Compact SuperZoom Camera Shootout
EDITOR'S NOTE, July 13:~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The outstanding Sony HX30V is in the process of being added to this shootout. Its performance and value surpasses the Panasonic ZS20 which currently holds the Best Camera Award. Don't miss out on this little gem if you are looking for the best compact superzoom available at the moment.
Everyone wants to carry 20x zoom power in their pocket. That means the latest compact superzoom cameras are some of the hottest models in the digital camera world. In this shootout we cover eight of this year's newest compact superzooms from Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, and Sony.
What is a compact superzoom camera? The compact superzoom category consists of pocket sized cameras with retractable lenses that are built for convenience and maximum zoom range instead of maximum image quality. So be fairly warned right up front--none of these cameras are over-the-top spectacular as far as picture quality is concerned. They are good, some better than others, but you can get a step up in picture quality if you give up zoom range and go for one of the Best Pocket Cameras. Or if you don't need a pocket sized camera, you can go to the larger Superzoom/Bridge camera format for longer zoom range, electronic viewfinders, and somewhat better performance. For more info, see the Best Superzoom Camera shootout.
Results of the Compact Superzoom Camera shootout...
FIRST PLACE20x zoom, 14 MP (more specs)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20
Last year's pocket superzoom from Panasonic, the DMC-ZS10, was a dog with fleas. But what a difference a year makes. Their new DMC-ZS20 is a huge improvement, not only over the ZS10, but it consistently beats the competition in picture quality in many shooting scenarios as well. The ZS20 captures video in 1080/60p format, which none of the others except the Sony HX9V can do. It has a great touch-screen interface that is unique in the class, and it is currently one of the least expensive cameras in the group. The Panasonic ZS20 is the all-around best compact superzoom camera so far in 2012. More about the Panasonic DMC-ZS20.
Olympus SZ-31MR ihs
24x zoom, 16 MP (more specs)
As of June 18 we have added the new Olympus SZ-31MR to the compact superzoom shootout. There is a lot to love about this new model including its category-leading 24x zoom range, the longest zoom in a pocket camera format. It's got a beautiful LCD display and great menu layout. But it is is not quite as sharp as the Panasonic ZS20. Nevertheless, if you are not concerned about high res images and large prints, the SZ-31MR is a formidable compact superzoom, and it might be your first place camera. More about the Olympus SZ-31MR ihs.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V
16x zoom, 16 MP (more specs)
The Sony DSC-HX9V is still competitive despite being last year's model. Sony's latest compact superzoom camera, the HX10V, does not perform as well as its predecessor, and appropriately sells for about $50 less than the HX9V. The HX9V (along with the HX10V) have the shortest zoom range (16x) in the group. On the wide end it matches the ZS20's 24mm wide angle, but its 384mm telephoto end does not zoom to as close as the ZS20's 480mm. The HX9V shows a bit more color bleeding and than the ZS20, and that quality issue along with the higher price and shorter zoom puts the HX9V in second place. The HX9V, along with the Panasonic ZS20 and the Olympus SZ-31MR, are the only three cameras in this shootout that are capable of /60 video. The HX9V is a solid camera, and for the right price could be an excellent value. More about the Sony HX9V.
Canon Powershot SX260 HS
20x zoom, 12 MP (more specs)
The SX260 HS is closely competitive with the Panasonic ZS20 and the Olympus SZ-31MR. It feels terrific in the hand, and has an elegant case with rounded corners that has a sophisticated look to it. But like the SZ-31MR, on occasion pictures tend to be a bit softer that you'd like. Color balance suffers in low light scenes, but it can be corrected with a photo editor after the fact. Video is captured at a maximum of 1080/24p compared to the 1080/60p of the top three in this shootout. And the SX260 lacks some of the consumer features that people are looking for--panorama mode, HDR and 3D photos to name a few. More about the Canon SX260 HS.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX10V
16x zoom, 16 MP (more specs)
Like its predecessor, the HX10V has a relatively short 16x zoom range. Picture quality on the HX10V does not match even the HX9V apparently due to a new 18 MP which produces more digital noise at all ISOs. Photos can appear harsh and too high in contrast, but auto focus is accurate most of the time, and color balance is reasonably good at low ISO settings. More about the Sony HX10V.
Nikon CoolPix S9300
18x zoom, 16 MP (more specs)
Nikon is a commanding presence in the world of DSLRs, but too often Nikon frustrates with point-shoot cameras that simply don't measure up to the competition. The Coolpix S9300 is capable of taking a great picture that is fully in focus, but the odds of it doing so on a reliable basis are slim. Picture quality compared to the Panasonic ZS20 is poor. It is not the fastest camera in the group, and if you need to reset the between exposures it is downright pokey. More about the Nikon S9300.
20x zoom, 16 MP (more specs)
The Fujifilm F770 has the brightest LCD screen in the class, making it a bit easier than the other to see in sunlight. Like the Nikon S9300, the Fuji F770 is capable of taking an excellent photograph which is perfectly sharp and color balanced. The problem is that it does not do so on a consistent basis. Picture quality on the Fuji F770 is anywhere from great to mediocre. In moderate light it produces a lot of digital noise, and in video is painfully slow. Avoid this camera if you plan to do much video. More about the FujiFilm F770EXR.
Pentax Optio VS20
20x zoom, 16 MP (more specs)
You could say that the Pentax VS20 is the best camera in this shootout with two shutter buttons because none of the other cameras have this very unusual feature. There is one shutter button on the top deck and one more on the side that becomes the top deck when you rotate the camera 90 degrees to take a portrait. Unfortunately, whatever ergonomic advantage this gimmick delivers is far outweighed by decidedly poor performance in most other respects. The VS20 is much cheaper than the other cameras in this group, and for good reason. One can at least be thankful for that. More about the Pentax VS20.