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Superzoom 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 approximately 38mm (35mm equiv.) focal length
  • Auto White Balance and auto (program) exposure
  • ISO 1600
  • -0.3 EV exposure compensation (only where absolutely necessary)

Night Shot comparison (ISO 1600)

Canon SX200 IS Olympus Stylus 9000 Panasonic ZS1
Panasonic ZS3 Samsung HZ10W Sony H20

ISO 1600 night shot 100% crops:

Canon SX200 IS Olympus Stylus 9000 Panasonic ZS1
Panasonic ZS3 Samsung HZ10W Sony H20

The only way to squeeze a 10x or 12x zoom range into the small dimensions of the cameras in this test is using a very small imaging sensor. These sensor, especially combination with the fairly slow lenses on the cameras in this test, need a lot of light to turn out good results at their base sensitivity. However, as light levels begin to fall things become much more difficult. At ISO 1600, which is the highest setting that all the contestants offer (some go even higher) none of the results are nice to look at but nevertheless vary quite significantly between cameras.

The Panasonics produce very noisy but (relatively) detailed output whereas Canon and and Samsung opt to smudge the noise (but unfortunately almost all detail too) away and generate extremely soft and smeared images. Sony and Olympus are located somewhere in the middle ground. Despite all the noise blurring the Olympus and Samsung also create a lot of chroma (color) noise. It's visible on the Panasonics too but less so. None of the contenders are producing anywhere near the level of detail they achieved in good light, though most will produce a (just about) acceptable print at a small size (the Panasonics are are best in this regard, the Olympus the worst).

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.

One of the most common uses for compact 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 skin tones). 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, and some even do both). 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 very similar zoom settings (subject distance approx. 5 feet)
  • Auto or Intelligent Auto mode
  • Three shots taken with each camera and the best chosen
Canon SX200 IS
ISO 640
Olympus Stylus 9000
ISO 160
Panasonic ZS1
ISO 400
Panasonic ZS3
ISO 125
Samsung HZ10W
ISO 200
Sony H20
ISO 200

In terms of exposure all of the cameras in this test have done a fairly decent job but there is some variation with the Panasonic ZS3 turning out a slightly darker sample shot than the rest. There is variation in skin tones as well but all are within acceptable limits, the Samsung being a tad warmer than the rest and the Olympus at the cooler end of the scale.

The differences are largely due to how the cameras interpret the scene they are capturing (and if you shoot in 'P' mode instead of full Auto and you can also manually interfere and set the flash settings you deem more appropriate). All cameras increase sensitivity for the flash shot but some only very slightly (Panasonic ZS3 to ISO100) and others a lot (Canon SX200 to ISO640). The more ISO is increased the more detail in the image is being destroyed by the camera's noise reduction processes. On the other hand these camera's tiny flashes in many situations need the increased sensor sensitivity to be able to illuminate the scene adequately. The ZS1 is the only camera whose auto mode chose to opt for a long exposure time (Slow Flash) in order to capture a degree of ambient light. The Sony produces the best overall result here showing pleasant skin tones, good exposure and, thanks to keeping the ISO low, good detail.

Flash shot 100% crops:

Canon SX200 IS
ISO 640
Olympus Stylus 9000
ISO 160
Panasonic ZS1
ISO 400
Panasonic ZS3
ISO 125
Samsung HZ10W
ISO 200
Sony H20
ISO 200

In the 100% crops you can see the higher ISOs detrimental effects on fine detail. All the cameras do fairly well at this test, with none of them blowing out the skin tones. Red-eye is pretty much a non-issue here with all cameras doing a very decent job at removing the phenomenon in their Auto modes. The Olympus Stylus 9000 consistently failed to focus correctly in these conditions.
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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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