Archive for category Selection Process

The Best Digital Compact Camera

I have now looked for possible candidates for my shortlist of digital compact cameras. I have used my favorite photo site dpreview in finding promising cameras, and also “doing the bing” and googling!

My requirements are generally that of someone wanting a compact camera to complement their DSLR. In my case it should complement my Canon EOS 550D – when I for some reason do not want to bring it with me but still want to bring a camera. I should probably also point out that I require my photos to come out of the camera looking good – without much need for further processing! I seldom take RAW pictures and whatever adjustments needed to an odd picture now and then must not be further off than it should be possible to do with the JPG! On this type of “point-and-shoot” camera I will use “Auto” most of the time and would like the camera to handle the most common situations well! For example white balance in the shade and cloudy conditions should work well. (I know it is difficult…) The camera should give pictures that resemble the ones from the Canon EOS 550D.
It must of course be much more compact! 😉
For those that are in a hurry – a hint:  Look at the picture just above! 😉

Summarizing my digital compact camera requirements:
(See the full description of my requirements here!)

  • Sensor – not too much over 10 MPix, back lit is a bonus
  • Orientation sensor – so that I can have the computer rotate the pictures automatically
  • Lens – 24-28 mm wide angle, minimum 4-5x zoom, aperture larger than f 1:2.8, min focus 5 cm
  • Flash – being able to use it really close
  • Shutter – long times (> 10 sec manually and >1 sec automatically)
  • ISO – wide range 100-3200, Auto-ISO with setting for highest ISO
  • Panorama support – for full size pictures where all pixels are used
  • Screen – 3″ or bigger – NOT wide screen and > 200 000 pixels
  • Movie Mode – HD 1280×720 minimum – but full HD 1920×1080 with autofocus and zoom during filming is a bonus
  • Image quality! – similar colour saturation, contrast and hue as Canon EOS

I have my eye on a relatively new camera that will use the latest technology to produce pictures of high quality! I know that this is one of the hardest requirements to check! Relying on the manufacturers sample pictures is not an option for me! Their pictures are usually taken under ideal circumstances so they give little indication of how good pictures the camera produces under normal everyday conditions! At the end of the day it is the image quality that matters most to me! (But how you get through the day also matters – especially if the end result is very similar!) I should probably add that I do want the pictures to come out of the camera looking beautiful – I do not want to spend hours in front of the computer tweaking and improving the pictures all the time! (I know this is a slight exaggeration work wise – but I want the wast majority of JPGs to be ready for use at once!)

This second time around I am looking real hard for sample pictures before I decide! Below you can see what I found out by searching the web! If you ever want to compare sample pictures go to the “Comparometer” – it is quite handy and they have lots (but not all cameras I am sorry to say…) of studio sample pictures! It was great help to compare the cameras I was interested in!

The Best Digital Compact Camera – shortlist

Panasonic DMC-FX700
A 14 Mpix sensor is a little on the high side and not back lit. Good fast lens – f 1:2.2 and good close up distance of 3 cm. Let down by its 230 000 pixel screen. Really good long shutter times 60 sec manual and 8 sec automatic! Panorama support for taking adjoining pictures. Mysterious wide angle limit of 29 mm when filming! Good battery life.
Sample photos shows not so good pictures at higher (320) ISO and I am not really impressed with the noise at lower ISOs either. That is enough of proof for me…
So this has to go!

Sony DSC-WX5
12 Mpix backlit sensor. Good fast lens – f 1:2.4 and good close up distance of 5 cm. OK screen 460 000 pixel screen but “only” 2.8″. Limited long shutter times 2 sec manual and only 1 sec automatic! Sweep panorama support. Very tempting 3D support! Unknown battery life. But why 5 hour battery charge!?
Sample photos better than the Panasonic DMC-FX700 but pictures at higher (400) ISO is not that impressive – a little colourless. Noise at lower ISOs is ok but still not overly impressive. Sharpness of lens seems good.
I am sorry – but this has to go!

Sony DSC-HX5V
10 Mpix backlit sensor. Not so fast lens – f 1:3.5 but 10x zoom and good close up distance of 5 cm. Let down by its 230 000 pixel screen. Good long shutter times 30 sec manual but only 1 sec automatic! Sweep panorama support. GPS! Good battery life. But why 5 hour battery charge!?
Sample photos similar to Sony DSC-WX5 – low ISOs looks OK  but pictures at higher (400) ISO is not that impressive – a little colourless. (Is this a common problem with back illuminated sensors?) Noise at lower ISOs is ok but still not overly impressive. Sharpness of lens seems good.
I am sorry – but this has to go!

