DCRP

GPS-Equipped Compact Ultra Zoom Cameras Review

Photo Quality Comparisons

So let's get down to what most of you really want to know -- how does the photo quality compare between cameras? Each of our photo tests is shown with a tabbed interfaced, which allows you to easily flip from one camera to another. I'll share my thoughts below each of the test images.

Let's begin with the macro test.

Of the three cameras, the PowerShot SX230 was the best at handling our macro test subject. The subject is sharp and smooth at the same time, and colors are nice and saturated. I don't see any signs of noise or noise reduction artifacting, which can't be said for the other two cameras. The Lumix DMC-ZS10 turned out fairly well, though there's some visible grain-style noise here, and the red cloak looks a bit flat to me. While the Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V looks good in terms of color, upon closer inspection you can see heavy detail smudging due to overly aggressive noise reduction (especially around the edges).

The minimum focus distances are 3 cm for the Panasonic, and 5 cm for both the Canon and Sony models.

Making the night test photo comparable is difficult. Getting the zoom position equal is tough, and making exposures consistent is even more difficult. The PowerShot SX230 HS is the clear winner here, with the sharpest photo and least amount of noise. The photo taken with the Sony HX9V is fairly clean as well, though some detail smudging is evident. The Lumix ZS10 is the worst of the bunch, with visible noise and detail loss -- and this is at ISO 100! All three cameras had some issues with highlight clipping, and the Canon and Sony both had some purple fringing, as well. In case you're wondering, the "handheld nightshot" features on these cameras did not yield usable results with this scene.

Now we're going to use that night scene to see how the cameras perform at higher sensitivities. First things first, though: for whatever reason, Canon won't let you increase the ISO past 100 when taking long exposures. This minimizes noise, but seems like an unneeded restriction in the manual exposure modes. So, you'll only see the PowerShot SX230 in the ISO 100 section. The Sony HX9V is all alone at the ISO 3200 setting, since the Panasonic ZS10 tops out at ISO 1600 (and that's probably a good thing).

And with that, let's see how these cameras perform at higher sensitivities in low light:


Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V

As the previous test illustrated, the PowerShot SZ230 looks best at ISO, followed by the Sony, with the Panasonic a distant third. At ISO 200, the Sony is still fairly clean, while the Panasonic just gets noisier and noisier. The Sony starts to look rather unattractive at ISO 400, so this is for small prints only. I would pass on everything above that. As you can see, the Panasonic is a noisy mess at everything above ISO 100.

We'll see how the cameras perform in normal light in a little bit.

Now onto the distortion test, which shows fairly mild barrel distortion for both the Canon and Panasonic cameras. The Sony seems to have pincushion distortion at the wide end of its lens, which is unusual. All three cameras had at least some issue with corner blurring, with the Sony having the worst problem, followed by the Canon. Vignetting, or dark corners, didn't seem to be an issue with any of these compact ultra zooms.


Pre-flash + redeye correction as photo is taken

Pre-flash only

Pre-flash + redeye removal in playback mode

Above is our redeye test, which shows the "best case scenario" for each camera. In the case of the Sony, that meant using the redeye removal tool in playback mode to clean things up (a similar feature didn't work on the PowerShot SX230). You will have to deal with pretty strong redeye on all three cameras, so don't be surprised to be spending some time cleaning it up on your computer.

Now it's time for our studio ISO test. Since the lighting is always the same, you can compare these photos with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Two things to note before we continue. First, the tabs now switch between the ISO sensitivity, rather than the camera. And second, be sure to view the full size images too, as these crops only show a tiny portion of the actual test scene! And with that, let's begin:


Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V looks best at ISO, followed closely by the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 is already showing some noise, and colors aren't as saturated as the other two cameras, either. The same things could be said at ISO 200. When we reach ISO 400, the Panasonic image has worsened, with the photo taken with the DSC-HX9V starting to show detail loss, as well. The PowerShot SX230 image has some visible noise, but still retains a lot of detail. ISO 800 is probably the best stopping point for the SX230 and HX9V, while you probably shouldn't taken the ZS10 above ISO 400. While the ISO 1600 photo taken by the DSC-HX9V is usable for emergencies, I'd avoid using it and anything higher on the other cameras.

So you've seen the controlled photo tests, where the Sony and Canon cameras come out looking the best, with the Panasonic being quite a disappointment, especially compared to its predecessors. What about in the real world? I found the Canon PowerShot SX230 do have the best real world photo quality. Images were free of noise and detail loss (for the most part), subjects were sharp, and colors were pleasing. That's not to say that the SX230 was perfect -- it has issues with purple fringing and blurry corners. It also likes to clip highlights, though the same can be said for the other two cameras. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V takes the middle position. It takes sharp photos with generally accurate color, though its marred by what I think is a combination of heavy noise reduction, over-sharpening, and perhaps too much JPEG compression (which cannot be adjusted on the HX9V). Fine details like grass, trees, and water show a lot of smudging, while solid areas of color appear mottled. The DSC-HX9V also has issues with corner blurring. The biggest disappointment is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10, which has lots of noise and detail loss, even at low ISOs. Colors were a bit "blah", as well. About the only positive thing I can say about the ZS10's photos is that purple fringing is kept to a relative minimum.

View Canon PowerShot SX230 HS Photo Gallery
View Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 Photo Gallery
View Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V Photo Gallery

While this isn't really a comparison, I do want to show you the video quality of each of these three cameras. I've provided both an original movie and a downsized 720p version for easier viewing. AVCHD to QuickTime conversions were performed using Toast Titanium 10.

While I still owe you a movie from the Panasonic DMC-ZS10, I can tell you about the other two cameras. When at its highest quality setting, the video on the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V looks really, really nice. If you lower the bit rate, you will see some artifacts, so there is a trade-off. The Canon looks quite good as well, though its frame rate is a choppier 24 frames/second. With all three cameras, you will notice that they hesitate a bit when trying to refocus on moving subjects.

So which of these three cameras should you be spending your hard-earned money on? Flip to the next page to find out!

Buy it Now