When I was younger (much younger!) I used to have a Mamiya C33 TLR camera and a friend and I used to do wedding photography in our spare time. Without wanting to appear immodest, we were very good at it and it became a nice little earner until our paths separated when I got a new main job and moved away.
Time and people move on and although I still have a couple of Pentax 35mm SLR film cameras, a MX and ME Super, and an assortment of lenses and other accessories for them, I can’t remember the last time that I used either. But it’s years, for sure, because I neither need nor want to do that kind of photography any more. Nowadays I want to have a very compact, lightweight, automatic digital camera that I can just point and shoot if I want to, which I do most of the time, one-handed while hanging out of the side of an ULM, and still get good quality images. And for not a lot of money either, so definitely a case of wanting to have your photographic cake and eat it too.
My first foray into digital photography was with a small brick of a camera that Justin, my younger stepson who visited me a week or so ago, passed onto me when he upgraded. Although I’d moved on myself by then, it was still working fine when I left to come to France and I gave it away on Freecycle to a local young lady who told me that she’d just had her camera pinched and couldn’t afford a new one, so hopefully it went to a good home. The replacement that I’d acquired was a new little Pentax Optio, which served me very well for a few years, including my early microlighting days, and most of the early pics here on My Trike were shot using it.
It was a good little workhorse and with the kind of use I gave it, it has the scars to show for it in the form of lots of bumps, scratches and dents. But it’s still going strong to this day, although with a sensor resolution of only 7 megapixels, it now finds itself some way back on the digital camera grid. It was for this reason that I moved on just over a year ago to a Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ3 that, with its 16.1 megapixel sensor, 10x optical and 20x digital zoom and high level of automatic image stabilisation seemed to meet all of my needs.
And it did, for about a year, until it began to show black blobs on the images it produced. These it transpired, were due to the camera’s having a very poorly designed lens bellows system that sucks in dust whenever the camera is activated. This then settles onto the CCD image sensor and as I found when I tried, it’s then difficult to remove without damaging the camera due to its very cheap and nasty plastic design. Shame on Panasonic I say, whose customer service department left me in the lurch when I reported the fault to them.
And so it was that a few weeks ago I found myself on Ebay (contrary to the view held by several of my friends and members of my close family, I don’t spend all of my time on Ebay … just part of it) and came across a used Fujipix JX660 being advertised for not a lot of money. To cut a long story short, I made an offer on it that was accepted, but when it arrived it turned out to be the JX560, an older model. When I pointed this out to the seller, they immediately offered me a partial refund, so I was even more pleased as the camera worked perfectly, and with its 16 megapixel sensor, produced images that were pretty good. I have to say, though, that I thought the colours were somewhat lacking in intensity and mentioned when I posted some aerial shots taken with it quite recently on My Trike that villages and scenery looked a bit drab, even for the time of year.
Then things took a turn. Not long after I’d received the Fujipix, the Leclerc supermarket at Trélissac ran a limited special offer on a Sony compact digital, the DSC-W800, for only 69€ (£50 at today’s exchange rate). This has a 20 megapixel sensor and was, and still is, being sold by other retailers for around 90-100€, so although I already had the Fuji, it seemed to me to be a no-brainer to let it go by, and I bought one.
I tried to run some tests to compare it against the Fuji but was initially disappointed as although the Sony has a 20 megapixel sensor compared to the Fuji’s 16, shots that I took around my house and garden seemed to show that the latter’s images had less colour intensity but were crisper when magnified. I’d got to the point where I was thinking that I’d allow the Leclerc promotion to finish and then resell the Sony for what I’d paid for it, when the thought occurred to me that I might not actually be giving it a fair test. The shots that I’d been taking were definitely not the kind of shots that I’d bought it for, so what if I was condemning it for not being able to do what I didn’t want it to do without bothering to find out whether it was any good for the kind of shots that I did want to take?
This afternoon was bright but with enough cloud to give varying light conditions and as I needed the exercise, I decided to take a walk with both cameras in my pockets and see how shots compared that were taken with each one and were to all intents identical. Quite often, because I have a very old copy of Photoshop, I do a certain amount of post-processing of shots before posting them on My Trike, editing things like colour intensity, contrast and sharpness. However, all of the shots that follow except for the ones that I’ve blown up sections of for comparison purposes, are totally unedited and just as they came from the respective cameras. And this is what I found.
Initially, I set both cameras to ‘full auto’, meaning that they selected all of the settings judged on the scene being shot ie close-up, landscape etc. I generally always reduce the sizes of images when posting them on My Trike as I think that dimensions of 1600×1200 pixels are large enough to show the level of detail that I think is suitable but do not make visitors wait too long before all of the images in a posting are viewable. The full dimensions of the images produced by the Fuji are 4608×3440 pixels and of those produced by the Sony 5152×3864 pixels, so although the Sony images include a bit more picture around the edges than those of the Fuji, the Sony is already theoretically at a bit of an advantage over the Fuji for sharpness when they are reduced in size.
