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20x Zoom Comparison - Sony HX20; Canon SX260; Panasonic ZS19
on September 27, 2012
I couldn't decide between these three cameras (and their variants, the Sony HX30 and the Panasonic ZX20) because many of the reviews of each made the cameras sound very similar. So, I went out and bought (from merchants who accepted returns) one of each of these three cameras (I didn't need WI-FI or GPS, so that's how I settled on these less expensive variants). And then I took photos and videos in various conditions. I am not a professional photographer, and I didn't do Imatest or any other specific tests on the images (you can read C/net for that), but this is an experience of a regular person who was taking pictures and videos with these three cameras side by side, which is a comparison that you do not often see.
The bottom line is that these three cameras are very similar with a few minor differences, but those differences set them apart and may make you decide that you like one more than the other.
Generally speaking, NONE of these cameras is a DSLR replacement. Whomever writes that the pictures are as good as a DSLR is not speaking accurately. Also, none of the cameras is a replacement for a high end camcorder.
If you are taking pictures outside on a sunny day all of these cameras will take very nice pictures for small to medium enlargements (no bigger than 8 x 10). The cameras all produce nice fairly sharp images that would be well suited for that purpose. And, like most people, I don't remember ever enlarging a picture more than 8 x 10, so it is not a common problem.
What might be an issue is if you are zoomed in all the way and wanted to crop a photo (which sometimes happens), the differences in the way the cameras' photos look when you "pixel peep" might make a difference. In good light outside, the cameras were close, but the best photos were from the CANON with the SONY and the PANASONIC a close second.
INSIDE PICTURES - GOOD LIGHT
If you are inside and you are taking pictures in low light, you will see a different story. Again, at smaller sized prints 4x6, 5x7, most people will see almost no difference between the pictures of the three cameras other than the PANASONIC's colors are a little less vibrant than those in the CANON and the SONY. I am not sure whether those colors are less accurate, they are just a little less vivid.
If you pixel peep at these pictures, the CANON's photos are clearly the best with the PANASONIC's being second. The CANON's remain very sharp through a good amount of enlargement while the PANASONIC's, although close, get softer a little faster. The SONY's pictures inside with good light became soft rather quickly and, I'm not sure if this is because the SONY has 18MP on a small chip (as some of the tech reviewers write), but there is a "watercolor" effect where after you enlarge it a little bit, it looks like a Claude Manet painting.
INSIDE PICTURES - LOW LIGHT
In poor light, the hierarchy between the cameras remains the same, but there is less of a gap between the CANON and the PANASONIC. It seems as if the CANON takes somewhat worse pictures in low light, and the PANASONIC just doesn't get that much worse. As a result, the gap between these two becomes somewhat closer. The SONY's pictures remain the poorest of the three in low light.
VIDEO - OUTSIDE GOOD LIGHT
All three cameras take very nice video outside in good light. If you are editing or nitpicky, you will note that the SONY and the PANASONIC take 60 frames per second, which is somewhat easier to edit, than the 24 frames per second that the CANON records. While you have to look for it, the CANON's outside video does have a couple of instances where it seems to be a tad jerky compared to the SONY and PANASONIC's video. But you really have to look for it and most people won't notice if you don't have another video outside for comparison.
While all the outdoor video is close, I would give the edge to the SONY in video, with the PANASONIC second and the CANON third. But they are close for outside video.
VIDEO - INSIDE
Taking video inside is a different story. Inside, the SONY shines and clearly has the best video. The video from this camera is actually good. It is not professional level by any stretch, but it is good solid quite viewable video from a camera that takes still pictures.
There is a noticeable difference on indoor video between the SONY and the PANASONIC. This difference was perhaps most noticeable to me because I had both videos from both cameras and watched them over and over again looking for differences. While the difference is noticeable, it is not a tremendous difference. The SONY video is super smooth and seems to get as much out of the light as it can. The PANASONIC video also is smooth and gets a good contrast tone and color out of the available light, but is slightly less smooth than the SONY. The PANASONIC video is still very viewable and looks good, but not as good as the SONY.
The CANON will take decent indoor video in good light, but in poor light, it just seems to struggle. The CANON's video had many shadows and dark areas that simply were not present in the SONY and PANASONIC videos. I did not notice any hissing in the CANON video as some of the other reviewers have mentioned. This may be an issue that varies from camera to camera.
HANDLING AND SPEED
This was a fairly subjective comparison between the three cameras as to how they felt in the hand and how quickly the camera did what I wanted it to do because if the camera doesn't take the shot when you want to, it doesn't really matter how sharp the picture or video might be.
Based on my experience, the PANASONIC had the best handling of the three. While the PANASONIC and the SONY were both quick to take a picture, for some reason the SONY that I had would take a much longer time (seconds) to record the picture onto the card. This was despite the fact that both cameras had comparable cards with comparable write speeds. Both the SONY and the PANASONIC had rather quick autofocus which also made them seem to react faster. The PANASONIC is noticeably thinner and lighter than the SONY while maintaining a similar full raised rubber grip on the front which made the camera easier to handle. While both the SONY and the PANASONIC were quick, the blazingly fast (by comparison) write speeds on the PANASONIC compared with its almost non-existent shutter lag made this the best handling camera of the three by far.
Even though it consistently took the best pictures, the CANON was the worst handling camera. The autofocus often had issues focusing and there was a constant shutter lag while it was searching for its focus. We did miss some shots because the CANON was so slow to react. Also, the CANON is somewhere in weight between the SONY and the PANASONIC, but has the worst grip of the three. That little rubber strip on the front is not as effective a grip as the fuller grip that appears on the SONY and the PANASONIC.
With respect to handling, I've read many reviews and each of them seems to state different things about each of the cameras. Many of these reviews seem to indicate that the SONY is a very fast camera, and that might be the case, but the write speed of the 18 MP pictures (which are 50% larger than the CANON's photos and almost the same for the PANASONIC) was so slow, it was distracting and detracted from the experience of using the camera.
VERDICT AND CONCLUSIONS
None of these cameras is the best at everything. The CANON has the best pictures, but is slow to focus, somewhat awkward to handle and has the worst video of the three. The SONY handles okay but is heavy and has noticeably slow write speeds, its picture quality varies greatly with the light (and will deteriorate rapidly with any significant cropping) but the SONY has the best video, and it is noticeable.
In the end I decided to go with the PANASONIC. While it only was the best in handling, to me that was a significant portion of the photographic experience. It is not DSLR fast (instantaneous), but it is a zippy camera for a superzoom, is light in weight and has a good grip which makes it easier to hold. Also, it does not have a pop-up flash which I found always seemed to come up under my fingers where I was holding the left side camera. As noted above, the PANASONIC's videos were good, perhaps not as good as the SONY, but the PANASONIC was certainly capable of capturing some nice video, even in low light. The photos also were not as good as the CANON's, but they were close and very close in low light. With respect to the vibrancy of the colors, if you set the photo vibrancy on the PANASONIC to "happy" (which I guess is their "vivid") it is less of a noticeable difference. The photos look very nice and certainly are competitive in quality for this type of camera.
Hopefully this comparison and these observations will help you decide between these three similar cameras so you can choose the best one for your needs. Good luck.