Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Which Superzoom Camera Is The Best?

I bought my first and only camera, the Canon S2IS about five years ago. It has served me well but it does have its limitations. One of the first things I noticed about the camera is that it doesn't work well in low lighting situations. On overcast days, I am hesitant to attempt taking photos of birds. One exception would be large, white birds which I seem to have more success with on cloudy days than I do on bright, sunny days.
Taking photos of snow scenery also seems to work well on days with poor lighting. This photo was taken at Wadsworth Park in February. I resorted to taking photos of snow when my attempts at photographing birds didn't work out.
This is a photo of ice damming up along the Connecticut River in Portland taken in the month of February. My hope is that my next camera will perform better in low light situations so that I'm not forced to resort to taking photos of big white objects whenever the lighting is poor. I've tried adjusting the settings but it doesn't seem to help the end result much.
Another option I would like to see on my new camera is a manual focus ring so that I can zero in on birds in the bush. The manual focus on my current camera is too much trouble to bother with. I tried to used auto focus to capture a photo of this bluebird one cloudy day. The autofocus targets the bush, not the bird resulting in a drab, out- of-focus picture of a bluebird.

So the question is, which is the best new super zoom camera for taking photos of birds? I've been reading comments from birders in the photography section of Birdforum, and reviews on sites like, camera labs, and dp preview hoping to find some answers. I know very little about cameras but here are a few things that I've learned from reading these various websites:

  • Dslr cameras have bigger sensors than the superzooms which one of the reasons the dslr's procuce better picture images.

  • Bigger numbers don't always mean better images. 30x optical zoom does not mean you can take a photo of a bird from twice the distance of a 15x optical zoom camera. I'm not exactly how the whole zoom thing works but the numbers are misleading. I've also read that more megapixels does not necessarily mean better quality photos.

What I'm really looking for is a camera that is very similar to a dslr camera but has a fixed superzoom lens. The most popular superzoom cameras used by birders seems to be the Canon superzooms followed by the Panasonic Lumix Series of cameras but there are many others brands on the market.

Here are a few cameras that I have been considering.

  • Canon Powershot sx20-This should be an improvement over my camera. It has HD video, 20x optical zoom and 12.1 megapixels. From what I've seen, it still doesn't perform very well in low light.

  • Panasonic DMC-FZ35-This is has 18x optical zoom but it uses a Leica lens. Some say that this camera produces sharper images and works better in low light than the Canon does.

  • Panasonic DMC FZ50 -It is the opinion of some that this is still the best superzoom avaiolable. It has a manual focus ring just like the dslr's do. This particular model came out in 2006 but for some reason the retail price on this camera has increased instead of decreased. It has 12x optical zoom versus the 20x or 30x that the other superzooms come with these days.

  • Fujifilm Finepix HS-10 -This is due to be released in April. It has a lot of promising features but can it deliver on those promises? : 30x, "superior low light performance ", high speed shooting capability, manual focus ring, and twist-barrel manual zoom are just a few of the advertised features. If this camera lives up to its claims it might be the one I'm looking for.

I plan on purchasing the camera soon but I'm holding off a bit due to a past experience. Some time ago, I bought a 36" Sony television. It is so heavy that the glass doors on the stand upon which it sat shattered from the pressure caused by the weight of the television. If I had held off for one more year , I could have purchased a high definition flatscreen television for the same price. That is why I have been taking the wait and see approach with the cameras.

For those of you who currently use a superzoom camera-Are you pleased with the performance of your camera? What do you like or not like about it?


Spencer said...

Birdforum! This may be my favorite site, and I've posted many a question on it, in the photography section, and others. I recently upraded my S2 IS to a Canon XSi/450D, so I don't have much insight on superzooms, except that my DSLR does produce great images, and I've heard that autofocus on superzooms can be slower than DSLRs. Also, I have also heard that since they have smaller sensor sizes, even a superzoom with more megapixels will not produce a better quality image than a DSLR with slightly fewer megapixels.

Andy said...

This review site may interest you and help you in your decision.

