Digital Camera Home > Best Superzoom 2014

Best Superzoom 2014: Ultimate Image Quality

Eight superzoom cameras compared, 2.5 clear winners

Pirate treasure chests and the Hawaiian hula doll

For the first two image quality comparison examples we chose a relatively close shot for Gena and a somewhat long one for the Early Seventies Guy, and in each case we allowed the cameras to shoot in Program Auto and choose the settings, including ISO. In order to home in on the IQ results further, we chose a distance between those two for this Still Life test shot, set the ISO to base and the cameras to aperture priority, shooting as wide open as each model would allow. We also shot on a tripod with a self-timer and snapped 3 images for each camera and then chose the best, yet again hoping to squeeze every ounce of quality we could from each model.

In addition, since four of the cameras also shoot in RAW, we're including a conversion below in order to make a further judgment regarding just how much additional image quality we might be able to get there. The average superzoom shooters haven't traditionally been RAW file users, but IR readers tend to be so we wanted to cover all the bases for you in that regard.

There's plenty of detail in this target to analyze, and the bushes behind the target provide a good opportunity to see what sort of background blur (bokeh) you can hope to achieve. Interestingly, while the bushes appear quite close to the subject, they are in fact more than 20 feet away, with the apparent closeness due to the extremely long focal lengths involved. In contrast, the Gena shot had a background several hundred feet away, and therefore had substantially different background blur for analysis.

Can you spot the hula doll? This is from the Nikon P600 at wide angle from our shooting position, and the above image of the hula doll was also taken by the Nikon P600 from this spot. (Hint: she's standing on the steps of the distant gazebo.)

We'll start out by showing you the actual shot, cropped in slightly so that each appear roughly the same size in this first set. Then we'll move on to our full resolution crop analysis below.

Superzoom Shootout: Test Shot #3 - full optical telephoto
(cropped in slightly to show the same size image for each model)

Canon SX50
1/156s / f/6.5 / ISO 80 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution link]


Canon SX60
1/202s / f/6.5 / ISO 100 / 247mm (1365mm eq.)
[full resolution link]


Fujifilm S1
Fujifilm S1
1/400s / f/5.6 / ISO 100 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution link]


Nikon P600
Nikon P600
1/250s / f/6.5 / ISO 100 / 258mm (1440mm eq.)
[full resolution link]


Olympus SP-100
Olympus SP-100
1/250s / f/6.5 / ISO 125 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution link]


Panasonic FZ70
Panasonic FZ70
1/250s / f/5.9 / ISO 100 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution link]


Samsung WB2200F
Samsung WB2200F
1/165s / f/5.9/ ISO 100 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution link]


Sony HX400V
Sony HX400V
1/200s / f/6.3 / ISO 80 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution link]

As with previous test images, most of these look fairly good when viewed at this relatively small size on a monitor, so once again we'll offer up 1:1 crops to show full resolution details. We'll start with the open treasure chest, where the hardware from the chain and the antique pistol offer some interesting areas to see what's going on with the image. Below that we'll use another table to display 1:1 crops of the hair and background blur for an inspection of the finest detail.

Superzoom Shootout: Test Shot #3 - full optical telephoto (at 1:1 resolution)
Canon SX50
Canon SX50
1/156s / f/6.5 / ISO 80 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution link]
This is a nice, natural image from the SX50. There is plenty of good detail with very little mottling, smearing or noise as seen in many of the crops below from some of the newer models. Note how clean and clear the front chain appears here (given that it's ebing shot from over a hundred feet away) as you scroll down and compare to the others, especially to the newer SX60.


Canon SX60
1/202s / f/6.5 / ISO 100 / 247mm (1365mm eq.)
[full resolution link]
Compared to the SX50 this image is really a mess. The same chain we just referred to almost seems to be disintegrating in parts of this image, and virtually all of the wood appears odd and mottled to some degree. There's also less detail in the coins even though we're substantially more zoomed in. And bear in mind that this is the best of three images we shot, and is at base ISO from a tripod with a self-timer.


Fujifilm S1
Fujifilm S1
1/400s / f/5.6 / ISO 100 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution link]
This is one crisp image from the S1, with the antique pistol displaying amazing clarity. As with all S1 images we've seen, the processing is aggressive and yields a great deal of contrast (which can't be turned off for in-camera JPEGs, but see below for a conversion from the RAW file). But this doesn't take away from the fact that the S1 delivers here for fine detail without many artifacts (until you get to the unnatural background rendering... more on that in the hair/bokeh table below).


