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Digital Cameras - Nikon Coolpix SQ Test Images


I've begun including links in our reviews to a Thumber-generated index page for the test shots. The Thumber data includes a host of information on the images, including shutter speed, ISO setting, compression setting, etc. Rather than clutter the page below with *all* that detail, we're posting the Thumber index so only those interested in the information need wade through it!


Outdoor Portrait:

Good color and resolution, though noise is high.

The extreme tonal range of this image makes it a tough shot for many digicams, which is precisely why I set it up this way, and why I shoot it with no fill flash or reflector to open the shadows. The object is to hold both highlight and shadow detail without producing a "flat" picture with muddy colors, and the Coolpix SQ did a pretty good job, although it did lose some of the strongest highlights.

The shot at right was taken with minus 0.3 EV exposure compensation, which produced good-looking midtones, though at the expense of a fair amount of highlight detail. I chose the Auto white balance as the most accurate overall, though the Daylight setting also resulted in good color. The Manual setting was a bit greenish.

Skin tones look pretty good, but the blue flowers are more purplish than in real life. (This is a very difficult blue for many digicams to get right. For reference, the flowers are a light navy blue. The SQ rendered them more purple than in real life, but still did better than many cameras.) The strong red and green hues look good, though the red flowers are just a little hot. Resolution is high, with good detail visible throughout the frame. Noise is quite high however, even in the midtones.

To view the entire exposure series from -0.3 to +0.3 EV, see files SQOUTAM1.HTM through SQOUTAP1.HTM on the thumbnail index page.


Closer Portrait:

Great resolution and detail, but noisy.

Overall results are similar to the wider shot above, and the SQ's 3x zoom lens helps prevent distortion of Marti's features. Detail is much stronger in this shot, with good definition in the fine detail of Marti's face and hair. The shot at right was taken at the default exposure setting, which produced a nicely balanced exposure with only the strongest highlights blown out. Shadow detail is again strong, and noise, while looking a bit better than the shot above, is still high.

To view the entire exposure series from zero to +0.3 EV, see files SQFACAP0.HTM through SQFACAP1.HTM on the thumbnail index page.


Indoor Portrait, Flash:
Normal Flash
+1.7 EV

Low intensity at the default setting, good color though.

The SQ's built-in flash produced a very dark photo at the default exposure setting, and required a +1.7 EV exposure adjustment to get a bright exposure. Color is a little washed out and cool, but not bad overall.


Indoor Portrait, No Flash:
Auto White Balance
Incandescent White Balance
Manual White Balance

Nearly accurate color with the Manual white balance, a bit higher than average exposure compensation was required.

This shot is always a very tough test of a camera's white balance capability, given the strong, yellowish color cast of the household incandescent bulbs used for the lighting. The SQ's Manual white balance produced the best color here, though slightly cool. Like that of many cameras, the Auto option had a lot of trouble here, and the Incandescent setting resulted in a warm, brownish cast. Marti's skin tone in the Manual white balance version is slightly magenta, and the blue flowers are quite purplish. (Probably to be expected, considering the light source.) The overall color in the Manual WB shot is quite good though, considering the difficult lighting. The shots at right were taken with a +1.3 EV exposure compensation adjustment. Noise is moderate, and detail is strong.


House Shot:
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Manual White Balance

Great resolution, detail, and color, though image noise is moderately high.

The SQ's Manual white balance setting produced the best overall results here, with the most accurate white value on the house trim, as well as overall color. The Auto setting also produced good results, though reddish, and the Daylight setting resulted in a slight warm cast. Resolution is about right for a three megapixel digicam, with good detail in the tree limbs and shrubbery. There's a fair bit of softness in the top upper corners, also slightly noticeable in the bottom corners.


Far-Field Test

Good resolution and detail, but a limited dynamic range.

This image is shot at infinity to test far-field lens performance. NOTE that this image cannot be directly compared to the other "house" shot, which is a poster, shot in the studio. The rendering of detail in the poster will be very different than in this shot, and color values (and even the presence or absence of leaves on the trees!) will vary in this subject as the seasons progress. In general though, you can evaluate detail in the bricks, shingles and window detail, and in the tree branches against the sky. Compression artifacts are most likely to show in the trim along the edge of the roof, in the bricks, or in the relatively "flat" areas in the windows.

This is my ultimate "resolution shot," given the infinite range of detail in a natural scene like this, and the SQ handled it very well. The tree limbs over the roof and fine foliage in front of the house show strong detail, with good definition in the leaf patterns. Noise is again high, which tends to obscure the finest detail slightly, but the image is very sharp, corner to corner. (The corner softness seen in the House Poster shot above appears to be primarily a close-focusing issue, as there's no sign of it on this more distant subject.) The camera loses most of the detail in the bright white paint surrounding the bay window, a trouble spot for many digicams. Detail is strong in the shadow area above the front door, however. Overall color looks good, but the exposure is a little bright.


Lens Zoom Range

A pretty typical 3x zoom range.

I routinely shoot this series of images to show the field of view for each camera, with the lens at full wide angle, at maximum telephoto (3x, in this case), and at full telephoto with the digital zoom enabled. The SQ's lens is equivalent to a 37-111mm zoom on a 35mm camera. That corresponds to a moderate wide angle to a decent telephoto, the overall range biased slightly toward the telephoto end of the range relative to the 35-105mm "standard" lens on most 3x zoom point & shoots. Following are the results at each zoom setting.