Sony DSC-TX9
12 Mpix backlit sensor. Not so fast lens – f 1:3.5 and only 4x but very good close up distance of only 1 cm. Very good 3.5″ screen 921 000 pixel. Limited long shutter times 2 sec manual and only 1 sec automatic! Sweep panorama support. Very tempting 3D support! Medium battery life.
Sample photos shows not so good pictures at higher (400) ISO and I am not really impressed with the noise at lower ISOs either. Very handy size … but it is picture quality that counts …
This has to go!

Fujifilm FinePix F300EXR
12 Mpix backlit sensor. Not so fast lens – f 1:3.5 and a whooping 15x and a good close up distance of  5 cm. Good 3.0″ screen 460 000 pixel. Alright, but not outstanding long shutter times 8 sec manual and only 2 sec automatic! Sweep panorama support. Medium battery life.
This sounded REALLY good on specs – but got a really bad review in the swedish “Foto”-magazine!
Because of that bad review  this has to go!

Canon Powershot S95
10 Mpix backlit sensor. A very fast lens – f 1:2.0 but only 3.8x zoom – good close up distance of 5 cm. Wide angle only 28 mm – I have been spoilt by all the others 24 mm wide angles …! OK screen at 460 000 pixels. Good long shutter times 15 sec manual but only 1 sec automatic! Panorama support for taking adjoining pictures! Battery life – unknown.
Sample photos low ISOs looks really GOOD and pictures at higher (400) ISOs looks better than most other compact cameras I have checked out! Sharpness of lens seems good.
This one stays!!!

Panasonic DMC-LX5
10 Mpix backlit sensor. A very fast lens – f 1:2.0 but only 3.8x zoom – very good close up distance of just 1 cm. OK screen at 460 000 pixels. Very good long shutter times 60 sec manual but only ? sec automatic! Panorama support for taking adjoining pictures! Battery life – unknown.
Sample photos low ISOs looks really GOOD and pictures at higher (400) ISOs looks better than most other compact cameras I have checked out! Sharpness of lens seems good.
This IS quite troublesome! Soo good it competes with the Canon S95 – which should pick? Both the Canon S95 and the Panasonic LX5 produce really beautiful pictures – so this could turn out to be a dilemma! I am not intending to buy two! 😉 The LX5 produce slightly colder skin tones than I would ideally have – so that is at least a small minus… As I am looking for a compact camera to bring with me when I am too lazy to bring the Canon EOS 550D and I have “compact” in my requirements – luckily the choice is not that difficult! The LX5 is alittle too bulky – or to be more correct it is not compact enough! I can not point out enough that having ones requirements clear – helps a lot! But the DMC-LX5 is a tough contender – especially as I would normally carry it in a small camera pouch attatched to my belt … so being a little bulkier does not really matter that much!
This camera is really good – but the lens is sticking out a little too much making it to bulky – so it has to go! (This also throws out a few other cameras that are not compact enough!)
(Probably The S95 and the LX5 should not really be compared – even if they both produce pictures of such very high quality – they seem to have different aims! To my thinking, the Canon G12 seems a more close candidate to the LX5!) 

At last!  I have selected (what I think is) the best digital compact camera for me! The Canon Powershot S95. 🙂 It was not an easy selection since the LX5 also is so good! But a bit bulkier! If I had let “bulkier” (and it is a relative word) cameras be included I would have to have had the Canon G12 included as well… A lot of other compact cameras offer 24 mm wide angle lenses – which I would have liked to have … but none of them had as good image quality as the S95! At least sometimes I can use panorama pics to help get a wider angle! I had to give up an other feature to get as good IQ as the S95 … full HD movies …

The tricky thing for me has been to balance what I think is “high quality images” against compactness – I did not want to end up with something like my Canon EOS 550D – which is compact by DSLR standards but still bulky – and does not fit in a (normal size) pocket! 😉 And also balance compactness against zoom range, wide angle, and other features … and finally not forgetting the price!

I have just placed an order with Amazon UK – with free delivery to Sweden! Now I just have to wait … In roughly 10 days I should have it in my hands! I will write one of my reviews of it and let you know how well I think it handles and of course put up some sample pictures – comparing it to my gold standard – the Canon EOS 550D! Hopefully helping some of you make your choice!