Up first is a just a general shot of the hillside, grass, trees, sky and cloud.
The first thing to note is that the colours in the Fuji shot are much ‘colder’ than those in the Sony. From what I recall of the view, I think that the Fuji colours are too ‘cold’ and the Sony ones too ‘warm’, but this begs the question, ‘which are preferable?’ given that I do not want to colour-correct every single shot that I post on My Trike. Based on the aerial Fuji shots that I posted previously that I thought were ‘a bit drab’, I think that I have to go with the Sony. My Trike is not intended to be an ‘art’ medium and I think that the ‘warmer’ Sony colours, especially the sky as will be seen later, are more appropriate for it. Also, taking the tree foliage as an example, the Sony image looks to contain a greater range of shades of each colour.
But what of the quality of the pictures themselves? For this you have to take a sample of each one and blow it up, which I’ve done and then showed the results for each one side-by-side.
The result is quite interesting, because although the Sony has a 20 megapixel sensor and the Fuji only a 16 megapixel one, in this test the Fuji appears to come out ahead. The greater warmth of the Sony colours still influence but looking at the brown leaves on the tree trunk, for example. they appear sharper in the Fuji image than in the Sony. There is no obvious reason why this should be so and in my view, it can only be down to how the electronics have set each camera up based on the ‘judgement’ they have made of the scene. It has to be said, however, that the Sony side of the image has been blown up slightly more than the Fuji side.
Next up, a back-lit shot of some mossy logs.
My first impression is that I far and away prefer the Sony image because its colours are more vibrant and also because technically, it’s pulling much more detail out of the shadows. But what about the underlying quality when each image is blown up?
This is, again, quite a tricky one to call. The colours and shadow detail of the Sony are ahead of the Fuji but if you look closely at the grain detail in the log, it looks as though the Fuji has it once again for shear resolution. But why should this be and how relevant is it? In my opinion, it’s down to how the engineers have tuned each camera’s electronics for taking fully automatic pictures, which is all about compromises. In theory, this should not matter and the Sony with its higher sensor resolution should always beat the Fuji. But it appears that somehow, the Fuji engineers have done a better job. The question is, does this matter? For me, the answer is, ‘I don’t know’. For the pictures I take from 56NE, I usually don’t have the camera set up on ‘fully auto’. I usually set it up for ‘landscapes’ and then allow the camera’s electronics to do their work because I’ve found in the past that this can make a bit of a difference. So what about these two models?
When comparing several of the shots that I took in ‘landscape’ mode, the sky in the Fuji image was completely washed out to almost white while the Sony sky still retained all of its colour and cloud detail. To keep an even playing field, however, I’ve shown two below where this hasn’t happened and the lighting conditions are virtually identical in both.
It’s immediately obvious that because the Fuji is over-emphasising the shadow, detail is lost in both the trunk of the tree in the foreground and also in the wall texture of the building in the distance. And it’s also apparent that the Sony is doing a far better job of showing the detail of the trees with pink blossom beyond the far edge of the lake and also the shades of colour on the hillside in the far distance. So is it time to make a final judgement? Not quite, but I think we can see the direction in which it’s going. To finish off, I took a picture of a distant scene with back-lighting and a little bit of zoom and this is what I got.
It’s pretty obvious that the Sony has it by a mile, both for colour and also image quality as shown by the detail its image contains in the far distance. But just in case anyone thinks that I’ve unfairly blown the Fuji up a bit more than the Sony, take a look at this.
When small sections are snipped out of each image, it is clear that the Sony walks it. When the tiny buildings are viewed close up, they still contain much of their detail in the Sony pic but don’t in the Fuji and also, although not much of the far distance is visible in the above pic, once again the Sony has it for detail, colour and shade gradation. So that does just about confirm it. I took quite a few more shots including panoramas. The Fuji loses out there because being an older model, it only has a manual system that stitches three shots together to make a single very wide angle image, whereas the Sony uses current ‘movie’ technology. This means that some solid lines ended up being discontinuous in the Fuji pics while the Sony ones always came out perfect.
So what are my conclusions? On the face of it, when used in ‘fully automatic’ mode, the Fuji beats the Sony even though the latter has a sensor with more megapixels, and not only did this include outdoor shots but also ones taken indoors with flash. However, in ‘landscape’ and ‘panorama’ modes, which are the ones that I will mostly be using, the Sony beats the Fuji. But I still have to try the Sony out in the air in 56NE. I can hardly wait 😉