Survey: 10 stabilised digital cameras - BeHardware
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Written by Vincent Alzieu

Published on May 5, 2006

URL: http://www.behardware.com/art/lire/620/


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The new compacts

The new compacts
Summer vacation is on its way and with it the urgent need to buy a new digital camera. Last year, in our ď2005 summer surveyĒ we said that the compact digital cameras that were so in fashion made it possible to capture memories, rather than make photo art. This is partly true this year but we are now a little more demanding and want to reduce the number of defective pictures. Itís frustrating to find a series of blurred pictures or with so much noise that itís impossible to print them. So in this test we expected products to produce clean and sharp results, quickly, not be bulky and colors to be natural. We selected the following cameras:


1.Canon Ixus 800-IS
2.Casio Exilim S600
3.FujiFilm FinePix F11
4.Konica Minolta Dimage X1
5.Nikon Coolpix P4
6.Olympus Mju 720 SW
7.Pentax Optio W10
8.Panasonic DMCFX01
9.Ricoh Caplio R3
10.Sony DSC-T9

They all have stabilization devices. Be aware though that some have optical image stabilization and others use software (adjusting sensitivity). We sometimes discovered that only the video mode was stabilised. Each camera deserved an in-depth look and we always asked the question, ďIs this the ONE, the camera that weíve waited so much for?Ē Some are ultra compacts (16 mm thick for Casio), others have bigger zooms (7x for Ricoh !) and two are waterproof. The Pentax and Olympus are functional at a reasonable depth and for snorkelling at the beach and swimming pool they are perfect.

Who should be interested in this survey?
Photo amateurs, for which this is actually the true concept of these compacts. We are looking for handy cameras that are easy to use and capable of responding to all situations. We arenít Dpreview and our objective isnít to compete with them, so our approach is radically different from photo specialised websites. They pay a lot of attention to distortion and the noise/signal ratio on test patterns. We chose to make more practical tests that are more representative of our every day use. From our point of view these cameras havenít reached a level of perfection where you would need a test pattern to establish differences between products. You just need compare pictures to see the differences. We can measure distortion and vignettage, but focusing on this would be a mistake because no one (our intended readers, anyway) would be handicapped by these factors on the cameras selected.

What does image stabilization do
All the compacts tested are automatic and it isnít possible to adjust speed or the aperture. Only the sensitivity is modifiable, which isnít much. In consequence, photos are sometimes taken without the flash with a high level of sensitivity and noise, or with the flash with overexposed areas, flattened volumes, and red eyes.

Here is the result obtained with a good compact camera (Canon Ixus) without image stabilization, indoors, with automatic mode with and without flash:


The shutter speed is 1/60 of a second for the picture with flash with a standard aperture of F/5. This is standard, because cameras are the most efficient with this type of aperture and they are less subject to distortion. The image is sharp but colors arenít natural. Our top model is no longer tan, she is completely burned. Her hair, which isnít real from the start, reflects the flash. The volume in the face is also lost and the curve of the cheek, for example, is no longer visible. It looks like she has a flat face with a very small nose. The photo is sharp but at what cost. If in automatic mode the flash is off, the camera acts a little hazardously. The photo Exif parameters report a shutter speed of 1/8 of a second with an aperture of F/5. The camera doesnít specify the sensitivity it just says ďautoĒ. If you have really bad eyesight the picture on the right is blurry and itís unusable.

Automatic cameras have a P mode, however, in which the sensitivity can be adjusted. Itís simple. Each time sensitivity is doubled the camera doubles the shutter speed. In short, the closer you get to 800 IO, the faster the camera will shoot and the sharper the photos will be.


Speed diminishes proportionally to sensitivity and as well as noise (parasite pixels) and photo sharpness.

To compensate for this, manufacturers introduced an optic or sensor image stabilization (the result is quite similar). This reduces much of the shaking and makes it possible to take sharp pictures at a much lower speed. Here are a few figures to give you an idea. Everybody will take a sharp picture at 1/60s. If you have a firm grip and concentrate you can take a sharp picture at 1/30s. With the best stabilization devices you can be sharp at 1/5s. Here is the result of its activation on the Ixus 800-IS.


The improvement is obvious. Stabilization makes it possible to gain two speeds. The 400 ISO picture isnít perfect, as it has some noise, but it is much better than the one at 800 ISO without stabilization and (look above) the one with a flash!

We chose the Canon Ixus 800-IS to illustrate this change, the additional comfort added by stabilization. We have to say, however, that the popularity of this very handy function is mainly due to Panasonic and Konica Minolta. Just try it and you will find it indispensable. All manufacturers claim its implementation on some of their cameras but you should know that there are two types of stabilization; mechanical and software. Is this the same type of software stabilization as with camcorders? No. It is only an automatic modification of the cameraís qualities to a higher sensitivity and in consequence a higher level of noise. If we look at the package, itís difficult to know which one it is. If you try it out, however, itís obvious.


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Tests explanations

All cameras were used in a normal way, for family portraits or in the street with friends. But as usual for comparison, we took them through the usual tests.

The first test is a scene, always the same, indoors, by artificial light, reproducible and similar to daylight. Itís photographed with a tripod, at least twice, once using the flash and once without. We use this scene with the intention of observing if use of the flash distorts or saturates colors. Also, we want to see if the digital camera is able to display more accurate colors without the flash, and if pictures are exposed correctly.