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Compact Camera Requirements – Revisited

Well, now I have restarted my quest for a new digital compact camera. Just eight weeks have passed and features that I considered very exclusive to the Samsung WB2000 that I bought (and, I am sorry to say, returned) have now appeared in many other cameras as well. But still I think that the WB2000 – for some time at least – will be one of the most “value-for-money” cameras – if you can accept its shortcomings! I “fear” that the new camera will be more expensive…

Selecting a camera is really very much down to identifying your requirements – and finding a camera that is an acceptable compromise to you! I have my requirements and you will have to find out what yours are … If you do not know that much about cameras my requirements could be a starting point  – but better still would be buying one of the less expensive cameras without thinking too much about it (they are all quite decent) – taking a lot of pictures – and getting to know what your requirements actually are! And THEN buy a camera that corresponds to your requirements! If you are not very picky you might actually find that your first camera is good enough… 😉

I invite you to follow me on my journey towards a new digital compact camera. I will try to explain my choices and I will definitely tell you what I think is important and what I think is not! Trying to see beyond marketing ploys and stressing things that are really useful and important to me (and maybe you) as a photographer!

My requirements are generally that of someone wanting a compact camera to complement their DSLR. In my case it should complement my Canon EOS 550D – when I for some reason do not want to bring it with me but still want to bring a camera. It should give pictures that resemble the ones from the Canon EOS 550D. It should of course be much more compact!

My requirements have not changed that much since I wrote them last. But more features are “standard” on the new cameras. There is now a few more cameras to choose from – it will be exiting to see if any of those will make it into my shortlist. 

My slightly updated list of requirements for my new digital compact camera looks as follows:

The sensor
It would have to have a sensible pixel count. Preferably not much over 10 Mpix. This because I do like to use available light if at all possible. The latest new feature, back illuminated sensors is said to be a bonus for available light photography – but not really knowing how much of a difference it would have I do not put such a heavy weight on that feature. Having tested the Samsung WB2000 I would say that this is not such an important feature – the way a certain manufacturer processes the image (noise reduction, contrast adjustments, white balance, saturation, etc…) seems to matter even more… but having said that I have to add that it is very hard to isolate exactly what improvements stem from the back illuminated sensor…

Orientation sensor
I do want this feature! A built-in sensor in the camera registers what direction is “up” and embeds this information into the Exif-tags of the picture. This information can then be used both by the camera in rotating the picture correctly for viewing (handy but not critical) and by the software in the computer for permanently rotating the picture. This saves a lot of tedious work for me.

The Lens
I like wide-angle shots so it would have to be at least 28 mm on the wide side – preferably 24 mm.
I also like the lens to be reasonably fast having a wide-angle f-stop of at around 2.8 – but better the more light it lets through!
I decided that the zoom range was not that important so I settled for a moderate minimum of around 4-5 x zoom.
As I like to get really close to things and takes lots of pictures of flowers and other small things the “macro” distance had to be in the order of a few (5?) centimeters (an inch or two).

The Flash
Having said that I prefer available light my requirements of the flash is not so high. I take quite a lot of macro photos so one thing that matters is being able to use the flash close to the motive. I did find out that not many cameras can use the flash at their closest focusing distance – a pity I think but I see the problems – one that I have to accept. Not that easy to find out about this fact for the cameras – it is not always written in their technical specs.

The Shutter
Here I must point out that I think the term “shutter speed” is not so good – you are not interested in the speed of the shutter itself (which probably stays the same all the time) – you are more interested in the time which it is open … so I will be using “shutter time”.
The shortest shutter time I decided was almost uninteresting due to the fact that all cameras have 1/1500 – 1/2000 sec. Again my interest in available light affects the requirement. Night photography requires looong shutter times so being at all able to set long times (at least 10-15 sec) was important – and that the camera automatically could handle times of at least 1 second – preferably longer – for convenience.

The ISO
Here I want to have automatic ISO-setting (which almost all cameras feature) and a wide range –  from ISO 100 to around ISO 3200. Preferably also some indication what ISO-value the camera is choosing when in “Auto-ISO” – and being able to set maximum ISO would be a plus. Yes I know that ISO over 400 starts to show noise and 3200 has LOTS of noise – especially with a small sensor. Still it is nice to be able to actually take a picture – even if it is very noisy!