Nikon P600
Nikon P600
1/250s / f/6.5 / ISO 100 / 258mm (1440mm eq.)
[full resolution link]
Once again the P600 is at a slight disadvantage for analysis due to being able to zoom in farther than any of the others, so fine details appear larger when viewed on-screen at 1:1 like this. (In actuality, if you were printing crops from all these images at the same size, the P600's image wouldn't be enlarged as much as the ones from the other cameras, so what looks softer on-screen like this might not appear so in prints.) Even so, it delivers a relatively nice, natural-looking image, with good detail and virtually no unwanted artifacts save for those in the background (also discussed below).


Olympus SP-100
Olympus SP-100
1/250s / f/6.5 / ISO 125 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution link]
There is simply not much in the way of fine detail in the SP-100 image, which is generally soft and smeared.


Panasonic FZ70
Panasonic FZ70
1/250s / f/5.9 / ISO 100 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution link]
This is a nice image from the FZ70. There's good detail in most areas, and very little in the way of unwanted artifacts or smearing. A good job overall, and a pleasing and natural image for the most part.


Samsung WB2200F
Samsung WB2200F
1/165s / f/5.9/ ISO 100 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution link]
In addition to being a bit overexposed like so many of the WB2200F's test shots in this comparison, this image also suffers from unwanted smearing and splotchy artifacts compared to the better performers.


Sony HX400V
Sony HX400V
1/200s / f/6.3 / ISO 80 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[full resolution link]
The HX400V also once again produces far too much in the way of splotchiness and smearing; its images tend to look processed and unnatural compared to the better ones in this series.

Of particular interest in the above crops is that three of the models (the SX50, P600 and FZ70) are able to yield enough fine detail to unveil the year minted on the coin attached to the treasure chest, which is 1717. The S1 would likely also reveal the year if it were able to zoom farther (be sure to see our actual focal length measurements on page 6, as you'll undoubtedly find the results very interesting).

Locks and bokeh

The crop table below shows the contrast between the hair of the wig (our primary focus target) and the blurred bushes in the distance, revealing both detail handling and blur rendering. The trick is to show natural detail with such a tiny sensor, especially in areas of subtle contrast as in the hair and also produce natural-looking blur in the out of focus background area. In fairness to all of the cameras participating here, this is indeed a difficult feat to pull off, although a few did so quite well.

Superzoom Shootout: Test image #3 (at full 1:1 resolution)

Canon SX50
Canon SX60
The SX50 image has a nice balance between the fine detail in the hair and the soft, blurred background. The SX60 however has a bit of smearing occurring in the hair right at our focus point towards the right of this crop, and also displays a rather unnatural mottling pattern in the background. Note also the SX60's inability to properly render the edge of the pewter mugs at the bottom of this crop, where most other models are able to achieve fairly clear detail here.

Fuji S1
Nikon P600
The S1 is once again the king of high contrast, if that's your desired result. The detail is certainly available in the hair, and it does a great job with the pewter mugs, but the background is rendered somewhat unnatural by the aggressive processing. The P600 shows good overall detail in the hair, but has unnatural mottling in the image background similar in nature to the SX60, as well as some odd fringing in its bokeh.

Olympus SP-100
Panasonic FZ70
Yet again the SP-100 is unable to render fine detail at full optical telephoto range. The hair is mostly soft and smudged and the background blur not very natural in appearance. The FZ70 does a very good job with detail in the hair, and has mild mottling in the background but not as bad as the P600 or SX60. The FZ70's bokeh also shows some fringing as with the P600, and is a bit harder-edged due to the shorter focal length.

Samsung WB2200F
Sony HX400V
The WB2200F is rather soft on detail in the hair, and has mild splotchy patterns in the background, though not as bad as some others, while the HX400V is quite splotchy in both the hair and the background and also unable to properly render the edges of the pewter mug, similar to the SX60. The Samsung's background blur is at least fairly natural-looking, the Sony's a bit less so.

Score this round of hair fine detail and background crops to the Canon SX50, followed by the Panasonic FZ70. The rest either suffer from a lack of detail, unnatural background appearances from the image processing, or both. And for the overall score of the entire shot, these two cameras are joined by the Fuji S1 and the Nikon P600 as being able to deliver good overall image quality for this subject matter. The remaining four models are either too soft or suffer from too many unwanted processing artifacts and smearing to be called good.