If the option is available (not on fully automatic versions), this scene is also shot with all the cameraís available sensitivities.

Still indoors, we evaluate the macro mode with an electronic cards, the low light mode (by candlelight), contrast, zoom efficiency with a test pattern, and, last but not least, the video mode.

We already said that in the previous page, the video mode is no longer a just a toy! These cameras are much simpler to use than camcorder tapes. You may spend hours in shooting and processing videos (often leading to stocks of useless tapes), but here you just copy and paste. You can also edit your movies or even add a soundtrack with Studio 9, etc

Camera speed
This is often a neglected factor, but is quite essential. Those who bought cameras in the past may have realised this each time they took pictures. It may take excellent pictures, but if itís too slow it can be frustrating. You may even stop using your camera because of this.

Four speed criteria are measured:
-Switching on the camera.
-Time between pictures. (The fastest required one second, three times less than one competitor.)
-Time to auto focus in daylight
-Focusing in a poorly lit scene

Each test resulted in a score. There is also a final grade in the end.


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Canon Ixus 800-IS

Canon Ixus 800-IS
Canon isnít the type of company that is in a rush. They have on the one hand successful product lines that almost sell themselves, and on the other hand a very productive research branch in Japan that takes its time. The engineers develop a technology or take a good idea, and improve it until the market is ready to accept it from their point of view.

Image Stabilization
Two years ago it was already obvious that optical stabilization showed very promising opportunities for compacts. However, it was too early for it. They let Panasonic and Konica Minolta prepare the market to later release its own technology and benefit from their work. This is what they do with the Ixus 800-IS and it is a success. This camera is far from being the first stabilized compact camera, as there are now dozens of them. However, if one camera was awaited like the messiah in 2006, this is it! The old saying goes that there is no need to run if you start at the right time.

Why are so many people waiting for this camera? First, because the Ixus without stabilization is already the most successful camera. They are preferred for their design, finishing touches (they are very nice), and color rendering. Recently they also became very fast. The entire product line switches on in less than 1 second.

Without focussing on the 800-IS, we expected mainly two things in terms of improvements on the current Ixus series. First of all there is stabilization (and in this area the 800-IS responds to the expectations of many users). We also expected a better management of increased noise levels. Even if progress was made with the release of the latest Digic processors, parasite pixels were still visible and really problematic starting at 400 ISO. And indeed, Canon has just introduced a new 800 ISO mode with the latest compacts. Is this real progress or just marketing? Is this sensitivity really usable or does it just produce pictures with higher noise levels? The second answer is true as Canon has only unlocked a new level without correcting the problems of the previous ones. This is unfortunate even if there is now stabilization. The result indoors without a flash at 200 ISO (we were at 400 ISO, or even 800 ISO with the latest Ixus without stabilization) is much better.
To be honest it isnít possible to be always at 200 ISO. The camera jumps from a shutter speed of 1/10 s to 1/5 s without intermediate steps. At 1/10s, photos are sharp. At 1/5s only one out of four is sharp. Nevertheless, here is the result of this camera at 400 ISO compared to last yearís high end model:

Canon Ixus 800-IS (2006)
Canon Ixus 750(2005)

The noise level between the two cameras is unchanged. However, the picture on the left is sharp and the one on the right isnít, because of involuntary movement due to an excessively long shutter speed and the lack of stabilization on the Ixus 750. Pictures without a flash and slower response time will be much improved with the new camera.

As we said above, you can adjust sensitivity manually to 200 ISO. In our case, the camera almost systematically chose a very short shutter speed of 1/5 s. So in order to compensate for the large number of missed pictures you always have to work in burst mode. Itís as good. We measured a rate of 2.6 images per second with our SanDisk Extrem III card. Once out of four we obtained:

Canon Ixus 800-IS
Canon Ixus 800-IS

You have to admit that the result is very nice! To reduce blurry pictures, hold your breath, use both hands and shoot. If possible use a wall to lean against, which we didnít do in this test.

Increased noise levels
Noise remains moderate up until 200 ISO before strongly increasing at 400 and 800 ISO. The 800 ISO mode appeared with the latest Ixus series as the previous ones were restricted to 400. Noise is overwhelming and you will rarely have the opportunity to take a ďgood pictureď at such a high sensitivity.

Verdict
With the latest Ixus series and because of stabilization, the 800-IS is really the one that we prefer (we also tested the Ixus 60 and 65). We would like to see this component on other products starting with the economical PowerShot. Finding it on these compact cameras with manual functions would be great but for now it doesnít seem to be on the agenda.


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Casio Exilim S600

Casio Exilim S600
The aim of the Exilim was to be the thinnest possible. The first product didnít even include a zoom. Thanks to technological improvements they now have 3x zooms on this device which is the size of a credit card. Without taking quality into consideration, we love this camera for its minimum bulkiness: 1.6 cm thick. I had it in my pocket for a month without any inconvenience. Itís even a real pleasure to take it out whenever you want to take a picture or to make a movie. Without being the most gifted it records satisfactory sequences.

