Digital Camera Home > Best Superzoom 2014

Best Superzoom 2014: Shooting the Moon

Eight superzoom cameras compared, 2.5 clear winners

Shooting The Moon!

How nice that the moon's up there! Most of us aren't likely to ever get there, but it's gorgeous to gaze at, and even more fun to photograph. You could spend tens of thousands of dollars on a good telescope, full frame camera and additional gear, and get fabulous pictures of the moon, but that whole rig would be a little bit beefy to say the least, not to mention uber-complicated. What if you could spend roughly $500 and have the only thing you need in one hand? Bring in the modern superzoom!

With the right model and a good tripod, all you need is a clear sky and a moon in sight to start capturing images. Knowing a thing or two about the best shooting settings will help, and we'll provide you with a quick-start guide down below that will get you in the ballpark. We were fortunate during this shootout to get a clear night and a full moon to boot, and couldn't resist the chance to add this as our concluding test shot.

With four tests behind us, this shot was made all the more intriguing. Would it back our previous findings, or turn them on their head? Read on to get all the details, and then scroll down further for more about capturing the moon with a superzoom camera. [Editor's note: a cloud-bank rolled in as we were finishing up the 6th of the 8 cameras in this competition, so apologies to the Panasonic FZ70 and Samsung WB2200F that weren't able to be shot here. As you'll see below, though, the results ended up not being all that different from our earlier daytime shots.]

Superzoom Shootout: Test Shot #5 - The Full Moon!
Canon SX50
1/159s / f/6.5 / ISO 80 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)

 
Canon SX60
1/202s / f/6.5 / ISO 100 / 247mm (1385.8mm eq.)

 
Fujifilm S1
1/200s / f/6.4 / ISO 100 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)

 
Nikon P600
1/200s / f/6.3 / ISO 100 / 179.2mm (1000mm eq.)*

 
Olympus SP-100
1/160s / f/6.5 / ISO 125 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)

 
Sony HX400V
1/160s / f/6.3 / ISO 80 / 214.8mm (1198.9mm eq.)

We decided to use daylight white balance on this shot since the moon is, after all, reflecting sunlight, and for five of the models the result yielded shots that pretty much looked like the moon that particular night. The P600 image is far bluer than the rest, but we don't count this as the fault of the camera, since we imposed the choice of white balance - and this is obviously very easy to alter in post-production anyway. *Also, apologies to the P600 in another way, as we somehow missed getting it zoomed to full telephoto. Since it zooms the farthest effectively, it should be the largest image you see here, but in the hurry to beat the oncoming clouds, we only managed to get it close. [Please see update below for a full optical tele shot with the P600.]

Ah well, being dark out with a cloud bank quickly rolling in, I'm sure you'll excuse this one mistake on our part. Fortunately, even at the reduced focal length and daylight white balance, the P600 still produced a startlingly clear image! And even though all of the images above look fairly good at this size, only by taking a look at 100% resolution can we see who's really delivering the goods here. Click on any image to gain access to the entire full resolution image.

"Houston, we're on final approach."

Superzoom Shootout: Test image #5 (at full 1:1 resolution)
Canon SX50
1/159s / f/6.5 / ISO 80 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
[Click here for 1/200s image]
The SX50 hails from 2012 and still produces the third best lunar image in the eyes of the judges in this particular shootout. There's a trace of chroma noise along the lower edge of the moon, but it's no big deal at all, and there's fairly good detail given its lower 12.1mp resolution. Not a bad image in our book, and this is straight from the camera with no post-processing at all (as are all images in this competition).


Canon SX60
1/202s / f/6.5 / ISO 100 / 247mm (1385.8mm eq.)
Once again the SX60 is unable to follow its predecessor in achieving a good image at full telephoto. Yes, it can zoom quite a bit closer, but that doesn't matter much if the resulting image is soft. This is truly a disappointing shot; the lunar maria is mottled and the edge of the disk lacks detail.


Fujifilm S1
1/200s / f/6.4 / ISO 100 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
Ah... now we're getting somewhere. "Houston, we have the moon in our sights." For $500 and no post-processing yet applied, we'll take this image any day. There's terrific detail for this class, very little apparent noise and certainly the most three-dimensional image in this test. While we felt some of the terrestrial shots were a tad contrasty and over-sharpened, the S1 did an excellent job with the moon. (Well done, Fuji!)


Nikon P600
1/200s / f/6.3 / ISO 100 / 179.2mm (1000mm eq.)
Similar to the S1, the P600 renders a very nice lunar image! *We regret not having zoomed to the maximum 1440mm eq. range, but that just gives us reason to go out and shoot it again. Nice detail, no noise anywhere in sight, a splendid job of capturing the moon on a budget! [Editor's note: We've now had the chance to grab a full optical telephoto (1440mm eq.) moon shot from the P600. Please see the section at the bottom of the page for that image.]


