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Superzoom camera group: Studio comparison contd...

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 2009 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 SX200 IS
ISO 400
Olympus Stylus 9000
ISO 400
Panasonic ZS1
ISO 400
Panasonic ZS3
ISO 400
Samsung HZ10W
ISO 400
Sony H20
ISO 400

While at base ISO most of the cameras are roughly on par at higher sensitivities the manufacturers' varying approaches to image processing and noise reduction become more apparent. All cameras lose some detail and sharpness compared to base ISO but the Panasonics and to a lesser degree the Canon are doing a reasonable job at retaining detail. The Sony is located firmly in the middle ground, retaining some detail but also applying more sharpening than most of the competition. The Samsung already applies a lot of luminance noise reduction at this sensitivity which results in heavy smearing of fine detail. It also shows some ugly chroma noise in the shadow areas. It shares the last place with the Olympus. The results of the latter two will just about be usable for smaller prints but close-up they don't look too appealing.

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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)