Image Stabilization
Casio speaks of Anti Shake DSP. The logo is nice but you shouldnít be mistaken, it isnít an optical device. It adjusts the sensitivity when there isnít enough light whether you want to use the flash or not. You have to select results in the program (Best shot on the camera) and choose one of the stabilised modes. You should know, however, that quality will be reduced and the noise level increases fast:


There is a significant loss of detail as early as 200 ISO and indoors without flash, the camera selects 400 ISO most of the time. Cameras with optical stabilization all provide better results in this context.

Verdict
Thin, fast (switches on in 1.5 second), the S600 mustnít be eliminated right off even if it doesnít really have a stabilization device. Its price is quite moderate and size truly appreciable.


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Fujifilm Finepix F11

Fujifilm Finepix F11
The F11 is at the end of its lifespan, but we felt that it would be unfair not to include it as it really represents an important turn for Fuji. The manufacturer worked on the increased noise level due to sensitivity. They did such a good job that this camera has better results than those with optical image stabilization. Also, we can appreciate the very soft image rendering as opposed to Canonís extreme colors. The downside is its look and the F30, doesnít look any better. Of course, this is all a matter of taste. It seems more in line with pre Canon 800-IS or close in the price range to the Panasonic DMC-FX01.

Image Stabilization Ö
Öis at the software level. In fact, the camera automatically and logically switches to very high sensitivity as soon as the flash is off and it senses a lack of light. You might fear for the worst when looking at the characteristics as it can go up to 1600 ISO when taking into account the noise at 400 ISO for its competitors. But in fact, Fujifilm has considerably diminished the level of noise in photos at very high sensitivities. They succeed by partly adding a small blurred effect. Photos are cleaner, but also have lower noise levels. With our test portrait (see below), it results in homogeneous hairs volumes whereas with Canon you clearly sees locks.


It is good up until 400 ISO. At 800 ISO, sharpness is slightly reduced. The quality at 1600 ISO is too low, however, for nice pictures. FYI, the next F30 goes up to 3200 ISO! Will it be really useable when we see the F11ís 1600 ISO?

So we recommend not leaving the F11 in automatic mode. Itís best to set sensitivity at 800 ISO indoors. Our test pictures were taken at a shutter speed of 1/20s. If you hold your breath and shoot in burst mode, you will get a few satisfactory pictures. There will be some poor pictures, more than with a camera with real stabilization.

Verdict
In addition to the exceptional noise level management, we appreciated the very soft color rendering and great reaction time. The only characteristic we disliked was its design and for the same amount of money the competition has very attractive cameras. The Panasonic has optic image stabilization and a wide angle, the Pentax and Olympus are waterproof. The F11 maybe isnít as fun as the others.


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Konica Minolta Dimage X1

Konica Minolta Dimage X1
We mentioned above that that F11 is at the end of its lifespan. This one as well is almost dead as Konica Minoltaís compact will soon disappear. The manufacturer has decided to stop production, because of a lack of profitability. This will happen in theoretically in September except for the reflex division that was bought by Sony. We included the X1 because some of you may find a very good deal on this camera, because itís the last of this series. Here is an 8 megapixel with stabilization for only 300Ä, which was formally at 450 Ä at the end of 2005. We understand how buyers could be tempted.

Image Stabilization
Konica Minolta equipped this camera with a double stabilization device. The entire lens and sensor move to compensate for vibrations. The block rotates on a vertical and horizontal axis. Is this really efficient? Unfortunately, no. Sharp picture are taken starting at 1/13 s, whereas itís only 1/8s or even 1/5s for Panasonic, for example. Moreover, the level of detail with the 200 ISO and 1/13s combination is not as good as the competitionís.


Itís interesting to point out that another camera equipped with a lens of this type, the Sony DSC-T9 didnít provide better results.

Verdict
We would have liked to have finished on a positive note, but unfortunately this wonít happen. The camera finishing touches are much too light. This type of very flat camera is in principle supposed to go in your pocket or in a purse but the finish is very fragile. It quickly gets scratched or damaged and even fingerprints stay. Itís best to take extra care with this camera, find a cover and polish it from time to time.
Also, even if the camera is quick in switching on, or between two pictures it becomes tiresome. You need to wait from 5 to seven seconds between two images!
We also found a few defects in the white balance. This is the reason why there are many over represented colours, especially red.
Finally, the 8 megapixel sensor didnít impress us much and good 6 megapixels capture as much detail.


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Nikon Coolpix P3 / P4

Nikon Coolpix P3 / P4
Tin-tin Nikon releases an optic image stabilization at the same time as Canon in a compact camera. Nikon scores the first point as the P4 is almost 100Ä less expensive than the Ixus 800-IS. A second advantage for Nikon is that for this amount of money the sensor is a 8 megapixel whereas it is only of 6 for Canon. Third point in Nikonís favour is if you purchase the P3 (approximately 430 Ä), itís identical to the P4 but itís also capable of transferring pictures via Wifi. The idea seems appealing as it means the end of the cables and we can already see ourselves connecting our camera to a Wifi network of our friendís laptops to transfer pictures. Unfortunately, this isnít so easy. First, you have to install Nikonís software suite on the computer, connect the camera in USB, identify it and parameterize the Wifi connection. This all takes time and it isnít necessarily simple. Even if you are allergic to instruction books, you will have to take the plunge. In the end, the transfer rate is 50 times slower than a good memory card player. Also, the Wifi reduces computer battery life. Our advice is to stick to the P4!

