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Best Superzoom 2014: Eight competitors, 2.5 clear winners

Eight superzoom cameras compared, 2.5 clear winners

The best longest-zooming cameras of 2014

By Dave Pardue, William Brawley, Rob Murray and Dave Etchells
Posted: 10/24/2014

Superzoom cameras are a lot of fun. In a package about the size of a small DSLR and at fairly modest prices, virtually any shooter at any level can have 1200mm eq. optical range (and even more on a few models) at their fingertips. From the other side of a lake to the near side of the moon, these 50x and longer models are bringing the distant world ever closer to your door step. To achieve the same range with a full-frame SLR, you'd need a truckload of money and a Sherpa to help carry the rig.

Best Superzoom 2014

In contrast, superzooms are so light and portable that my 4-year-old son or my 84-year-old grandmother can handle one, making them an attractive proposition for a variety of photographers across varying experience levels. And where your little point-and-shoot can zoom quite effectively to handle subjects 20 or 30 feet away, these things can reach out literally hundreds of feet (or meters, for you in the rest of the world), to bring the far near.

But there's a catch (actually, there are three catches). The sensor size in these guys is just a little over 3% the size of a full frame sensor, and only about 10% the size of an APS-C (mid-level DSLR) sensor. It's what catches the light, and it's really very small. And in order to keep them portable, the lenses are not very bright (have small maximum apertures), especially when zoomed out to those extreme ranges. Oh, and it's hard to build a lens that can zoom so far and still look good at the extremes. Not to be negative here, but our readers rely on us for facts and not hype, and these three issues are a fact of life with all superzooms to some degree or another.

That degree of difference is what we set out to uncover for you with this initial comparison test. And while we'd love to be able to do a full review of each model with comparisons of every feature, setting and range, that's simply not possible given how much time it would entail. But fear not, as we've gone straight to the heart of why most people buy these cameras, and that's the ability to bring a distant subject close, whether it's a few football fields away or the moon itself, and produce a competent image of that subject. To this end, we shot the same shots at the most similar settings we could muster from camera to camera at both wide angle and telephoto, on a tripod using the self-timer, in Program auto, Aperture priority and full manual, to show you the best that each camera could do. We also shot handheld as well on one of the shots, so that you could gauge the effectiveness of the onboard IS system at full optical telephoto range.

And just for the record, we're not including the newer style "bridge" cameras here, which these days have a telephoto range anywhere from 200mm to 400mm eq. Regardless of what some websites would have you believe, those are not true superzooms by current standards, and belong in an entirely different comparison. Every model in this competition goes to 50x or beyond, meaning 1200mm eq. or beyond at maximum tele. These are the real superzooms, and our goal here is to bring out the best that each can do, especially at their maximum optical range, and to then offer up comparison images and analysis. We have seven manufacturers represented, and since the Canon SX60 HS is the newest arrival to the party, we threw in its very popular predecessor, the Canon SX50 HS, to round out the field and make it an even eight.

So, let's dive in and warm up those zoom toggles!

The Competitors

Canon PowerShot SX50 HS
Optical Zoom: 50x
Range: 24-1200mm eq.
Resolution: 12.1 MP
Price: $450 (msrp)

Canon PowerShot SX60 HS
Optical Zoom: 65x
Range: 21-1365mm eq.
Resolution: 16.1 MP
Price: $550 (msrp)

Fujifilm FinePix S1
Optical Zoom: 50x
Range: 24-1200mm eq.
Resolution: 16.0 MP
Price: $500 (msrp)

Nikon Coolpix P600
Optical Zoom: 60x
Range: 24-1440mm eq.
Resolution: 16.1 MP
Price: $500 (msrp)

Olympus Stylus SP-100
Optical Zoom: 50x
Range: 24-1200mm eq.
Resolution: 16.0 MP
Price: $400 (msrp)

Panasonic Lumix FZ70
Optical Zoom: 60x
Range: 20-1200mm eq.
Resolution: 16.1 MP
Price: $400 (msrp)

Samsung WB2200F
Optical Zoom: 60x
Range: 20-1200mm eq.
Resolution: 16.3 MP
Price: $450 (msrp)

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX400V
Optical Zoom: 50x
Range: 24-1200mm eq.
Resolution: 20.4MP
Price: $500 (msrp)

Of interest from the basic specifications is that all models are in roughly the same price bracket, at least for the MSRP, as all are listed between $400 and $550. In terms of resolution, all are roughly 16mp except for the older SX50 at 12.1mp and the HX400V at 20.4mp. Maximum wide angle is 24mm eq. on five models, with the SX60 going to 21mm eq. and the FZ70 and WB2200F going to 20mm eq. The optical telephoto end brings 1200mm eq. for six models, with only the SX60 and P600 going further, at 1365mm and 1440mm eq. respectively.

