Do you really need a better camera? Episode 4: everyday life

I am comparing a DSLR and a compact, both modern and famous for their excellent quality images (Nikon D7000, Canon S100), in order to evaluate when we really need to get one or the other, or both together. Sometimes, I am also comparing the pictures with those taken by a smartphone (Samsung Galaxy SII).  I am also doing this as I have noticed this kind of comparison is seldom done. Most of the time, people are comparing cameras of the same kind but don’t ask themselves whether they really need this category of camera. Previously, I have noticed that outdoor/landscapes shots during the day may not really require the big and fat DSLR. I mean I have been surprised by the performances of modern tiny sensors as soon as there is enough light. However, I have also noticed that for Macro, the DSLR was still much better.

So now let’s come to a very basic kind of pictures: portraits done inside. Everybody is taking some, of friends, family, … I have chose to shoot at the end of the afternoon, my little baby, either when she was playing, or in the arms of her mother but with back to the light. These two kind of pictures are actually technically quite challenging for the cameras, and this time, again, thanks God, the DSLR is again much better, as expected:

The very compact camera cannot be fast at 120mm equivalent (f/5.9). I had to shoot at 1600 ISO, and the speed was from far too slow (1/8 s). The stabilization does not help so much as a baby is not always standing still.

With a modern DSLR and a fast zoom (70-200 VRII f/2.8), everything works as expected, thanks God. This gear (body + zoom) is 8 times more expensive and 10 times heavier than the compact!

With back light, the light evaluation was not as good with the compact than with the DSLR. Further more, I had to shoot at 3200 ISO and whereas the speed was almost fast enough, the back light underexposed it so much I had to post-process the RAW to get an acceptable picture. But the noise is pretty much unacceptable! Last and not least, you can compare the depth of field (DOF). f/5.9 and a small sensor is making more or less any picture with too often too much  DOF.

With the DSLR, the picture is not perfect. The back light made the picture under exposed too but the post processing of the RAW file is providing a much more acceptable results. The speed (1/125 s) was what I wanted (I respected the rule 1/f equivalent FX) and the DOF is much more adequate too.

Comparing the grain of both cameras, after applying some noise reduction during the post process, the difference is not obvious, which mean that you should more take care of the dynamic of the sensor than just the MP (which is a little bit a surprise to me by the way). That said, difference between the two sensors is not that big (12 MP and 16 MP):

(Canon S100, crop 1:1)

(Nikon D7000, crop 1:1)

Conclusion:

To make a long story short, there is still room to improve compact cameras for what they are supposed to be good at: family pictures. Whereas not liked by many photographers, and whereas I am still waiting for a Nikon mirrorless which I could use, you can understand the “raison d’être” of the Nikon 1 bodies: a fast autofocus and a much better sensor than compact can provide decent family pictures, which a high end compact camera like the S100 still cannot do really so often.

Do you really need a better camera? Episode 3: macro

So I am continuing my genuine tests between the best pockable compact (Canon S100) and a good DX DSLR (Nikon D7000). Basically, the idea is to understand much better when to use the tiny camera and when the big guy is really demanded:

During the last two episodes, here and here, I have been quite naughty with the great D7000. But as a matter of fact, for still daylight pictures, the small S100 is just a match whatever you are using with the DSLR.

So to go a little bit further, this time I tried to compare macro’s performance of the two beasts. I am using the Nikkor 105mm VR f/2.8 + D7000 versus the small S100.

This time, the clear winner (Yeah, good to spend so much money and carry such an heavy camera) is the DSLR! I took pictures with the S100 at 24 mm equivalent and 120 mm equivalent at the closest range possible.

Apart from a much longer distance to the subject, the macro lens of the DSLR can provide a 1:1 picture, which really makes a difference.

On a side note, the DOF is really bigger with the small sensor of the S100. Both an advantage (Easier to focuse well a picture) and a constraint (some, like me, are enjoying a reduced DOF).

So, to summarize, a compact camera can make some decent close range shots, but cannot compete anywhere with a DSLR… If you know compact cameras which can, please let me know!

Do you really need a better camera: Episode 2 – Landscapes (again)

In the episode 1, I have been surprised to have excellent pictures from a compact camera (Canon S100) compare with an excellent DSLR (Nikon D7000). Of course, I did not push them to their limits, that was not the point. I just wanted to check how a light and small high-end compact could replace efficiently a DSLR either as a second camera or for shooting which don’t required the performances of a DSLR in low light or fast autofocus. So just to be sure, I did additional tests, first at 24 mm (equivalent full frame) with three cameras: a Galaxy SII, the S100 and the D7000. Then with just the last two of them at 50 mm and 120 mm. The 35mm f/1.8 (equivalent 52 mm) of the D7000 has the reputation to be quite sharp and for the 120 mm, I used a 70-200 VRII f/2.8, not a cheap lens! I would assume much better results with the DSLR + great lenses compare with the high-end compact. But again, the tests are saying something different.

At 24mm:

Two pictures taken with the S100 at f/2.0 and f/2.8:

Obviously, the Nikon D7000 does not really provide better image (you can click on the images to see them at their actual size). And again, the smartphone may be smart, but is nowhere a camera able to challenge the two others!

Crop images:

Galaxy SII

Canon S100 – 24 f/2.0

Canon S100 f/2.8

Nikon D7000+Tokina 11-16 at 16mm f/2.8

At f/2.8, the Canon can show much more details and better contrast but, again, I am finding the Tokina and the D7000 somewhat disappointing compare with their tiny and much cheaper competitor…

At 50 mm:

Crop images:

Canon S100 – 50 mm f/4.0

Nikon D7000 + Nikkor DX 35mm f/1.8 at f/4.0

OK the Nikon and the Nikkor will show more details but the difference is nowhere dramatic as we should have expected. We are comparing a fixed lens and a APS-C camera with a compact zoom!

At 120 mm:

Crop images:

Canon S100 at 120 mm f/5.9

Nikon D7000 + Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VRII at 120 mm f/2.8

Nikon D7000 + Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VRII at 120 mm f/5.6

At f/5.6, the difference is now significant, but certainly not at full aperture of the Nikon! I know, the AF of the small S100 and the DOF cannot be compared with an APS-C DSLR and a pro zoom but to make a long story short:

Conclusion
The S100 is a real option as a 2nd camera during a shooting in “normal conditions”, i.e. without low lights and the necessity to have a very fast AF. Of course, the DOF of two cameras are very different and one cannot make same pictures with both. I don’t believe – regarding DXO tests, that the S100 is the only camera able to perform this way. I just think that modern compact cameras can now really be excellent cameras for serious shooters, even if they may not look like pro cameras!

Do you really need a better camera? – Episode 1: landscapes

The cameras’ manufacturers like when we spend money on their new jewels. Of course we can satisfy our desire for consuming and we can just waste our money. It has the reputation to help against being depressive! Fair enough, but I have always been wondering whether technical improvements were so useful and conversely, I am always wondering which camera do I really need for a shooting?

I am genuinely testing very different cameras : a smartphone, a compact camera and a great DSLR with its sharpest ultra-wide zoon :

Samsung Galaxy 2 (cost and weight virtually nothing as embedded into a phone)
Canon S100 (370 €, 200 g)
Nikon D7000 + Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 (1’700 €, 1’300 g)

The idea is to illustrate thanks to different tests which advantage has each camera based on real life pictures. I don’t intend to make any scientific tests there, just to ponder the necessity of bringing with me a heavy camera (The D7000), or even the necessity to buy or not a compact given the improvements of smartphones’ cameras.

The first test will be very trivial : a landscape, on daylight, still subjects. So I could compare sharpness, contrast, colours, … but I decided to just focus at sharpness on this first test.

Similarly, I compare on purpose JPG and not RAW as I would expect the best camera to provide better JPG too. I have worked with A mode (Aperture priority), and wanted to keep the cameras at f/2,8. That’s indeed the fastest possibility of my Tokina 11-16 and again I would expect given the price, weight and size better results at full aperture with the best camera.

So to make a long story short, I was assuming that at this aperture, the Tokina 11-16 and the D7000 altogether – given the reputation they both have, should be much better than the Canon S100 (and of course of the cheap camera of a one-year-old smartphone!).

First the three pictures :




You may not see it on the web, but you can click on each picture to see them as full scale and on my screen (1900×1200), the Galaxy 2 picture has some visible noise, without making any crop. Given the easy shooting condition, I am disappointed. I am sure newest cameras’ smartphones may be better, but I am sticking to my conclusion : you can shoot with smartphone, but the gap is still immense compare with more serious cameras. Looks trivial, but I am now sure !

Then I cropped at 100 % the D7000 and the S100 :

S100 crop at 100%

D7000 crop at 100%

The D7000 and the Tokina are far from showing more details than the tiny S100, that’s more the other way around ! That was a surprise for me. I don’t want to say the D7000 don’t overcome the S100 in many ways but as a matter a fact, for landscapes done at daylight, I may challenge the reason to carry a so heavy camera ! Nowadays, high end compact cameras have really become extremely capable… OK I need more similar tests with landscapes, but again, on these shots, that’s definitively a real surprise.

Conclusion:

I know I cannot come to a conclusion with just one shot, I will do more tests of course, but so far I have to come the following conclusion: a modern compact camera is just great for taking daylight and still subjects, and DSLR are not always so useful then, at least DX DSLR. Last and not least, smartphones don’t seem to be able to challenge high end compact cameras so far.

If you have made similar tests, please let me know.