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Travel Zoom Shootout 2011: Lens, Movies and Low Light

Six pocket long zoom digital cameras compared

Lens

Zoom Range. The key component of a pocket long zoom or travel zoom is its lens. Starting at various settings, only two lenses share the same focal lengths, the ZS8 and HX9V. The others are all over the place, but each offers a zoom wide and long enough to serve as the only camera on a trip across town or around the world.

Nikon S9100
18x, 25-450mm
. By far the longest lens of the bunch, this lens isn't quite as wide as a few others, but man can it get in close! The lens makes a low frequency buzzing sound that is not too distracting.
Panasonic ZS8
16x, 24-384mm
. 24mm is great for landscapes, not so great for portraits, but the ZS8 has a huge range to shoot from, and its full 384mm equivalent is quite impressive. The zoom is quiet and smooth.
Casio EX-ZR100
12.5x, 24-300mm
. Also starting at 24mm, the ZR100 doesn't zoom in quite as much, having only a 12x zoom. It's still a very useful range. The zoom is quiet, smooth, and fast.
Canon SX230
14x, 28-392mm
. Least wide of the bunch, the SX230 nevertheless gets in tighter than all but the Nikon S9100. 28mm is still respectable and useful for a travel camera, but we might be drawn to a model with a wider lens.
Sony HX9V
16x, 24-384mm
. 24mm again is great for landscapes and large indoor areas, plus you get an impressive 384mm equivalent zoom. The zoom is almost silent, but the zoom jiggles a little in transit.
Fujifilm F550EXR
15x, 24-360mm
. Though it's as wide as the widest in this shootout, the F550EXR isn't quite as long. Zooming produces a high-pitched buzz, but motion is smooth and fast.

 

Movies

Nikon S9100
Despite eVR image stabilization, the Nikon S9100's video is a little shaky, and Jello-effect is noticeable. As we zoom out, the lens goes out of focus for a short time. Image quality is a little soft overall and lens distortion is not well corrected. 1080p30 video. Click the image to download the 23.1MB MOV file.

Panasonic ZS8
Marked by rock-solid image stabilization, the Panasonic ZS8's video is quite good. There's no evidence of Jello-effect, zoom is smooth, exposure and focus remain stable as we zoom, and video sharpness is excellent. 720p30 video. Click the image to download the 42.2MB MOV file.
Casio EX-ZR100
With moderately effective image stabilization, the EX-ZR100's video suffers from moderate Jello-effect, but focus remains stable as we move out, and the zoom is buttery smooth. The zoom toggle makes a creaking sound that is picked up by the mics on a quiet day. 1080p30 video. Click the image to download the 15.2MB MOV file.
Canon SX230
Very good exposure and video quality, pretty good image stabilization, a very minor hint of Jello-effect is present, but not bad at all. Motion is not as smooth as higher framerate models, though. Pronounced wind noise may be due to higher wind at the time of capture, but it is noticeably louder than other cameras in this shootout. 1080p24 video. Click the image to download the rather large 60.3MB MOV file.
Sony HX9V
Very solid image stabilization and minimal Jello-effect puts the HX9V in the number two spot behind the ZS8 in this test. Video is sharp and fluid, zoom is smooth. There's a slight change of focus toward the end of the zoom, but the camera recovers very quickly. This is the only camera of the group to use AVCHD video, so you'll need a program that can play MTS files. 1080p60 video. Click the image to download the 40.6MB MTS file.
Fujifilm F550EXR
Our video sample shows quite a few problems with the F550EXR. First, the exposure starts out rather bright, but quickly normalizes. Despite the F550EXR's reasonably effective image stabilization, there's a pronounced Jello-effect to the videos. The AF system seeks quite a bit as we zoom out, going completely blurry about halfway out until we stop zooming. You can also hear the zoom motor. 1080p30 video. Click the image to download the 22.2MB MOV file.

 

Low light

Five of the six cameras have multi-shot handheld night modes, where the camera captures several relatively low ISO images and usually micro-aligns them for a single low-noise image. The Panasonic ZS8 doesn't have this mode, but makes a decent night mode all the same.

Nikon S9100
Though you can't hear it, the Nikon S9100 takes multiple shots in Night Landscape mode, combining them into one. 2 seconds to process.
f/4.2, 1/15, ISO 500

Panasonic ZS8
Panasonic recommends a tripod with Night Scenery mode since there's no multi-shot magic going on, but it does pretty well.
f/3.9, 1/8, ISO 800
Casio EX-ZR100
The EX-ZR100 detects whether it's attached to a tripod and adjusts its settings, firing a rapid burst in High Speed Night Scene. It takes six seconds to process, and res. is reduced slightly.
f/4.2, 1/30, ISO 1,600
Canon SX230
The SX230's Handheld NightScene surprisingly turns in the best result. It takes what seems like three shots and combines them in about 4 seconds.
f/3.5, 1/13, ISO 1,000
Sony HX9V
Sony first introduced this concept, and their mode works pretty well, taking multiple shots and micro-aligning them. f/4, 1/25, ISO 800
Fujifilm F550EXR
Fujifilm has two methods to do the same thing, and we reshot the image at right when we learned about Pro Low-Light Mode. This mode raises the ISO to 3,200 and reduces the image size; the end result isn't much different from what we saw in Night mode at ISO 800.
f/4.2, 1/25, ISO 3,200

 


 

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