The only model that jumps out immediately as being dramatically different in appearance is the WB2200F, as it has a built-in portrait grip with shutter button, making it taller than the rest and also a bit top heavy when it rests on a table. Despite its added bulk, though, it's the clear favorite for handheld comfort, to all who have held it here. It feels the best in the hands, and the portrait grip is a terrific idea. The tests that follow will reveal whether the image quality matches the cool design and feel of the grip, though.

All models employ their own signature brand of onboard image stabilization, which of course is an absolute must for handheld shots at long zoom ranges. And all but one model will allow you to disable this for times on a tripod when it may not be desired. The exception is the HX400V, which doesn't let you disable its IS system. We'll show you examples of each model's IS while handheld at their full optical telephoto range as compared to a tripod/timer shot so that you can gauge the effectiveness for yourself.

Out and about for testing

Introducing Gena

Gena is the latest member of the IR team, and is happy to make your acquaintance. She's a mannequin by trade, but has a real charm about her. Her best feature is the ability to stand frozen for an almost endless period, making her more valuable for multi-camera shootouts than traditional fashion models. We'll start our zoom comparisons with a rather nice and even late-afternoon light, where we used "cloudy" white balance for each (or "shade" depending on the model) in order to enhance an otherwise flat lighting condition, and give a bit warmer color tone. We also shot each with auto white balance for comparison, and we'll provide links to those for anyone interested in seeing the difference.

These images are all straight-from-the-camera JPEGs and have only been modified in size to fit here. Four of the models offer RAW format, and we'll offer up RAW conversions for comparison on our Page 3 Still Life test shot. In addition, you'll find links to the available RAW files on the respective cameras' gallery pages, so you can conduct your own comparisons vs the JPEGs. For each test image in this shootout we captured 3-4 shots per camera and picked the best, to try to get the most from each model. We're starting with good, old-fashioned Program Auto to see which settings the cameras choose on their own here. Page 3 offers up a more controlled test with ISO set to base for each camera and apertures to their widest possible setting.

[Editor's note: In getting up to speed on the operability of 8 different models, we inadvertently missed achieving full optical telephoto in this shot on two models below: the Fuji S1 and the Sony HX400V. Our apologies for the minor mistake, but it doesn't affect this test by a noticeable margin, and we have many more test shots on subsequent pages shot at maximum optical telephoto for both models.]

Superzoom Shootout: Test image #1 (tripod and self-timer)

Canon SX50
Canon SX50
1/5s / f/6.5 / ISO 80 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution links: cloudy white balance | auto white balance]


Canon SX60
Canon SX60
1/6s / f/6.5 / ISO 100 / 247mm (1365mm eq.)
[full resolution links: cloudy white balance | auto white balance]


Fujifilm S1
Fujifilm S1
1/14s / f/5.6 / ISO 100 / 200.9mm (1126.2mm eq.)
[full resolution links: cloudy white balance | auto white balance]


Nikon P600
Nikon P600
1/10s / f/6.5 / ISO 100 / 258mm (1440mm eq.)
[full resolution links: cloudy white balance | auto white balance]


Olympus SP-100
Olympus SP-100
1/13s / f/6.5 / ISO 125 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution links: cloudy white balance | auto white balance]


Panasonic FZ70
Panasonic FZ70
1/10s / f/5.9 / ISO 200 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution links: cloudy white balance | auto white balance]


Samsung WB2200F
Samsung WB2200F
1/5s / f/5.9 / ISO 100 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution links: cloudy white balance | auto white balance]


Sony HX400V
Sony HX400V
1/5s / f/6.3 / ISO 80 / 213.6mm (1192.2mm eq.)
[full resolution links: cloudy white balance | auto white balance]

At this size you can get a reasonable feel for how these images look onscreen, but this is nowhere close to normal print size nor seeing how much cropping you can get away with and still maintain good image quality. We'll therefore take a look at 1:1 crops at 100% resolution below, to peek under the hood a bit and see what's really being delivered by each camera. If you're interested in conducting your own comparisons just click on any of the images or links and they'll come up in new windows, so you can view multiple images at the same time in side-by-side fashion.

Bear in mind that the apparent size of full resolution crops will be different for each camera depending on both zoom range as well as resolution. In this comparison set we're showing the full 1:1 crop, then on the next series we'll resize them so that they're all the same apparent size, to give you a different perspective. Below this set we'll also post an abbreviated crop table to allow you to view all 8 simultaneously.

