Six New Digicams With Image Stabilizer; How Effective Are The Latest Camera-Shake Compensating Systems? Page 2

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Kodak's EasyShare Z612
Like a few earlier EasyShare super zoom cameras, the Z612 incorporates an Optical Image Stabilization device with two modes: "Continuous" (to stabilize the image on the LCD monitor) and "Shoot Only"; the latter is activated a split second before the camera takes a photo. Fairly compact for a camera with a 12x optical zoom, this 6-megapixel model boasts a 35-420mm equivalent Schneider-KREUZNACH VARIOGON lens. The wide f/2.8-4.8 apertures can provide fast shutter speeds, especially at short focal lengths, and the camera's ISO range extends to 800. It's also equipped with a 2.5" LCD monitor and an electronic viewfinder. Both are exceptionally bright in night photography, particularly in the 1-5x zoom range; the autofocus system also remains quite reliable in the 1-4x zoom range. This model measures 4.1x2.9x2.7" and weighs 12.3 oz; $499, street price.

The Kodak Image Stabilization system is very effective but the EasyShare Z612 also employs very aggressive sharpening algorithms, making the photos appear unusually sharp. The same effect can be achieved with the other digicams, too, by setting a high in camera sharpening level or in post-processing, using an Unsharp Mask filter. Neither strategy corrects blur caused by camera shake, although that is possible to some extent if you use Smart Sharpen available in Adobe's Photoshop CS2. (Kodak's EasyShare Z612 at default settings; 420mm equivalent focal length; 1/100 sec shutter speed; ISO 200.)

Stabilizer Evaluation: While its performance was not very consistent in close focusing, the Kodak Image Stabilizer was definitely valuable in more typical situations. It provided some sharp images at fairly long shutter speeds at many zoom settings. The EasyShare Z612 rated second to the Lumix DMC-TZ1 in the super zoom category but it does have an advantage: an electronic viewfinder. That can be a benefit for stable camera holding technique.

Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-H2
Sony's Super SteadyShot Optical Image Stabilizer is said to control "a high range of shake and vibration frequencies caused by hand movement"; the system includes two modes, "Continuous" and "Shoot Only." It's available in an increasing number of Cyber-shot cameras, including the 6-megapixel DSC-H2. This is a large, prosumer grade camera with Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 36-432mm equivalent zoom with remarkably wide maximum apertures of f/2.8-3.7 zoom. That's great for fast shutter speeds in low light; in addition, the ISO range extends right up to 1000.

The 2" monitor is quite small by today's standards. (The similar DSC-H5 with 7-megapixel sensor boasts a huge 3" LCD; $489, street price.) Neither this screen nor the electronic viewfinder is bright in very dark locations but autofocus (with a near-infrared assist beam) remains reliable in the 1-3x zoom range. It measures 4.5x3.25x3.7" and weighs 19.7 oz; $399, street price.

While the Sony Image Stabilizer is very effective, no such system can work miracles when we hand hold a camera while taking super telephoto shots at very long shutter speeds. However, with the right shooting technique for maximum stability (described in the text) I was able to make a few sharp images during 1/20 sec exposures. (Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-H2; 432mm equivalent; ISO 200.)

Stabilizer Evaluation: The Super SteadyShot system was often very effective and nearly tied with the Kodak Image Stabilizer for second place in the super zoom category. Like the EasyShare camera, the DSC-H2 has a benefit over the Lumix DMC-TZ1: a viewfinder that allows for a more steady hand holding technique. On one occasion, I wanted to shoot candid photos of my niece indoors, using ambient light only. I rested my elbows on a solid table and used the viewfinder. The Cyber-shot camera generated some sharp photos at a 1/20 sec shutter speed at the 432mm equivalent focal length. That was not part of the comparison testing but provided an indication as to what's possible when we take steps to minimize camera shake.

The Bottom Line
After extensive shooting with each of the six cameras, I examined the hundreds of images at 100 percent magnification on my 20" ViewSonic professional CRT monitor. The evaluation of each Image Stabilizer's relative merits was a bit challenging for two reasons. First, some of the cameras employed stronger sharpening than others, thus their images appeared to be sharper at first glance. Second, high ISO images appeared "soft" because fine details were obscured by digital noise or by excessive (automatic) noise reduction processing.

Under close scrutiny however, it was possible to determine the actual amount of blurring--if any--that was caused by camera shake. After compiling a lengthy data sheet of test results, I summarized my findings and completed a summary of the most relevant information. Before considering those specifics in the chart, be sure to read the How We Tested section of the text.

This review of the six companies' Image Stabilizers confirmed that any of the latest shake compensating systems can pay dividends. They allow for sharper pictures at longer--or much longer--shutter speeds in quick shooting with less need to use high ISO levels. In addition, an Image Stabilizer provides greater leeway in selecting the most appropriate aperture/shutter speed for creative effects. Both of these aspects are definitely worthwhile, helping to increase our success ratio of technically excellent and visually pleasing images.

