO 400 (which will help to increase the range of a weedy flash and should allow a little more of the atmosphere of the scene into the shot).
Flash shot 100% crops:
Close up there's not a lot of difference; all the cameras are supposed to be removing red eye, but few are totally successful. From a detail point of view the Canon SD790 IS, Sony T700 and Panasonic FX37 do best, though in a standard print you have to look closely to see any problems with the others. Some of the softness in other comes from noise reduction (Nikon S60, Pentax S12), some from motion blur or slight focus errors, but in truth most of these are on the right side of acceptable for a quick snapshot in a social situation.