The Panorama Support
This is a favorite of mine – panorama pictures. How this is implemented is important to me. A lot of the cameras has what is called “sweep panorama” in which you just sweep your camera slowly across the scene and the camera will create the wide (or high) picture automatically. What is bothering me a little is the fact that this does not seem (according to the descriptions I have found) to use the full resolution of the cameras. That would mean that it would be of little use to me. At least now, beforehand, I would say that I prefer to stitch together the full size pictures with Microsoft’s eminent FREE panorama stitch software ”ICE” – try it – you will like it! Easy to use and produces really GREAT results! Evens out exposure and tries really hard to make the seams invisible. The only drawback I have seen is that if it can not automatically figure out how the pictures should be stitched together you can not help it by selecting similar points in both pictures. (I have used it a lot and only had a handful of properly taken panorama series that it could not stitch.) It handles hundreds of pictures and Gigapixels! Having used the “Sweep Panorama” feature on the Samsung WB2000 I now know that this is not good enough for my requirements! Far too few pixels and too many flaws in the created pictures to hit it with me! The “Sweep Panorama” is a really cool thing – but know its limits! I do wish that it worked in FULL resolution! As it is implemented now it will impress people when you look at the picture on the camera display – but  when you watch them on a bigger screen you wish that you had taken proper high-resolution pictures and stitched them together in the computer!

The Screen
My previous compact camera (and my current DSLR Canon EOS 550D – which has an absolutely gorgeous display) both had/has 3″ displays. I do NOT want a widescreen display that normally would show pictures with space at the sides – wasting a lot of the screen pixels. This requirement might change in the future – I guess – but for now it is still valid for me so the screen will have to be at least 3″ – and filling out the screen with the pictures! Having being spoilt by the Canon EOS 550D display – and actually seeing that it helps in getting better pictures by showing me a lot better the “final” image – I would like to have a screen with quite a bit more than the standard just over 200 000 pixels – but this I can sacrifice if I value other features high enough! I have not yet seen the advantage in touchscreen – I want to be able to adjust the settings with just the fingers on buttons that I have learnt to find and use. But this might also change in the future…!

The Movie Mode
Again having being spoilt by the Canon EOS 550D – and its superior full HD 1920×1080 movie mode I don´t really want to go with anything but full HD! I do realize that I can not demand the same low light quality as the HD movies from the 550D with its big sensor! If all else is super with a camera I might lessen my requirements to HD 720 …
Beeing able to zoom and autofocus during filming makes the compact camera double as a (half)decent movie camera so that would be handy – but not absolutely required! Thinking about it I feel that focusing is the more important! Stereo sound would also be a bonus.

Image quality
In the end – this is what counts! This is a very tricky one to find out on the web for new cameras – not easily gathered from the fact sheets – the manufacturers “sample pictures” are usually taken under so ideal circumstances that they give little info on how the camera behaves in everyday life! For new cameras the owners sample pictures (that I really value!) are not a plenty – for the simple fact that the cameras are so new..! Difficult as it may be, my wish is that the pictures should have a similar appearance to the pictures I get from may Canon EOS 550D – in hue, saturation, contrast and exposure. I know that I am talking about a compact vs a DSLR – so I have to be tolerant here…

Summarizing my compact camera requirements:

  • Sensor – not too much over 10 MPix, back lit is a bonus
  • Orientation sensor – so that I can have the computer rotate the pictures automatically
  • Lens – 24-28 mm wide angle, minimum 4-5x zoom, aperture larger than f 1:2.8, min focus 5 cm
  • Flash – being able to use it really close
  • Shutter – long times (> 10 sec manually and >1 sec automatically)
  • ISO – wide range 100-3200, Auto-ISO with setting for highest ISO
  • Panorama support – for full size pictures where all pixels are used
  • Screen – 3″ or bigger – NOT wide screen and > 200 000 pixels
  • Movie Mode – HD 1280×720 minimum – but full HD 1920×1080 with autofocus and zoom during filming is a bonus
  • Image quality – similar colour saturation, contrast and hue as Canon EOS

Compared to my earlier list – I have added the above two green requirements and lessened the requirements on full HD movie and length of the zoom.

/Photoman

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How I selected my new digital compact camera

You can go about buying a new camera in a number of diffrent ways – from just picking what the person in the shop shows you or you can try and find out as much as posible beforehand, make lists and then try to make an informed decission. I don´t have any facts showing that the last way gives a more satisfied owner – but I like to find out things and brood on the decission for some time – I actually think it is great fun! This is the story of how I went about it. Maby this can inspire someone else out there to also try something fun!

First I started out by reading lots about the current crop of cameras on the web in places like www.dpreview.com and then I mostly used Google and Bing to find info on lots of different sites.

Then knowing what features the new cameras was offering – this autum – I tried to write down the things that mattered most to me! (Camera wise that is! 😉 ) Buying a recently released camera means that there are few or no reviews to help you with the selection. Many cameras offer very similar features making it difficult to differentiate between them.

The sensor
It would have to have a sensible pixel count. Preferably not much over 10 Mpix. This because I do like to use available light if at all possible. The latest new feature is back illuminated sensors so that would also be a bonus for available light photography – but not really knowing how much of a difference it would have I do not put such a weight on that feature.

