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Travel Zoom Shootout 2011: Display, Menus and Modes

Six pocket long zoom digital cameras compared

How you interface with these travel zoom digital cameras is also important, and not all these cameras are equal, with different display resolutions, menu designs, and modes. See what we thought of each below.

Display and Menus

Nikon S9100
The Nikon S9100's 3-inch, 922K-dot LCD looks good in sunlight and offers very crisp menus, but its onscreen image isn't always sharp, oddly, especially in lower light, sometimes making pre-shot focus confirmation difficult.

A single dedicated button brings you to a side-tab menu design. It is modern and easy to navigate, and there are no animations to slow you down. Pressing on the EV adjustment button (the right arrow) brings up the Creative Slider, allowing you to adjust brightness (exposure compensation), vividness, and hue.

Panasonic ZS8
Though lower resolution, the ZS8's 3-inch, 230K-dot LCD looks good in most lighting conditions. It seems to display fewer shades, though, particularly in low light showing abrupt shadow changes rather than smooth gradients. Easy to use in bright sunlight.

The ZS8 has two menus, one Main menu, launched with the center OK button, and the Quick Menu, launched with a separate button. The Main menu is a little more primitive, split between Record and Setup menus; thereafter you just scroll through one big column of items. The Quick menu brings up a simple pull-down menu for selecting a subset of options depending on mode.

Casio EX-ZR100
The Casio's 3-inch, 461K-dot LCD is a smooth display, a good compromise between ultra-high and very low resolution. Good in sunlight.

Also with two menus, the ZR100's Main menu is accessed via its own button, which brings up a simple three-tabbed menu system that's fairly straightforward, if not strictly attractive. Pressing the SET button brings up a right-side Function menu for quick access to oft-used settings.

Canon SX230
As the only one sporting a 16:9 ratio display, the SX320's 3-inch, 461K-dot LCD is great for framing and playing HD movies, but 4:3 stills and movies appear as a smaller rectangle on the wide display, as does the full-resolution Record view. Otherwise the LCD is good, with good performance in sunlight.

Another dual menu system, the SX230's Main menu is the same as most of Canon's consumer cameras, a top-tabbed design that's fast and appealing. The new Function menu is a little more frustrating, with a two-stage slot machine wheel that you have to jump between to begin seeing all the available options. It's neat graphically, but a hassle to use.

Sony HX9V
While it has excellent specs, the 3-inch, 922K-dot LCD on the HX9V renders anything with the slightest hint of brown as a vibrant orange or red; a strange characteristic. The red cast doesn't make it into the final images. The display is also a little too contrasty and the most difficult of the bunch to view in bright sunlight, particularly when fingerprints are present.

Sony's menu system is more like Canon's old Function menu, with basic functions appearing on the left and their major options overlaying the screen on the bottom right. It's attractive, animated, and fast to navigate. To get to the Setup menu, you have to select the Suitcase icon at the bottom of the list, where you enter a more traditional left-tabbed menu system.

Fujifilm F550EXR
The Fuji's 3-inch, 461K-dot LCD looks great indoors, but seems a bit too contrasty outdoors. Captured photos look good on playback.

Starting out as a simple left-tabbed menu that you reach with a press of the Menu button, the Fujifilm F550EXR's menu also includes flyout menus that enter from the right of the screen when you press the right arrow to adjust a given setting. Pressing the F-Mode menu button brings up a limited menu for adjusting ISO, image size, drive mode, GPS controls, Advanced Anti-blur, and Film Simulation options. Switching to EXR brings up a menu for the four EXR options.

 

Modes

Nikon
S9100
The Nikon S9100 primarily runs in Auto mode, with no semi-auto or manual modes. Instead the dial has Program Auto, Auto Scene, Scene, and five positions to access Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Backlighting, Continuous, and Effects modes. Lack of Aperture priority, Shutter priority and Manual may be a sore spot for enthusiasts.
Panasonic
ZS8
Made more for enthusiasts, the ZS8 includes PASM: Program, Aperture and Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes. Intelligent auto also graces the Mode dial, along with Movie, MyScene 1 and MyScene 2, Scene, and Custom settings. Record and Playback are selected via a switch on the back of the camera.
Casio
EX-ZR100
With two auto modes, Premium and Auto, the Casio ZR100 doesn't bother with a Program mode, but it does include Aperture and Shutter priority as well as Manual exposure modes. Also on the list are HDR and HDR Art modes. Best Shot (Scene), Panorama, and Best Selection modes round out the offering. The ZR100 also has a High Speed button on the top deck, allowing capture of up to 30 10-megapixel images at 40 fps.
Canon
SX230
Sporting a Mode dial that most Canon SLR users would recognize, the SX230 has Program, Shutter, Aperture, and Manual on one side, and Auto, Smart Auto, Movie Digest, Portrait, Landscape, Kids&Pets, Scene (seven additional scene modes including Handheld Nightscene), Filter Effects, and Movie mode on the other. The SX230 includes most of what the average user would think to use on the Mode dial.
Sony
HX9V
The HX9V's dial includes Program and Manual modes, but no Aperture or Shutter priority. It also includes not only an Intelligent Auto mode, but a Superior Auto mode, for when you want the camera to use every arrow in its quiver, including its special multi-shot exposure modes. You'll also find Background defocus, Scene, 3D, Movie, and iSweep Panorama modes.
Fujifilm
F550EXR
An admirably simple Mode dial graces the FinePix F550, with Program, Shutter, Aperture, and Manual modes. SP stands for Scene Position, and can be set to a wide range of Scene modes. Adv. stands for Advanced, and includes a 360-degree panorama mode, Pro Focus mode, and Pro Low Light modes. Auto is next, then EXR which provides access to four EXR modes: EXR Auto is an intelligent scene recognition mode that selects the optimum EXR mode; Resolution Priority maximizes detail by producing 16MP files; High ISO & Low Noise essentially uses pixel binning to increase sensitivity and reduce noise at 8MP; D-Range Priority underexposes half the pixels to save highlight detail while retaining shadow detail in the other half, combining them into an 8MP file.

 


 

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