Stabilization
Not only does it have good image stabilization but its processor accurately corrects images. The combination of the two produces surprising and very enjoyable results. Photos without a flash are soft, softer than Fuji, because it is possible to stay at 200 ISO. Colors are accurate and bright. The only point that we didnít like is an overly strong application of the blur effect to diminish the noise level (see the Portrait without flash test page).


Verdict
The P4 almost became the Coolpix compact that we preferred. We say almost, because it has two major downsides. First, itís big at 31 mm thick. This has to be compared to the 26 mm of the Canon, 24 mm of the Panasonic, 21 mm of Sony. In addition, itís slow, something that frustrates us the most. Is it because of the speed of film cameras or our growing impatience concerning digital cameras? Anyhow, you have to wait 2.4 second for the camera to switch on and then 2.2 second between pictures. This is much too long, especially when you know that the main competitors function twice as fast.
Finally, as for the eternal debate between 6 or 8 megapixels, even with larger format magnifying we donít see the difference between the two cameras. There is only the zoom. An 8 megapixel with a 3x zoom like that of the P4 makes it possible to capture the same level of detail as a 6 megapixel with a 4x zoom (the Ixus 800-IS, for example).


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Olympus Mju 720 SW

Olympus Mju 720 SW
The star for Olympus this year is the Mju 700, a compact 7 megapixel, as its name indicates. Itís rare enough that the name and sensor be associated for this to be pointed out (Ixus 800 = 6 Mpixels, Sony T9 = 8 MpixelsÖ). Actually, Olympus has released two versions. There is the Mju 700 standard, and the Mju 720 SW that has the same image quality (we tested both) but is water and sand proof. It can go up to 3 meters. You wonít be able to dive deep, but for family and friends pictures or small fishes it is enough.
The 720 SW is more expensive than the ďstandardĒ 720 SW but the additional cost is moderate considering the usual cost of a waterproof box. This price can easily reach 200Ä if such a box exists for your camera.

Image Stabilization
Olympus doesnít want to fool consumers. Yes, they speak of stabilization but it is written in the product characteristics that "Numeric image stabilization reduces the blurred effect". In short, for Casio and Fujifilm, the manufacturer will adjust the sensitivity to compensate for the lack of a flash. The 720 SW can go up to 3200 ISO in candlelight mode according to the instruction book. Unfortunately, we wonít show you examples of this sensitivity as we were never been able to activate it even in candlelight mode. This isnít too unfortunate as here is the noise level increase:



Images at 64 and 100 ISO are amazing in terms of accuracy. You need to select these sensitivities, have good lighting and not be concerned about a few Jpeg defects in some areas of the picture. The processor strongly accentuates outlines and increases sharpness. Some will appreciate and others will prefer those pictures to the competitionís even if this accentuation exaggerates precision and defects, and it doesnít look too natural.

Verdict
Unfortunately, indoors without a flash and without a tripod we had to work in 1600 ISO. Below this, it was always blurred because it was too slow. This wasnít even in the dark. To this we have to add inaccurate colors, overly strong Jpeg compression and video effects (the most exposed areas often were burned out). The video mode also disappointed us. Olympusí video is in VGA but itís at 15 images per second instead of 30 for most of its competitors. So it isnít surprising that video doesnít run smoothly and the final outcome is rather disappointing. Clearly, this Olympus camera isnít one our favourites. Even if your first criterion is to have a waterproof camera, we advise you to take a look at the Pentax Optio W10.


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Panasonic DMC-FX01

Panasonic DMC-FX01
Panasonic was the first to gamble on image stabilization for compacts. It was a very good idea and today it looks like it will become obligatory for all future cameras. If some have it for the first time, or donít really have one (sometime they are only ďnumeric stabilizationĒ), Panasonic is already on its fourth generation: FX7 (2004) -> FX8 (2005) -> FX9 (2005) and now FX01 (2006). Each new series benefits from a few innovations or improvements but Panasonic doesnít revolutionize the process each time.

The design is unchanged while the video mode has improved and autonomy extended. The monitorís accuracy is better and the sensor has more pixels at its disposal. Finally, the FX01 benefits from a wide angle at 28 mm. This is the main change, but it is a major one. With the Ricoh Calio R3 itís the only camera of its size to have one.

Image Stabilization
Panasonicís image stabilization is excellent. This is only a detail but we appreciate it. You can set a limit for the minimum speed. We chose 1/8s to make sure or 1/5s. At this speed, pictures taken are almost always sharp, below, never.

Verdict
The processor is less efficient than the Canon, however. Itís true, the Ixus 800-IS is more expensive but it gave better results for all tests. Itís fast, a little more precise, its colors are a little more accurate (the FX01ís are a little warmer), and the video mode is a little less precise. The Canon doesnít have a wide angle. If you like taking pictures of landscapes or group pictures, this 28 mm lens compensates for all the drawbacks that we found or at least these four. If the wide angle isnít important for or at least less important than your budget, you can choose from previous generations. The FX9 captures the same images with 35 mm as the FX01. It is found at approximately 300Ä. Even cheaper, the FX8 (approximately 230 Ä) isnít worse. Monitor definition is just a little lower and the sensor a slightly smaller in pixels. For a 4Ē x 6Ē print you wonít see the difference.


