Buying Guides -> Hardware -> Digital Camera
The X Factor
Team CHIP | 21 July 2010
The X Factor
They come in all shapes and sizes, and come packed with features that almost mirror those of a budget DSLR. Here are 11 super-zoom cameras. Take your pick.
Purchasing the right camera can be a confusing task, and with a slew of point-and-shoots, ultra compacts, and prosumers vying for your attention, deciding on a particular category and camera can be a real challenge. So to make things a little easier, we’ve pit the best prosumers and compact mega-zoom cameras against each other in this comparison.
Prosumer cameras are no longer limited to 15x zoom. They come in all shapes and sizes now, and have lately started packing in a whopping 30x optical zoom. We are slowly seeing cameras beginning to go beyond the 64 MB flash memory barrier. For instance, the Olympus u-9010 and SP-800UZ were the only cameras that featured 2 GB of built-in memory, while the rest were still stuck in the stone ages with less than 64 MB of internal memory.
As we mentioned, the comparison wasn’t only limited to prosumers, but also included compact mega-zooms. Now, these babies are just about as big as a point-and-shoot and considering their size, these little cameras pack quite a punch with 15x optical zoom and features that will keep you hooked for quite a while. So it’s easy to see why mega-zooms appeal to the masses. They are as big as most compact cameras and can easily fit in your pocket without a hassle.
Take, for instance, the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS. This camera comes with a zoom range of 14x, which is remarkable considering its size. However, their compactness isn’t the only factor that makes mega-zooms a worthy buy. While the looks do add to their appeal, it is the performance and feature set that make them really worth the money.
Before we dig in, it is worth mentioning that apart from the prosumers, the compact mega-zooms that were tested had a zoom range of 10x and above, while there were a handful that featured both program as well as the manual mode; an essential feature to look out for if you like to customize and experiment with the camera settings.
If you're looking for pure performance and a rich feature set, then the Fujifilm FinePix HS10 is the camera for you. With functionality and looks like those of a DSLR, the HS10 is surely deceiving, but it is one of the easiest prosumers to use. It features 30x optical zoom along with a 24 mm wide angle lens. However, you might not find the zoom as smooth as other digital cameras since the whole method is manual as opposed to using a zoom rocker. Its tilt screen has a maximum rotation angle of 75 degrees, allowing you to hold the camera high or low. In addition, the HS10 features shortcut buttons that allow you to make quick changes without accessing the menus. The camera performed well, returning sharp images, and well balanced color and contrast. Not only is it capable of recording video in Full HD, but it also features a high speed recording mode, which allows you to shoot all the way from 120 to 1000 fps, but at a much lower resolution.
Verdict: Rich features, great performance and ease of use make it a worthy buy.
For: JPEG + RAW mode, high speed video recording, good macro range, wide angle lens.
Against: Noise when shooting under low light.
The Canon PowerShot SX210 IS is more than just a performer. Sporting a neat brushed metallic finish, the camera is almost flawless in its overall design. Moreover, it is quite compact considering that it boasts a decent set of features along with 14x optical zoom. It comes with the standard buttons along with the normal mode selection dial. However, the popular zoom rocker has now been replaced by a slightly less responsive rocker. As with most Canon cameras, the SX210 IS has a menu navigation system that’s almost flawless and easy to work with.
As far as performance is concerned, the SX210 IS might not be the best when used indoors, but shoot under proper lighting conditions, and there are few other cameras that can match the performance of this one. Video recording is also a major plus point, and the camera includes scene modes such as miniature and fish-eye effects that make it a fun camera to own. The SX210 IS also features a very good image stabilizer that makes video recording and still image capture jitter free.
Verdict: A fun little camera to own.
For: Good image stabilizer, excellent video quality, good overall contrast.
Against: Noise when shooting under low light, grain sized zoom rocker.
If you’re looking for a simple point-and-shoot without too many options, then the Nikon Coolpix L110 should be the camera to look for. It comes with a resolution of 12.1 megapixels, with 15x optical zoom. The features a protruding right side that fits perfectly when held, and the addition of a rubber layer provides better overall grip. The shutter release button and zoom rocker are thoughtfully placed and easily accessible. The rear features the normal camera controls and shortcut buttons, such as the timer, macro, flash and EV. As far as features go, the L110 is as simple as a camera can get. You get 16 scene modes, and the option of setting it to Easy Auto or Auto mode.
On the performance front, the camera scores just as well as the others, but fairs quite poorly in the overall ISO test. However, the noise is only apparently visible at full zoom. Resize it to 1280x720, and you should get a near flawless picture. However, it is the L110's macro feature that works brilliantly. With a 0 cm macro range, there is absolutely nothing to complain about.
Verdict: A very affordable megazoom with the right set of features.
For: Excellent macro range, decent overall contrast.
Against: Noise at low ISO.
Testing cameras is an exhilarating experience, but hardly an easy one. Every inch and detail has to be looked at closely before assigning scores. And with Fujifilm and Canon deciding to send their products in late, the whole process of rating and evaluating took much longer than usual. But it was probably for the best, because this comparison wouldn’t have been complete without the Fujifilm Finepix HS10.
Speaking of which, the Finepix HS10 is definitely a camera that would turn heads. In fact, at first glance, anyone would mistake it for a DSLR. The camera comes loaded with features and has all the modes that a shutter bug would want from a camera, from manual to program, to shutter priority, to aperture priority. Apart from the auto mode, the HS10 also allows you to choose from a vast number of scene modes. If that’s not enough to quench your thirst, it features high speed video recording as well as HD recording. There is a whole range of recording modes, right from 60 fps to a whopping 1000 fps. In addition, the camera also includes a focus ring that allows you to manually focus onto the subject. I doubt you would want to look at anything else once you get your hands on the Finepix HS10.
Second on the list would be the Olympus SP-800UZ, thanks to a very good image stabilizer that works well even when zoomed at the full 30x. This is also the only camera of the lot that came with 2 GB of built-in flash memory. That’s quite a jump, since most cameras don’t offer anything more than 64 MB. Considering that the SP-800UZ is priced at almost the same price as the Fujifilm Finepix HS10, I would personally settle for the HS10.
Amongst the compact megazooms, the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS is the obvious choice, not just because it won the Best Performance award, but also because it is flawlessly built and sports an impressive 14x optical zoom. The camera also has a couple of interesting features, such as the fish-eye effect and miniature effect that make it a fun camera to own.