Wednesday, 20 January 2010 02:00
Taking good, almost professional quality photos, need no longer be a challenge. The latest point and shoot cameras have eliminated the need to carry a huge bag of lenses around to get that perfect shot. These cameras feature super zooms and higher resolutions as well as the bells and whistles expensive, professional digital single lens reflect (DSLR) cameras have. They incorporate good flashes, image stabilisers, panoramic shooting options and more, all in a neat little package. Becoming a good photographer has just become easier - and cheaper.
Olympus SP 590 UZ
The Olympus SP-590 UZ is a fairly compact camera sporting a 12.0-megapixel sensor and packs a powerful 26x optical zoom.
The SP-590 relies more on menu functions than dedicated controls like most DSLR cameras do, making operations a tad easier for amateur photographers. The user interface is easy to navigate and very intuitive.
Pull the SP-590`s zoom toggle, and the camera`s lens rockets from one end of the range to the other: if you disliked the 570 for the pick-up lag introduced by its fly-by-wire zoom control, the SP-590`s fast and direct control arrangement will no doubt be welcomed.
The speed at which the camera auto-focuses when zooming in on a subject from far away is a bit sluggish when indoors or in low light conditions, but there`s no lag to speak of in bright, sunny conditions.
We did not pick up a lot of distortion at the 26mm wide-angle spectrum, which is always a good sign, so no complaints here.
We did, however, pick up some graininess and noise at higher ISO levels.
The electronic viewfinder is not overly fantastic and rather stock-standard, as is the 2.7-inch HyperCrystal II LCD.
The SP-590 also offers dual image stabilisation, advanced face detection, smile detection, high-speed sequential shooting, but at much lower picture resolutions.
It also has full manual controls, along with automatic and scene-specific shooting options.
The camera`s autofocus (AF) is above average, but not mind-blowing.
We were impressed with the lens, which was the best thing about the SP-590 UZ. That 26mm does go a long way.
CANON POWERSHOT SX 120 IS
The Canon PowerShot SX 120 IS is the smallest form factor camera we played with in this roundup and thus wins in the mobility department. It has a 10.0-megapixel sensor and 10x optical zoom.
The SX 120 IS` processing is impressive, due to the DIGIC 4 chip, and is great for taking pictures in low lighting conditions, because the image quality stays crisp and clear and the colour reproduction is fairly accurate.
The camera also features a 3.0-inch LCD, manual control, in-camera processing and face detection.
The fact that it takes AA batteries is a good as well as a bad thing in our books. Although they do not last as long as rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, it`s very convenient when out in the bush or when there`s no power.
It has an analogue pop-up flash, which you activate by pushing a button, giving complete control over the flash.
The SX 120`s 10x optical zoom gives a nice range of 36-360mm and is not too shabby for a camera this size.
The menus and modes are easy to navigate around and it`s easy to quickly get to settings like white balance, colours, metering and exposure compensation.
There is no view finder on this camera, but using the LCD is sufficient for setting up shots, although you might feel a bit out of control. However, the LCD refresh rate after a shot is pretty slow.
The shutter lag is not bad when taking a photo (0.1 seconds), but there is about a three-second lag between single shots, to capture, refocus, and capture again.
The AF seems a bit slow in low-light conditions and the camera bumps up the ISO to utilise faster shutter speeds, often creating a pretty grainy/noisy image.
At the wide-angle of the zoom spectrum, expect some distortion and softness around the corners of the image frame.
A lot of distortion and noise on images creeps in from the 400 ISO mark, so it`s best to keep it under that in normal light conditions.
The Sony DSC-HX1 grabbed our attention as a pretty good prosumer camera. It sports 9.1 megapixels and has a 20x optical zoom, equivalent to a 28-560mm zoom on a 35mm SLR camera.
The HX1 feels like a professional DSLR in your hand, with a good balance in weight and comfort.
The digital view finder on the HX1 is adequate and the three-inch LCD screen is nice and bright. The LCD is moveable, up and down, up to a 90-degree angle.
The camera features an ample AF system, Dynamic Range Optimiser (DRO) for improving exposure and contrast, various scene modes, face detection, as well as Anti Motion Blur and Hand-Held Twilight modes, which works by combing the information from six frames to offer a blur-reduced image.
The camera performed well on image quality and sharpness. We noticed a little distortion at both ends of the zoom spectrum, but nothing that will cause major concern. There was, however, a lot of noise on images from the 400 ISO setting upwards, so our advice is to stay around the 200 ISO mark.
The optical SteadyShot image stabilisation system works well even though we did experience some blurry images when zooming in tightly from a distance.
Although the HX1 proclaims to offer full HD video recording, technically it doesn`t. It actually offers 1 440 x 1080 at 30fps, which is then scaled up to fill a full HD 1 920 x 1 080 display. But despite that, the video quality is good and the integrated stereo microphone is cool.
We don`t like the fact that you will need a proprietary Memory Stick Duo for storage, when SD cards are the standard these days.
One thing we need to mention is the super-cool Sweep panoramic shooting system. Simply activate the setting, press the shutter and pan over the panoramic scene and once you get to the 224-degree limit, the image is saved. It beats trying to stitch three pics together.