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Pentax Optio W10

Pentax Optio W10
Pentax makes you want to buy a new camera. And if other manufacturersí new series looks very much alike year after year, here the improvements are obvious. The design of the Optio WPi and its substitute the W10 are pretty much identical, however, we tested both and interior changes are amazing! The Wpi was slow, had very high noise levels and the video mode was only 320 x 240 pixels. The new W10 is two times faster to switch on and the noise level is much better. Video mode increased to VGA @ 30fps and it is said to have image stabilization (video mode not the camera) and once again this itís a software type. In addition, and this is the reason why the W10 is so interesting, this camera is waterproof.

Image Stabilization
Even if there is no real image stabilization in the camera, Pentax has diminished the noise level. Surprisingly, this isnít the W10ís main selling point. Pentax mostly talks about being waterproof up to 1.5 meters (like the WP1, this is also half that of the Olympus 720 SW), improvement of video, and a new 800 ISO sensitivity. We never found indications about ambient noise level in pictures, nevertheless the improvement seems obvious:

Pentax Optio WPi


Pentax Optio W10

Itís undeniably betterÖ but unfortunately a little insufficient. The Pentax lacks real image stabilization Indoors, without a flash we had to take all our pictures at 800 ISO. At 400 images are blurred and unusable. We can see below, the 800 ISO mode has very high level of noise and even the one with the highest level in this survey as seen on the test portrait without flash.

Verdict
This is an outdoor camera, not indoors or with a flash and with unnatural colors. Pentax has slightly improved reaction time but thereís still some progress to be made. We are still close to 2 seconds to switch on and between pictures. In short, we already dream of the W10ís successor that would be faster and with optic image stabilization.

Now, if you are looking for a waterproof camera for your next vacation and you hesitate between this W10 and Olympus 720SW, our preference goes to the Pentax because of the better results in flash, the exceptional macro and the better video.


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Ricoh Caplio R3

Ricoh Caplio R3
Ricohís camera is really different from other competitorsí cameras and this is the reason why it is so interesting. The R3 has a 7x wide angle zoom (28 mm!) and a sensor with image stabilization. All of this fits in a 26 mm thick body and at an incredibly low price. Itís so low that we even ask ourselves what could be wrong? Inevitably there are the disadvantagesÖ

Image Stabilization
It isnít in image stabilization that Ricoh saved money. With our tests the R3 was the most efficient of the 10 tested. Most of the pictures taken without support and at 1/5s shutter speed were sharp. This is the reason why we were able to work indoors without a flash at 100 ISO and it was the only one capable of doing this. With the Nikon and Panasonic we were at 200 ISO and above. This doesnít mean lower noise levels than the others as it all depends on the efficiency of the processor. Moreover, this is exactly where the problem is. The R3 isnít one of the most efficient in this areaÖ


The noise level at 100 ISO is higher than the NIKON at 200 ISO or the Fujifilm at 400 ISO. So in the end all pictures have noise. Also, colors could be slightly improved. We noticed that pictures tended to be underexposed and indoors dominant colors reduced the natural aspect of pictures. For example, the test portrait without flash (see below) came out rather orange.
The sensor, a little smaller than the others, probably contributed to the slightly lower precision of pictures as seen on the test at the lowest sensitivity.

Verdict
The concept is brilliant, but it has to be improved. We would like less noise, a better video mode, brighter images, and more accurate colors. There is a R4 on its way, but it is a clone of the R3 with a slightly bigger sensor (6 Mpixels instead of 5, images will probably be a little bit more accurate), a video mode still in 320 x 240 and a much higher price at approximately 400 Ä. Ricohís press release doesnít mention improvements in noise levels.


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Sony DSC-T9

Sony DSC-T9
The T9 is the first Sony camera of this type equipped with optic image stabilization. According to this manufacturer this camera would capture images with a much lower noise level and blur than other point-and-shoot cameras. That would be very pleasant. Like other cameras in the T series, the L9 lens doesnít go out and the entire zoom system is internal like with Konica Minolta and X series.


First of all, from our point of view Sonyís cameras start with an immediate disadvantage. They are so attached to the Memory Stick format that it is close to fanaticism. The first generation of Memory Sticks is the slowest on the market. The evolution, the Memory Stick Pro, is effectively much faster and except for the SanDisk Extrem III, is always slower than the CF and SD. What followed was the MS became too big for mini cameras. Instead of choosing the SD that are cheap and widespread, the MS became the MS Duo and Duo Pro. They are still much more expensive than the SD and are much slower most of the time, so slow that some cards restrict camera performances. With some of Sonyís cameras when you donít have a Pro card, videoís quality is lower. Here we have a Pro card, a very good one, the expensive SanDisk Ultra II. This didnít stop us from being disappointed by the video mode.

Image Stabilization
The image stabilization system was moderately efficient. Pictures were only sharp at 1/13s and the level of detail at this speed is much lower than at 1/10s for Canon. Does the small lens have to something to do with this?


The DSC-T9 had excellent results however in two tests as itís one of the best in macro and itís very fast.