Olympus SP-100
1/160s / f/6.5 / ISO 125 / 215mm (1200mm eq.)
If the moon were indeed made of cheese, then the SP-100 may have captured it. But it's made of rock and mineral and the remains of volcanic activity, and the SP-100 was unable to render virtually any fine detail along those lines.


Sony HX400V
1/160s / f/6.3 / ISO 80 / 214.8mm (1198.9mm eq.)
We certainly want our lunar ridges to have nice texture and crisp detail, but not at the expense of mottling going on in the smooth lunar maria. Unfortunately, as with most of the other test images in our shootout, the HX400V isn't very good at rendering flatter areas, and the entire image just seems a bit muddled.

[Update: Thanks to a valuable suggestion from a reader comment, we've updated both Canon shots to a faster shutter speed. We'd initially selected shots based on exposure, but that resulted in the SX50 image being at 1/128s. Given the speed the moon travels, it was suggested that anything below 1/160s would not be sufficient to capture a crisp image. While switching the SX50 image we realized that the SX60 image was slightly crisper at 1/200s. Unfortunately, it didn't make enough difference to call it "good", but at least it's a bit sharper.]

Lunar conclusion? The Fuji S1 grabbed the moon and pulled it down from the skies with aplomb, as did the Nikon P600 (even without full telephoto!). The SX50 did a nice job as well, and with just a little post-processing would yield even better. The other three lack what we're looking for in a lunar capture device.

The table below shows the top three rendered at the same size, along with their settings, so that you can see what the exposure parameters actually were in comparison. And below that, a lunar primer to get you started with capturing your own moon shots!

Superzooming The Moon: A closer look at effective settings
Canon SX50

1/159s / f/6.5 / ISO 80 /
215mm (1200mm eq.)

Fuji S1 1/200s / f/6.4 / ISO 100 /
215mm (1200mm eq.)
Nikon P600 1/200s / f/6.3 / ISO 100 /
179.2mm (1000mm eq.)

Lunar capture primer for superzooms: Given the small sensor size of superzooms, we felt it best to keep the apertures wider than you might use with a larger-sensored camera and large-diameter telescope to catch the moon (f/11 or even smaller), to avoid diffraction limiting - so we kept them to their maximum apertures and also forced them to use their base ISO settings. From there it was all a matter of which shutter speed to use, as we shot in manual mode for these in order to most easily bracket exposures while maintaining the same ISO and aperture. For each camera in the series, we grabbed 4-5 shots from roughly 1/80s to 1/250s and then chose the best. As you can see from the settings, the SX50 image was best at 1/159s while the S1 and P600 were best at 1/200s. By using bracketing in this way you'll ensure the best chance of getting a usable image from your shoot. And while you may be able to get away with a decent handheld shot given the fairly fast shutter speeds here, it's still highly preferable to use a tripod and a self-timer for these long focal length shots.

A lot of people expect that the moon will require long exposures - after all, it's night, right? The thing to remember is that, while it's night here, that's direct sunlight that the moon is reflecting back at us. So the correct exposure is going to be much closer to what you'd use in daytime here on Earth. Also, because the moon is such a small bright object, against such a dark expanse, many camera exposure systems will try to expose for the average brightness, and way overexpose the moon, losing all detail. Some cameras will be smart enough on their own to figure out that they should expose just for the bright object itself, but for others, you'll need to either shoot in full-manual mode if they have one, or fake them out by dialing in a lot of negative exposure compensation. As noted above, it's also suggested to remain at 1/160s and faster for your shutter speed given the relative speed the moon travels through the night sky.

If you've got a superzoom or a camera with a long lens, give it a try; you may be surprised by how much detail you can capture! (We were really surprised ourselves, by the great images the top three models managed to capture here.)


Special Nikon P600 Update (10/30/14):

Given that we missed the full telephoto focal length on the P600 for the main shot above, we felt compelled to get one for you as soon as we could. The full moon has not yet come back around at the time of this update, but there was a nice, clear crescent moon last night and we were able to grab one at the full whopping 1440mm eq. range for you. The full resolution original is available in the Nikon P600 gallery, as is a modified version that's been cropped and slightly processed in post to give you an idea of the final version potential from your own P600 lunar shots.

Nikon P600: Special re-shoot at full optical telephoto
Nikon P600
1/200 / f/6.5 / ISO 100 / 258mm (1440mm eq.)
Shown above are both the entire (resized) image for our P600 re-shoot and also a crop at full (1:1) resolution. Obviously it appears much different than any of the full moon shots above, as we're viewing a different phase of the moon (waxing crescent) and thus a different area. But this straight-from-the-camera JPEG is quite impressive it its detail. Click either image to access the entire full resolution version, and click here for a version slightly modified in post-processing.


 

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!


 

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