The choices you listed, either one will serve you well.

It all depends on what you want in a camera.

Ruth said...

I upgraded from my Canon SX3IS to the SX10IS last year. The SX20 is now out of course. I decided against a DSLR because I did not want the weight of the bigger camera around my neck when I walked on trails. I really like my Canon superzoom. Of course, the more zoom you use, the more light you need. I take pictures only when the light is good. I think I miss a lot while birding if all I am trying to do is get a picture. btw, there is manual focus on my camera which works quite well.

John B. said...

I have been wondering about the same question since I'm interested in a superzoom. I did find a comparative review here: I'm still not sure which one I want. The new Fuji does look very interesting if it has good image quality.

Kay Baughman said...

you know, I LIKE the picture of the bluebird in the shrub--the way its delicate colors echo the colors in the background and the way it is a muted spot of beauty in a tangle of winter shrubbery. (I love the design of the tangled branches.)
Your blog is very interesting and informative. I am a beginning photographer and blogger and think I'll learn a lot from your blog. Thanks.

Chris said...

Hi Larry,
I do not really know these cameras but what I know is that there are very few of them (DSLR or not) coping with low light conditions. When you even look at the Canon and Nikon, only the last models are able to cope with low light condition (7D for Canon and D3S for Nikon)... So I guess it is your personal choice and it comes to what you need, how far you are from the bird when taking pictures, what kind of photography you do.
And I agree on one point, more pixels does not mean better pictures!

Larry said...

Spencer-Birdofrum is a great site.I've heard and read the same things about dslr versus superzoom.I like the ease and portability of the superzoom but I'm hoping they will advance in quality.

Andy-thanks-I am familiar with the site but couldn't remember the name of it. I will add it to the links in this post.

Ruth-I'd be curious to know-In what way have you found the sx10 to be better than your
sx3? Not by what it says on paper but from what your own eyes tell you.

John-I'm hoping that it lives up to its claims.

Kay-thanks-I could have used a better example but I do have problems focusing on birds in the bush in general.I don't know if you'll learn anything from my blog but I do appreciate you stopping in to comment.

Chris-My expectations are high for the superzoom.I've seen examples of great technology out there every day and believe that they could make a really great fixed lens superzoom if they wanted to.

Dawn Fine said...

I have the Canon SX1 IS a nice camera..20x optical zoom..looks similar to the canon you are considering..I use it for most of my bird photos. Certainly not as good as digiscoping..or DSLR.
I wanted a small package with bang for the buck.
I also have a smaller Panasonic lumix with 12x optical Zoom..
I adore this camera...very small..I bring it with me all the time.
The Canon I take only when birding..and still bring my Lumix

Good luck with your decision!

Ruth said...

Larry- I used a 1.5X teleconverter with my S3IS and that gave me 18X zoom. The SX10 has 20X zoom without having the extra bother of putting the teleconverter on and off. With the extra MP, the quality is much better and I do find the settings easier to use (incl MF). I really have no complaints. Any low light problems can usually be fixed on photoshop. One annoyance is the lens cap. I have lost it several times.

Mary C said...

Hi Larry - I bought myself a Canon PowerShot SX20-IS back in the fall. I wanted another zoom lens compact camera to complement or supplement my DSLR. I used to have a Kodak Easy Share, but it was only a 10x zoom and I wanted something with a higher zoom, so after looking at half a dozen or so (online) I ended up with the Canon. I really like the quality of photos from this camera, yet I realize that my Canon DSLR still takes better pix. But the PowerShot is very good quality. I seem to struggle with the auto-focus at times -- especially when I'm trying to get a picture of a bird in a tree. But I blame that more on the "photographer" than the camera. I really like the way it takes video. That is a real plus in my book. Good luck in your search.

Lana Gramlich said...

Good luck with your research & impending purchase. Wouldn't it be nice if stores would let you rent or test drive equipment before you buy? I can't speak on the superzooms. I'm still pretty happy with my Canon EOS Rebel DSLR & 300mm lens, myself.