Verdict
This is a rather flat camera, and its design is good for restaurants, parties etc. This isnít the best stabilised camera from our point of view, but it is very enjoyable to use. You just need to watch out for your fingers or else they are often in pictures. As for the price, it could seem modest compared to a Canon, but you will lose money on the memory card. A 1GB SD Sandisk card costs 40Ä and a Sandisk MS Pro Duo 1 GB approximately 70Ä.


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Macro

Macro
We took a picture of a graphic card from the closest possible position without a flash. Then, we take an extract (below) without the least resizing. The component in the center is 2 mm long.
The small white dots arenít pixel defects but tiny pieces of dust.

Canon Ixus 800-IS
Casio Exilim S600
FujiFilm FinePix F11
Konica Minolta Dimage X1
Nikon Coolpix P4
Olympus Mju 720 SW
Pentax Optio W10
Panasonic DMCFX01
Ricoh Caplio R3
Sony DSC-T9

Three images are particularly impressive: the Pentax Optio W10 and the Sony DSC-T9. We were very close to the subject and with the waterproof Pentax you could take very nice pictures of fishes. The third position goes to Canon with its level of detail.

After that, there are the Ricoh and Konica Minolta that succeed in taking very good pictures from very close positions, but they do not capture as much detail.

The other results are very close except for the Casio S600. Macro pictures arenít its strong side.




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Portrait with flash

Portrait with flash
The camera is set in automatic mode with flash. The picture is taken from 3 meters and with a focal of 100 mm (equivalent to 35 mm). We are looking for a camera capable of rendering good colors, similar to the Canon EOS 350Dís without a flash.
Canon Ixus 800-IS
Casio Exilim S600
FujiFilm FinePix F11
Konica Minolta Dimage X1
Nikon Coolpix P4
Olympus Mju 720 SW
Pentax Optio W10
Panasonic DMCFX01
Ricoh Caplio R3
Sony DSC-T9

Even if 5 cameras capture an ďacceptableĒ result, we see that it is best no to use the flash when possible. Skin tones arenít true on pictures and hair is shiny. It is fortunate that the doll doesnít have real eyes or they would have been red on most images.
You will notice that shadows that create the volume of the face without flash and with the reflex have completely disappeared. Our subject completely lacks volume.




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Portrait without flash

Portrait without flash
The camera is no longer in automatic but in P mode. The flash is turned off and the portrait is shot at all available sensitivities. Below is the picture that combines the best sharpness / noise ratio. Pictures are still taken from 3 meters and the focal at 100 mm (equivalent 35 mm). Pictures can be compared to the Canonís EOS 350D reflex:
Canon Ixus 800-IS
Casio Exilim S600
FujiFilm FinePix F11
Konica Minolta Dimage X1
Nikon Coolpix P4
Olympus Mju 720 SW
Pentax Optio W10
Panasonic DMCFX01
Ricoh Caplio R3
Sony DSC-T9

Pictures are much nicer than with a flash or at least colors are much more natural. Our star model is no longer flat, shadows are reproduced, and there are two non-overexposed eyes with normal hair that is less synthetic. There are differences in exposure. Canon, Casio, Nikon, Panasonic and Ricoh are too dark. Editing the level of brightness with your computer could be necessary.


The above extracts arenít at full size. They are reduced to fit in our pages. Nevertheless we detect differences in noise levels from one picture to another. It is interesting to take a closer look at these images:

Canon EOS 350D, 1600 ISO, 1/25s
Canon Ixus 800-IS, 400 ISO, 1/10s
Casio Exilim S600, 400 ISO, 1/15s
FujiFilm FinePix F11, 800 ISO, 1/17s
Konica Minolta Dimage X1, 200 ISO, 1/13s
Nikon Coolpix P4, 200 ISO, 1/17s
Olympus Mju 720 SW, 1600 ISO, 1/30s
Pentax Optio W10, 800 ISO, 1/30s
Panasonic DMCFX01, 200 ISO, 1/5s
Ricoh Caplio R3, 100 ISO, 1/5s
Sony DSC-T9, 400 ISO, 1/13s

Five cameras produce disappointing results; the Casio, Konica Minolta, Olympus, Pentax and Sony. Among them three out of five donít have optic image stabilization (only the Fuji gives good results despite the lack of stabilization). The Konica Minolta and Sony have double level stabilization but are less efficient than the others and their pictures are blurry. We would have preferred to try the X1 at 400 ISO for sharper photos, but unfortunately the camera was restricted to 200 ISO. For Sony, photos taken at 640 ISO have more noise and are less precise. At 200 ISO, the T9 shutter speed of 1/6s is too low and pictures are blurry.

Cameras can be separated into two groups. There are Canon and Ricoh on one side and Fujifilm, Nikon and Panasonic on the other. The first two only make a few corrections to their pictures in the camera. The noise level is quite high but the level of detail is good, especially for Canon. You can see the individual hairs, the iris is perfectly distinguishable, and the hair in front of the eye is more precise.
Fuji, Nikon and Panasonic apparently chose to work more on the processor to erase pixel defects. It is quite rough, however and it looks like to a crude blurred effect processed on the picture. Photos do have less noise, but they are also less accurate. The iris is blurry, hairs are flattened, and the hair in front of the eye sometimes is lost in the skin.
Between the two processes, itís up to you to choose your favourite.




