Ask 2 Guys Photo: Which Superzoom?

"Lumix FZ150"

We received the following email from a 2 Guys Photo reader:

Hi Ed and Rey –

I am taking a trip this winter and am not sure I want to lug my Canon T2i and lenses with me.

So I’ve been doing quite a bit of research into the superzoom digital cameras.

I’ve surfed the lists of the BEST superzoom digitals, and I contacted B&H. I’ve read lots of reviews.

B&H recommended the Panasonic FZ150 with the Canon Powershot SX30 IS second.

Some others on the best recommended lists are:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ45/FZ40 and the DMC-LX50 and the DMC-FZ100

Canon PowerShot S95

Sony Alpha NEX-5

Nikon Cool Pix P500

Sony CyberShot HX100

Not being any expert on all the technical stuff like sensors, etc. I am a little confused. Would appreciate any opinions or input you two could offer. Before I spoke with the expert at B&H I was actually leaning towards the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS.

Thank you!

LarkPhoto

Dear LarkPhoto –

Great question.  There’s no doubt that the superzoom offers some important advantages over a more traditional multi-lens outfit, namely convenience and the ability to avoid lens changes across a typically expansive focal length range.  I wrote a bit about one such monster here.

First, though, I’m sure you realize that the key tradeoffs relate primarily to focus speed and low light capabilities.  I’m not sure which lenses you have for your Canon DSLR, but absolutely none of these superzooms will hold a candle to the T2i in these areas.  If your winter shooting is will be largely of landscapes and most often outdoors in sunlight, then these considerations won’t be significant.  If you’re hoping to capture birds in flight or candlelit scenes… I’d think twice.

Assuming you’ve considered these tradeoffs, read on for my opinion on the cameras you’ve mentioned…

Of the cameras you noted, a few aren’t superzooms.  The Canon S95 is an amazing camera.  It’s rugged, pocketable and because of it’s slightly larger sensor, better in lowlight situations.  Its zoom range is limited, however, and so I’m going to discount it as being outside of the realm of what you’re looking for.  Also, if you can wait another month or so, the replacement camera, the S100, will be out.  It has a nicer grip, a wider starting range (a helpful, wide 24mm), more resolution and a few other nice tweaks.

The Sony NEX 5N is a superb camera, but it’s an interchangeable lens camera and contains a sensor that has more in common with your Canon T2i than the superzooms.  I have been writing about the 5N (see here) and, in a word, it’s G-R-E-A-T.  But again, it’s not a superzoom and to gain the equivalent, convenient lens range, you’d need to buy a bunch of lenses… foregoing the advantage of the do-it-all zoom camera.  So, I’m removing that from the list as well.

Of the other cameras mentioned, I would say you received good advice that the Panasonic Lumix FZ150 and Canon Powershot SX30IS are at the top of the heap.  You also mention a few older models which, unless you can get a really good deal, have been improved upon by these two models.

I’ve shot briefly with both the FZ and SX cameras and extensively with their predecessors.  Based on that, I can confidently say that they are both quite nice and ultimately, your choice may come down to which feels better in your hand.  Previous SX cameras from Canon used off-the-shelf double A batteries which is often touted as a benefit.  For me, I much prefer a rechargeable lithium battery.  Canon has made the comparison tougher now by including a rechargeable pack with the SX30.

Some distinctions:

Price: If this is a major consideration, the Canon is about $50 cheaper.

Zoom range: The Canon clearly wins here as the zoom range is 24 to 840mm while the Panasonic is only (!) 25-600mm.  I’m a wide zoom fanatic and traditionally the Panasonics have won out by offering wider starting focal lengths… but not here.

LCD: Both offer nice, tilt swivel screens.  The Panasonic’s is bigger (3.0″ vs. 2.7″).  That difference doesn’t seem like much, but in my experience, it’s worth considering.  The 3.0″ screen is just so much nicer.

RAW: Some won’t care about this, but the Panasonic allows for both JPG and RAW shooting while Canon limits the SX series to JPG only.  For me, this is a big deal.

Movies: Panasonic give you true 1080p HD resolution while Canon is still at 720p.  If video is important, Panasonic gets the nod.

Macro shooting: Canons here excel, allowing for closer focusing.  The Panasonic is still pretty good, though.

Frame rate: If you like your camera to sound like a machine gun, get the Panasonic (12 frames per second).  The Canon, strangely, is only about 1 fps.  For moving subjects (again, the focusing engines on these things are no match for those in most modern DSLRs), the Panasonic is going to allow for a higher keep rate if, again, you like to rapid fire lots of frames at a time.

Size: The Panasonic is slimmer and lighter.  Not by a ton, but you might notice if as you’re hiking across the frozen tundra (ok, I made up the frozen tundra part – you only said “trip this winter”).

Verdict: It’s best if you look at the above and pick what’s most important to you.  Based on that, get the camera that fills in the most boxes on your checklist.  For me, it’s the Panasonic.

Thanks and best of luck.  Let us know what you decide to do.

And to all 2 Guys Photo readers, please consider using our B&H sponsored links if you’re interested in purchasing or learning more about these two cameras.

Panasonic Lumix FZ150

Canon SX30IS

Thanks!

Posted by Rey

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9 Responses to Ask 2 Guys Photo: Which Superzoom?

  1. Debbie says:

    Thank you so much for your reply and helpful information. My trip is to Belize, both island and land. Will be shooting wildlife, ocean scapes, Mayan ruins, rainforest scapes —
    I have the following Canon lenses: 50mm IS f1.4, 17-85mm IS f4/5.6, 100mm f2.8 macro, 70-300mm IS 4/5.6 and the fabulous 70-200 IS f2.8.
    I am willing to consider non superzoom cameras if you think there is one I am overlooking?
    Thank you!

    • Rey says:

      Debbie – you have some great lenses. But for Belize, you’ll need a large backpack to carry all of it. If I was in your shoes, I’d either take the FZ150 (for the megazoom range) or a trusty Canon Powershot F12. The lens range is less than the FZ, but it’s sensor is a bit bigger and lower light situations will benefit. Additionally, it has a small optical viewfinder which will work well on sunny days. The G12 is a fantastic camera. The other option is to get into the mirrorless system camera thing, which means Sony NEX or micro-4/3. The disadvantage of these, in my view, is that to take full advantage of what they have to offer, you’re going to need to build a second system. If you have the resources, go for it. If not, then either the FZ or the G12 would suit you well.

      Rey

  2. Debbie says:

    Thank you for the additional advice. I now feel like I have some direction. Hmmmmmm — maybe take my SmugMug profits and purchase both the G12 and one of the superzooms?????

    • Rey says:

      Wait, buy two cameras??? That’s crazy.

      It’s something I would do… but it’s crazy!

      Good luck and let us know what you decide. And don’t hesitate to send us some photos of your trip.

      Thanks,

      Rey

  3. Debbie says:

    I am going to borrow a friend’s Panasonic FMZ-100 just to get a feel for a superzoom camera. Will my Canon shoe flash work on it?
    HA! It seems that I am the exception when it comes to having cameras. A photographer friend of mine has about 5-6 cameras of ranging size, weight, and capabilities. I only have my T2i and my first DSLR the Canon XTi which still works great — I would love to sell it if I could find someone interested.

    • Rey says:

      Debbie –

      The Canon flash will fit and will allow for manual use. Pain in the neck. If flash compatibility is important, go with the Canon G12 or the SX. You don’t want to futz around with manual flash settings if your main objective of choosing a camera such as a FZ or SX or G series is convenience and ease. If that was not the case, then I’d say to bring the whole DSLR kit.

      The XTi will garner some interest on eB*y but I wouldn’t plan on getting big bucks for it. It would make an excellent starter DSLR if you have anyone you know who might benefit.

      Thanks,

      Rey

  4. Debbie says:

    Very interesting experience. The Panasonic FZ100 felt so small in my hands. I did not like the fact that my trigger finger had to operate the zoom, focus, and shutter. It really slowed me down. I also kept hitting the preview button located on the right hand rear of the camera which would pop up the preview and not allow me to see the image I was photographing. I had to grip the camera in such a way that was awkward. So after an afternoon of shooting with it, I was not sold.
    There’s no doubt that it is a nice camera, but I don’t think it is a good choice for me.

    • Rey says:

      Debbie – that’s very fitting testimony to the adage that you really need to try before you buy. Glad you were able to have the experience so that you didn’t learn that you weren’t sold on it until you were deep into your trip…

      Rey

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