LEICA V-LUX 1
The Leica V-LUX 1 is a ten-megapixel camera with 12x optical zoom offering 35mm to 420mm focal lengths. It produces good quality images, but seems more geared towards professionals than amateurs.
The camera is rather large and heavy, which might be something a professional photographer would like, but for amateurs, it could prove too much.
Aside from the built-in flash, the camera also has a hot shoe (a mounting point on the top of a camera to attach a flash unit) to add another flash of your liking. We believe that`s defeating the purpose of offering a good professional-like experience without the complexities. It also features an unnecessary flip-out and rotatable LCD that is smaller than all the other cameras.
Having said that, the quality of the photos is really good and the image-stabilised zoom lens does a fair job.
The Leica`s speed performance isn`t the fastest on the block, but we liked the focus block that pops up in the electronic view finder and on the LCD to help make focusing on subjects easier.
The V-LUX 1 also records raw images, as well as the usual JPEGs. This is more for the professional photographer who needs more flexibility to make post production adjustments such as exposure or white balance.
Another feature that is nice to have is the flip animation mode, where you shoot as many as 100 images and string them together into a video clip.
Noise starts creeping in at about 400 ISO, with sharpness becoming blurred. The high-sensitivity scene mode, which brings the camera`s sensitivity up to an equivalent of 3 200 ISO, is a nice thought but the images had a lot of noise and graininess.
The time between capturing shots clocked in at 2.1 seconds without flash and 2.8 seconds with the flash, and the time between capturing raw images was 5.4 seconds.
Exposures were fairly accurate, with good colour saturation and we experienced little distortion from the lens at its telephoto setting. At the wide-angle side of the spectrum, however, we experienced a good amount of distortion, but in general the images were very sharp.
CASIO EXILIM EX-FH20
The Casio Exilim EX-FH20 blew us away with its performance. The camera is capable of taking 40 shots per second and records high-speed movies at 1 000 fps.
It`s a 9.1-megapixel camera with a staggering 20x optical zoom that comes in a body that is well balanced and feels comfortable in the hand.
The controls are simple to use and understand and all the shooting modes settings appear on the single dial.
The 26mm-equivalent wide angle zoom lens with its powerful 20x optical zoom does a good job at getting close to things and the Sensor-shift image stabilisation helped a lot when we shot in the telephoto range of 520mm, to minimise blur.
We were a bit disappointed by the image quality at higher ISO levels. From about 200 ISO, there is already some graininess and noise.
The capture speed of the camera is what really grabs one`s attention. Image capture of up to 40 frames per second is possible, although that means a drop to seven megapixels and at 30 frames per second, to eight megapixels. In our opinion, that`s still sufficient for any amateur photographer.
The high-speed video capture is just as impressive, recording up to 1 000 frames per second. It`s almost as if the FH20 is trying to be more of a video camera than a camera, and is doing a good job of it.
If action shots are your passion, then the Casio Exilim EX-FH20 is an excellent choice, although the image quality is not as good as other cameras we tested.
NIKON COOLPIX P90
Nikon`s Coolpix P90 is a 12.1-megapixel camera with 24x zoom in a nice- sized body of mostly plastic that feels slightly toyish, but is sturdy and not too heavy.
The size and lightness make the camera very pleasant to handle and we liked the large rubberised handgrip that makes it that much more comfortable to hold.
The P90`s 24x zoom is equivalent to 26-624mm lens and similar to the Olympus SP-590UZ.
The camera`s sensor-shift image stabilisation works very well on the long end of the zoom spectrum to reduce blurred pictures, but some blurriness still happens if you do not keep almost motionless.
Again, we`re not convinced about the movable LCD display which can be tilted 45 degrees downward and 90 degrees upward; stowed away, it doesn`t really matter. The view finder is probably the most decent we`ve seen.
The P90 has a wide range of manual control options, including aperture and shutter priority and full manual exposure. It has an easy to use SLR-style input wheel for exposure adjustment. The on-screen user interface and menu is very user-friendly, apart from the complexities of manual settings. With the auto mode things couldn`t be easier, with only image size and quality settings to be made.
The camera features everything you would need for professional photography, such as white balance and ISO settings, metering and AF mode, and also includes flash exposure compensation, auto bracketing, lens distortion correction and active D-Lighting to help with shadow detail.
You also have the option to create two preferred pre-set-ups that can be saved for instant access on the SLR-style dial.
The refresh speeds between photo captures are good. The time between single shot captures is about two seconds, while in continuous shooting mode, it`s 1.5 frames per second.
The AF system is also very good and did not slow down much when we shot in darker light conditions, while the focus remained good.
We found the flash to be very bright, sometimes too bright when close to a subject. Of course this means that it was great for taking photos at distances of six metres in dark-lit areas.
Images are sharp all around the edges, with little distortion on both the low and high end of the zoom spectrum.
We were also impressed with the image quality at higher ISO speeds. At 400 ISO, pictures were still good, with little noise. At a push, pics are still usable at 800 ISO.
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