Page 16
Precision with the lowest ISO

Precision with the lowest ISO
The camera is in P mode without a flash but with a tripod this time. The lighting is controlled, entirely artificial, and close to natural light. The photo is taken with a lens, approximately 35 mm. Photos are then resized in 8Ē x 11Ē at 300 dpi to first simulate significant magnification and to have an extract of the same size despite the sensor differences.

To compare, we included above the Canon EOS 350D image without flash:

Detail : the bottle in the middle
This extract opposes details with bright colors or with a high level of contrast and a light background. Here we see the influence of blur, Jpeg compression and the cameras capacity to dissociate colours. A good reproduction would be the readability of the above text, the accuracy of the red central image and the black text below.
Sometimes you can read it (Olympus Mju 720 SW), and sometime you canít (Ricoh R3).

Canon EOS 350D
Canon Ixus 800-IS
Casio Exilim S600
FujiFilm FinePix F11
Konica Minolta Dimage X1
Nikon Coolpix P4
Olympus Mju 720 SW
Pentax Optio W10
Panasonic DMCFX01
Ricoh Caplio R3
Sony DSC-T9

The Olympus camera has rather well balanced images even if itís a little bit affected by noise. Colors are well separated, texts are readable and the image has a high level of detail. For example, we can see that there is a little surrounding border where there is only a uniform color area for the Ricoh R3.

Then comes the Canon, Nikon, Panasonic and Sony images with the same grade because they have a little less detail and less noise. They are different but we feel that they are equivalent. One is slightly softer and the other has more detail. The four (5 with Olympus) are precise.
Fujiís image could have been in the previous group as we found it extremely soft with a slight lack of contrast. Also, Konica Minoltaís image could have finished in a much better position if it didnít have problems in white balance.
The following ones are a little disappointing with wrong separation of colors and overly strong compression. The text is no longer readable in the Casio, Pentax and Ricoh images. So if the 7 previous cameras could be used without problem for 8Ē x 11Ē prints we recommend not going over 5Ē x 7Ē with these.



Page 17
Video mode

Video
These compacts take nice pictures overall, but they also do more and can be occasionally used as camcorders. Quality probably isnít good enough to spend hours in movie editing but those who donít have camcorders will be glad to use their compacts for those special memories. Videos are restricted to 640 x 480 for now (to be compared to the 768 x 576 pixels of SD cameras). Nevertheless, the difference is made in flow and sound quality rather than level of detail. Even at 30 images per second, camera sequences sometimes freeze. Sound quality is also much lower than with real camcorders.

To compare here are two extract made with ďrealĒ camcorders. The Canon uses mini DV tapes and costs approximately 420Ä. The Sony DCR-DVD404 records directly on DVD. This is one of the Japanese manufacturerís high end products at approximately 750Ä.

Canon MV960
Sony DCR-DVD404



Canon Ixus 800-IS, VGA 30 fps
Casio Exilim S600, VGA 30 fps
FujiFilm FinePix F11, VGA 30 fps
Konica Minolta Dimage X1, VGA 20 fps
Nikon Coolpix P4, VGA 30 fps
Olympus Mju 720 SW, VGA 15 fps
Pentax Optio W10, VGA 30 fps
Panasonic DMCFX01, VGA 30 fps
Ricoh Caplio R3, 320x240 pixels 30 fps
Sony DSC-T9

One camera is really better than the others. Canon produces flowing sequences with a level of detail that is above average. You just have to look at the voluminous rabbit scarf to see this. Also, the optic zoom can be activated in sequences. The only disadvantage is that the camera doesnít have a speaker. It records sequences with sound but reads them on the camera without. It is a little frustrating when you donít have a computer on hand and you want to immediately review sequences.

Just after comes Panasonic which, despite an overexposure in this test, is as good as Canonís in most situations.

Then comes Casio, FujiFilm, Nikon and Pentax. It is generally flowing and sufficiently detailed for anybody to watch on a big monitor without quality issues. (Note: for good videos you need to imperatively have good memory cards; a slow one = time restriction, more jumps). It isnít as good as the two previous cameras and is far from the flowing of other camcorders but itís OK. You will enjoy their use.

For Olympus and Konica Minolta, the level of detail is a little low and for Sony it sometimes freezes (it isnít due to the card, we used a SanDisk MS Pro Duo, the Ultra II). This isnít really surprising for the two first one as these cameras do not have 30 images per second but 15 and 20 fps, respectively.

Finally, the video of the Ricoh Capio R3 seems to come from another era. At 320 x 240 pixels itís more of a toy.



Page 18
Optic zoom

Optic zoom
The title ę Optic zoom Ľ is a little simplified. The quality of the image in this test, the detail of a sculpture on a wall, depends on the zoom of course, but also on the sensor (the more megapixels, the more you zoom in the picture) and the processor, which correct the outlines of the sculptureís face. We chose two reference pictures: one from the Canon EOS 350D with the basic lens, which the sensor leaves the image quite raw. So it will seem less sharp than with some of the compacts.

The other comes from one of the ďtrendyĒ big zooms, the Panasonic DMC-FZ7. Itís a 12X zoom with a 6 megapixel sensor. Its price is comparable to many cameras tested here at 400 euros.

The camera is in P mode at the lowest sensitivity. The picture is taken without a support.