Drawing details from the RAW files

As we stated previously, four of these models can capture RAW files, and while many superzoom shooters will never bother with these, we know that many IR regulars certainly will. Accordingly, we fiddled with the RAW files from these four cameras, to see if we could extract better image quality than the cameras did in their own JPEG processing. Below are our results side-by-side with the in-camera JPEGs, along with our commentary and analysis.

These images were processed in Photoshop CC, through Adobe Camera RAW version 8.7.0, with the exception of the SX60, which isn't supported by ACR yet. We processed the SX60's image in Canon's own Digital Photo Professional. It's worth noting that Adobe's default color rendering is much flatter (less saturated and often lower contrast) than that of any of these cameras. We compensated as best as we could by adjusting exposure, white balance, contrast and saturation in ACR, but the general "look" of these images will still be slightly different than the camera JPEGs. (The green foliage was a consistent area of difference between the color we could get from ACR and what we saw in the camera JPEGs. It's common for digital cameras to deliberately render some colors a bit differently than they appear in nature, to better match what our eyes expect to see. Foliage is one such example, sky-blue is another. We could have gone into the selective color controls in ACR to fiddle with different parts of the spectrum individually, but felt that color was really secondary to our primary goal of seeing if we could improve on the cameras' noise/detail tradeoffs. All the RAW files are available, in each camera's review directory, for readers to download and play with to their hearts' content :-)

Superzoom Shootout: Test image #3 (at full 1:1 resolution)
RAW conversions vs In-camera JPEGs

Canon SX50
IC-JPEG
RAW conversion
Not a huge difference here; but we did manage to reduce the noise somewhat, especially in the green foliage in the backtround, and fine detail is rendered more delicately, by using a smaller sharpening radius.

Canon SX60
IC-JPEG
RAW conversion
As mentioned above, ACR didn't yet support the SX60 when this article was written (mid-October, 2014), so we had to resort to Canon's DPP software to make this conversion. DPP didn't give us nearly as much control as ACR, and it's perhaps no surprise that Canon's software did much the same thing as the camera's firmware did. It seemed that if anything we did to knock down the noise but softened everything else as well, and anything we did to bring some sharpness back brought the noise right along with it. One surprising note, though: The color and contrast rendering in DPP was very noticeably different than that from the camera. We adjusted as much as we could in the conversion shown above, but were a little nonplussed that selecting "standard" for the picture style in DPP gave such noticeably different results than the camera. And in any case, we weren't able to produce a good image from the RAW conversion.

Fuji S1
IC-JPEG
RAW conversion
As you'll have read elsewhere, we were pretty frustrated both by the Fuji S1's very heavy-handed image processing (especially the very coarse sharpening it applied), compounded by the complete lack of picture controls. The only things we could do were to choose a different white balance, or change a different Fuji Film rendering for the color, but there was no way to dial back the awful sharpening. We were thus very glad to see the dramatically better results we were able to obtain when processing its RAW images ourselves. We think you'll agree that the difference between the two crops above is pretty remarkable. The one downside in processing its RAW files through ACR is that Fuji does have some very nice color handling that would require at the least some selective-color adjustment in ACR to simulate. For our purposes here, we didn't want to get into selective color tweaks, but it's clear that the camera boosts the saturation in foliage greens a fair amount. If we tried to get the same green just by bumping overall saturation in ACR, we ended up with grossly oversaturated skin and hair tones. Given that we were already waay over-budget in terms of the amount of time absorbed by this project, we didn't delve into the possibilities of processing the S1's RAW files in Fuji's own software. We're pretty confident that we could get color we'd be happy with from ACR with a bit more tweaking, though, so didn't put too much weight on that aspect. The bottom line is that the Fuji S1 turns into an entirely different camera, if you go the RAW route with it.

Panasonic FZ70
IC-JPEG
RAW conversion
Once again, not a lot of improvement here; there's just not much more to work with in the FZ70's RAW files than what you see in the camera JPEGs.

At the end of the day, we found little value in RAW-file processing for three of the four cameras that offered that file format, but the Fujifilm S1 was a dramatic exception. The character of its images changed radically when carefully converted from its RAW files, as compared to what we saw in its JPEGs. While we loved a lot of aspects of the camera, its harsh tonality and over-strong, over-coarse sharpening really put us off. By contrast, if you don't mind the added effort of a RAW-based workflow, it's capable of producing some beautiful images.


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!

 


 

Reader Comments!
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about Best Superzoom 2014, or add comments of your own!


Follow Imaging Resource:

Purchase memory card for zndE60d digital camera
Enter this month to win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate