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Looking for a good super zoom compact camera (4 Viewers)

james holdsworth

Consulting Biologist
My Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS60 bite the dust after only three years of use so I’m in the market for a new, compact super zoom. I’m not a photographer per se but carry a camera for doc shots as well as macro use for bugs, herps and plants. I have a small case that clips to my belt, so it doesn’t need to actually fit into my pocket but it needs to be thin and easy to tote…maybe max 2”x 5”. Bigger than that stays in the car, so only of limited use.

I’m hoping for better image quality than the Lumix - it was very poor in bad light or birds in flight, and fully zoomed images were very noisy. So hoping for some suggestions here for a small camera with good zoom, low noise that stands up to cropping etc., with emphasis on superior image quality. There are dozens of like models out there but hope to get some first hand accounts and recommendation. If an upgrade is worth it, cost isn’t an issue.

Thanks.
 
The Sony RX series goes to at least 200mm in some iterations. Great IQ and about as small as you can get.
I tried the Lumix DC-Zs200 with 24-360mm equivalent, but quickly abandoned the 1" sensor strategy and moved to aps-C and then FF. But I was looking for poster quality photos - not just bird ID/documentation. Given your priorities, I think I'd be shopping for something 1".
 
My Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS60 bite the dust after only three years of use so I’m in the market for a new, compact super zoom. I’m not a photographer per se but carry a camera for doc shots as well as macro use for bugs, herps and plants. I have a small case that clips to my belt, so it doesn’t need to actually fit into my pocket but it needs to be thin and easy to tote…maybe max 2”x 5”. Bigger than that stays in the car, so only of limited use.

I’m hoping for better image quality than the Lumix - it was very poor in bad light or birds in flight, and fully zoomed images were very noisy. So hoping for some suggestions here for a small camera with good zoom, low noise that stands up to cropping etc., with emphasis on superior image quality. There are dozens of like models out there but hope to get some first hand accounts and recommendation. If an upgrade is worth it, cost isn’t an issue.

Thanks.
The Sony RX 100 Model VI or VII is probably your best bet, although pricey and the lens is only 24-200 mm equivalent.
Its zoom falls well short of that available on your ZS 60, even with the 400 mm digital zoom.
Against that, it has a brighter lens and a larger 1" sensor, which delivers good quality images, plus it is compact and responsive.
The slightly larger Panasonic ZS 200 also has a 1" sensor, plus a longer 24-360 mm equivalent zoom, but gives softer images in my experience.
 
Small, good zoom range, low noise... You can pick any two of those, but not all three. ;)

Compact cameras are dying out. The best bet is probably the Panasonic DMC-ZS200, but I have no experience with that model. Otherwise I would choose the latest superzoom model like the Sony DSC-HX99 to get the newest technology.
 
Ok, so the Sony DCS-HX99 looks to fit my needs. Can I expect at least somewhat superior image quality over my old Lumix? I don’t need brilliant but often have to photograph birds at the zoom limit for documentation, and the results with my Lumix were invariably dissapointing.
 
I guess that’s the crunch here….doesnt anyone make a compact super zoom with a larger sensor? Any thoughts on the Sony vs the Canon Powershot SX740 HS?
I've not tried the Canon, but generally sensor size is the limiting factor. Large sensors sadly need larger lenses.
 
The best I have found is an Olympus OM with a 75-300mm lens. The lens is equivalent to a 600mm lens on full format, and the sensor is reasonably large (4/3 format). It's 1 Kg, which is the same as the Nikon D950 superzoom, but it has a proper manual zoom lens (much more responsive) and a large sensor.

I also have a 100-400 lens, but the lens alone is 1.5kg, so I hardly ever use it.

Yes, this is bigger than you want. But, I also need photos to document checklists and id species when I travel to new regions, and as I say, 1 kg is the best I have found. The above works well.
 
My Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS60 bite the dust after only three years of use so I’m in the market for a new, compact super zoom. I’m not a photographer per se but carry a camera for doc shots as well as macro use for bugs, herps and plants. I have a small case that clips to my belt, so it doesn’t need to actually fit into my pocket but it needs to be thin and easy to tote…maybe max 2”x 5”. Bigger than that stays in the car, so only of limited use.

I’m hoping for better image quality than the Lumix - it was very poor in bad light or birds in flight, and fully zoomed images were very noisy. So hoping for some suggestions here for a small camera with good zoom, low noise that stands up to cropping etc., with emphasis on superior image quality. There are dozens of like models out there but hope to get some first hand accounts and recommendation. If an upgrade is worth it, cost isn’t an issue.

Thanks.

They're all capable of 'performing in bad light'. It depends on how you use your camera. In the event you're going to stand a long distance from a bird and aim into dark woodland, then you'll have a problem with any camera, no matter how much you pay for it. I've seen a lot of pictures on a lot of sites from people with expensive equipment, and I don't recall seeing a picture of 'superior image quality' in those conditions/that scenario. I'd be interested to see any from people on this site. The combination of distance and light will be a problem for anybody/any camera.

I've attached a picture I took with the Nikon P950 in woodland. Shutter speed is 1/60, it's handheld and not from a bird hide. There's virtually no light getting in. It's not bad for a small sensor superzoom.

The reason it's turned out alright is because I'm close to the bird, I practiced for ages on keeping the camera steady when I first bought it; I watched the bird, got some cover and waited for it to land in the right place. In terms of photo editing, I got rid of the noise in the background, cropped it a bit and sharpened it a bit. That's it.

In the end, you could pay thousands of pounds for a camera but it won't get you very far in the event you cannot get close to the birds and use judgement of what the bird may do and where you need to be.

On the birds in flight point, I couldn't comment on that as it's not my thing: I like to see and photograph the birds when they're perched.

I wouldn't necessarily rule out the superzooms on the basis on technical specification. I suppose it depends on your fieldcraft.
 

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I guess that’s the crunch here….doesnt anyone make a compact super zoom with a larger sensor? Any thoughts on the Sony vs the Canon Powershot SX740 HS?
As I think someone said, but it takes reiterating: if you increase the sensor size and want the same reach, you are inevitably going to have a larger package.

The size of camera you have been using might be able to do better than what you have gotten out of it. To do that you would need to photograph in raw and use proper post processing software. If you already are doing that then I apologize.
Niels
 
As I think someone said, but it takes reiterating: if you increase the sensor size and want the same reach, you are inevitably going to have a larger package.
Agreed.

To OP: What makes compact superzooms possible is the large crop factor of small sensors, e.g. 3x (for a 1 inch sensor) or greater. Simplifying matters, this crop factor means you get the effect of 3 times the focal length of the lens when shooting, so you need much less lens to get close to the birds. (E.g. a 100 mm lens becomes the equivalent of a 300 mm lens on a full frame (large sensor) camera). You can have large sensors in compact cameras – but you cannot have that and superzoom reach at the same time, because the larger sensor will require a much bulkier lens to get that reach.
 
The size of camera you have been using might be able to do better than what you have gotten out of it. To do that you would need to photograph in raw and use proper post processing software.

I disagree.

When I first bought a camera I did a YT tutorial on the basics. Chris Bray was the tutor, an Australian who works for the National Geographic. I struck gold there by listening to him. He was keen to point out that all cameras are good cameras and don't get too carried away with the settings, just get out there, take some pictures and enjoy it. Obviously you need the basics when you start, but as Chris Bray pointed out: you'll learn from your own experience of what works and what doesn't work.

Well, if it's good enough for someone of that standing, then it's good enough for me.

In my opinion, it is a mistake to think the answer lies in the camera or photo editing. My pictures turn out alright: I have the Nikon P950, process in JPEG and do very little with them in terms of photo editing. As far as I'm concerned, the trick is to take pictures that don't require much in terms of photo editing.

Admittedly, more expensive equipment will get you better pictures all things being equal, but there are ways to bridge the gap with a few hundred quid's worth of camera. In the event anyone believes that the answer to better pictures is in the camera and photo editing, well, in my opinion you're going to go 'round in circles by ignoring the most important part of bird photography: fieldcraft.

By employing good fieldcraft, you don't need to do a lot of photo editing, you don't need to process in RAW and you don't need expensive equipment.

And, good fieldcraft isn't difficult nor some unattainable goal, e.g. find yourself a spot where there looks like there's activity, maybe near a stream or some such, lie down for a while; you'll be surprised at the number of birds that pass by you, stop for a drink or perch on a gorse or some such and as you're lying down they might not take a great deal of notice of you as you're trying to photograph them.

In the end, what is the proportion of professional photographers who have been around cameras all of their lives on this site? It must be small, it must be under 5%. Those who aren't professional photographers and who constantly look to the settings and photo editing as the solution to better pictures, are they tripping themselves up by doing that? I think so. Bird photography is a creative pursuit after all, as opposed to being a science.
 
I disagree.

When I first bought a camera I did a YT tutorial on the basics. Chris Bray was the tutor, an Australian who works for the National Geographic. I struck gold there by listening to him. He was keen to point out that all cameras are good cameras and don't get too carried away with the settings, just get out there, take some pictures and enjoy it. Obviously you need the basics when you start, but as Chris Bray pointed out: you'll learn from your own experience of what works and what doesn't work.

Well, if it's good enough for someone of that standing, then it's good enough for me.

In my opinion, it is a mistake to think the answer lies in the camera or photo editing. My pictures turn out alright: I have the Nikon P950, process in JPEG and do very little with them in terms of photo editing. As far as I'm concerned, the trick is to take pictures that don't require much in terms of photo editing.

Admittedly, more expensive equipment will get you better pictures all things being equal, but there are ways to bridge the gap with a few hundred quid's worth of camera. In the event anyone believes that the answer to better pictures is in the camera and photo editing, well, in my opinion you're going to go 'round in circles by ignoring the most important part of bird photography: fieldcraft.

By employing good fieldcraft, you don't need to do a lot of photo editing, you don't need to process in RAW and you don't need expensive equipment.

And, good fieldcraft isn't difficult nor some unattainable goal, e.g. find yourself a spot where there looks like there's activity, maybe near a stream or some such, lie down for a while; you'll be surprised at the number of birds that pass by you, stop for a drink or perch on a gorse or some such and as you're lying down they might not take a great deal of notice of you as you're trying to photograph them.

In the end, what is the proportion of professional photographers who have been around cameras all of their lives on this site? It must be small, it must be under 5%. Those who aren't professional photographers and who constantly look to the settings and photo editing as the solution to better pictures, are they tripping themselves up by doing that? I think so. Bird photography is a creative pursuit after all, as opposed to being a science.
Maybe my statement came out a little too general. I was responding to the OP saying something like poor performance in low light and at a distance. Those are conditions where putting in the extra work in post can get you better results.
Niels
 
Maybe my statement came out a little too general. I was responding to the OP saying something like poor performance in low light and at a distance. Those are conditions where putting in the extra work in post can get you better results.
Niels

No bother, Niels.

Aye, advanced photo editing skills should get you better results but when taking pictures from a distance and in low light, how retrievable is the picture going to be through photo editing? I reckon 'better' should be qualified given the picture is starting from a low base and 'better' might not be acceptable. I think you're going to struggle with any camera and any photo editing software. In many cases, you'll end up with a picture that doesn't look right, nor great, because so much photo editing has gone into it.

'Just my alternative view. I read these types of threads and the focus is generally on camera settings, camera cost and photo editing. My opinion is that it's better to place focus on taking pictures that require little photo editing than take the pictures from a distance and in low light and expect photo editing software to retrieve the picture: in the vast majority of cases, it will not.

The proof is always in the pudding. I would like to see the pictures taken in those conditions with expensive equipment and expensive photo editing software. I say that because I've seen many on various sites in those conditions, and there have been very few that have been turned around by photo editing and expensive equipment. It's a big ask for any camera and any person holding the camera.

Words are one thing but some pictures to prove the point is another. That's not a challenge; it's not a competition. But, it would be helpful to the OP to see the words backed up with pictures. My estimate, and that is based on looking at many pictures on many sites, is that the people who can get good results in those conditions are professionals or at least bordering on professional based on the time/effort they put in and being around cameras all of their lives; and that to me would account for say no more than 5% of people posting pictures on bird sites. In the even you fall into that 5%, then I suppose it can be pulled off, otherwise taking pictures in poor light and at a distance is a big ask no matter the equipment and the photo editing software.

To come full circle to the OP, superzooms can perform in poor light, but not when you stood at a distance but then again: show me the pictures from more expensive equipment also taken at a distance and in poor light.
 
The OP mentioned documentation shots, so those cannot always wait for great conditions for photography. And yes, I agree poor conditions will not give great shots. However, with some effort, you can perhaps move from unacceptable to barely usable. One example - though with a sensor a little larger, as I am shooting m4/3:
Golden-crowned Tanager
I believe this was shot in iso 6400.
Niels
 
The OP mentioned documentation shots, so those cannot always wait for great conditions for photography. And yes, I agree poor conditions will not give great shots. However, with some effort, you can perhaps move from unacceptable to barely usable. One example - though with a sensor a little larger, as I am shooting m4/3:
Golden-crowned Tanager
I believe this was shot in iso 6400.
Niels

Fair enough, Niels.

You're right in that 'doc shots' was mentioned, but then again so was 'better image quality' and 'poor in bad light' and from there others replied to say a superzoom couldn't give the OP what he wanted.

Well, as someone who uses a superzoom I feel qualified to disagree.

I very, very rarely take pictures in poor light. The reasons being: 1) I have other things to do, e.g. work and the like, and so can't be out all of the time taking pictures 2) I like the bird to have a sparkle in its eye and you can only get that when it's sunny. When I do have spare time and I go out in poor light, it's usually to have a scout around to find some interesting places with potential. The point of saying all of that is that my strike rate of half decent pictures to pictures taken in poor light isn't bad at all considering I don't take many in those conditions, i.e. for the benefit of the OP, this isn't the camera turning out 6 half decent pictures out of thousands. As I said, I couldn't do it from a considerable distance, but then again can others with more expensive equipment in those conditions?

I've attached some more pictures taken in poor light. In those conditions, they're not going to be your best pictures but contrary to what was claimed in this thread, I think this superzoom, and most superzooms for that matter; will give the OP what he wants. Shutter speeds: Merganser 1/250; Kestrel I think 1/80 (although I can't access the file info for some reason); Sparrowhawk 1/40; Wheatear 1/640; Waxwing 1/60; Robin 1/200. ISO 400 all of them. There is very little photo editing gone into these pictures. The Kestrel was taken before I had any photo editing skills, which is a shame because I could have turned that one into a nice picture.

'Long story short, don't write off the superzooms in poor light, work on getting the most out of the camera and/or juggle your time to take pictures of birds when the light is better.

If the OP is reading this, to reiterate, I cannot comment on birds in flight as it's not my thing.
 

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The proof is always in the pudding. I would like to see the pictures taken in those conditions with expensive equipment and expensive photo editing software. I say that because I've seen many on various sites in those conditions, and there have been very few that have been turned around by photo editing and expensive equipment. It's a big ask for any camera and any person holding the camera.

Words are one thing but some pictures to prove the point is another. That's not a challenge; it's not a competition. But, it would be helpful to the OP to see the words backed up with pictures.
Like record shots, you also can't wait around for perfect conditions for travel photography. Attached are some unprocessed photos from my Borneo trip. The processed versions are here:

Whitehead's Trogon

Bornean Green-Magpie

The processing transformed both shots into keepers for me–indeed they are some of my favorite shots of the trip. (Both were shot raw at iso 6400 at max zoom (800mm equivalent (400mm actual)) with my Olympus EM1 mkii and Panasonic-Leica100-400mm lens. The Bornean Green Magpie was taken just after dawn and I set my iso limit at 6400, so there wasn't enough light to expose properly. Processed with lightroom and sharpening and noise reduction plug-ins).
 

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