Canon EOS 350D, 8 Mp, zoom 3x
Panasonic DMC-FZ7, 6 Mp, zoom 12x



Canon Ixus 800-IS, 6 Mp, zoom 4x
Casio Exilim S600, 6 Mp, zoom 3x
FujiFilm FinePix F11, 6 Mp, zoom 3x
Konica Minolta Dimage X1, 8 Mp, zoom 3x
Nikon Coolpix P4, 8 Mp, zoom 3x
Olympus Mju 720 SW, 7 Mp, zoom 3x
Pentax Optio W10, 6 Mp, zoom 3x
Panasonic DMCFX01, 6 Mp, 3x
Ricoh Caplio R3, 5 Mp, zoom 7x
Sony DSC-T9

Despite only 5 megapixels and the overall lack of detail compared to other cameras, the Ricoh captures one of the most precise images with a zoom. This is normal as itís a 7x as compared to 4x for Canon and 3x for all the others.

The competitors do not take marvellous pictures. There is a zoom, itís handy, but these lenses arenít designed for a common use of this type. You just need to compare any of these extracts to the FZ2 above, which is impressive. Of course, this cameraís result is no surprise.
In other words, it is interesting to note that a 4x zoom with a 6 megapixel camera (Canon Ixus 800-IS) has an equivalent level of zoom to the 8 megapixel with 3x zoom (Nikon Coolpix P4, Konica Minolta X1).

The result isnít surprising: the bigger the zoom and the more pixels the sensor delivers, the more details will be captured.




Page 19
Speed

Speed
This criterion is almost impossible to know if you havenít seen one camera tests. Camera speed is almost never mentioned and still the pleasure you will have using your camera greatly depends on this factor. The speed of these small cameras is essential to us and if itís too slow, taking too much time between pictures you will be annoyed and end up not using it.

The best cameras for in this area are the reflexes. Again, the Canon EOS 350D switches on in less than half a second. It is also the time required between two pictures (jpeg, except for burst mode) and 0.3 s are enough to focus. Compacts are far from these figures but are progressing:


With a five star grading system, here is the result:


Once more the Canon is in the lead. It perfectly demonstrates the tendency of compacts coming close to the 1 second switch on time, between pictures, and 0.5 second to focus. Itís really comfortable to work with this camera.

There were several failures for this test. More specifically it was with two cameras, the Pentax and Nikon, that up until now gave great results. They needed two seconds to switch on and as much time between pictures. Unless you are very patient, this is quite frustrating. Maybe because I also use reflex cameras, I find the waiting unbearable. I see the time passing and pictures missed.

The Konica Minolta X1 once again finishes last. This isnít the first time that it happens during these tests and itís unfortunate for Konica. We would have liked to have had a better memory of their compacts. Maybe some people who knew what the future of the company was chose to lower manufacturing costs for this camera. Finishing touches are also not up to standard.


Page 20
Bulkiness, conclusion

Bulkiness
The last criterion to take into account is camera bulkiness. The biggest one isnít what we would have expected, the Ricoh with a 7x optic zoom, but it isnít the case. This is a real success for Ricoh and too bad for Nikon with such a big Coolpix R4. Its 200 grams and 174 cm3 are the biggest of the 10 cameras tested. In the opposite position is the Casio that has only a volume of 85 cm3 and 155 grams. One fits into a jacket pocket and the other into your pant pocket.



Here are the last grades before we conclude:


Conclusion
We were looking for a compact, thin, fast, camera with image stabilization. Out of the 10 tested, one clearly finishes ahead, the Canon Ixus 800-IS. It doesnít have major disadvantages, itís good for macro, video and has a 4x zoom instead of the 3x of most of its competitors. We are sorry for those who would have liked to have seen a camera other than Canon wining, but the Ixus 800-IS is a real success. It isnít perfect yet as there could be an intermediate speed between 1/10 and 1/5s to gain even more from stabilization. As explained above, while waiting we advise you to take a big memory card and shoot pictures in burst mode at 200 ISO rather than 400 ISO. This could better results despite the amount of poor pictures.
Canon might also work on the Digic processor and particularly the level of noise beyond 200 ISO.



Two cameras share the second place. There is the Fujifilm F11, a camera without stabilization but which deals better with noise level increases than others, and the Panasonic FX01. The price of both cameras is equivalent and they are much less expensive than the Canon Ixus 800-IS. Amongst the two, we prefer the second because of its reduced bulkiness and the presence of stabilization which facilitates shooting. But then again, the F11 captures pictures with less noise and itís faster.

There are then the following cameras:
  • Casio: we loved the reduced bulkiness. There is no real stabilization. Casio plays on words, but it is appreciable to have such a camera always in your pocketÖ
  • Olympus and Pentax, two perfectly waterproof cameras great for the beach and swimming poolÖ
  • Sony: a good compromise for those who want to have a thin camera with real image stabilization unlike the Casio.

    Now we get to cameras with serious drawbacks:
  • Konica Minolta X1 : overly fragile body, too slow, defects in white balance.
  • Nikon P4 : too big and too slow. Itís unfortunate because it captures very nice images and videos.
  • Ricoh Calio R3 : too much noise in pictures, overly strong Jpeg compression. This camera must only be purchased if your are looking for an ultra flat compact with a big zoom.

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