REVIEWS / Digital Camera Reviews: Compacts & Bridges
We test cameras in a special lab under controlled lighting conditions. This creates a level playing field and allows us to compare images taken by various cameras and with various settings combinations (ISO settings, with and without the flash, low light, etc.). Our test scene also allows us to evaluate image quality with the lens at wide-angle and telephoto settings. We check sharpness levels in the middle and around the edges of the frame, we look at how colours are rendered, and we check for distortion such as coloured fringes (chromatic aberration). We use and LED timer to measure the responsiveness of each camera we test and we use Barbie to evaluate a camera's performances in trickier situations, as well as to evaluate the stabilisation system. On top of our lab tests, we use each camera outdoors in real-life situations to assess its control layout and handling and to check image quality in genuine, day-to-day situations.
What to look for
As smartphone cameras continue to improve, stand-alone compacts are starting to fight back with new functions like Wi-Fi and GPS—a trend we're likely to see grow over the next few months. Indeed, some models have already gone as far as to adopt the Android OS! Smartphones are still a fair way ahead when it comes to screen quality (sharper high-def displays, touchscreen technology) but, here too, things are changing in the compact camera market.
Compacts and bridges are above all seeking to stand out with the kind of fundamental photography specs you won't find in a phone (not yet, anyway!). For starters, zoom lenses are getting more and more powerful, reaching around 20x in pocket-sized compacts and up to 50x in bridges. Sensor resolution is also on the up—most of the market is generally at 14 to 18 Megapixels, with some cameras now sporting 20 Megapixels. However, this surplus of pixels is actually more useful for cropping shots than for improving general image quality. Manufacturers are slowly turning their backs on CCD technology in favour of backlit (BSI) CMOS sensors, which give much better performances in low light. COMS sensors are faster too, bringing burst modes of up to 10 fps (frames per second) and 1080p HD video at 60 fps. Plus, creative filters for fun effects (miniature, fish-eye, vivid, etc.) and sweep panorama functions are now a common feature of many compact cameras.
One thing we're keen to see improve is responsiveness, with cameras that start-up and save photos more quickly. It'd also be nice to see camera-makers work on battery life, as some models still don't hold out for long enough.
As for bridges, apart from their increasingly impressive zoom lenses, we should start to see electronic viewfinders getting revamped in higher-end models. With displays offering over a million dots, EVFs worthy of the name should finally be coming to the bridge market.
But as the camera market evolves, some features and functions are being phased out. For example, you'll be hard pushed to find a compact with an optical viewfinder these days. Plus, 3D functions seem to be gradually disappearing.