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'Compact Super Zoom' Camera Group Test (Q2 2009)

May 2009 | By Lars Rehm

Compact Camera Group Test, Group 6: 'Compact superzoom' cameras


When Panasonic launched the 'Travel Zoom' TZ1 back in February 2006 the Japanese electronics giant established a profitable new niche within the digital camera market: the compact superzoom. For a short while the company's TZ series was the only digital camera line that combined a long (10x) zoom with compact and pocketable dimensions, and unsurprisingly the TZ series became rather popular with consumers. More recently though, probably inspired by Panasonic's success, most of the large manufacturers have launched their own contenders in the compact superzoom bracket, many of which show that their designers must have been looking quite closely at Panasonic's products before sitting down to develop their own models.

The compact superzoom cameras in this group test try to appeal to a broad range of consumers by combining easily pocketable dimensions with an extensive zoom range. All cameras in this test offer either 10x or 12x zoom lenses usually starting at a fairly wide angle setting. The only exception is the Sony H20 whose 10x zoom lens offers 38mm at the widest setting (but in turn giving you 380mm at the long end). These images (taken with the Panasonic ZS1) represent a typical zoom range currently offered in a compact super zoom camera (12x, 25-300mm equivalent in this case).

It's easy to see why these so-called compact superzooms appeal to the masses. They are only marginally larger than your average 5x zoom compact and can therefore easily fit into a shirt pocket or even the tiniest hand bag. At the same time they offer an incredibly versatile zoom range from wide angle to a (in 35mm DSLR terms) fairly long tele in the 240-300mm region (the only exception in this test is the Sony H-20 which offers a much more tele-focused zoom range of 38-380mm equivalent). The answer to the question how you can squeeze this much zoom into such small lenses is simple; they have very small sensors (the physical size of a lens is directly related to the size of its imaging circle).

All six models in this group offer zoom ranges of 10x or 12x and therefore sensibly feature optical image stabilization systems which are pretty-much essential at the long end of such zoom ranges. Screen sizes vary between 2.7 and 3.0 inches and all (with the notable exception of the Panasonic ZS3's 460,000 dots) offer the standard resolution of 230,000 dots. All-in-all, none of the spec sheets looks radically different to the others but it's probably worth mentioning that the Canon SX 200 is the only camera that offers aperture and shutter speed priority modes (although we would expect few people to use them on this type of camera, if this is important to you then your choices are very limited) and some of the contenders offer HD (720p) video while others only come with VGA video modes.

The test cameras

As we've mentioned above, Panasonic was - back in 2006 - the first manufacturer to launch a camera that deserved the compact superzoom label. Canon and Sony followed pretty swiftly, with the SX 100 and H-3 respectively, but in recently the group of manufacturers competing in this sector has grown to include all the major players. While the zoom ranges have remained in the 10x ballpark (with some cameras now offering 12x zooms) there has been a shift towards wider angles, and all cameras in this test (with the exception of the Sony H-20) offer at least a 28mm equivalent setting. We selected six of the most recent models for this test.

  • Canon SX200 IS
  • Olympus Stylus 9000 (mju 9000 in Europe)
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 (DMC-TZ6 in Europe)
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 (DMC-TZ7 in Europe)
  • Samsung HZ10W (WB500 in Europe)
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20

Key Spec compared

These are fairly sophisticated cameras with large feature sets, so the bare-bones specifications shown here won't tell you a great deal, but are a good starting point.

 
Canon SX 200 IS • 1/2.3" CCD
• 12.0 MP
80-
1600
28-336mm
(12x)
Lens • 3.0"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
• 720p
• 30fps
$330
Olympus Stylus 9000 • 1/2.33" CCD
• 12.0 MP
64-
1600
28-280mm
(10x)
CCD • 2.7"
• 230k
xD/Micro SD • 640x480
• 30fps
$270
Panasonic ZS1 • 1/2.5" CCD
• 10.1 MP
80-
6400
25-300mm
(12x)
Lens • 2.7"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
• 848x480
• 30fps
$270
Panasonic ZS3 • 1/2.33" CCD
• 10.1 MP
80-
6400*
25-300mm
(12x)
Lens • 3.0"
• 460k
SDHC/
SD
• 720p
• 60fps
$380
Samsung HZ10W • 1/2.33" CCD
• 10.2 MP
80-
3200*
24-240mm
(10x)
CCD • 2.7"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
• 720p
• 30fps
$240
Sony H20 • 1/2.3" CCD
• 10.1 MP
80-
3200
38-380mm
(10x)
Lens • 3.0"
• 230k
Memory Stick • 720p
• 30fps
$215

Battery lives quoted in the review are supplied by the manufacturers, based on standardized CIPA tests. The figures, unless otherwise specified, are based on the use of the LCD screen. NiMH refers to 2500 mAh rechargeable cells.

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*highest ISO settings only available at reduced resolution

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Comments

Matafuko

Just picked up a second hand SX200 for £35!
I bought it because I was surprised at a 12mp, 12x optical, 720p HD and manual function camera would be available so cheaply these days.
I have an SLR but wanted a smallish carry around thing. I am not - in any way - precious about it being top of the line, but the resolution, zoom and manual functions are perfectly adequate for me.
I'm in pretty much total agreement with your review and once you replace the idea that it's the most expensive in the batch test with the fact that I got it second hand for a steal - there's not a bad word I can say about it!
(It's even in the cool blue colour)

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