Stabilizer Effectiveness Summary
After extensive comparison testing, I compiled a lengthy list of data about the effectiveness of each camera's Image Stabilizer system. A summary, including only the most relevant findings, is available in the following two charts. While maximum care was taken to provide valid evaluations, we offer the following disclaimer: "your mileage may vary."

Digicams With Short Zooms
Model Close Focusing (5 ft From Subject) At Approx.
112mm (Equivalent)
Focal Length
Greater Subject Distances At Approx. 38mm Greater Subject Distances At Approx. 112mm (Longest Equivalent Focal Length Available With One Camera) Distant Subjects At Approx. 350mm Stabilizer Effectiveness
(1-10 Scale) In
The "Compact"
Category
Canon's PowerShot SD700 IS Produced some sharp images at a 1/5 sec shutter speed; most reliavle at 1/20 sec Some images sharp at 1/8 sec; most reliable by 1/15 sec Some images sharp at 1/15 sec; very consistent by 1/20 sec N/A for this camera 9
Nikon's Coolpix P3 Frequently produced sharp images at 1/10 sec; most reliable at 1/20 sec Some images sharp at 1/6 sec; most reliable by 1/15 sec Some images sharp at 1/8 sec; very consistent by 1/15 sec N/A for this camera 10
Pentax's Optio A10 Sporadic performance; some sharp images at 1/4 sec but not many at 1/20 sec; most reliable at 1/40 sec Some sharp images at 1/8 sec; most reliable by 1/13 sec Some images sharp at 1/6 sec; quite consistent by 1/20 sec N/A for this camera 8.5

 

"Super Zoom Cameras
Model Close Focusing (5 ft From Subject) At Approx.
112mm (Equivalent)
Focal Length
Greater Subject Distances At Approx. 38mm Greater Subject Distances At Approx. 112mm (Longest Equivalent Focal Length Available With One Camera) Distant Subjects At Approx. 350mm (Longest Equivalent Focal Length Available With One Camera) Stabilizer Effectiveness
(1/10 Scale) In
The "Super Zoom"
Category
Kodak's EasyShare Z612 Produced some sharp images at 1/15 sec but many unsharp images at 1/20 sec; most reliable at 1/30 sec Many images sharp at 1/8 sec; most are sharp by 1/15 sec Some sharp images at 1/15 sec; most are sharp by 1/30 sec Many sharp images at 1/100 sec; just as reliable at 1/50 sec when using viewfinder and careful holding technique 8.5
Panasonic's Lumix DMC-TZ1 Produced many sharp images at 1/10 sec and some at 1/8 sec; most reliable at 1/20 sec Often produced sharp images at 1/10 sec; most are sharp by 1/15 sec Many sharp images at 1/10 sec; most are sharp by 1/15 sec Some sharp images at 1/40 sec; by 1/80 sec, most images are sharp; this camera has no viewfinder 9
Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-H2 Produced some sharp images at 1/8 sec and more at 1/15 sec; most reliable at 1/20 sec Often produced sharp images at 1/8 sec; most are sharp at 1/10 sec Many sharp images at 1/10 sec; most are sharp by 1/20 sec Many sharp images at 1/125 sec; just as reliable at 1/60 sec when using viewfinder and careful holding technique 8

Note: None of the cameras provided a data display as to the actual focal length that was selected. Some did not even indicate whether a 2x or 3x or 7x zoom setting was being used. That created a challenge during comparison testing, although I did my best to make images with the same framing with every camera. Later, while checking the EXIF data with ACDSee software, I excluded any images made with a focal length that was far off the "norm." Nonetheless, most references to focal length in the chart are approximate.

A long-time "Shutterbug" contributor, stock photographer Peter K. Burian (www.peterkburian.com) is the author of several books, including "Magic Lantern Guides to the Maxxum 7D and Maxxum 5D" (Lark) as well as "Mastering Digital Photography and Imaging" (Sybex). He is also a digital photography course instructor with BetterPhoto.com.

Manufacturers/Distributors
Canon U.S.A., Inc.
One Canon Plaza
Lake Success, NY 11042
(800) 652-2666
(516) 328-5000
www.canonusa.com

Eastman Kodak Company
343 State St.
Rochester, NY 14650
(585) 781-5803
www.kodak.com

Nikon Inc.
1300 Walt Whitman Rd.
Melville, NY 11747
(631) 547-4200
www.nikonusa.com

Panasonic Corporation of North America
One Panasonic Way
Secaucus, NJ 07094
(201) 348-7000
www.panasonic.com

Pentax Imaging Company
600 12th St., Ste. 300
Golden, CO 80401
(800) 877-0155
www.pentaximaging.com

Sony Electronics Inc.
16530 Via Esprillo, Ste. MZ 7104
San Diego, CA 92127
(877) 865-7669
www.sonystyle.com

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