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Photographic Tests

On the following pages you will find examples of our 'real world' tests of the camera's abilities in varying environments. Most of these examples are subjective and are meant to represent what you might normally see when using these cameras in real-world shooting conditions. As a general point, all of the cameras we've tested in this group deliver good results in good lighting conditions and all are capable of producing perfectly usable images for small prints and sharing on the web. The examples on this page are intended to highlight their specific strengths and weaknesses, and key differences in performance between the six models in this group test.

Metering / exposure

As we'd expect from cameras which meter from their sensors, all of the cameras in this group deliver excellent exposures in most lighting conditions and are rarely fooled into over or underexposure except in exceptional circumstances. As always, composition makes a big difference to metering response, often, all that is required to prevent minor exposure issues is to shift the composition slightly, lock metering using a half-press of the shutter button, and recompose.

Of the six models in this test, we had consistent exposure problems with only two - the Samsung WB210 and the Pentax Optio RZ10, both of which have a tendency to slightly underexpose images that contain a lot of bright scene elements. A fairly minor problem, but a lot of our sample images from the WB210 and RZ10 have a certain 'murkiness' which whilst easy to correct in Photoshop, does result in somewhat uninspiring images straight out of the camera. With the Pentax Optio RZ10 the matter is confused by its horribly unrepresentative LCD image, which makes scenes and reviewed images appear far brighter than they actually are, thus appearing to call for negative exposure compensation.

Canon SX230 HS
Like every camera in the test, the SX230 produced mixed results when presented with bright white clouds and sky. However, its 12MP BSI sensor has a relatively wide dynamic range, so clipped highlights and 'blocked up' shadows are rare.
Nikon S9100
The S9100's metering system is all but infallible in day-to-day shooting, but our first attempt at this scene gave a slightly overexposed image, to the point where the dustsheets on these cars were clipped almost to white. Locking exposure with the cars in the centre of the scene, then recomposing the shot gave a better result.

Panasonic ZS10
The Panasonic ZS10's metering system is very hard to fool in most shooting situations. Technically, the subject in this shot (taken virtually straight into the sun) is underexposed, but the overall exposure matches our view of the scene.

Pentax RZ10
In bright conditions, the RZ10 tends to expose for bright areas (like the sky in this shot) which depending on the scene composition can lead to general underexposure.
Samsung WB210
In most environments the WB210 meters well, however, bright backgrounds can sometimes cause the camera to underexpose significantly.
Sony HX9V
The HX9V, on the other hand, meters well in complex scenes, and has delivered an excellent exposure here, where some cameras would have underexposed the airplane against the bright sky.

  • Best of the bunch: Canon SX230 HS, Nikon S9100, Sony HX9V
  • Middle of the road: Panasonic ZS10
  • Bottom of the class: Pentax RZ10, Samsung WB210

Color/White Balance

Like metering, these cameras' AWB systems are very reliable in most environments, and although we have observed some differences in AWB response between models, none of them produce images that are poorly, or wrongly rendered when viewed in isolation. Images from the Pentax RZ10 taken outdoors tend to look rather cool, and conversely, shots from the Panasonic ZS10 in the same situation look a little yellow, but neither cast is problematic. The best performances, in terms of both color and AWB come from the Nikon Coolpix S9100 and the Sony Cyber-shot HX9.

Canon SX230 HS
As we'd expect from past experience with cameras in the Powershot line, in bright conditions the Canon SX230 HS delivers punchy JPEGs with fairly highly-saturated reds, but more subdued scenes are rendered accurately and attractively. White balance response is very accurate, and we like the fact that scenes taken in evening sunlight are rendered with a natural warmth.
Nikon S9100
The Nikon Coolpix S9100 gives accurate colors and excellent white balance in pretty much every situation in which we used it. Even in tricky, low mixed lighting, as in this interior shot, we're happy with the color response, and outdoors, colors are pleasant and accurate.
Panasonic ZS10
JPEGs from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 are generally very attractive in terms of color and white balance, but can fall a little on the yellow side of neutral, especially when it comes to skin tones.
Pentax RZ10
Where the Panasonic ZS10 is a little yellow, the Pentax RZ10 tends to deliver rather cool colors, especially outdoors in bright daylight, and Caucasian skin tones. tend to look a little anemic. On the plus side, as you can see from this scene its AWB system handles artificial light reasonably well.
Samsung WB210
The Samsung WB210's AWB mode is generally pretty good and gives accurate, pleasant color in most everyday shooting environments. It also copes well with low artificial lighting, although at high ISO settings chroma noise can lend images a slight magenta cast.
Sony HX9V
Auto white balance on the HX9V is quite capable of creating a balanced image in most lighting situations, even in low artificial light, like this scene.

  • Best of the bunch: Canon SX230 HS, Nikon S9100, Sony HX9V
  • Middle of the road: Pentax RZ10, Samsung WB210
  • Bottom of the class: Panasonic ZS10

Auto focus

All of the cameras in this test utilize AF systems that function by contrast detection. The effectiveness and speed of AF varies from camera to camera, but not by much. In terms of AF speed and responsiveness, the best performance of the cameras in this group comes courtesy of the Nikon S9100, which just beats the Pentax Optio RZ10 by a whisker. Close behind are the Panasonic ZS10 and Sony HX9, and the Canon SX230 and Samsung WB210 bring up the rear, with AF acquisition times of around 1 second (compared to approximately 0.4 seconds from the Nikon and Pentax, and roughly 0.5 seconds from the Panasonic and Sony).

The bottom line though is that all of the models in this test are capable of focussing quickly and accurately in most situations. In terms of AF accuracy, in good light, towards the wide end of their zoom lenses, (but outside of their minimum focus limits) all of the cameras in this test perform well (partly due to the large depth of field at these settings) but towards the long end of their zooms, AF problems can arise in rare circumstances in all of the cameras in this review.

This shot, taken with the Nikon Coolpix S9100, demonstrates a very occasional issue where the camera simply refuses to focus on the subject when zoomed to its maximum telephoto setting of 450mm (equivalent). Out of hundreds of shots though, this is one of only a handful of such misfires. Likewise, the Pentax RZ10 has failed here to achieve accurate focus in what should be an easy scene. The camera has focussed in front of the subject but again, this is a single shot amongst hundreds of accurately focussed images.

These occasional issues, common to all of the cameras on test, can be explained by a couple of factors, the most obvious of which is shallow depth of field. There is much less depth of field at 300mm + (equivalent) than there is at 24 or 28mm, even on cameras like these with tiny sensors. As such, it is very noticeable if the camera focusses on the wrong thing, which might not always be the case at the wide end of their zooms. Also, as the lenses are zoomed, their maximum apertures get smaller, letting less light in. Less light means a harder job for the cameras' focussing systems, not helped by the fact that images of distant objects captured at such extreme telephoto settings are often somewhat low in contrast as a result of atmospheric haze.

  • Best of the bunch: Nikon S9100, Panasonic ZS10
  • Middle of the road: Pentax RZ10, Sony HX9V
  • Bottom of the class: Canon SX320HS, Samsung WB210
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