Readers Questions

Rick asks:

G'day Steve
Have a camera question for you...
I read an old sub of yours about taking pics in low light levels, and you recommended the Fuji F30 I believe.
Unfortunately they don't make them anymore, so I am wondering what would be your camera of choice now?
I'm after a compact camera for the wife's birthday, and have been looking at the Sony Cybershot W300 here in Australia....supposed to have bugger all noise when taking photos at high ISO levels.
Some specs and reviews below...

Oh...and could you also include in your findings which is the better camera for "point and shoot" modes....I understand the Lumix series sold here have a pretty good "Artificial Intelligence" system. My wife has trouble mastering the I'm after something that fits in her handbag, and she can whip it out and snap off a few pics without having to reinvent the wheel.
Thanks again....better send me a link to your column too...I'll have to start looking soon as her birthday is 8th September.

Rick –

Your question arrived at an opportune time.  A reader had just dropped off his Fuji F100fd for a planned comparison test against the Fuji F30 and the Canon G9.

To begin, I want to say that I’m going to cut through all the marketing hype and go straight to what you need to know.  First, point and shoot compacts are used 99% of the time in the automatic mode so this is how I’ll compare them.  Second, like generation point and shoot compacts have sensors very similar to each other in terms of image quality.  Third, the biggest differences between models isn’t in image quality, but rather in size, weight, lens zoom range and aperture, battery capacity (shots per charge), flash memory type, and exposure programming.  We’ll concentrate on the important stuff and leave you to pick a model based on comparing ‘your’ desired features vs. price.

Size and weight is a matter of personal preference.  Some people want a model small enough to fit in their pocket, others like it big enough to feel good and secure in the hand.  Zoom ranges vary from approximately 24mm to 550mm (35mm equivalent).  As a rule, the more wide the range the less the image quality.  I find something in the 28-200mm range plenty adequate with excellent quality, but wouldn’t hesitate to get an even smaller range of say 28-120mm.  Batteries are now almost always rechargeable lithium ion’s and vary greatly in shot capacity from roughly 100-800 images per charge.  Flash memory, try to pick a model that uses either flash memory you already have, or flash memory you’re going to have for something else. A 1gig card in most cases will be plenty, but with 4g cards for under $40 these days it might be wise to splurge.  Exposure programming and internal jpeg processing is the real difference between most models and to learn about this you’ll just have to read reviews, both professional and users feedback.

Features I personally enjoy in a point and shoot?

  1. Small enough to carry in a knapsack, but not so small its hard to hold and use.
  2. Zoom range of approximately 28-220mm.
  3. Battery capacity of at least 200 images per charge, ideally much more.
  4. SDHC flash memory type (I use this in 5-7 other devices I own already from PDA’s to my GPS to my professional Canon 1dsMarkII.)
  5. I prefer as much control over the exposure programming as possible, external knobs to change modes preferred.  I’m in the 1% of point and shoot users who uses their point and shoot compact in other than automatic mode about 1% of the time.. when I do, I like control.

One P&S rarely stands out significantly from another.  A few years ago I wrote a review on the Fuji F30 because this little gem was able to take flashless images AT NIGHT out in the streets of Thailand and produce good quality images.   It did this better than any other P&S by a significant margin, and almost as good as entry level DSLRs.  I predicted professionals would buy them up quickly.  They did.  If you can find a used Fuji F30 of F31, you’ll often pay 3-4 times it’s original cost.  It’s almost a cult camera with its 600 image battery, low light capability, and small pocket size.  I’ve used mine a lot and love it.  Unfortunately Fuji went with the “Megapixel Race” and discontinued the F30/31 and started selling high megapixel compacts in their place.

The Fuji Finepix F100fd came to market a few generations later.  It’s about the same size, but the corners are more rounded and it feels more comfortable to carry.  The battery is barely good for 200 images, the LCD screen is bigger and brighter, it has 12mp’s compared to the F30’s 6mp, and it’s lens covers from 28-140mm vs. the F30’s 36-108mm.  The F100fd also takes XD, SD, and SDHC flash cards.  The F30 only takes the relatively more expensive and rare XD flash cards.

In contract the significantly larger but still compact Canon G9 feels like its hewn from a solid block of steel, accepts batteries from Canon Rebel DSLRs good for 300-400 images, has a 35-210mm very sharp lens, and accepts common and inexpensive SD and SDHC flash memory cards.  In addition it has exposure mode and ISO external knobs, a wonderfully huge and detailed 3” LCD, a hot shoe that accepts even Canon professional speed lights, and it has what only a handful of P&S compacts have.. a RAW file output mode.  It’s no surprise at all this is the preferred P&S compact for professional photographers.

How good are the images?  About 10% of the images on my website and that I’ve used in the weekly columns are from the F30 and G9.  Can you tell which ones?  How good the image looks will depend 95% on how the photographer uses the camera vs. 5% on the camera itself.  So you can see, if you’re going to use the camera in automatic mode like 99% of everyone else.. you want it to have the best internal exposure modes available.  If you’re in the 1% who will actually manually manipulate the controls then you want a camera with external exposure mode and ISO settings, and a manual mode in addition to the standard Auto, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Speed Priority modes.  If you already have a DSLR and own a external flash, it’s a plus if the P&S can use that flash.

How did the comparison between the three models go?  The F30 is the champ by a significant margin in any sort of low light.  It’s also the slowest of all three in every way you can measure speed.  Zoom, focus lock, shutter button delay, shot to shot time, etc.   The F100fd is faster than the F30 in every way, takes images with twice the resolution, has a much nicer LCD, makes marginally nicer images in good light, and significantly worse images in low light.   The F30 has an external exposure mode knob, much easier to use than hunting through the LCD menus in sunlight.   The Canon G9 in comparison was faster and easier to use in every way to both of them.  It’s daylight images were marginally better than the Fuji F100fd.  It’s low light images significantly worse than the Fuji F30.

It looks like I’ll be keeping BOTH the Fuji F30 and Canon G9.  They excel in different areas and are the only two P&S’s in recent years that I feel stand out from the pack of P&S’s in any huge way.  There are literally hundreds of available P&S models on the market, and with very few exceptions all provide approximately the same image quality, that 5% that’s the camera.  95% will still be the photographer using the camera.

How does this answer your question?  I hope now you can see what features and specifications are important, and apply this knowledge to your selection basing desired features vs. cost.  And I hope you understand that image quality is only 5% the camera, and 95% the photographer.  Chances are the Sony W300 is a fine camera.  So are a hundred others.  Shop features vs. cost.

Here are three images from the three cameras, all taken within minutes of each other.  Can you see any significant difference in image quality between them worth influencing your purchasing decision?


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