Travel compacts Grouptest
- Tue, 19 Jul 2011
It seems that ever since Panasonic and Ricoh popularised the concept of the small-format, high-zoom camera, manufacturers have been falling over each other to bring their own alternatives to market. Now, almost every major player has a pocket-friendly model with a zoom of at least 10x, and a handful are on their second or third generation, keen to ensure that their offerings stay ahead of the pack.
Thanks to their portable form and expansive focal ranges, such cameras are commonly billed as travel compacts, ideally suited for capturing an unexpected variety of scenes and subjects. Helping to keep the format alive and interesting, manufacturers have recently incorporated a wider range of functionality to such models; HD video recording is now considered standard, while GPS systems and backlit sensors are also beginning to settle in. Even Raw shooting is starting to make an appearance - a feature which traditionally has been confined to DSLRs and only the priciest enthusiast cameras.
Of course, there's no obligation to use these specifically for travel photography, and one could argue that as their functionality evolves so does their purpose. Nevertheless, in order to see how they fare in their natural territory, we hopped on a London tour bus with six of the latest models and treated them to a day's sightseeing.
Each stop provided an opportunity to test a different aspect of the camera's functionality, and all the results were later analysed to see whether each fulfilled its many promises. So, does Panasonic's acclaimed TZ range still rule supreme? Or has one of the other manufacturers caught up to steal its crown?
Before we start, let's look at the features of each camera
The tested cameras are all well-specified superzooms, each priced under £300. Resolution stands between 12MP and 16.2MP, and with the exception of the TZ20 and WB650, each has a backlit sensor designed for more effective light capture and lower noise. Fujifim's sensor differs in being based on its EXR technology which, the company claims, uses a different structure to better suit various shooting situations.
Sony's HX7V offers the narrowest zoom range of 25-250mm, while Nikon's S9100 tops the set with an impressive 25-450mm. All the others sit somewhere in between, and each is equipped with an image stabilisation system to help keep images sharp. The method varies; some use just a lens or sensor-based shifting mechanism, while some use a combination of one of these with adjustments to either the camera's sensitivity or post-production methods.
Each camera's LCD screen is a cut above those on cheaper compacts, with no display smaller than three inches and all boasting a resolution of at least 460,000 dots. Nikon's S9100 and Sony's HX7V offer the highest resolution at 921,000 dots apiece, although a number of other differences separate them all. The Samsung's screen, for example, is based on AMOLED technology, while Canon's has a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is ideal for video but leaves still images at the native pixel count occupying only the central area. Alll offer HD video with stereo sound.
Barring the Nikon, manual control over exposure is also on hand, while other additions include GPS functionality on all models (except, again, the Nikon) and a Raw shooting option on the Fuji. 3D recording is also possible on the Panasonic TZ20 and Sony HX7V, where two separate images are combined into a single 3D result, although these can't be viewed in 3D on the cameras.
Elsewhere the models all offer a built-in flash and an HDMI port, while all draw power from a supplied lithium-ion rechargeable battery. Each records to SD cards, with Sony also supporting MemoryStick cards.
Canon SX230 HS 4/5
Fujifilm F550EXR 5/5
Panasonic TZ20 4/5
Nikon S9100 3/5
Samsung WB650 3/5
Sony HX7V 3/5