Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Are Point-and-Shoot Cameras Really That Good?

As someone who shoots stock images using SLRs, it may seem strange that I find it necessary to have a digital point-and-shoot in my possession.

Not so strange when you consider that the lenses, resolution and exposure modes are starting to catch up with their big, interchangeable lens cousins. Besides, sometimes a small no-fuss camera, due to its portability, is available to capture images we would otherwise miss because we left our clunkier gear at home.

But can they really compete on image quality? I decided to pit a Canon Rebel XTi SLR against a Panasonic Lumix FX500 point-and-shoot, each claiming 10.1 megapixel resolution. I shot the same image outdoors on each camera in rapid succession, so the light was consistent. The Rebel was set to record in JPEG only (instead of RAW) so that it matched the Lumix method of recording. Each was set to aperture priority and f/8. Shutter speed was 1/40th to 1/50th for each. Both were set for auto white balance.

The fundamental difference between the two cameras, of course, is the physical size of the sensor and the technologies used. The Rebel uses a CMOS sensor, while the Lumix uses a smaller CCD sensor. To be accurate, it should be noted that the Lumix creates a 10.1 megapixel image when in 4:3 mode, while in 3:2 mode (to match the Rebel's aspect ratio)the image size is actually 9 megapixels.

Examining the zoomed-in crop of each image, it's apparent that the little CCD can't compete with the larger CMOS, both in terms of sharpness in transitions from white to red, for example, and in colour saturation in general. Also, the CCD appears "grainier" amongst the blades of grass, and falls short in latitude (or dynamic range) when compared to the Rebel image.

The results may seem obvious, given the smaller size and lower cost of the p & s. So why bother?
Well, I wanted to gauge just how far apart the quality levels were. In my opinion, while the p & s is not up to pro standard, it's still amazingly good. I'm going to use it to take test shots of scenes that I might want to return to later and shoot with the SLR. Besides, how many times have we jumped in the car and wished later that we had grabbed a camera?

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