Wide Angle
3x Telephoto
4x Digital Telephoto


Musicians Poster
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Daylight White Balance

Good color (although a tad magenta) and good detail.

This shot is often a tough test for digicams, as the abundance of blue in the composition frequently tricks white balance systems into producing a warm color balance. The SQ's Daylight white balance setting produced the most natural color here, though the Auto setting produced similar results. The Manual setting resulted in a slightly cool image. Even with the Daylight white balance, skin tones are a little magenta, and the blue background has slight purplish tints that aren't in the original image. The blue robe is greenish in places, with slight purple tints in the shadow areas. Resolution is high, with great detail in the embroidery of the blue robe.


Macro Shot
Standard Macro Shot
Standard Macro Shot

Very small macro area, with great detail.

As is typical with Nikon digicams, the SQ performed very well in the macro category, capturing a tiny minimum area of only 1.11 x 0.83 inches (28 x 21 millimeters). Resolution is very high, with strong detail in the dollar bill. The brooch is soft due to the very short shooting distance. Despite the very close shooting distance, the SQ's flash throttles down pretty well for the macro area. The flash exposure is just a little bright, but still good.


"Davebox" Test Target
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Manual White Balance

Slight underexposure, but excellent color and good saturation. (Slightly "hot" additive primaries though, particularly the bright red.)

The Auto white balance produced the best color here, with the most accurate white value in the mini-resolution target and large, white color block. Manual white balance looked good as well, though slightly yellow, and the Daylight setting produced a warm cast. Exposure looks about right, and the SQ distinguishes the subtle tonal variations of the Q60 target well. The large color blocks are nearly accurate, though slightly undersaturated. The shadow area of the charcoal briquettes shows limited detail, though noise is fairly high.


Low-Light Tests

Somewhat limited low-light capabilities, but usable under average city street lighting at night.

The SQ operates under automatic exposure control, and has a maximum shutter speed of two seconds. This limits the camera's low-light shooting abilities somewhat, although the camera apparently does boost its ISO to 200 when shooting in dark conditions. In my testing, the SQ produced usable images only down to the one foot-candle (11 lux) light level. Even at that level, the image was a bit underexposed, but color is pretty good. Doubtless due to the ISO boost, noise here is even higher than in the SQ's daylight pictures. The table below shows the best exposure I was able to obtain for each of a range of illumination levels. Images in this table (like all my sample photos) are untouched, exactly as they came from the camera.

Click to see SQLL03.JPG
1/ 3 secs
Click to see SQLL04.JPG
1/ 1 secs
Click to see SQLL05.JPG
1 secs
Click to see SQLL06.JPG
1 secs
Click to see SQLL07.JPG
1 secs


Flash Range Test

Slightly dark exposures with the SQ's flash, significant drop-off from the 11-foot distance on.

In my testing, the SQ's flash illuminated the test target all the way out to 14 feet, though with a substantial decrease in intensity each step of the way. Flash power is a bit dim even at eight feet, but really drops off in brightness from 11 feet on. Below is the flash range series, with distances from eight to 14 feet from the target.


8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see SQFL08.JPG
1/ 64 secs
ISO: 70
Click to see SQFL09.JPG
1/ 64 secs
ISO: 79
Click to see SQFL10.JPG
1/ 64 secs
ISO: 70
Click to see SQFL11.JPG
1/ 64 secs
ISO: 70
Click to see SQFL12.JPG
1/ 64 secs
ISO: 70
Click to see SQFL13.JPG
1/ 64 secs
ISO: 70
Click to see SQFL14.JPG
1/ 64 secs
ISO: 70


ISO-12233 (WG-18) Resolution Test

Decent resolution, 1,000 lines of "strong detail," but details are slightly soft. Difficult to quantify optical distortion.

The SQ performed moderately on our "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to 1,200 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,300 lines. Details are quite soft, however.

Trying to measure the SQ's geometric distortion was confusing. The res-target image showed pretty extreme barrel distortion in the wide angle shot, on the order of 1.5%. On the other hand, lines on the viewfinder accuracy test showed only 0.6% barrel distortion, somewhat lower than average. - All I can figure is that the barrel distortion could be a fairly strong function of how close the camera is to the subject: The res target is shot quite a bit closer to the camera than is the viewfinder accuracy. The telephoto end of the lens' focal length range fared much better, as I measured only 0.15 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is pretty low, as there's very little color around the target lines in the corners of the image, but there seems to be quite a bit of "coma," as there's a lot of smearing of the target element edges in the corners, particularly at wide angle. (As noted in my comments for the far-field test above though, this effect seems to disappear for more distant subjects.)

Resolution Series, Wide Angle
Wide Angle "Fine"
2,016 x 1,512
1,600 x 1,200
1,024 x 768
640 x 480


Resolution Test, Telephoto
2,016 x 1,512
(Fine, Tele)


Viewfinder Accuracy/Flash Uniformity

A slightly tight LCD monitor.

The SQ's LCD monitor is just a little tight, showing 96 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 93 percent at telephoto. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the SQ has a little room for improvement, but should be plenty accurate for all but the most exacting use. Flash distribution is fairly even (though dim) at wide angle, with just a little falloff at the corners and edges of the frame. At telephoto, flash distribution is more uniform, but much dimmer.

Wide Angle, LCD

Telephoto, LCD

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