Side By Side

I find myself amused by some photography blogs which present images and tell you all about them and how they compare to other images – including all the gory details of what manipulations they went through to get there. I couldn’t resist doing my own comparison entry then, only I’m going to compare one camera to another. Possibly in a way you’ve never seen before. Behold:

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I had a piece of 1 ½” aluminium angle leftover from some now-forgotten project. About 50¢ worth of hardware (including two “thumbscrews”!) and a little machine work and voilà ! We have a side-by-side camera mount.

The two cameras in question are my Kodak P850, a 5 megapixel unit with 12X zoom lens, and my Nikon P610, a 16 megapixel unit with astounding 60X zoom lens. The idea here is to take pictures simultaneously, or as close to it as I can get pushing one shutter button followed by the other. We’re looking at all aspects of performance here, and the differences between the two are quite noticeable. The Kodak image will be first, followed by the Nikon version.

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Blue skies! Nothing but blue skies! Except in the Nikon edition which shows a lot more due to its wider wide-angle setting. This brings up the point that merely stating a camera has “##X” zoom ability ignores the importance of what field-of-view it starts at. Colour-wise the two are comparable here, with the Nikon showing better contrast and more saturation.

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Aside from the field-of-view issue, the Kodak version is looking a little dull. This recurring low-contrast presentation may be due to the camera’s age causing deterioration in the imaging sensor, or it may have started out with more muted colours. In comparison the Nikon looks over-saturated. Either could be tweaked in post-processing.

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Fairly neutral tones in the bark here (about as close as I could get to an 18% reflective gray surface), with the Nikon showing a tad warmer in the redder parts. Both cameras score excellent in sharpness (they look even better in the full-size renditions). Again the Nikon picks up more, and in this case that has added a touch of lens flare at the top.

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Oh boy! The Kodak fails here. Its rendition of the old red shed is mauve to almost pink in tone. The Nikon version is far closer to the actual colour, albeit again not spot-on as it looks a tad washed out too. Evidently red is the more difficult colour for sensors to handle, unless it’s blatant fire-engine shade.

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This one is a difficult call. I’d have to give it to the Kodak, though, as here the Nikon’s extra-saturation is unwelcome. It also looks like it’s adding green to the water.

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Back in the blue range, which both cameras handle well. The clouds in the water on the Kodak shot look a little gray, which is not accurate but could be fixed in processing.

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No, you have not suddenly gone drunk! Nor was I when I took these; that’s the weird collection of angles there caused by a sloping beach and a leaning tree (which will fall over one day). It’s more disorienting in the Nikon version I think, due to the wider view. But here we have a mix of the blue on the boat, the green of the foliage, and the red tones hiding in the sand. As with the previous examples, both handle the blue okay, the Kodak has turned the red to mauve, and the Nikon’s green is too rich. The Kodak is also slightly low contrast and a bit washed out.

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The test wouldn’t be complete without exploring the other end of the zoom spectrum: full telephoto. Cameras side-by-side and focused on the cabin across the lake. Kodak zooms to “12X” or 72mm. The Nikon goes for “60X” or 258mm (equal to 1,440mm for a 35mm SLR). Both manage to pick up no small amount of haze in the process. Because of this the Kodak is showing better contrast due to less zoom. If it were a matter of picking a bird out of a tree, however, the Nikon would win.

So what is the conclusion? Well for one thing what you see with your eyes on your screen isn’t the same as what I see with my eyes on mine. Nor were you there to see the original scene. Therefor you have to take my descriptions as accurate to me, even if your personal preference is the other way around.

Objectively, however, we can see that sensors make a difference. It’s like loading the same camera with different film, only you don’t have the same choice of films in the digital world (barring built-in fixed selections or deep-menu variations, etc). This is why some people shoot RAW and then spend a good deal of time adjusting the final results. For straight-forward shooting, don’t expect any camera to be perfect. A few years back when I was considering the P610 there were some rather bad reports on a Fuji camera for consistently giving unacceptable colour tone that was beyond correction. It seems they’ve fixed that.

The only thing this test really proves is that both times that I selected an ‘expensive’ digital camera it worked out for me. You (and I) may not always be so lucky, as you can’t really tell what results any camera will give you until you’ve used it. And stores are reluctant to take used merchandise back.

Anyway I had fun doing it. Maybe I’ll get silly and compare the Kodak V1003 to the Nikon P610. Or ‘dial down’ the Nikon’s resolution. I am loathe to do that in general as one can always adjust size afterward and who wants to be stuck in low resolution if you suddenly come across a great photo? It takes a while to get through the menu and make such changes. My biggest complaint about all modern cameras is how they bury functions you’d want right at your fingertips deep in some nested menu. Unless you go through and pre-program certain controls you can be lost for function changes, and even then you have to remember which switch is which.

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