The Lens
I like wide angle shots so it would have to be at least 28 mm on the wide side – preferably 24 mm.
I also liked the lens to be reasonably fast having a wide angle f-stop of at at least 2.8 – but better the more light it let through!
I decided that the zoom range was not that important so I settled for a moderate minimum of at least 5 times zoom.
As I like to get really close to things and takes lots of pictures of flowers and other small things the “macro” distance had to be in the order of a few centimeters (an inch or two).

The Flash
Having said that I prefer available light my requirements of the flash is not so high. One thing that matters though is being able to use the flash close to the motive. I did find out that not many cameras can use the flash at their closest focusing distance – a pity I think – but one that I have to accept. Not that easy to find out about this fact for the cameras on my shortlist.

The Shutter
Here I must point out that I think the term “shutter speed” is not such a good word – you are not interested in the speed of the shutter itself (which probably stays the same all the time) – you are more interested in the time which it is open … so I will be using “shutter time”.
The shortest shutter time I decided was almost uninteresting due to the fact that all cameras have 1/1500 – 1/2000 sec. Again my interest in available light affects the requirement. Night photography requires looong shutter times so being at all able to set long times (at least 10-15 sec) was important – and that the camera automatically could handle times of at least 1 second – preferably longer – for convenience.

The ISO
Here I wanted to have automatic ISO-setting (which almost all cameras feature) and a wide range –  from ISO 100 to around ISO 3200. Preferably also some indication what ISO-value the camera chose. Yes I know that ISO over 400 starts to show noise and 3200 has LOTS of noise – especially with a small sensor. Still it is nice to be able to actually take a picture – even if it is very noisy! Beeing able to set the maximum ISO-value would be a bonus!

The Panorama Support
This is a favorite of mine – panorama pictures. How this is implemented is important to me. A lot of the cameras has what is called “sweep panorama” in which you just sweep your camera slowly across the scene and the camera will create the wide (or high) picture automatically. What is bothering me a little is the fact that this does not seem (according to the descriptions I have found) to use the full resolution of the cameras. That would mean that it would be of little use to me. At least now, beforehand, I would say that I prefer to stitch together the fullsize pictures with Microsofts eminent FREE panorama stitch software “ICE” – try it you will like it! Easy to use and produces really GREAT results! Evens out exposure and tries really hard to make the seams invisible. The only drawback I have seen is that if it can not automatically figure out how the pictures should be stitched together you can not help it by selecting similar points in both pictures. (I have used it a lot and only had a handfull of properly taken panorama series that it could not stitch.) It handles hundreds of pictures and Gigapixels!

The Screen
My previous compact camera (and my current DSLR Canon EOS 550D – which has an absolutely gorgeous display) both had/has 3″ displays. I do NOT want a widescreen display that normally would show pictures with space at the sides – wasting a lot of the screen pixels. This requirement might change in the future – I guess – but for now it is still valid for me so the screen will have to be at least 3″ – and filling out the screen with the pictures! Having being spoilt by the Canon EOS 550D display – and actually seeing that it helps in getting better pictures by showing me a lot better the “final” image – I would like to have a screen with quite a bit more than the standard just over 200 000 pixels. I have not yet seen the advantage in touchscreen – I want to be able to adjust the settings with just the fingers on buttons that I have learnt to find and use. But this might also change in the future!

The Movie Mode
Again having being spoilt by the Canon EOS 550D – and its superior full HD 1920×1080 movie mode I don´t really want to go with anything but full HD! I do realize that I can not demand the same quality as the HD movies from the 550D with its big sensor!
Beeing able to zoom and autofocus during filming makes the compact camera double as a (half)decent movie camera so that would be handy – but not absolutely required! Stereo sound would also be a bonus.

Summarizing my compact camera requirements:

  • Sensor – not too much over 10 MPix, back lit
  • Lens – 24 mm, 5x zoom, bigger then f 1:2.8, min focus 5 cm
  • Flash – being able to use it really close
  • Shutter – long times (> 10 sec manually and >1 sec automatically)
  • ISO – wide range 100-3200
  • Panorama support – for full size pictures where all pixels are used
  • Screen – 3″ or bigger – NOT wide screen and > 200 000 pixels
  • Movie Mode – full HD 1920×1080 with autofocus and zoom during filming is a bonus

The MOST SCARY of all of this is that I will not know how well the camera handles and how user friendly it is or how good photos it takes and that I will not be able to figure out just from the specifications…

Tomorrow I will discuss my shortlist of cameras that I considered.

Till then…
/Photoman

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