Superzoom Shootout: Test image #1 (at full 1:1 resolution)
Canon SX50
We'll start with the SX50 for this first comparison analysis. It's the oldest model in the shootout, but is a tried and true workhorse that's been widely regarded as one of the better models in the class in previous years, so it makes for a good benchmark. As you can see, the image holds up really well here at full resolution, with good detail in areas like the hair and eyelashes, and little in the way of artifacts or smearing that can occur at maximum optical telephoto in some superzooms.


Canon SX60
In this comparison the SX60 doesn't hold up to its predecessor for image quality. This is base ISO, and yet there's still an odd mottling occurring in some areas of the image, especially in the skin and lips. The hair is also soft and somewhat smeared, and the background not very smooth in general. This was a real letdown for us, given that it's the newest model in this competition and the only one offering 65x zoom range.


Fujifilm S1
The S1's default settings add more contrast to the JPEG images than any of the other cameras, and it yields a somewhat crunchy look to portions of this image. Some areas like the eyelashes are nice and sharp, but fine detail is mostly lost in the hair due to the over-processing, and there's also a bit of mottling in areas like the background. Stay tuned, though, as the S1's processing can be favorable for other types of images, and we'll offer up RAW conversion comparisons on Page 3 as well.


Nikon P600
Even though this model goes to the longest equivalent zoom range and is therefore at a slight disadvantage in that the full resolution crop here is effectively zoomed in farther (potentially making details look coarser on-screen), this image is the best of the bunch to our eyes in this comparison. There's excellent detail in the lips, hair and eyelashes, and less noise than in most of the other images. It's also the most natural-looking. There's minor noise in the background, though more like film grain than mottling. It's certainly not the same as you'd get from a gargantuan full frame rig costing thousands of dollars and weighing a ton, but we were very surprised by the P600's image quality right off the bat, and find that it excels with this type of portrait shot even at full optical telephoto.


Olympus SP-100
The SP-100 image here is disappointing in its lack of detail in most areas of the image, especially the hair which is splotchy and smeared-looking. It just doesn't have much life or detail when compared to the P600 or the SX50, looking soft and smudged compared to most other cameras' renderings.


Panasonic FZ70
We were expecting more from the FZ70 in this shot, but it's also rather soft and lacking in crisp detail. There's also a mottling of sorts occurring over much of the image, that's especially noticeable in the background. All of these models have a little of this due to their small sensors, but the amount here is quite noticeable. (It turns out that the FZ70 hiked its ISO to 200 for this shot, which will account for some of the reduced detail. Check the shots on Page 3 for examples across all 8 cameras at their base ISOs.)


Samsung WB2200F
This image doesn't have as much noise as the FZ70, but is basically soft in most all areas, lacking the kind of detail we found in the P600. Both the background area and skin have less noise than most of the others, but this comes at the expense of detail in the more critical areas of the image.


Sony HX400V
The HX400V has arguably the worst mottling and splotchiness of any of the images above, especially apparent in the background as well as the lips and part of the skin. If you scroll up to view the entire image in the first series, you can see that this affects the background even when viewed at that size, when compared to the others. And the hair is (as they say) just a mess. Unfortunately, not a good image from the HX400V on this first comparison shot.

Now let's take a quick look at just one area of the image for a quick-peek at all 8 cameras. On this one, we've resized the crop so that they're all the same apparent size, to give a different view, corresponding more to what you'd see if printing all the cameras' images at the same size.

Superzoom Shootout: Test image #1 (zoomed in but adjusted to be the same size)
Canon SX50


Canon SX60


Fuji S1


Nikon P600


Olympus SP-100


Panasonic FZ70


Samsung WB2200F

Sony HX400V

To conclude this first test comparison, the examples in the two crop tables above show the Canon SX50 yielding a good image for this camera class, and the Nikon P600 delivering a very good image - above what we even thought possible for this sensor type at such a long zoom range (1440mm eq.!). The Fuji S1 is also fairly good, if just a bit on the processed-looking side, but still bearing nice detail. The remaining five cameras all show varying degrees of either softness and/or noise and artifacts, falling short of what we'd consider "good" quality for this first test.

But this is just the beginning...!

We have much more in the way of comparison images to show you, including adding handheld comparisons to the mix, wide angle examples, RAW conversions, even the full moon, so click below to move onto page 2 (or feel free to jump around as you'd like, we don't mind!).

Best Superzoom 2014 Index:

1) Meet The Competitors / Introducing Gena

2) Searching for the Early Seventies Guy

3) The Ultimate Image Quality

4) Handheld Image Stabilization Testing

5) Shooting The Moon!

6) What's The Real Max Focal Length?

7) Conclusions and Winners!


More articles you might enjoy:

Best Cameras for Under $1000

How to Photograph Indoor Sports on a Budget

Nikon P900 (2000mm eq!) conclusion now posted!



 

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